Review: Modern Art

The world of art is a theme that hasn’t been much exploited by the board game industry. Modern Art shines gloriously from this point of view, embracing the vicious world of art galleries and the trading business of paintings in such a unique way that it seems almost real. Of course nothing less could be expected by the famous designer Reiner Knizia. Modern Art is actually a card game, with cards representing the paintings of five fictional artists: Nex, Bahut, Sadland, Darmoir and Koriko, each one having his own particular style in painting. The prevalent mechanic in this game is auctions, which take place in many different ways and determine the popularity of painters. Let’s see the basic rules of the game:

The game lasts four rounds. At the beginning of the game each player is dealt a number of cards (depicting paintings) depending on the number of players and some money (essential for starting any business!).

The amount of 100,000 euro/dollars is given to each player in the form of cardboard coins which are kept hidden during play, behind each player’s screen.

Players are gallery owners who buy paintings and then sell them for profit to the bank at the end of each round. Paintings are sold through auctions and there are five different ways to hold an auction:

  • Open auction: This is a typical auction where players can bid as many times they want, any amount they want
  • Fixed-price auction: The auctioneer announces the price he wants for the painting and players are asked in clockwise order if they are willing to give that amount to buy the painting. The first one who does, gets the painting
  • One-round auction: Starting with the player on the left of the auctioneer and continuing clockwise, each player may bid an amount of money to buy the painting. The last one to bid is the auctioneer. Each player has only one chance to bid.
  • Hidden auction: Each player secretly chooses the amount of money they are willing to offer for the painting and hides it in his closed palm. Then all players simultaneously open their palms, revealing the amount each one has offered.
  • Double auction: This type of auction allows players to sell two paintings of the same painter in a single auction. If the player who started this auction doesn’t want or can’t sell a second painting, then the next clockwise player has the chance to offer a second painting and so on. If another player except the one starting the auction, offers a second painting he becomes the auctioneer and gets all the money from the sell.

Each round players take their turns in clockwise order, putting on auction a painting from their hand (or two in the case of double auctions). Each card has a special symbol on it, determining the type of auction that must me used for selling that painting. A player putting a a painting on auction, can also buy his own painting in which case the money he pays will go directly to the bank. In all other cases the money the final bidder pays, goes to the player putting up the auction. When the fifth painting of the same artist is revealed to start an auction, the round ends immediately (without the painting actually going on sale).. Then the most successful painters are determined, based on the number of paintings they have sold. The painter who has sold the most paintings for the round has a market value of 30.000 which means that each of his paintings will be sold to the bank for 30000. The second one has a value of 20000 and the third 10000. All other painters get a market value of zero which means their paintings are worth nothing. There is a nice and convenient scoring board which helps keep track of each painter’s value. For each of the three most successful painters of the round a market value chip with the appropriate value (30,20,10) is put on the scoring board.

It must be noted that the value of paintings of the three most successful artists each round is cumulative. That means that it is the sum of values of all previous rounds plus the one that just ended. However that is the case only for the first three painters. If a painter although successful in previous rounds, isn’t very successful in the current round and drops to the fourth position that painter’s paintings are worth nothing for this round. It’s kind of sad but the world of art is so cruel! Today a king, tomorrow a beggar.

After values have been determined, players sell their paintings to the bank, Then new paintings are dealt to players and the next round starts. However they also keep the remaining paintings from previous rounds. The game goes on in the same way until four rounds are player at which point the richest player is determined and announced as the winner.

Lets go through our usual rating system to talk about the aspects of a game that really matter:

Components:

Many different editions of this game exist by Mayfair, Matagot, Pegasus etc. In my opinion the latest edition by Matagot is by far the best from components point of view. The overall graphic design of the game has been trully enhanced

with beautiful colors and sophisticated graphics on every component, from the illustrious box art, to the players’ screens (each with a different artistic theme). Player screens conveniently describe the different types of auctions on the inside (player) side.

Considering that this is a game about art, such an upgrade makes the game much more appealing. As for the cards of the game (representing paintings really). each painter has his own unique, artistic style which makes the paintings more recognizable and actually gives the feeling of dealing with true paintings. At some point you may find yourself favouring the artist whose paintings you like more, a strategy that will most not likely not work but you never know! It would be an interesting idea to feature this game with real paintings from real artists. I guess that would invoke copyright issues but it still would be nice. Maybe a home-made version? The scoring board is pretty nice, from hard cardboard and in the same colourful style as the rest of the game. Money is represented by the classic cardboard round coins, nothing special there. Every player’s screen is unique, with a cartoon-style image showing people inside an art gallery. Very good job indeed! 9/10

Gameplay:

Reiner Knizia, is a masterful designer with a PhD in mathematics and true knowledge of economics. That is an asset he has fully taken advantage of, producing very well-balanced games. Modern Art is one of the most characteristic examples of his work, displaying the way markets really work and could easily be used to teach children the principles of supply and demand. The more popular a painter is, the more people want to buy his work and the higher his value gets. This situation however reaches a peak, where the supply decreases (because many paintings have already been sold) and the few paintings appearing in auction tend to sell in high prices because painters’ value is carried over to subsequent rounds. In many cases you will find yourself making more money by selling paintins at high prices rather than buying and then selling to the bank. The different auction types makes the game more interesting. A thing to consider well is when to choose a certain type of auction instead of another according to what you are trying to accomplish at that point of the game. A nicely-thought game with an interesting theme that will probably keep you engaged for a long time, trying to refine your strategies and find the most profitable ways to run your gallery.There is no direct player interaction in Modern Art, however you can influence your opponents progress by sabotaging the painters they promote. 8/10

Learning Curve:

The game’s rules are pretty simple with makes Modern Art an ideal board game for the whole family. As all great games, it’s easy to learn but difficult to master, a goal that every designer seeks but rarely manages to conquer. 8/10

Theme:

Not many board games exist that deal with the world of art which makes the game feel pretty refreshing on its own. Reiner Knizia succeeds in creating the atmosphere of buying and selling paintings although the different auction types don’t seem very realistic. Game components enhance the theme the best way they could with beautiful art flowing everywhere in the game. 8/10

Replayability:

Due to its gameplay depth, this game will make you want to play it again and again. Apart from it being fun, it’s also challenging for the mind and there are many different strategies to try out so it isn’t a game you will find yourself not wanting to play. The game’s length being decent (about 45 – 60 mins), not very short and not very long plus the fact that it can be easily taught to new players makes it pretty replayable. 7/10

Fun:

Although economic games rarely are much fun, this one is probable one of the most party-friendly through the auction mechanic which always stirs things up. If you are the convincing type you could try to find interesting reasons to convince your friends to buy your paintings. They will probably not bite but you can always try. 6/10

Pros:

  • Great artwork
  • Original theme
  • Easy rules
  • Gameplay depth

Cons:

  • The different auction types are not very realistic

Recommended for: Everyone whether they like art or not. A must have for auction games lovers!

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