Listen. I can’t draw. I write reviews. I hope I’m decent at crafting things like sentences and paragraphs. But I don’t use audio, video, any sort of fancy graphic design, or other mediums. Just the written word. Like many of you out there, I’ve no artistic strain of talent whatsoever. So let’s just dive with great trepidation into Pictomania, shall we?!
How To Play
Nah, don’t worry! There’s no reason to be anxious! In this social/party game, players simultaneously draw, with maybe devices such as those beginner’s drawing tablets, a secretly assigned thing from a pool of words in the center of the table. And then everyone tries to guess individually (also simultaneously) what each other player is drawing, based on those clues, by placing numbered cards in front of each drawing. Or they might be more like scribblings, because the sooner you finish your artwork, the quicker you can start guessing at others’. That might leave some illustrations in a category closer to Rorschach Test than masterpiece!
Pictomania is aptly named. It revolves around pictures and it creates elevated states of excitement, even hysteria! The game lasts four rounds in which you first draw your assigned object or concept, and then guess what the others are supposedly depicting. It’s kind of like two phases each round, but that makes it sound orderly. It is not.
At the beginning of a round, randomly select and place three cards in the center of the table. These are labeled A, B, and C. These cards list seven things and are accordingly numbered. Each player also has their own set of color-coded scoring tokens, equal in number to player count, and of varying values, and matching sets of guessing cards, also identified by your color. Finally you are secretly dealt an alphabetical card and a numerical card, designating what you must draw from those three communal lists. If you get B-5, simply consult the cards to determine that you need to depict a Rainbow. Great, you think, that’s easy! Alas, the lists get more difficult in succeeding rounds. By the final one you might wind up with A-6, which turns out to be Integrity. Uh…? Yeah.
When everyone has their assignment – and knows just what they heck it is or how it’s defined (which can be a scenario in the last two rounds depending on who you’re playing with) – the fury begins. Do your best, but be quick. Because once you’re finished, the guessing starts – and you don’t have to wait on anyone. Just put your pencil down when you’re satisfied with your art and grab your guessing cards.
Your cards are numbered 1 through 7. As you look at each player’s drawing, consult the lists in the center to identify what someone is drawing and slap the corresponding card down in front them. If Mary’s picture looks like a Cinnamon Bun, peruse the lists to see that that’s in the number 5 slot and throw your number 5 card in front of Mary’s drawing. Well, don’t be sloppy about it, because each guess needs to be stacked in the order as everyone lays them down. It’s important! Meanwhile, other players will be slamming their cards next to your artwork, as well as all the others. Arms will be twisted, everyone’s crying in panic, and pencils and paper will be flying. By the way, you need a table in which everyone can reach across to others without difficulty…until you get in each other’s way, that is!
Once you’ve started voting, you can’t touch up or revisit your own chicken scratches. When you’ve finished all your guesswork, there are bonus tokens in the center available on a first come, first serve basis. The sooner you’re done, the better bonus you can nab.
When the drawing and guessing and commotion are complete, you reveal how everyone did – both in their artistic talent and with their keen eye of deduction. To be sure, this phase of the game is a lot calmer! Beginning with one person, then around the table, each declares what their drawing is…or should have been…and then picks up the stack of guess cards in front of them. The first to guess, aka the card at the bottom of the stack, is shown. If it is correct, its owner gets your best point token still available…worth three as things get started. The next two to pick accurately will win two points, while the the last two earn one (although the combination of point tokens is based on player count). You must keep any tokens not rewarded because of bad guesses.
You’ll get tokens, too, as your opponents pass out their rewards. After all of this reconciliation, you count up your total. Add the values of the point tokens earned from guessing other drawings correctly, plus the bonus token you were able to nab, but then subtract your tokens that might be leftover because one or more others might have whiffed, incorrectly surmising your artwork. Mark your score and aggregate all of your points over four rounds. The winner wins a full ride scholarship to the Art Institute of Well, At Least Your Mom Loves Your Pictures.
Bound for the Louvre? Or the Refrigerator?
Drawing games can be tricky. There are ones like Pictionary, where actual skill is necessary for victory. Designs of that nature, like trivia games, don’t always succeed in general circulation or in mixed-peer groups. Plus they can be intimidating for those who can’t draw. Yet at the same time, they are frustrating to the ones who can, but must rely on those of the former category who inevitably weigh them down. Then there is something like Telestrations, in which poor artistic skills are not only irrelevant but make the experience even funnier. Still, drawing games meet with mixed results and one must pay close attention to the group you play with, or it can fall flat.
Pictomania is a little cumbersome to explain, but once you’ve played a round, it all makes chaotic sense. The design teases those of us with no talent, because you do need to draw with some modicum of accuracy in order to give away your scoring tokens, minimizing penalty points. But then it tosses us a bone in rewarding speed, as well as a keen eye for just jumping in and correctly deducing what others are drawing…maybe even before they’ve finished!
