Pastiche: The Birth of a Masterpiece

Ever since I stumbled upon the card game Parade at a convention years ago I have been drawn to simple card games with odd deck structures and hidden depths. While in the U.S we seem to be having an arms race of ever increasing size and complexity of components and the promise of infinite replay value in content, in Japan there is a different revolution occurring. The question Japanese card games repeatedly ask is what is the most you can do with a simple deck of cards. This makes sense since games need to be small. In Japan the solution is not just to buy another kallax shelf from Ikea for your 3 cube filling Kickstarter. Real estate is at a premium. Hence the micro game explosion ten years ago starting with Love Letter. I had backed a recent example of these games, American Bookstore whose pitch itself with cards being negative points unless you had the most of them echoing the risk reward I enjoyed so much in Parade. But this review is not about that game. That will come whenever that boat arrives in port and box threads its way through our current shipping and logistical obstacle course. Instead, in an update to that campaign the publisher mentioned that another game was available: Pastiche: The Birth of a Masterpiece  by designer Rikkati. This had been available as an add-on for the original campaign but I passed on it as English rules were not available. I somehow talked the completionist in me out of it on the justification that I could not play a game without the rules. But now English rules were available, and so off to the store I went…

Two published novels. Other players can now draw from these.

A small note here. The copies are available through a site called Buyee which I hadn’t heard of before. The gist as I understand it is that they buy a game for you locally in Japan and then warehouse it. I had misunderstood and thought that the initial cost I paid was for the game and shipping. Checking some days later when no shipping notification had come there was a note on the site that I needed to pay for shipping and that they would only hold it in the warehouse for X days longer. So I paid a shipping fee equal to the cost of the game itself and a few days later (air mail is very quick) the game arrived. All that to say that while I will gush about this game in a moment the main problem right now is that acquiring the game costs about as much as the game itself, which can understandably be a bridge too far for most sane people. I am not always sane when it comes to board games, and so here we are.

So on to the game itself. This game has been described with two very different themes. One in which you are in academic research and publishing and peer reviewing papers. And another, which is what is described in the translated rule book where you are publishing and reading novels which eventually become a “Masterpiece” once they are read enough times. The latter theme makes more sense in my mind given works of fiction “pastiche” each other all the time (just watch any season of Stranger Things for examples). A better title for the former theme would have been “Citation: Academics Argue about Things.”

Various scoring conditions

In Pastiche players are trying to construct sets of cards which are called novels. Some classics in here include straights, pairs and straight flushes like in poker, but also more odd ones like all evens, cards adding to 49 or having 1 & 13. Speaking of odd ones, this is a relevant time to mention the odd deck structure. Similar to Yokai Septet the deck of story cards is broken into 7 suits, and each of these suits contains 7 cards. However these cards start and end on different numbers, with the first suit number 1 to 7, the next 2 to 8, the next 3 to 9 and so on. This creates a different density of numbers such that certain cards are very frequent (6s 7s and 8s) and others are exceedingly rare, hence the 1 & 13 being a goal given there is only one of each of these. The cards are themed on different novel types: Mythology, mystery, romance, science fiction etc, and so when playing these combinations the other players and I had a lot of fun describing the very strange novels we were creating. Highly recommended, and even more funny when you insist as you read other players “novels” that you had to learn about the science fiction part etc. The theme is light but can be fun here.

The cards themselves are minimalist but appealing.

The actions are write: drawing either one known card from the top of the face up discard or drawing two blind from the deck and discarding one, publish: putting out a set of cards which can eventually score points and read: draw a card from a published novel, either yours or another player’s. If a novel is ever read enough times that there is only one card left that novel becomes a masterpiece and scores the points listed on the novel card. More importantly it can be “pastiched” or copied as if it was a card in your hand, either for free if it’s your masterpiece, or by paying a card to the player you are copying. The flow of the game ends up a bit like Splendor or other engine builders. There are a lot of turns early on writing, and trying to put together one of these combinations, but as soon as any player publishes a novel there are not many more options of what cards are available. When cards become masterpieces it becomes much more possible to build some of the harder combos of cards (11 card straight, 6 card straight flush etc). 

This combined with the unique deck structure creates a really fascinating and interactive experience. Unlike in Splendor there is interaction beyond just passive aggressive euro-style denial.   Players are necessarily using each other’s cards to build their engine. You are helping a player by reading their novel because they are one card closer to scoring it as a masterpiece, but you may need that card for your own designs and that novel is also one card closer to being able to be copied which may also benefit you. What card becomes the last card remaining is also important as a 12 or 3 that can be copied may be essential for those longer straights. Late in the game players are trying to publish novels with as few cards as possible, as these large combos are worth a lot of points but may never become a masterpiece if players have to spend 7 turns reading it. Additionally

The end of a game, novels with one card or “masterpieces” score points depending on the difficulty of the card combo.

players can choose to interact with one player vs another based on who they think is ahead, although given me few plays I am not sure when/how useful this is. When a player reaches 15 points the game end is signaled. This player gets a bonus point for triggering the end, however they have one more turn left while all other players each get two. There is often a flurry of trying to get a last novel immediately published as a masterpiece using the cards out there, or reading the last few pages to make an existing novel become a masterpiece and therefore score.

Overall I was delighted by this game. There are lots of interesting decisions in terms of what combos to go for based on your hand and what’s available from other players. The theme, although light, can be a lot of fun. If you have a chance, definitely check it out. With that said, given the current shipping it can be tough to recommend for all but the most curious. Additionally the box and scoring cards could use a bit better materials. The playing cards themselves are beautifully illustrated and seem durable enough, but the game as a whole is ripe for a  small component upgrade. I do hope that the publisher runs with all of the positive feedback the game is getting in Japan and runs a broader reprint Kickstarter so that more players get a chance to try this wonderful game at a reasonable price.



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