Our heads are spinning with pretty colours and patterns in Radical 8 Games’ beautiful game, Damask, launching on Gamefound soon!
*Pattern Matching * drafting * Strategic * Spinning Wheel * Solo Mode * Synergies * Hand Management * Resource Management * Pace *
I love pretty, colourful games. Azul Summer Pavilion, Sagrada, The Whatnot Cabinet……the list goes on. But I also love games that my great pal @saggyhead would deem “beige g*****e”. Devoid of colour and bling, but guaranteeing epically strategic and tense table time!
Ultimately, what the games I love each have in common is that, in my humble opinion, every single one is a good, solid game. Thinky, satisfying games that I want to play again and again and again!
And when style and strategy come together (Arboretum, Enchanted Plumes, Cascadia, Calico……), the centre of my gaming Venn diagram explodes in a cornucopia of colour and crunch!
So when I saw Radical 8 were launching a new campaign on Gamefound for their latest game, Damask, I got very excited!
Before I go on, however, as with all previews, I must make clear for the benefit of everyone that I have played a prototype of Damask. This means that the game and game play I describe could be different to the finished product when the campaign ends, and production begins. This stage in game production is basically a well thought out idea – a promise to make and deliver a game based on the concept the designer is offering. As Damask feels so complete, I’m hoping nothing major is going to change in terms of the rules at this stage, but never say never! So, just to be clear, everything I say is based on the prototype copy I have played.
So with clarification made, let’s hit the road to Damask!
The Road to Damask!
In Damask, we play Master Weavers using looms to create beautifully patterned fabrics out of luxurious silks (known as “Damasks”). Heading from Damascus to the textile houses of Venice with our colourful and intricate designs, we want to make the most money as well as impress the very generous Weaver’s Guild when there.
The silks are represented by cubes on a spinning wheel board (which I am told will be riveted and recessed for cube stability and smoother drafting and restocking), and these are used to complete (“mount”) patterned cards representing the Damasks. Each damask is a mixture of two out of 6 colours (black, dark blue, light blue, yellow, pink, and red) and four patterns (concave, fleur, shield, square).
Played over three rounds (“seasons”), the aim is to build up a connected line of Damasks that match in pattern and colour. For everything that shares a feature with the last card you mounted, you’ll earn an extra coin. And, if you just so happen to be producing the season’s most fashionable colour and/or pattern, you’ll impress the Guild so much that they will bestow favours upon you!
In another textile twist, silks you don’t use up immediately (your “overstock”) can be taken by other Weavers. This sounds sneaky until you find out (a) they must pay you in Guild favours for stealing a colour of their choice and (b) each round you will get taxed for the cubes in your overstock when the spinning wheel passes the hand of monetary doom (okay so it’s not called that, but my experience paying taxes totally makes it feel like that! haha).
Eye catching Actions!
On your turn, you must either (a) take sliks or (b) take a Damask card
Then you get a second optional action where you may (a) take cubes from another player’s overstock or (b) mount a Damask
- If you take silks, you can take as many as you like from the spinning wheel board until you are holding two of the same colour. You can choose to take cubes in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. But, once taken, the wheel then moves the corresponding number of spaces in a clockwise direction. These can be immediately placed on any Damask you are in the process of completing, and any you don’t need can go into your overstock. Once placed on a Damask, the silk cubes cannot be moved to another card or put back into overstock.
Note that If spinning the wheel makes the arm pass the first ornate spindle (space marked “A”):
In a 2 player game, the spaces left by cube picking are restocked from the bag.
In a 3-4 player game, you do the action specified on the 3 player/4 player token. The wheel is also restocked just like in the 2 player game.
- If you take a Damask card, generally you pick from a pool of six available patterned cards (which are replaced by drawing blind from a bag. Although this can be manipulated by Guild favours – more on that later! And you can only have two Damasks in the process of being completed in front of you at any one time.
- If you choose to take another player’s cubes from their overstock, you only get to pick one colour. These can go onto any Damask you are in the process of completing or into your own overstock for later use (unless someone else steals them first!). The player giving up their cubes bets a Guild favour from the stack next to the fashion board where the seasons’ hot colour and pattern choices are on show.
- If you have all the necessary cubes on a Damask in front of you, you can choose to mount it. This means placing it vertically against your stand. The first one will only earn you one coin as there is nothing to match it to, but as you start to mount more Damasks, the synergies between the colours and patterns will up your income considerably. And you’ll earn some useful Guild favours to boot if you can co-ordinate with the colour and pattern currently in fashion!
