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Subject: Great group thinking gam, full of tension and gut decisions! rss

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Andres F. Pabon L.
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Title: Modern Art
Designer(s): Reiner Knizia
Year: 1992
Original Publisher: Hans im Glück
Version Reviewed: Mayfair (2004)
Awards: DSP (1993)

COMPONENTS

Central board: The central board depicts five columns of four circles each, with an additional header naming

each of the five artists in the game. Each circle is filled with the artist's distinctive color, which makes

identification of each artist a little bit easier. The board itself is made from rather filmsy cardboard,

although mine has yet to show any sign of deteriorating. Probably that's due to the central board not being

manipulated as much as most boards in any game, though, than due to the cardboard quality which is, frankly,

mediocre.

Cards: Middle sized cards, made in a somehow more resistant (but still filmsy) cardboard depcit a painting

(not very pretty paintings, mind you, but still they do their job evocating modern art), the name of the

artist and an icon showing the type of auction to be used with the card. All cards' background matches the

artist's distinctive color (the same on the central board), to make card distinction easier.

Player screens: 6 player screens (5 standard screens and one blank screeen so players may print their own

designs and paste them here: it sounds more like it's cheaper to print pairs of screens, though, than with

the intention statedin the manual), made from a somehow thicker cardboard round up the paper bits. The

screens are rather small, but large enough to cover your money (their initial purpose), plus they have a nice

summary of every auction symbol. Aditionally, on the outside, th screens show a different art gallery each,

so instead of being "the blue player", you can be "the Bilbao player", for instance.

Money chips: These remind me of the first poker betting chips I ever had, when I was a kid. Small, thin, but

rather well shaped round plastic chips, each with a color and a monetary value. We have the white 1's, the

yellow 5's, the green 20's, the blue 50's and the red 100's. Unfortunatelly, there aren't any 10's, making

payment an issue at some times.

Value chips: Black chips otherwise identical to money chips, 4 each with the values 10, 20 and 30 round up

the plastic bits for this game.

In general, all components are fair, but not really that good (and far from excellent). This is a common

issue with many of the low priced Mayfair games who, unlike Rio Grande, make their own versions of game

components, some times for good, and sometimes for, well, components like these.

GAMEPLAY

Modern Art is a game of almost pure auction mechanics (with a little card hand management thrown in the mix).

The object of the game is to have the most money at the end of four art selling seasons, by means of both

making good painting sales and buying pieces for a fraction of the price they can be sold at the end of each

season.

During a turn, a player must play any of his cards (players receive cards at the start of the first, second

and third seasons; the number depending on the number of players), which in turn will be auctioned according

to the rules of it's auction type (determined by the auction symbol in each card). There are five different

auction types, each very interesting, and each with it's own pros and cons.

If the auction is won by the player who played the card, he/she must pay the price to the central bank. If

any other player takes the card, he/she must play the auctioning player the final price.

Each season is played until any of the five artists have it's fifth card played (but this card is not

auctioned). After this happens, the artists' popularity is calculated (the one with five cards played is the

most popular, and then the next two are determined by the same means: counting their played paintings), and

the value chips are placed accordingly: 30 for the first artist, 20 for the second and 10 for the third.

These values are added to any other values from previous seasons, provided the artist scored any of these

value chips in the current season (artists on fourth and fifth place have a value of 0 for the current

season), and the final value is the price to be paid for every card from that artist at this point.

All players must sell all their paintings (even if they have a value of 0) at the end of each season, thus

making more money to both use at future seasons, and to accumulate for the final scoring. At the end of the

fourth season, the player with the most money wins the game.

IMPRESSIONS

What a great game. I've taught this game to more than 20 people, never lasting more than 5 minutes explaining it. All of them have had a great time during the game, understanding it almost immediately, and creating new strategies every time.

This is a sort of game that should appeal most kinds of gamers (and even non-gamers), as it's tactics can be as analytical (determining an expected value for each painting with as much probability as one could do), or as gut inspired (as final values will shift invariantly from what you expect, due to other player's intentions) as you want, but there is no clear formula to win. It's clearly not a broken game!

On the other hand, the clue to win this game is to play smartly both your buys and the cards to sell. Some cards can be sold for much better prices at different times of the game, and a clue element to the game is to know exactly when to play one card that can be sold very well. My wife knows this perfectly, and has won her good share of games by focusing on sales. I, on the other hand, usually focus on good buys and have won my good share of games too...

The auctions themselves are full of thrill, specially when you have a lot of cards from that particular artist and can positively influence it's outcome at the end of the season. However, if another player plans to do the same, you're in for some interesting face to face fight! So here's the other crucial abbility you need in the game: you need to know when to back out.

Finally, the game exploits all manners of group thinking, game theory and similar topics, as most deals end up being a good deal for both parties (the auctioner and the buyer).

The game can be played with 5 (at it's best), but it's almost as good with 4, or even with 3 with a small variant introducing a chaotic "bot" of sorts (just put an imaginary 4th player and deal a card at random each time the "bot" plays, so you never know how the market will shift!).

This game is, in my opinion, not only one of the first, but the best auction game out there. And now that Mayfair sells it for a very reasonable price, there is no excuse not to own a copy!
 
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