15th Jul2021

‘Holi: Festival of Color’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

The board game market is a fickle place – some games seem to gather huge momentum, selling out immediately and attracting reprint after reprint before you’re ever likely to see them sitting on a shelf waiting for a buyer. Others, on the other hand, don’t quite hit the mark for whatever reason, and it’s not uncommon to see a great fame disappear from popular discussion relatively quickly. Sadly Holi: Festival of Color seems to fall into this latter category, even though it is a beautiful, innovative and straightforward game. Here’s hoping this review gives it some of the limelight that it deserves.

Holi: Festival of Color is inspired by the Indian festival of the same name. During Holi, Hindu people celebrate the start of spring and all the colours that it brings – to do this, they throw colourful powders and paints over each other, resulting in bright, chaotic scenes in which everyone revels in the occasion. Holi: Festival of Color seeks to replicate some of these ideas by using colourful tokens to represent the paint, and it playfully introduces competitive elements by adding in bonus mechanics for hitting your opponents with your own paint. A unique, three-tier board adds a ton of visual flair, even if it makes less sense thematically.

Playing Holi: Festival of Color is mega simple. On your turn, you simply play a card from your hand of three (drawn from a deck of thirteen) and then place paint tokens in your colour in accordance with the pattern. Some cards assume that the player is in one of the positions shown on the card (so only the others are painted) whilst others show the position of the player relative to where the paint will land. In either of these cases, the player can choose which orientation to interpret their card from, and this gives plenty of options that help to negate some paint placement rules – such as not being able to throw paint where an opponent already has, or use a card that has a paint symbol that would extended over the board edge.

Also on their turn, the player can move to any space on their current level, and (not or) if they are able to move into a space that is orthogonally surrounded by paint, they may ascend to the next level. There are a few things to consider when deciding when to move or ascend, and I should mention that players may move and/or ascend before or after throwing paint, so there’s plenty of flexibility and satisfaction to be had from picking the move you really want to do, and not just what you’re allowed to do. Sweets placed on the board also play a role, with points for collecting more than your opponents, and of course, you may also wish to move to either get into (or out of) range of your opponents.

The reason you’ll throw paint, aim for your opponents and collect sweets is all linked to scoring, as you might expect. Paint tokens placed on the lowest level of the board are worth one point, paint on the second level is worth two and paint on the third level is worth three. Hitting your opponent with paint directly is also worth one point, but when you do this, you’ll also place one of your paint tokens in their supply – scoring two points at the end of the game. Why put yourself in jeopardy to collect sweets? Well, you’ll gain five points for every opponent that has fewer sweets than you – so in a four-player game the person with most sweets will gain fifteen points.

Separately, Holi: Festival of Color includes a fairly deep deck of optional scoring cards that spice up the basic game – with the rules recommending use of perhaps two of these from two different categories. Options include specific bonuses for collecting sweets or placing paint on a specific floor and there’s one card that makes a player hit by paint hand sweets over to whoever hits them. I’d suggest that once you’re familiar with the basic rules, you’ll almost certainly want to play with these rules in various forms, as none add much to the overall complexity, but they do change the strategy in quite interesting ways.

Perhaps the only slightly fiddly aspect of Holi: Festival of Color is one that I haven’t mentioned yet, but it is also one of the most key aspects of gameplay – that of paint falling from higher to lower floors. When a player ascends and throws paint, with each throw they need to check the floor below them. If a player is in a space below (and therefore there is no paint) the paint falls onto them and must be added to their supply (worth two points later.) Critically, this is not a direct hit and does not count for one immediate point. If, on the other hand, the paint is thrown and the space below has paint in it, the paint stays on the current floor. If there is nothing on the floor below, then the paint falls through.

This three-dimensional aspect introduces interesting but still straightforward considerations. Having your paint hit another player when it falls through the floor is fairly good, but it’s still worth less points than paint on the top floor. Paint on the top floor should always be your top priority (unless a variation card dictates otherwise) and so getting up the tower quickly is wise. There is a small benefit to being able to throw your paint around with less competition, but in honesty if spaces are open, you might as well be throwing paint on the floor above and then letting some of it drop. The more paint you have higher up, the better – there’s no doubt about that. This may even lead to a player moving to a surrounded space, picking up an opponent’s (or their own) paint and then ascending – there are many variations on what the right way to ascend is, as long as you do it!

I don’t think Holi: Festival of Color would work anywhere near as well if it weren’t for the beautiful production quality of this game. The three-tier tower is made from solid, good quality plastic trays, supported by robust and surprisingly durable cardboard pillars. The player pawns are huge and really gorgeous, whilst all the cards, tokens and other supporting materials are bright and colourful. My only minor complaint is that the red piece comes with orange cards (so not quite a match) and the green and yellow paint tokens look very similar under most artificial light – I would suggest this would present an issue for colour-blind people given the closeness to brown, green and red.

Holi: Festival of Color is a completely unique experience that is, as I mentioned earlier, nice and simple whilst also being very attractive. There’s a good level of strategy, very few complicated rules to deal with and as a result Holi: Festival of Color is a game that almost anyone can enjoy. Given the price point relative to what is in the box, Holi: Festival of Color is a game that just begs to be on your shelf – and the best bit is that it’s in stock and really reasonably priced. For me, Holi: Festival of Color is a welcome splash of colour in an industry that too often plays both its themes and mechanics very safely.

**** 4/5

Holi: Festival of Color is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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