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Game Overview: Modern Art Card Game / Masters Gallery | BoardGameGeek News

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GS: After playing Masters Gallery from Reiner Knizia, I joked with Keith Blume of Gryphon Games that my review would be just one sentence: “It is Modern Art without the bidding.”

Truth-be-told, this is an accurate description as the game feels very similar to that famous board game, sans the bidding. One would initially suspect that removing the bidding would strip the game of its primary element and reduce it to a bland shadow of its predecessor. Surprisingly, that is not the case as the card game version, while simpler and quicker, is actually quite fun.

Interestingly, Gryphon Games has elected to release the game in two versions: Masters Gallery and Modern Art: The Card Game. Both have identical rules, with the only difference being the artwork on the cards. Masters Gallery uses reproductions of paintings from famous artists, while Modern Art: The Card Game uses fanciful art from fictional artists. The production of two different editions will likely enable Gryphon Games to obtain distribution in different markets.

Five cards — one representing each artist — are dealt in a row, which will be used to tally the scores. Cards depicting a collection of paintings from the artists are mixed, and thirteen dealt to each player. One more card is revealed, and play begins. Players alternate playing one card of their choice, the objective being to play artists that will be of the greatest value once the round is complete.

Most of the time, a player plays only one card at a time. However, many cards have special icons that allow the player to alter the normal course of play. These powers can allow the player to draw a new card, play two cards (sometimes face-up, sometimes face-down), place a two-point award token on an artist, or allow all players to play an additional card. The special powers add spice to the proceedings and force the players to make some interesting choices.

At any point a particular artist has six or more cards in play between all of the players — five or more with two players — the round ends and points are scored. All face-down cards are revealed, and based on the cards in play, the top three artists are determined. In the first round, paintings of the three top artists will be worth three, two and one points respectively, plus two points if the artist has a bonus token upon it. Ties are broken in favor of the artist who has the fewest overall paintings in the deck. The object, of course, is to play your cards in a fashion so that your paintings represent the artists scoring the most points.

Things get more interesting in subsequent rounds. As in the first round, only the top three artists score points, but the points that each artist earns are cumulative, which means that points an artist earned in previous rounds are added to those earned in the current round. For example, assume an artist placed first (3 points) in the first round and third (1 point) in the second round. If the artist now places first again (3 points) in the third round, each painting of that artist is worth seven points (3 + 1 + 3 = 7). Thus, it is wise to conserve cards of these artists and play them in later rounds to score more points. The risk, of course, is that the artist may not score at all in the earlier rounds if you don’t play them. That choice is at the heart of the game, which is fraught with an atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehension.

Another important consideration is that players receive only two additional sets of cards following the first and second rounds, and none following the third round (except when playing with two). Thus, players must manage their hand of cards carefully as the mix will change very little. While proper timing is important in the playing of particular cards, there is also a sizable degree of luck as you cannot control the cards your opponents will ultimately play.

The game is played over four rounds, and the player with the greatest cumulative value of points is victorious. A full game can generally be played in 30–45 minutes, which is perfect for the style and depth of the game.

Masters Gallery and its twin Modern Art: The Card Game play in a very similar manner as their ancestor, Modern Art. Of course, the major element missing is the auctions. Here, players actually play and possibly score the cards they are dealt as opposed to placing them up for auction. Removing the auction does simplify the game and remove an element that some fans of the original game might find abhorrent. Fair enough. However, I would urge folks not to prematurely dismiss this new game as it is quite fun and you’ll have some interesting decisions to make.

Yes, it can be frustrating to play your artists in an attempt to land them in the top spots only to have your opponents play different artists and shut you out of the scoring. I also wish a score pad or chart had been included. These, however, are not enough to significantly detract from my enjoyment of the game. It works well as a light game to open or close an evening, or at family gatherings. Indeed, it may even find wider audience than its predecessor, which was more involved and required more skill to play well. Masters Gallery is more easily accessible and should have broader appeal. However, as it is in the real art world, I’m certain there will be appreciation for both the masters and the modern artists!

