Starving Artists: Strategy Guide for New Players

In the world of Starving Artists, there aren’t a lot of possible actions: work, paint, and buy. But your choices and combinations of actions impact greatly your ability to survive and win the game. After numerous people asking how to win, I have compiled a list of strategies that have help guide other players and assisted them in surviving.  Also in this post, I do math.

No strategy guarantees that you’ll win or make it all the way to victory. The game with the default rules is hard. There is a risk of starvation even under the best of circumstances. That said, there are things that will increase your chances.

Basic rules

Let’s make sure you have the basic rules correct. Often players who have a hard time, miss one or more of these rules and make for a very difficult game since the market grows too slowly.

  • You start with six paint cubes drawn randomly from the bag.
  • The market starts with four paint cubes.
  • At the start of each day, you add four more paint cubes to the market.
  • You may trade your paint cubes for cubes in the market once per day as follows: 2 cubes for 1, 5 cubes for 2, or 9 cubes for 3.
  • When you purchase canvases from the market, you pay paint cubes to the market.

With these rules, the number of paints in the market grows until someone sells a completed painting.

Opening strategy

I find it best to start a game with these initial three goals:

  1. Acquire a canvas with cubes that closely resemble the paint cubes currently in your studio, otherwise wait
  2. Work until you have a good percentage of the necessary paint cubes
  3. Trade to the market frequently for paint cubes you’re missing

Looking at the mechanisms in Starving Artists, here’s what this means:

  • You have 10 actions. There are up to ten actions you can take before you actually run out of nutrition (2 actions per day).
  • You only need to use three to four actions to finish a canvas. For most canvases, you need to preserve three to four actions to complete your first canvas: one to acquire the canvas and two or three to apply eight to twelve paint cubes. But that means that you can acquire up to fifteen cubes (for a total of 21 cubes) at random and still have a day left.
  • You should be trading and trading often. There are up to five opportunities to trade for cubes that you need.
  • You should not waste your paint actions.  You can apply up to four paints per paint action, and you should make sure to apply that many when you do paint.

Knowing this, your first canvas acquisition should be strategic: which painting in the market most closely matches your current assortment of cubes?

Have more than one canvas

After you acquire your first canvas, you should also be thinking about getting your second canvas even before you finish your first. In Starving Artists, the most common mistake is to waste paint actions: i.e., not applying all four paint cubes on a turn. I liken this to browsing Reddit or Kickstarter when you should be working. This happens a lot when the canvas you’re working on has some number of squares that isn’t perfectly divisible by four (note this isn’t always the case if you’ve been painting multiple canvases).

In Starving Artists, you can apply the four paint cubes to any number of canvases you own. So, you should always be thinking about having at least two canvases in your studio so that when you complete one, you can add any extra paint cubes to the next canvas.

Food first

For beginners, I suggest a food-first strategy. It’s almost always the right decision to snag canvases that reward two nutrition, especially when this is your “primary” canvas you are working on.  Two nutrition equates to four more actions.  As I noted above, most canvases take at least three to four actions to complete putting two nutrition canvases as a sweet spot.

Look at the maximum number of paints a canvas will return second. It turns out that once you start your canvas painting engine running, the actual return on any given canvas matters a lot less than making sure you’re selling when you can get paint cubes that will help finish your next painting.

Points matter for victory, but they’re not necessary for victory either. Rushing to complete a bunch of paintings can be equally effective as spending a lot of time on the higher scoring paintings.

When to trade?

Trading does not cost you one of your actions.

As such, you should be trading just about every day if you can. The market is constantly getting new paint cubes (either because it’s the start of the new day or other players are buying canvases or trading for cubes themselves).

Per the rules, you can do it any time during your action phase (first or second).  This means that in a day where you work twice, you can wait until after you’ve drawn your sixth cube and then trade to the market.  My typical rules of thumb:

  1. If I’m taking a work action, trade after I work.
  2. Trade on my second action of the day, unless there’s only one of a cube I need and someone else is likely to take it.  The reason is that it’s possible for the market to grow slightly between your first and second action in a day.  Waiting until the second action gives you that advantage.
  3. Trade if it means you’ll finish the market and be able to retake those paint cubes when you sell your painting. This trick is especially useful for when you use the 5:2 and 9:3 trade actions.

When to sell?

This aspect is perhaps the most vexing for beginning players. Over the course of the game, the proper timing will change.

  • Early in the game, it makes sense to sell quickly, especially if you can be the first. Since the first seller has essentially the pent up value of the first 2-3 days.
  • Later in the game, I tend to follow this pattern:
    • Sell when I have to, such as when I’d otherwise starve.
    • Sell when I know I’ll get a decent return on my canvas
    • Sell when I know I can grab paint cubes that will help me complete my next painting.

Note that I do not say that it’s always best to sell when I have the most valuable painting.  In some cases, when there’s few paints in the market, I might take less (as a percentage) of a high value painting versus someone selling a lower value painting.

What to take from the market?

You should be taking paints that will help you with your next one or two canvases. Even if you don’t have a canvas in your studio, you should be looking at the Canvas market to see which paintings you could finish quickly. If none of the remaining cubes help, acquire either blue (the color that appears most frequently on canvases) or red/violet (the colors least likely to be drawn from the bag).

Use your wild paints / split squares

Wild paints are great: you can use one to to substitute for any color on a canvas.  My recommendation is:

  • Always use the wild paint cube as the last paint cube onto the canvas.
  • If you have more than one in your studio, use at least one on a canvas you’re painting. Don’t hold onto them. Use it to substitute a color you can apply to a different canvas.
  • You can use them to trade, and you should think about doing that especially if it helps you complete a canvas.

Some canvases have squares that let you use one of two different colored cubes. Like wild paint cubes, generally, you should wait until the end to paint these squares because you might be able to use one color or another on a subsequent canvas.  By waiting to see what you will use, you might preserve one additional work action or save a trade for another necessary color.


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