Panini™: The Game
Whatever the marketers may tell you, solipsistic horror masquerading under the guise of a cheery board game isn’t new. Dixit did it. A Fake Artist Goes to New York perfected it. Even Mysterium can’t escape that most terrifying existential fact of humanity, that our minds are rafts untethered and adrift on a fog-choked sea, ever in proximity but never quite able to sail in parallel. It’s crazy stuff. Like, does a number even exist, man?
Meanwhile, the real-world Pantone can apparently bring a lawsuit against you for using a particular shade of orange. Perfect for a game that celebrates artistic creativity! But that’s the weird thing about Pantone™: The Board Game. It’s ostensibly about a corporation that owns color, yet somehow manages to stage an odd and endearing paean to player expression and artistic abstraction.
Yeah. Go figure.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In Pantone™, you draw a handful of cards that each reveal the name of a person, living or dead, real or fictional. Sailor Moon, perhaps. Fred Flinstone. Jean-Luc Picard. The shark from Jaws. It’s then your task to get somebody to guess your subject. If they guess correctly, they win some points and you win some points. If nobody guesses correctly, you reveal a clue. The more clues you’re forced to reveal, the fewer points the winners win. Also your self-image as a viable artist comes under siege, but there’s no way to score that.
It’s the stuff of nearly every party game since some cavemen decided to invent Pictionary on the walls of their cave in Lascaux. But where Pantone™ sets itself apart is in its willingness to let you fail. Possibly horribly if you’re as bad at visual art as I am.
The first essential step is the medium itself. Solid blocks of color, undoubtedly protected under maritime law should you use them for anything other than playing Pantone™, laid atop the table to represent your character. Lara Croft? Give her a peach-colored head, a brown card underneath it at an angle to represent her ponytail, a sky-blue shirt with triangle boobs, and there you go: an unmistakable icon. At least until your friends and family make a bunch of blundering guesses that crush your weirdly fragile identity as somebody who’s cosplayed every incarnation of Tomb Raider.
Already, Pantone™ works. The colors are vivid enough that you can approximate pretty much anything, while the limitation of only four cards per color, their chunky rectangular shape, and a one-minute timer all combine to make your life difficult. And that’s assuming you know who your card is talking about. One time, Somerset was holding Thanos. You know, the snappy antagonist of the Avengers who didn’t read any rebuttals to Thomas Malthus in college. Apparently, Summer thought he was a dude with a huge goofy smile and an eye patch.
Solipsism. Rafts on a fog-choked sea. Communication is impossible, and we will all die alone because already we all live alone, and—
Ahem. As I was saying, it works. But works isn’t enough for Pantone™.
After that first go-round, the limitations kick in. While illustrating your second person, you can still use as many cards as you like — but each color only once. No more repeating a single color to draw the eye. Now it’s all about placement, which cards sit atop the others, and how cleverly you can abstract your subject.
The third time around, it gets even more complicated. Now you’re limited to three cards. It’s a challenge on two levels: first, because it’s hard to represent anything with three rectangles of color, and second, because this is the culmination of that hand of cards you drew at the beginning. Did you save something with an easily-interpreted shape and coloring? Or did you squander your easy personages to secure points early on?
As an exercise in expression, it’s hard not to be drawn to Pantone™. Even its downsides resemble quibbles. Its cards could squeeze into a tuckbox, which is both a waste of space and an indicator that there aren’t all that many cards to draw from. The clues kind of suck — seriously, Person(s)? Thanks for the hint, Pantone™. Did you hire someone from the color farm to write it? While you’re at it, just forget the two-player game. It’s one of the few times that belching about how “activities are not games” is almost appropriate. This is a party affair for groups of humans. Don’t go fudging the player count.
Like I said, quibbles — albeit the kind that could have been ironed out with a bit more attention. Still, Pantone™ is a delightful surprise, as weird as it is effective. It embraces a gentle form of gradual abstraction, prompting its players to begin broadly and constantly compress. By the end of the final round, two or three rectangles can be evaluated by the angle of their tilt, the way a space is filled or left empty, or whether colors were doubled or not.
And, of course, there’s the fact that even your best efforts become pearls before swine when none of the philistines at the table grasp your latest masterpiece. Everyone is a misunderstood artist at heart. If only Pantone™ had filled in a few negative spaces of its own, it might have been a classic.
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