Review: Contrast

Contrast is a simple card game based around describing pictures using simple descriptors, and guessing what other people are going to think. The basic gameplay of Contrast involves describing a common picture drawn randomly from the deck using the description cards from your hand. Each description card contains a pair of opposite descriptions (tall/small, heavy/light, big/thin, round/square, red/yellow, blue/green), and the task of the player is to select whichever of these traits best matches the picture. Once everyone has played their cards, they are revealed simultaneously. Points, in the form of cards off the top of the deck, are awarded to everyone who played the same description as the majority – ties award no points. Play continues until the deck is exhausted, at which point the player with the most cards wins.

There is a small snag, however, as each player has two of their cards face up in front of them. These cards can’t be selected, and other players are aware of this, allowing them to play around them. Whenever a card is played, it is then swapped for one of the cards on the table, changing the available options for the next turn.

Designer: Julien Percot
• Publisher: Pink Monkey Games
Number of Players: 2-6
Playing Time: 15 minutes

Contrast has two major virtues, the first of which is simplicity. This is a quick game, lasting perhaps 10-20 minutes per round. It can be taught to inexperienced or young players in a few minutes, and after a hand or two, nobody will be confused about the rules. The second major virtue is the art style, which is colourful, clear and relaxing. Each card is pleasant to look at, which is a bonus considering the mechanics of the game.

Contrast clearly draws inspiration from Dixit. It shares a similar surreal art style rendered in pastel colours. It also shares the mechanical idea of describing a picture, with points being awarded for how your own guess fits into the overall descriptive consensus. But where Dixit is clever, Contrast is basic. Simple design is a virtue, but simplicity also leaves very little room to hide flaws.

The most basic problem with Contrast is that the primary activity is not itself very interesting. Picking a description is quick, easy to do, and not challenging. Whereas in Dixit, you are rewarded for successfully negotiating the path between too obvious and too subtle, in Contrast, you are rewarded only for being a part of the consensus. This pushes play towards finding the most obvious answer, a rather less demanding, and less interesting, activity.

Occasionally during play, two or three players can become “synchronized,” with the same face-up cards on the table (and thus, in their hands). Since they face the same constraints, they are more likely to play the same cards in future rounds. They thus remain in the majority, winning more points, discarding the same cards from their hands, and perpetuating the synchronization. Players not part of this “lock” have no way to win points until the synchronized majority fail to coordinate. While this may only happen occasionally, it is frustrating, especially given how few strategic options players have.

Attractive card art
Simple, quick, easy to teach
Consensus-based mechanic too simple, lacks depth
Mechanics fail to highlight the best aspects of the design
Potentially frustrating gameplay situations

Ironically, there is no contrast to the gameplay, which becomes same-y and rote. During my playtesting groups, rounds began to move quickly after a few hands. The level of strategic thinking and emotional investment dipped lower the longer the game went on, suggesting there wasn’t enough here to keep players engaged. This is especially unfortunate given the game’s lovely art; the gameplay ends up moving fast enough that less attention is paid to the cards. Only the most obvious characteristics of the cards get noticed because the mechanics focus your attention there. It feels like there is a missed opportunity here for more emergent strategy and depth.

Overall, this might be a good game to pick up if you’re looking to teach basic concepts to young children, or for a lightweight casual game for visually-oriented people who don’t much like strategy. But for most, I can’t say I recommend Contrast. If you want a game that shares most of its virtues, but with stronger execution, Dixit is still the best choice.

Review copy provided by Esdevium Games
Official Website

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