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Pictures Game Review

Shoelaces are TOUGH

Justin picked up the 2020 Spiel des Jahres winner Pictures by Rio Grande Games. Let’s dive into his thoughts in this review!

It is true. I am guilty…guilty of sleeping on such a great, great game.

You see, I saw the news in 2020 about the recent Spiel des Jahres winner Pictures, designed by Daniela and Christian Stöhr and published by Rio Grande Games. I had never heard of the game but since it won a major award, I figured, what the heck? Let’s pick up a copy.

Then Pictures arrived at my home and I could not get anyone to play it. Pictures looks like a family game, and many of the gamers in my playgroups look upon family games with disgust. (“Meh, the rules are only on one sheet? Probably won’t be hard enough.”)

But even one pass at the rulesheet told me this was going to shine with anyone creative who decided to play Pictures. And now, many months after buying it, I schlepped Pictures to a family holiday gathering and everyone loves it.

What took me so long to experience the joy of Pictures? How many other jewels do I have on the shelf of shame???

The 5-Minute Teach

Pictures has an incredibly simple rule set. My 7-year-old loved the first play we did of Pictures so much that we played it again right away!

In Pictures, a set of 16 picture cards is laid out in a 4×4 grid, with coordinates lined up with each row (letters) and column (numbers). Each player then secretly draws a coordinate from the bag, such as A1 or D3, to determine their active picture for that round.

Each player’s job: compose an image based on their picture using one of the 5 sets of tools:

  • Sticks and stones: yes, 4 smooth stones of varying sizes and 4 wooden sticks, each the same size
  • “Icon Cards”, a set of 19 cards featuring different hand-drawn icons such as a shark, a heart, a lightning bolt, etc. You can use 2-5 of the Icon Cards to hint at an image
  • 2 shoelaces, one short and one long
  • 6 wooden building blocks
  • A picture frame with tiny, colored wooden cubes. With this building set, a player has to fill the frame with 9 of the included 24 blocks (3 blocks each in 8 different colors)

And the fun part about most of these sets is that you have license to use as much or as little as you would like. For example, you could use just 3 of the 6 building blocks to compose an image. Or just 1 of the 2 shoelaces. If the image calls for minimalism, go for that with your weapon of choice!

After each player is ready to show off their creation in Pictures, players go around trying to guess which picture each player was secretly assigned, with points awarded to each player who guesses correctly and bonus points if players correctly guess your own image. Image-building toolsets move clockwise around the table so that every player has to use each set once over the game’s 5 rounds. The player who ends with the most points wins!

A Rich and Variable Experience

Pictures has 91 double-sided picture cards, with many family-friendly images: animals, small buildings, cityscapes, vehicles, food, you name it. With more than 180 different possible images and only 16 of those pictures being featured in any one game, the variability in pictures alone would be enough to keep me happy for months.

But the best part of Pictures is trying to compose an image with the limited tools you have available in a round.  It’s also why I laugh so hard every time I play.

For example: please build a copy of that close-up shot of a gorilla’s nose with just shoelaces.

Or, try to use the picture frame/colored cube combo to formulate an image of mostly orange and black hues with a set of cubes that specifically does not include the color orange!

Could you please use some of the 6 building blocks to hint at the image of a plate of food?

Sometimes you will be able to do this; often, your audience will see enough of a picture in the mess of sticks and stones you’ve made in front of you to clue them in on what you were thinking. And the full-blown abstract painter in your family will have a blast turning photographs into works of art, as my wife did when she expertly worked with the sticks and stones set to create her version of a bear climbing over a broken tree stump.

It’s so good, right?

There are 5 sets of tools to compose 182 images, meaning there are about a thousand different visualization options in Pictures? And the chance to only pick 5 pictures per player in each game? Watching each player come up with THEIR way to build each picture is magic, especially as a proud father watching his budding artist child figure out how to visualize a tractor with a shoelace.

Beach Material

My wife likes to say that any game that works well for the whole family is “beach material” because we take a trip with her family every summer. Well, add Pictures to the list. It plays 3-5 people and the setup and “teardown” of Pictures only takes a couple of minutes. The teach takes seconds, not minutes. Gameplay is always fantastic, variable and interesting, and you can play a second game quickly by simply flipping the image cards over to reveal 16 new ways to create content.

And Pictures, despite saying on the box that it is for ages 14 and up, plays well even with a 7-year-old child who likes to draw.

I bought my copy of Pictures for $27 online and there are plenty of great deals out there to get your hands on this game for a very fair price. I don’t know why the box is as big as it is, but what’s inside is an absolute treat. Check out Pictures and don’t make the same mistake I did waiting so long to get this to the table!

Pictures details

About the author

Justin Bell

Gamer / husband / dad / DEI champion / foodie / hoop head / cinephile / travel enthusiast. If you're in Chicago, let's meet up and roll some dice! @justinbellsays

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