September 3, 2015 11:30 AM | John Bridgman
What is often overlooked in the management sim genre is the ability to inspire learning. Being able to teach us about times and experiences outside of our usual scope of interest is a powerful thing, and it's rare to see a game leverage that ability. History teacher Lucas Molina has taken his knowledge and research and turned them into a fun and approachable management game about running an art academy in Renaissance Italy called Painter's Guild.
Recently released on Steam, it puts you in the role of a young painter starting out in creating their own academy in one of three Italian cities. You begin your work by taking on jobs from people as they come to your guild, creating paintings, mixing paints, and enhancing their skills by placing your customized character on various stations you set down in the building.
Eventually you will be able to hire young, talented artists to join you in the guild, and they too you will be able to manage as the paintings get more complex, your painters' skills increase, and the time constraints to finish your works become more and more narrow. In addition, you'll sometimes be asked to perform special tasks outside of the academy, such as assigning your painters to work on elaborate cathedrals or other buildings for extra money and prestige.
Your guild of course is upgradeable, allowing you to do things like improve the skill increases of your painters, or the quality of rest they can receive when their energy gets depleted. There's a decent variety to the upgrade options, though for the most part they are fairly linear in that the more expensive options tend to just be statistically better than cheaper ones.
Also upgradeable is the building itself, which can be expanded upon to allow more room for painters to live at your guild, as well as decorated to improve your prestige as an academy. You'll find yourself needing more painters as your prestige grows too, as you'll start getting jobs faster, with more demanding expectations. Between the speed you need to work, and the need to maintain your paint supplies as well as your artists' energy levels, each additional set of hands in the guild is a welcome addition.
This creates a very tangible sense of progression as you play through Painter's Guild, and that's important to keep the game going. The play itself is repetitive, but this progression keeps it engaging and fun. Seeing what events occur as time passes, and watching your painters get better and better is rewarding and I found myself immediately getting drawn into the game.
You can also hire famous artists early on in their careers, though these prodigies will require a significant monetary investment. They wind up being a goal to strive towards. Bringing in someone like Leonardo da Vinci is a reward in and of itself, and assigning him to work on your complex projects (or perhaps setting him to just mix paint for his entire career) is a fun little side note to the game itself.
The pixel art used still manages some very good detail despite being generally small. The character sprites are surprisingly endearing, thanks in part to the large faces and eyes used. They bring a lot of personality in such little sprites, and I found it quick to get to "know" my painters as I played more of the game. Musically, the game has a soundtrack appropriate to the time period, and the pieces used are soothing and relaxing. The sound effects the artists make as you drag them onto stations are a little odd, but this is far from a deal breaker.
Painter's Guild is a game that hooked me in almost immediately with its aesthetic. Its gameplay kept me going, and the tangible sense of progression to go along with it quickly put it in the category of games which have genuinely surprised me with how long I'd been playing them. My first sessions playing it resulted in me absolutely losing track of time, and I think anybody who likes management sims will find this to be the same for them. If you're interested in art history, by all means give this a try as well. For me, Lucas Molina has created a truly outstanding game I'll be playing for a long time yet.