The game: Combo Color by Charles Chevallier and Laurent Escoffier, published by Asmodee in 2019.
I got a review copy from Asmodee Nordics.
Elevator pitch: A strategic colouring game where players try to score points by colouring valuable areas on the board.
What’s in the box? The fairly big but shallow box contains four dry erase markers, an eraser, a rules poster and a hefty pile of 18 two-sided colouring sheets.
The art is from couple of different design agencies and is really lovely. The sheets feature six different worlds, with six levels in each, and each world is done in a distinct style. It’s not very colourful, because you need to colour it yourself, but all in all the art is super charming.
What do you do in the game? The rules of play are very simple. On your turn, you must colour one area on the board. You can choose an area next to a previously coloured area or start from one of the starting arrows. Take turns and once the board is fully colored, it’s time to count the scores.
Scoring starts really simple on level one of the worlds: there’s one symbol that’s just one or two points per area, and two symbols that are counted and multiplied together. Further levels provide more scoring options: cumulative scoring, connections, area scoring, negative points and majorities. Those are all fairly simple as well.
It’s all fairly light and straightforward, but it doesn’t take long before you realize you can’t always make the move that’s best for you, because it may open up even better spots for the next player. There’s a bit of a waiting game, and the way different players emphasize different scoring categories comes into play as well.
Lucky or skillful? There’s zero randomness in the game, but it’s still somewhat unpredictable, especially with more players. I think it’s easier to make mistakes than really good moves in this game. (Just coming up with these explanations, as I haven’t been able to win the kids yet; the game’s have been close.)
Abstract or thematic? The theme is purely decorative. All worlds are functionally identical, they have the same scoring methods, just with different values, layouts and combinations. Everybody should be able to find a theme they like the most – my daughter instantly fell in love with the Donut Festival world, so that’s what we’ve been playing.
Solitaire or interactive? If you want to do well, you have to keep in mind what the other players are trying to collect. You have to consider what you open up for the next player. Might be a good idea to shuffle the player order a bit between games, by the way. There’s a bit of meanness in the game, but not too much.
Players: 2–4. I’ve yet to play with four, but I have a feeling I’ll prefer the smaller player counts. Shouldn’t be a big deal either way, just that with fewer players things are more controlled and you get to do more, and I like that.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 8+. If parents are involved to help and count the scores, that’s higher than necessary, but if kids are playing without parent supervision, someone has to be able to do basic multiplication. Other than that the game is super easy and everybody should be able to enjoy it.
What’s to like: Combo Color has a very low barrier to entry. It can be taught in 15 seconds, looks very attractive and being able to colour the board with markers is fun (and wiping out the colourings with the eraser is even more fun). If that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for, Combo Color is a great choice.
What’s not to like: It’s a light fifteen-minute filler, so that’s all you get. Combo Color is a shallow game, no deep strategy here. I’m somewhat worried that the markers will run dry and sourcing replacement markers may be a pain.
My verdict: I might’ve passed Combo Color, but the game won the Finnish Family Game of the Year award, so I had to take a look. After getting the review copy and playing it couple of times with the kids, I’m ready to declare it my Surprise Game of the Year in 2019 – the game that pleased me most from the lowest expectation (in 2018 that game was Blue Lagoon).
I’m not sure how long my interest in the game will last, but judging from my daughter’s reaction, Combo Color is a game we’ll end up playing at least couple of dozen times. It’s such a blast of sheer joy, so I certainly won’t mind, and I think it was a very good choice for the Game of the Year award: this is a fantastic entry-level game for just about everybody, and offers something new and fresh.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Combo Color gets Suggest from me.