I ran into Monique, from Before You Play, at a mixer during SPIEL ‘22. I posed the same question to her that I posed to all of the content creators I met at the event: what game did you play this week that I need to try next?
“Photograph,” she said. “Just a fun little game.”
The next day, I bought a copy of Photograph (2016, also known as Wind the Film!, published by Saashi & Saashi) and finally got it to the table over the holidays. I have to say that Monique was right. More importantly, I see why she likes the game, because it fits well as a thinky filler for gamers looking to kick off a night of heavier fare.
A Snapshot (of the Rules)
Photograph is a hand management tableau builder for 2-4 players. Based on the number of players, a certain number of 12-card sets of colored cards are added to a shared deck, each depicting a filmstrip story of a particular scene playing out somewhere in town.
A market of cards is built with the two outer columns showing cards face up, and the inner column cards left face-down. Players are dealt five cards but must keep those in the order they are dealt. This is important, because similar to games like Luxor, the order of the cards is key to understanding the strategy behind each turn.
On a turn, a player declares a number between one and three. Starting from the edge of a single row, that player takes the number of declared cards and adds them, one at a time and in the order they are taken out of the market, to the right-hand side of their hand. Then, that player is allowed to move one card forward in their hand, from the left to the right, one or more spaces ahead.
Based on the number of cards taken to start the turn, that player must play cards from the left of their hand to the table. Each color is a different row in their personal tableau, and cards have to be played in either ascending or descending order after the first card is placed, within three numbers of a previous card.
That means that if I play a yellow eight from my hand, my next yellow card can either start with 9, 10, or 11, or 7, 6, or 5. Once that choice is made, future cards after the second one have to continue in the same direction. So, if I have a yellow 8, then a yellow 6, my next yellow card HAS to be a yellow 5, 4, or 3.
If you picked up two cards to begin a turn, you have to play two cards to end your turn, and those cards can be in different colors. If a player plays 3-4 like-color cards to the table first (depending on player count), that player earns a five-point “Good Shot!” bonus at the end of the game.
But, what if you can’t play your cards in order? Don’t worry, it’s going to happen. You’ll just play a card out of order by flipping it to its face-down side, earning you -2 points at the end of the game. That also allows you to play a card outside of the three-card numerical range requirement, but you still have to continue in ascending or descending order.
Play ends when the Sunset card comes out of the deck. This card triggers a hand correction, to limit your hand to just three cards, and when the market is down to three or fewer cards after Sunset, the game ends. Scoring is tied to a mix of set collection scoring—more cards in a color, more points—Good Shot! cards, and any negative face-down cards that were played into a strip.
Multiple Plays Required!
The first play of Photograph was bumpy, and when I’ve taught this to other gamers, they have shared in a bit of first-play misery. The concept of not adjusting your hand isn’t difficult, but most people seem to sort their hands in card games by suit. “DON’T CHANGE THE ORDER!!” has been a big part of my reminders during play.
But during a second run at Photograph, you begin to see how to best situate your single move of a card ahead in your hand. Then things really open up. With three inexperienced players, my first play took about 45 minutes. Each play after that has come in between 20-30 minutes even at the max player count.
And that allows everyone to see the game at its best. The artwork by Takako Takarai is just gorgeous. I still don’t really follow the story in each of the game’s seven suits of cards, but I don’t care because the drawings are so cute in many cases. My only complaint about the cards are the suit colors: yellow and brown are too similar with their use the same color palette. (With these two suits, it’s easier to tell which is which by flipping them over, which isn’t helpful when they are in your hand!)
A fantastic way to kick off a night, Photograph is a very thinky filler that is quickly growing on me. Designer Saashi also gave us the game Remember Your Trip, which my colleague Kathleen Hartin found just as satisfying as Photograph. You can find Photograph at many retail outlets for just $12-$15, so this is an easy recommendation. Your time invested will be rewarded!