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Marc Bloch Reviews Historical Video Games » Review: Painters Guild
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14 October 2015 by Published in: Reviews Tags: No comments yet

Painters Guild is a management game in which you operate a guild of painters in Renaissance Italy. Beginning with a single painter and a small building in either Florence, Venice, or Rome, you must put your artists to work—by clicking and dragging them around the guild—creating paintings for the wealthy patrons who (literally) come to your door, as well as having them rest, mix paints, and train their skills and learn new art styles.

The humble beginnings of a grand guild.

The humble beginnings of a grand guild.

As your guild gains more prestige, you will attract more patrons, as well as wealthier ones who demand larger and more difficult paintings, which in turn means you need to expand the guild with new apprentices and new rooms to keep up with demand.

As time goes by, artistic tastes and fashions also change—your patrons who were perfectly content with the sfumato style last year might demand unione or chiaroscuro the next. If you paint a painting in the correct style, you earn more money, but it requires you to make a strategic decision: Do you keep your artists working in the old style, or do you invest the time and opportunity costs required to retrain them in the new ones?


Times change, and with them the styles.

Overall, Painters Guild is a beautiful game with a very strong theme supported by a tight and focused design. The one caveat I do have is that it feels like your artists are working in somewhat of a vacuum, without much sense of a broader world happening around you. Occasionally you get small missives that report historical events, such as the death of Lorenzo di Medici or Columbus’s discovery of America. But these events do not appear to have any impact on the gameplay.

This also extends to your patrons, who order paintings of various difficulty levels and styles, but are otherwise more or less interchangeable. If they were actual people that you had to develop and manage relationships with, it would add some very welcome depth to the game.

"You want me to paint a what?" Some patrons have more complicated requirements.

“You want me to paint a what?” Some patrons have more complicated requirements.

Of course there is a balance to be kept here. On the one hand, keeping the scope of the game limited contributes much to the tight design that it has achieved. But on the other, the relative lack of content in the longer run means you tend to hit a plateau after a while, at which point there simply is not that much happening in the game any more.

So Painters Guild will probably not hold your attention for days at a time, but it is good for an hour’s entertainment here and there, and what is more, it is an absolute joy simply to experience. I strongly recommend it for that alone.

And now, as usual, we turn to Marc Bloch for the historical perspectives.

Marc_BlochPainters Guild: A Useful Corrective To Romanticist Nonsense

The proponents of the Romanticist movement of the 19th century are responsible for a great many sins. One of these, although by no means the worst, is the notion of the master artist as a single, lonesome individual working in majestic solitude with only his or her genius as companion.

Historically speaking, nothing could of course be further from the truth. Consider, if you will, the Sistine Chapel ceiling. “Michelanglo painted it,” people say to one another. Are we to think Buonarotti painted the entire ceiling by himself, building his own scaffolding, mixing his own plaster? Please.

Likewise, no painting from the Rembrandt workshop was painted from beginning to finish entirely by Rembrandt; many not at all. Assistants and pupils prepared the canvas, applied coatings and varnish, drew outlines, and participated in the artistic process to various degrees. In the final instance, any given Rembrandt painting may, for all we know, be a ‘true Rembrandt’ without the master painter himself having so much as laid a brush on it.

In short, master artists—in the Renaissance and both before and for a long time after—were craftsmen (as well as occasionally craftswomen), had workshops with journeymen and apprentices, and were usually organised in guilds like any other profession; guilds that existed in an intensely economic and political context.

This is the point made by Painters Guild, and it makes it well. It emphasises the essentially collective and commercial nature of pre-modern art, in which painters were required to collaborate extensively in order to meet the demands of the often fickle magnate patrons upon who they depended for their livelihood—and it does so with mechanics that reinforce the theme.

However, one point where Painters Guild does fall short is by abstracting away precisely the political context of Renaissance art. Creating art is always an inherently political act, and choosing the correct patron could make or break an artistic career. A simple example: A powerful gonfaloniere wants his portrait painted. Do you paint it, knowing that his faction could be out of power by the end of the year, his supporters shunned or exiled? Or do you refuse, perhaps antagonising an important local magnate. Considerations of scope aside, this is a point that Painters Guild could have looked closer at, instead of reducing the patrons to a steady stream of anonymous figures.

But as it stands, it is a well-researched little gem; and one that should cause you to look at the paintings in a different light the next time you visit an art museum.


Andreas Kjeldsen

A lovely game that suffers somewhat from limited scope and content, but makes up with it with strong design and delightful aesthetics. Highly recommended.

Marc Bloch

High marks for a game that examines the actual processes and context of creating Renaissance art. Many other so-called ‘historical games’ could learn much from this.


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