Version played: Production copy
Times played: Seven, once with 4, twice with 3 and four times with 2

WEM: Reiner Knizia’s Modern Art, which debuted in 1992 and received a Spiel des Jahres nomination in the following year, has long been considered one of the purest auction games on the market. As the thinking goes, players need to know which pieces of art to sell when with which type of auction, as well as when to open their wallets and lay

But I’d argue that the description above encompasses more than just auctions. Knowing which pieces of art to put up for bid requires you to read the table and count cards, remembering who has played which artists in the past and figuring out who they might be backing in the future. (Knizia later distilled this aspect of Modern Art into its own game, Trendy, a.k.a. Crazy Derby.) Tied into the trend-spotting is the need to manage your hand of art cards since, as Greg pointed out above, the value of art tends to escalate over the course of the game, so you want to hold on to the most valuable pieces for the final rounds when they’ll bring the most profit — whether you’re buying or selling — while at the same time trying to promote that artist in earlier rounds in order to nab that big payday.

Remove the auction element from Modern Art and you’re still left with the trend-spotting and hand-management challenges — which suggests that the Modern Art = auctions formula isn’t as clear as some might think. Knizia said as much in my January 2009 interview with him: “[N]ot everyone likes or is familiar with auctions and the bidding process, particularly the general public sometimes gets the prices wrong and then the game is destroyed. I wanted to take a more mass-market approach and take the bidding out of it, but see if I could still make an interesting game out of it.”

The special action cards in Masters Gallery mimic the role of the various auctions as they give each player hidden information (beyond the color of the cards) and a way to warp the game in their favor: I can boost the value of each subsequent piece of art from this artist; I can play the “everybody plays a card” special power and likely end the round; I can pocket a secret piece of art that will be revealed at the end of the round. Most of the cards have no action associated with them, however. In Modern Art, if one player receives several double auction cards, their auction winnings can be huge; likewise in Masters Gallery, if a single player receives multiple special action cards, they can possibly parlay these cards into a large advantage. Fluky hands are part of any card game, though, so you’ve been warned.

One aspect of the game that Greg overlooked in his write-up is that during the scoring at the end of a round, each player can play as many cards from their hand as the number of different artists that they played during that round. The special powers don’t take effect when you do this; you simply score points based on the current value of that artist’s works. Players start with more cards in hand in Masters Gallery compared with Modern Art and these “extra” cards serve as a hidden scoring mechanism since players can’t account for what they can’t see. [Correction as noted in the comments: For each artist you played in a round, you can play one additional card from your hand of that artist.]

As with the artworks that you play, you want to save cards in hand for the final round when you know which artists will pay off the most, but if those artists don’t score, then those cards are worthless. (Shades of Honeybears!) Well, semi-worthless anyway — you can still play them during a round to give you a wider portfolio on the table, which enables more plays during scoring. This bonus scoring reduces the tendency of players to follow the crowd and play the same artists that everyone else in playing, which can often benefit you in the long run. For example, if everyone plays artist A the first time around the table while I play artist B, I’ll be able to pitch two cards during scoring versus one for everyone else, in addition to boosting the value of artist B’s works for future rounds. Thus, even though Masters Gallery has been simplified through the removal of Modern Art‘s auctions, the game has tricky aspects all its own.

That said, all of my opponents have been underwhelmed by Masters Gallery, despite my enthusiasm and enjoyment of the game. One opponent, a huge fan of Modern Art, said that he felt the cards were missing something; he wanted each of them to add something to the game beyond simply representing the artist. He wanted those auctions! Other opponents labeled the game “boring” and “blah”, saying that they felt no tension over what to play when or how to plan for later rounds. I’ve won most of the games that I’ve played, so maybe they’re just bitter over being crushed. Either that, or my awareness that Knizia designs require multiple plays before the game clicks has primed me to be patient and play his games multiple times before passing judgment —

Credit: Game Overview: Modern Art Card Game / Masters Gallery | BoardGameGeek News