(Note: our plays of Chroma Mix were from a prototype copy. There may be changes to the art, components and rules during the crowdfunding project that are not reflected in our experience.)
Here in the Gumbo, I talk a lot about combolicious board games, for very good reasons. The Dukes of Dice podcast frequently mentioned how a game they were discussing could get bonus points if it created moments that made the player feel “clever.” Defining that “clever feeling” may be hard, yet easy to spot, because we know it when we see it.
One of the easiest ways to make a gamer feel clever is to provide them opportunities to combo a play. Is there anything more satisfying than turning one card action into a cascade of actions or a hefty accumulation of points? Hardly anything at all compares.
That’s why I was interested when the folks at JayZee Games offered to send us a copy of Chroma Mix, a new game hitting crowdfunding soon. It’s a card game for one to four players that takes about thirty minutes to play, and the premise is pretty intuitive.
We all know that the colors on the free paint sample chips that fascinate children tagging along with their parents at the big box hardware store are made up of combinations of three primary colors. Jorge Zhang of JayZee Games has designed a card game where the three basic color cards in your starting hand — let’s call them yellow, red and blue although they are called by their true names in the game — serve multiple purposes all with the goal of creating higher levels of color that trigger the end game.
Your choices regarding the use of each card are simple. You can outright spend them to upgrade to a brighter color. Alternatively, you could play them to your tableau for their special powers — each color has a unique, rule breaking power that manifests as either a one time use, or end game scoring, or continuous benefits (and some cards have combinations of each). Or you can pick up some or all of the cards in your tableau back to your hand to be played on a later turn.
Simple and thematic, right? Just thinking back to what we were taught about color theory in early grade schools made the mechanics of the game pretty easy to grasp. But the rub, the thing that made us feel clever as we played, was in scanning the market of the four levels of colors for combos we could use to drive to the end game and win.
The end game itself took a little getting used to, and in fact, Jerod and I split on its effect. Jerod liked the fact that the game comes with three end game trigger / goals: one looks for the number of cards in your hand — get to a certain number and you win — while the one that I liked forced you into getting all three of the level four cards in play or in your hand. And my wife liked the one about ending the game with the most points on the cards themselves. These are the same three goals in every game, and players can build their strategy around going for one (or more) of the objectives to win.
Hopefully I am not alone in asking how a game could present three wildly different end game triggers and scoring objectives and still feel elegant. I cannot lie, that was a big hang up in the first reel of the game. But as we played our cards and expanded our tableau, I saw right away that we were all three going for different end game goals. That was kind of interesting, in that it became a race to see who could play more efficiently than the others to get to the finish line first.
Getting an engine going that allows you to play ever more efficiently is the key to this game. I got kind of a Gizmos feel to it, in that you are constantly building up your engine with better cards from the higher level of the market, but it has a destructive element like Elysium or Tang Garden where at some point you need to burn some of those mid-level cards for the colors you need to get even stronger cards (or the end game cards).
The reason for this is because of a diabolical little twist from the design team. It would be pretty easy to get every card you want if you could play as many basic cards out of your hand each turn to get the more expensive cards. Each card in the three upper levels has a requirement on its face that tells you how much of each basic color is needed to “mix” the card. Each card, including the basic ones, tell you how much blue, red and yellow paint it will bring to the mix. The twist is that you can only play TWO cards together and their color sources have to EXACTLY match the card you are trying to mix (unless you have a card that says otherwise). No change given!
Being limited to only two cards to mix to a stronger card means upgrading takes efficient planning. It forces you not only to look at the colors available as resources on each card, but scanning the market for cards that play well together. In one game I had the card that let me mix as many cards as I wanted to create another card. Couple that power with the color that lets you mix twice during your turn is a nice combo, and got me a ton of powerful cards quickly. The deck has 80+ cards (with a bunch of duplicates, of course) and there are dozens and dozens of special powers, so there are plenty o’ combos to explore.
Ah, you are probably spotting the drawback, of course. With that many cards, it would take some pretty good graphical design or a good player aid for players to quickly grasp the ways to synergize the cards in the market with the cards in your hand and tableau. That’s where Chroma Mix has some work to do. Now, note that we are playing with a prototype copy. I do not know how much more will be done before the final product hits the factory, but to be honest, the graphic design on the cards left a lot to be desired.
They are cluttered with two things that are good ideas on paper but are not good in execution. Instead of giving a short description of the special power, the designer has a big chunk of flavor text and uses graphic symbols which were thematic but not very intuitive. Modern hobby games are developing symbolical short hand for certain actions, but these are nary to be found here. Yes, your mileage will depend on how fast you can memorize or even intuit what the action symbols mean, but it would be just as easy to have both cleaner, easier to understand symbols to represent the actions AND a short blurb reminding you what the card does.
And the cards themselves suffer from being very busy, all in the name of advancing the setting of mixing paints. I get it, it is tempting to make the cards feel thematic, but clutter destroys that sensibility quickly. Better to have a nice, clean, modern design with easy to understand symbols and a brief description of the actions to keep the pace of the game from grinding to a halt as the players constantly refer to the rule book to decipher the latest card that hit the market.
That being said, when you get to the third reel of the game, where everyone has some version of an engine built and are focused on those end game triggers, the game moves at a brisk pace. The race to the goals admittedly creates some much needed tension that is missing in the first part of the game. Since the game fits into a standard poker deck sized box and can be carried anywhere, once you have players that understand the symbols and actions, this would be an easy game to play back-to-back. I could definitely see this going into a convention backpack, for instance, as a game between games or events.
The game comes with a couple of other modes, including a solo mode, that we did not explore. The project should be hitting Gamefound during the first week of June, and you can find more information here:
As final thoughts, I am sure it is pretty obvious that we enjoyed our time with Chroma Mix. Frankly, I was not expecting to enjoy the combos as much as we did. There are some real “make me feel clever” moments in Chroma Mix that stood out for us, especially as we grasp the significance of some of the powers on the card (especially as we watched in envy one game as Jerod picked up on a couple of cool combos that we had not noticed before). As long as the project addresses the need for cleaner graphical design, and either player aids or text on the cards as player aids, this is a project you should check out if you like combo-wambo card games that take only a half-hour to play. Our thanks to JayZee Games for this complimentary preview copy. Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
Thank you for the thoughtful and well written review!
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Thanks, looking forward to the project!