After a side trek into the world of horror with Mansions of Madness and a collection of Halloween-appropriate games, this week I’m here to recommend a brilliant new game about creativity, engineering know-how, and a steady hand. Junk Art is colorful and simple to pick up for experienced tabletop gamers who want a break from more in-depth strategy games, but it’s also an ideal family game, or even a fun option for a night in with your partner. 

Junk Art keeps its thematic concept very straightforward. You’re an aspiring artist on a world tour, building up crazy constructions of odd shapes and color, all with the goal of amassing fans and delighting those who visit your installations. Your chosen medium is junk – flower pots, balls, pipes, and platforms – and every piece must fit meticulously with its fellows to create a towering testament to your genius.

The game’s big visual lure is its varied, multi-colored pieces. These vibrant wooden pieces seem ill-suited for construction, but the more you play, the more you find intriguing ways for the different pieces to fit together. The pieces are smartly crafted, smoothly tooled, and excellently balanced, so it comes down to your own choice of placement and light touch to ensure that your tower grows on each turn. 

Junk Art comes in a sturdy and attractive wooden box with a slide top

A player could have a blast simply dumping all the pieces onto the table and trying to build the most elaborate stack. But Junk Art’s other point of its excellence is its game modes, which help to make every game feel distinct from the last, and keep the stacking experience novel each time you make an attempt. The variation in play comes through the world tour concept, and cards that dictate which city you will visit next. Each city represents a new gameplay variation, and a standard game includes a visit to three cities, with the winner declared after fans have declared their allegiance in each of the visited metropolises. 

While stacking the blocks is always the focus, designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim have done a remarkable job in providing twists on the formula. Visit Indianapolis, and the rules dictate a frantic race to put all your pieces into a single structure in the shortest amount of time. Head to New York, and every player must create a chain of pieces of similar shape or color to keep their turn going. There’s even a cowboy-themed Nashville variant that is enabled by pulling in pieces from Pretzel Games’ other great title, Flick ‘em Up. All told, there are a dozen included rule sets, plus three cards that can be customized to create your own rules. In my time playing, I loved the new twists that emerged with each city, and the competition of the full world tour often began to take a back seat to digging in to each players’ favorite modes of play.  

A card deck depicts each of the pieces; draw from the deck to see what the next piece is that must be placed

Smart rules govern the placement of pieces and what happens when one of your shapes falls off. Everyone builds their art installation on top of a standard black base block, so there’s no doubt about what is touching the ground. A deck of cards includes all the many-colored blocks in the game, solving the problem of how you can dictate that a player select a random piece for their next turn. And every one of the game modes encourages quick and simple play, helping to keep game times short, even when playing with up to six players. 

Junk Art is part of a growing trend of accessible, tactile games that are welcoming to all player types, but with the depth and sensibility afforded by smart, heavily play-tested design. It’s an easy recommendation for virtually any game group, so long as you’re not looking for a heavy, lengthy strategic affair. If that is what you’re after, you may want to peruse the backlog in our Top of the Table hub, where I’ve frequently highlighted some of the weightier games worth checking out; you can explore the hub by clicking on the banner below. In the meantime, drop me a line by email or Twitter if there’s a particular game or genre you’d like to see highlighted next.