When you have completed your two actions, play passes to the next player. A season ends when the spinning wheel passes the hand of monetary doom (taxation token on space “B”). And when that happens, the wheel is restocked and the next season’s colour and pattern kicks into action. When the arm passes the tax token on the third round, nothing is collected and the game ends. The winner is the Weaver with the most money!
And that’s Damask in a nutshell………..but of course it isn’t that simple. The rules are easy to pick up, the objectives are straightforward, and it is a light abstract strategy game in the same way that Azul, Sagrada, Calico and Cascadia are not considered heavyweight choices.
But don’t be fooled! There is strategy sewn into these silks, and from what we have experienced playing the prototype, there’s definitely more than meets the eye here!
Silky Smooth Strategies!
As with most of the games I really enjoy, every turn in Damask presents me with thinky choices and trade-offs. They weren’t all obvious to us from the first game we played. But the tactical threads woven into the gameplay became clear very quickly into our second session.
Even choosing whether to take cubes at all becomes a back-and forth battle between what you want and what you could be doing to the spinning wheel. After all, take too many too soon and you’ll be heading to the end of a season earlier than you might like.
Same with the overstock option. You could steal another player’s cubes and further your own Damasks whilst at the same time frustrating their efforts. But, by doing so, you are gifting them Guild favours and potentially risking a tax bill. Both are going to work against you eventually. Question is; do you risk it?! The fact that there is a payback for stealing takes the sting out of the action – it feels a lot less mean and is actually very strategic. Clever stuff for a game on the lighter end of the weight spectrum.
And those Guild favours are sweet gifts indeed. As well as helping with straight up Damask filling, they open up a world of combo-tastic possibilities. By using them like currency, you can spend them to do additional actions including replacing cards in the pool, mounting an additional damask, and using them instead of coins when the tax man cometh. And if used in conjunction with the right season and the colour/pattern of your last Damask, well, coins and favours could rain down upon you!
Pretty Fine Prototype!
As you can probably tell, we have really enjoyed playing Damask. The desire to synergise your current turn with your last one using colours and patterns is a very simple but effective challenge. And it doesn’t hurt that the game looks gorgeous.
The designer has worked hard to make it so that each element is tied to the silk weaving and trading setting in some way. And of course, whilst cubes will never really be silks, we felt that they were an innovative way to make the wheel work and not roll off the cards or get tangled like spheres or strings would.
Given how visually appealing this game is, I did ask the designer and publisher about accessibility issues including colour vision deficiency. Mainly because, whilst the patterns are fine, being able to distinguish between the cubes and the colours on the cards and tiles goes to the heart of Damask. I am glad to say that Radical 8 Games confirmed that they playtested a range of different colours with gamers with CVD, and have chosen shades which were found to be most distinct for the group. They were unable to have the cubes printed with shapes or prints, but they have done what they can to reduce obvious disadvantages. Also, in terms of language, once the rules of the game are known, the components are essentially language independent. As such, anybody should be able to play by relying on the symbols to guide and manage the game rather than any printed words (note: the publisher is having the rule book translated into French and German).
Admittedly, the prototype we played wasn’t in its final form, so our player stands were a little unstable and some of the colours need a little tweaking – for us, the dark blue and black cubes were quite hard to distinguish in certain lights. The spinning wheel was also free rather than fixed, and the rule book still in draft paragraph form, so a few questions went back to the publisher for clarification (which they were very quick to answer!).
Interestingly, both the silk cubes and the cards are drawn blind from bags – I was perhaps expecting a card dispenser that could somehow hide the emerging patterns from view, but drawing the large cards from the bag works well enough. I don’t know what the finish on the final bag will be, but fingers crossed it’s either printed or luxurious in some way!
But I must give extra gold stars to both the designer and publisher are still very open about all of their intended fine tuning exercises, and I have been told that they will be working on finishings (as well as other upgrades!) to ensure the game is perfectly pretty and polished when it comes to fulfilment time. And I for one can’t wait to play Damask in all its finesse and finery when the campaign ends!
If this preview and our initial thoughts on the Damask preview gameplay has fired up your interest, it launches on Gamefound 27th April at £27 (around $35), which is a discount from the MSRP of £40 (around $55). And if you follow the game ahead of its official launch, you will receive a free Gamefound Micro Expansion! You can find it by searching Damask on the homepage or follow this link here.
[Please note that a copy of this prototype was kindly provided by the publishers for review. I am not paid for my comments, however, and all opinions are my own]. I am also not affiliated to or sponsored by any retail store.