So as I’ve said, this drawing design isn’t all about drawing. You certainly need to depict your assigned thing as recognizably as possible so that the other players can hopefully deduce what the heck it is. That’s how you give your scoring tokens away, so as not to get stuck with penalties. But you can accomplish that without being perfect. Or even remotely perfect! That’s because if someone – or let’s be honest, everyone – is stumped with your drivel, they can quickly scan the list of words on the three cards and make a very educated guess. Then again, sometimes it can be touch or go, because all of the items on one list are very similar…some extremely close, even. Is that elongated worm-looking blob a parasite, or actually a plankton?
Assisting you in your educated guess is the fact that each number will only be represented once around the table in a given round, which can be a very helpful element. If others can’t tell if you’re trying to conjure up a comet as opposed to an asteroid, then perhaps they can see what numbered guessing cards they have left and arrive at a conclusion by process of elimination? They already used their number 3 on George’s hay meadow, so now they know yours is definitely a rice paddy. Maybe. Hopefully. Plus every player can immediately eliminate the guessing card of their own number, because no one else will have that digit.
Pro tip: set the guess card from your stack matching your own number aside before proceeding to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment!
That said, if your first or second guesses – or both – are incorrect, then that numbered card is no longer available should you come across the need for it later in the round. So a poor hunch can cause cascading problems! It’s a good idea to look over each drawing before starting your guesses (you know, the same principal with reading all the answers to a question on a test). Hopefully you can play cards to pictures you’re quite certain about, which will help narrow the possibilities for the sketchier images.
But, wait, there’s more!
If you still find it difficult to overcome your glaring artistic deficiencies, you can fall back on your sharp eyes and quick reflexes! In Pictomania, often speed balances poor talent. It even becomes part of your “strategy,” not to imply there’s any carefully crafted planning here. But eventually you’ll need to place down your pencil and pick up those guessing cards. When you decide that tipping point has arrived can be crucial. For two reasons. If you can beat as many opponents to as many drawings as possible, you’ll potentially rake in the higher value scoring tokens. Then of course, if you’re the first to finish, you get the higher bonus chits, as well. As other players jump up to start their guessing while you’re still furiously scribbling, you will be tempted to quit sooner than you’d like, just so as to not be left out of those bonuses. And more often than not, you will give in to that temptation!
The fear of being left out is only one aspect that drives the design’s frenetic merriment. The whole system creates much more. Drawing games already have an inherent fun factor – if you can overcome the self-consciousness of drawing and others scrutinizing your work. Pictionary has a speed element in completing as many images as possible within a certain time, while Telestrations’ “telephone” element makes for some hilariously bizarre endings. Pictomania combines the former’s frantic pace with the latter’s wildly silly creations to produce a raucous experience that just has an intangibly fun vibe about it. You’ll anxiously rush to get your image made to a satisfactory point, and then hurriedly rush to get your guessing work done, all while bumping into others and frantically glancing from drawings to lists and back to drawings, then shuffling through your point cards to find that one you need…and then, oh, where did it go again? And don’t forget to nab a bonus token when you’ve wrapped up that madness…because you will. Then you can relax while everyone tells you what their picture was supposed to be admisdt hoorays and jeers and laughter…and then, well, maybe you don’t want others analyzing your pic, after all!
This is the second edition. I have not played the first. There are actually some significant differences, aside from the new look and revised word cards. First, there are only three word cards in play, no matter the player count. Apparently that fluctuated in the original version, depending on players. As far as the writing medium, this new edition also uses paper sheets and pencils, instead of dry erase boards and markers. You can download additional sheets from Czech Games’ website, but unfortunately not additional pencils. The player and bonus point tokens are different shapes and now come in different values. They are now worth 3/2/2/1/1 instead of 3/2/1/1/1. But more consequential, all players get a bonus token every round. The first edition allowed for one less token than number of players and rounds ended when the last was taken, thus leaving one player completely out. However, that original rule is at least a variant in this iteration. Also, the second edition lasts four rounds, instead of five. And a final major change is that you may not add to or continue your drawing once you’ve started guessing, whereas in the first game you could draw, stop, guess, and get back to drawing as desired. Which could probably change up your strategy, for sure!
Pictomania is a unique and wild party/social activity that alleviates the fears of those who can’t draw about participating in this genre of games. Since speed is just as much a priority, let’s just say that the art isn’t always worthy of the masters. It’s not supposed to be. Instead, the beauty lies in the fact that you need to be a little accurate, so others correctly guess your work and you don’t lose points. But at the same time you need to be quick, compensating for any lack of skill by nabbing the best points off your opponents’ pictures. Thankfully, the list of clues helps to facilitate that, too. It’s a combination that works very well to accommodate mixed-peer groups and invite non-drawers into the fold. More importantly the ensuing chaos and laughs are just simply fun.
Czech Games Editions provided a copy of Pictomania for this review.