Gag gifts. Those things given for laughs that, often, become nothing more than Goodwill fodder after the mirth has fallen away. Bob Ross: The Art of Chill Game, given to me by my brother-in-law for Christmas, is not a gag gift.
Or rather, it is, but one with substance. Not a lot, but even a small bit of something makes it an outlier in the world of cheap, one-time laughs.
I’m not going to go into Bob Ross here (he’s a painter with a fascinating history – google him). I will go into the game, which is both simple and better than it has any right to be.
I can also say that the Art of Chill game is best experienced while actually watching Bob Ross. In this game, you gradually complete paintings, and doing that while Bob Ross actually paints a very similar landscape on the TV nearby is both surreal and comforting. You achieve a sort of painting zen. One that quickly vanishes when you realize the Bob in the game is speeding his way through the painting far faster than the Bob on TV, and you’ve just rolled his face on the die for the third turn in a row and now all your colors are worthless because the scene just switched from a wintery forest to a tropical island.
So yeah. You’re all painting, more or less. You collect colors of paint in Ticket-to-Ride style – namely by choosing a number of cards each turn, and when you have enough of the ones you want, completing a “feature” part of the painting, such as trees or clouds, for points. First one with a bunch of points becomes the “most chill” and wins the game. You could argue that the person who’s collecting the most points is working the hardest and is, therefore, the “least chill”, but we don’t have time for your logic here.
Every painting offers 3 of these features to complete, and you’re incentivized to complete those features before other players to get bonus points. Usually, however, the bigger obstacle is the master of chill himself: Bob Ross. See, he’s trying to complete every painting along with you. Each turn, before drawing and playing cards, the players roll a special dice. Half of the six sides are pasted over with Bob Ross’s face, and that face quickly becomes the Mark of Doom. Not only are you, the player, robbed of a potential bonus action via the other dice sides, Bob happily whisks another space forward on the current painting. This may “complete” a feature for Bob, robbing the group of bonus points, or even complete the painting entirely, rendering prepped paints useless. Kinda like if your Ticket to Ride routes occasionally shortened or vanished entirely.
Anyway, this lends a decidedly un-chill anxiety to the game as everyone adjusts their tactics based on the rolls of the dice. One of us, and she eventually won the game, earned her last third of points by forgoing the painting entirely (and, by extension, Bob’s sabotage) by buying up “Technique” cards. These grant a small, one-time blast of chill points and additional bonuses over the long term. However, by grabbing one or two of these every turn, she outpaced the painting points we chumps were making, and thus became the chillest of us all. Essentially, she “knew” how to paint everything, but actually did no painting. So, perhaps that’s actually chill?
So it’s a workable game with mechanisms and everything. Is it good? Meh. I’d pull it out over something like Candyland, because there’s some strategy. The paintings you complete are pretty (and are reprints of actual Bob Ross paintings), and the color/brush combo might play well with young kids, even if they wouldn’t have a clue as to why this strange man is racing them to paint things. Whomever goes first gets a significant advantage, because they’ll get one more turn than everyone else (our winner went first, and players one and two led the whole game) and can generally complete features first for the most points.
Still, it’s hard to hate on a licensed property that actually tries. So if you give this as a gag gift, be happy that what you’ve given (or received) isn’t the worst thing in the world. But if you’re looking at it for yourself?
Chill, man. And get something better.