“Daphnis” by Art & Fable Puzzle Company

Daphnis by Stephanie Law

The puzzle for today is brought to us by Art & Fable Puzzle Company. Art & Fable has a small selection of puzzles that largely leans towards fantasy and whimsy, and a sort of medieval slash renaissance sensibility. But they also have some with a more contemporary feel, of which I like this one of a rather sweet family of robots taking a stroll to the local bakery.

Art & Fable’s most prominent selling point is their uber matte, velvet soft finish. Puzzle glare is actually the worst, so I’ve been eyeing this brand for awhile.

But dude the prices are kind of………a lot.

1000 pieces list for $30.95, and 500 pieces list for $23.95.

That’s a big ask given that the reigning king of the premium puzzle, Ravensburger, prices their 1000 piece puzzles anywhere from $18.99 to $24.99.

From the art gallery styled website, the fine art focus, to the puzzle extras and the “velvet touch” finish– Art & Fable are firmly marketing themselves as as luxury brand. So the question is whether the experience justifies the wallet bruising prices.

To answer that question I’ll be putting together Daphnis with artwork by Stephanie Law.

And hey, check out the artist photo.

That’s totally a handknit shawl y’all.

Box design is quite nice and features the same finish as the puzzle pieces. And, yes, it does feel really soft with a pleasant drag, similar to running your hand over velvet. Over-all the layout is clean and uncluttered.

Notice the title and artist formatting: Title by Artist. The same way artwork is titled in a museum. I love spotting little details like this.

Daphnis box lid

A couple nitpicks I don’t dig: the brown seal, and the exclamation points.

I never know if I complain about stuff like this because it annoys me from a design standpoint or because I actually think it makes the experience worse. But it’s like when a movie fails at creating suspension of disbelief– it might be mostly good, but aspects of the movie that seem incongruous will pull you right out of the experience. That’s how I feel about branding and design that are a mismatch.

So firstly, exclamation points are not luxurious or refined. They don’t match what you’re trying to be, Art & Fable. It’s like Louis Vuitton advertising their store by putting a sign spinner out on the sidewalk.

Secondly, the brown seal is ugly and distracting. These puzzles come wrapped in shrink-wrap and already have a sticker on it that exactly matches this brown seal. So, I was a little chagrined to pull off the shrink wrap and see the same ugly seal also printed permanently on the box.

Moving on.

Daphnis puzzle title
Daphnis company name

The sides of the box are really nice, I’d say even more attractive than the front. They’ve created a perfectly symmetrical frame and filled a generous piece of it with the just the title and the image preview. Their abbreviated logo looks great nestled in the decorative corners of the frame.

I do wish a LITTLE bit that they put the image horizontally to match the word orienation. But still, this seriously looks super good.

Here’s the vertical storage. Doesn’t look quite so striking, but still good.

Daphnis vertical storage

Then there’s this butt ugly side, haha. Keep the ugly contained.

Daphnis the ugly stuff

The back. Lots of information, details and an artist bio. The ugly junk featured above allows them cram tons if info on the back and still keep it looking tidy.

Daphnis box back

Now what’s inside?

Daphnis box contents

Cardstock print , bagged pieces, a ziploc storage bag, and a box stand.

The print is legit, not a cheap piece of creased paper that could technically be displayed. Nope, it’s solid cardstock and printed with their signature velvet finish– it would look absolutely fantastic framed and hung on a wall.

The box stand totally made my day when I saw it. It’s a little slip of cardboard that has a majorly outsized, positive impact on the puzzling experience. Super smart addition.

The ziploc baggie is less of a wow for me, it’s just a bag. But it speaks to Art & Fable trying to anticipate and provide what we want.

For sure the contents are above and beyond any other brand of puzzle I’ve done.

The pieces are thick, well-glued, and cut with all combinations of tabs vs sockets. Print quality is excellent, crisp lines and no pixellation. Very minimal puzzle dust.

The tabs are not identically cut, but they do have more uniformity in shape than I’d like to see.

A stack of ten pieces measures juuuust over 3/4″ (2 cm).

The velvet finish is actually all that. Zero shine, no glare. The colors are rich and saturated. The visual impact of the print quality and velvet finish are indisputable, and one hundred percent the best I’ve seen, no contenders.

The color saturation without the interference of any glare makes the puzzle not just a visual pleasure, but really makes the assembly easier and extra enjoyable. All the little things one does to work around glare felt conspicuously absent. No head bobbing, sideview angling, no moving my chair or the puzzle to shift the glare elsewhere. And despite this being a tall puzzle I did nearly all the top portion without needing to lean over the table for a better view because the image is so eminently visible.

My approach to this puzzle was initially to just flip all the pieces over, I didn’t really see a good sorting strategy at first.

So I did the border, then I was able to make some little progress on the berries, the ring and her face but I quickly ran into an overwhelming sea of greenish, whitish, plantish pieces.

So I went for a simple division between green and white. The pile of yellowish pieces was an afterthought because they kept jumping out at me as not really being green or white.

At this point I was able to build up a bunch of the rose stems, her hands, and the dark green leaves. Overall it was moderately slow progress because each feature is relatively small.

This puzzle really nicely straddles the line between approachable and challenging. If you look closely you can see that what appears as a sea of foliage consists of lots of color and pattern variety. And while there’s a lot of white, it comes in various shades and patterns. It wasn’t a breeze, but there is enough variety and detail that I never felt overwhelmed or at a loss with what to do next.

Completed it looks really good.

Here you can see the no-glare finish in action. The first photo shows a Buffalo Games puzzle overlaid on Daphnis and you can clearly see the difference.

Below you can see close-up the two puzzles side by side. In regards to color, the Buffalo Games printing is more vivid, but I wouldn’t consider Art & Fable “worse” in comparison. They have a different feel from each other but I think they both look equally good.

Final assessment, I would say that Art & Fable makes quite nice puzzles, but I don’t believe the quality is there to justify the price. I say this for two reasons.

First is that I had too many false fits. They need to tweak their die cuts to give their tabs more variety. Daphnis has lots of detail to clue-in that a piece is wrong, but this problem would be much worse on a darker image or on large sections of one color.

Second, too many pieces with damage. See below a selection of damaged pieces circled in pink. Many pieces came from the factory sort of….dented? (See the two pieces by the bee’s head.) Other’s had some minor lifting that got worse due to the pieces have a, perhaps, too snug fit. Meanwhile, intact pieces had lifting damage caused to them simply from being taken apart from another piece.

I think their production process needs to round the top edge of the pieces a bit more because the pieces are well-compressed and glued underneath, but the top layer tends to catch.

There were around twenty damaged pieces all said and done, and that’s too many for a high-end puzzle. There are plenty of affordable brands that consistently produce puzzles with negligable levels of false fits and piece damage. I expect a luxury brand to be able to do so as well.

I am disappointed because I really actually hate puzzle glare. The uber matte finish is a really big selling point for me. And I did notice a real impact for the better during assembly, so I am absolutely on board with paying a premium for that finish.

Unfortunately, while the puzzle is very good, it is not $31 good. Sure, extras are nice, but they aren’t the primary product. I don’t buy a puzzle for the art print, or to get a box stand. I buy it for the puzzle.

I’d rather they ditch ALL the extras, perfect the puzzle, and try to lower the price to $28. I would buy that.

If you are curious about the velvet finish I’d say go ahead and order a puzzle to try. The puzzle does have a unique feel and appearance, and it’s got enough quality going for it that another person might have a much more positive impression. More so if you intend the art print to actually end up on your wall. But, for me, without atleast a 30% discount, I’m likely not shopping Art & Fable going forward.

On the headphones:

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