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Subject: Masters Gallery - A simple/complex race between hares and tortoises! rss

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Miguel
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CONTEXT ninja

I have never played Modern Art!!! (MA in the following). So I'm reviewing this game for itself, not by comparing it to another one. I had been considering buying MA for years, but then I learned that this game existed, saw many people saying "It's a shame, it lacks this and that from MA", but a few others saying "Play it and you'll see that the game is good, light but good". Since my gaming partners don't like complex games in general, I thought I'll give this one a try.

Again, since I have never played MA, I had no particular attraction for the original modern art that is used in the "Modern Art: the Card Game" (MAtCG) version, so I chose the "Masters Gallery" (MG) version, I like the classic paintings much better. And some people around me are into History of Arts, so I thought it would be easier to introduce this game to them. But both versions play exactly the same, so this review fits both.

COMPONENTS meeple

The game is very compact, MAtCG even more, but MG has a very beautiful box art, so I don't mind the box being slightly bigger, it looks great! You can get a complete overview of the components of both versions in Endersgame exhaustive review, I'll give just my impressions.



In the box you get cards and cardboard counters. The counters are big and clear enough. The cards are good quality, and you have 3 types: the cards themselves, with the paintings, a few of them showing a special symbol; the artist cards (5), on which the counters will accumulate to give each of their paintings the value; and the summary cards (5), explaining the special symbols.

The summary cards are a good idea, but you'll see that after one play you won't need them, the symbols are explicit enough. My only complain goes to the artist cards, they look almost the same as the paintings, and some people playing for the first time have been counting them in order to check the end of round condition! Given the slightly bigger size of the MG version, they could have made slightly bigger cards for those, or even better, thin cardboard mini-boards, like the one in Lost Cities, for example, since those cards should be in the middle of the table and hold the value counters, normal cards being played around them. I made some for me!



RULES

This is a Knizia game, so the rules are simple. Every turn, you lay down one card from your hand, that's it! No draw, nothing, how simpler can a game be? The few cards with symbols may let you do something else: play a second card face up or down, draw a card, add value to an artist, or force all players to play one card at once. When the 6th card (5th for 2 players) of an artist/color is laid down, the round ends and points are awarded to the three artists with the most cards on the table, 3/2/1, and this value will be paid for each card a player has of that color. There is a little asymmetry between the colors, there are 19x5 cards in the deck but the card distribution is 17/18/19/20/21 of each artist, and every round starts with a card from the deck, so this artist may end the round faster.

One could think "That's all? You just lay the cards you have the most? Where is the strategy? It's all about the luck of the draw!"... or "If 5 players lay down the same color, the round may be over and I only played 1 card!". Well, first you begin with 13 cards and you only get a few ones for the last rounds (the fewer the more players), so you have to lay down your cards taking into account that you should keep some for the lasts rounds. But mainly there are two rules that make this simple mechanics shine:

1) The value counters of each round are cumulative (stay on the artist card), so later rounds pay more. Which makes keeping cards for the last rounds very important!

2) Once the price of the artist is decided, 3/2/1, each player may add as many cards as different artists he has played [EDIT] may add 1 card to each artist he has played. This alone makes very short rounds unlikely, since playing 1 color only lets you add 1 extra card, while playing 2 or 3 colors may let you gain a lot of points. If you see 5 player games with very short rounds, that means the players are not very good!

HOW DOES IT PLAY surprise

I wrote "simple/complex" on the title because the rules are very few and simple, as in most Knizia games, but they combine in a very clever way (as in most Knizia games!) to make you think twice which cards to play/keep. The game has clearly two phases: a more tactical phase, in which you react directly to the cards being laid down and wonder "do I push the round to an end playing the leading color, or do I play other colors to be better placed in 2nd and 3rd?"; and a more strategical phase, in which you will wonder "I can add 3 cards, do I add them or keep them for next rounds to (maybe) get more points?".

And I wrote "race" because both phases look like a race to me. The first one is a race to end the round, in which you choose/guide the pace, and the second one is the race over the 4 rounds, in which you choose your reserves for the finish line. And this is where the "hare/tortoise" part of the title enters play! Will you be a hare, that tries to lead or at least keep in touch with the other hares from the start, laying down all the extra cards you are allowed to, or will you be a tortoise, that lets the hares leave and tries to catch them up in the last round, by saving those extra cards for the end? I have made a plot of my first games to illustrate this:


I was the blue player in all of them. If you take a look, you'll see that in game 1 I tried to keep in touch with the green hare, not understanding yet the importance of reserves for the 4th round, and I could not stand the pace. In all the others, I tried to not be afraid of starting slowly, and in game 4 I think I played no extra cards at all (until the last round)! The hardest one was game 3, the red hare made things very tense!

And the tension comes from the fact that there is no automatic strategy that will always work. You could say "OK, so being tortoise and keeping cards is better", but if those cards that you kept do not qualify among the three most played artists of the round, they'll give you nothing, even at the 4th one when prices are the highest!

FINAL WORD thumbsup

I really don't care if there are no auctions, or if classic paintings look better than modern ones, the fact is that this game has a very simple engine that can be easily introduced to newbies and that leads to very tense decisions, both tactical and strategical. Indeed, in some of the games I showed above, the end game was even too tense for my taste!

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Kenny VenOsdel
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Saint Paul
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Nice review. I'm one of the ones that thinks this game is unfortunately ignored due to its name. If it had just been called "Masters Gallery" with no reference to Modern Art at all I think it would have much more appreciation.

An interesting variant for you to try if you want a more "friendly" game with people who aren't gamers at all:
1. You don't get to play any cards at the end of a round.
2. All artists score at the end of the round but only the top 3 gain value.

This was how we learned the game due to my terrible rules reading and we really liked it. I have since corrected my ways and we play by the rules but both ways offer a little different strategic focus.
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Miguel
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Masters Gallery » Forums » Reviews
Re: Masters Gallery - A simple/complex race between hares and tortoises!
Thanks. Indeed, my very first game ("game 0") was with my wife, and when I was going to explain the rule about adding cards at the end of the round she said "no, too complicated", so we played without. It was not bad, but when we added that rule for the second game (game 1 in the picture above) we realized how better the game gets!

So for a first game with non-gamers it can be good for a "learning game", but I think that once you use all the rules (they are very few anyway!) everybody is going to find that "learning mode" too dull.
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Miguel
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Indeed I got one rule wrong, number 2) in the rules section of the review. The rule has been clarified and officially confirmed, I have edited the review to correct it.

Now, this change will decrease the amplitude of the mechanic that I had most enjoyed, the fact of choosing between laying down several extra cards of one artist or keeping them for another round where they could pay better.

Anyway, if this is the way RK wanted the game to be played, it must be good too!
 
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