Ted Cheatham introduced Bill Sanders, Eric Alleman, Joe Smith and I to this very different and very entertaining game based somewhat strangely around the value of artwork by various artists. Other than Ted, we were all new to this game and our inexperience plainly showed.
The mechanics are very unusual and a bit difficult to explain. There are five artists, each of which has a selection of artwork mixed somewhere in the seven stacks of cards. The idea behind the game is to move the artists along a track, thereby increasing the value of their artwork. Of course, you ultimately want to possess artwork from those artists who are valued the highest, while attempting to drive down the value of the artwork from those artists whom your opponents are collecting.
Each player has three pawns which they also progress alongside the artists. A player can only influence the movement of artists by which they have a pawn located. Since there are five artists and a player only has three pawns, he will at most be able to influence the value of three artists, or attempt to defend against an opponent's efforts to decrease the value of an artist, at any point during the game.
On a player's turn, he rolls a special die. It will depict one of three types of influence markers which may be placed on an artist. Two of these are negative, while one is positive. The values range from - 7 on up to a + 7. The player selects one from the appropriate category and declares which artist he will place the marker on. He can only place it on an artist by which one of his pawns is located. Opponents who also have a marker beside that artist may attempt to negotiate, threaten or bribe a player one way or another regarding the value of the marker placed. If a satisfactory deal cannot be struck, they may declare a duel. This takes the form of each involved party rolling a die, adding 1 to the die roll for each 'duel' card played. If the player attempting to place the marker wins the duel, the marker is placed. If not, the marker is not placed. In either case, the losing player must remove that pawn from the board. The artist's value marker is then moved along the track corresponding to the value of the marker placed (from -7 to +7).
Once an artist has one marker from each category placed on the track ahead of him, he jumps over these markers on the track. If he is in first place, his value marker is moved ahead 12 spaces on the track. If he is in second place, his value marker is moved ahead six spaces. If it enters the special scoring section, each player holding artwork from that artist receives a payout. The value marker is then slid back to the edge of this scoring section. At this point, it becomes obvious as to the holdings of the players, so players then struggle to increase or decrease the value of those artists.
Following these marker placement procedures, the player then purchases one card. The cards are separated into eight stacks, each ranging in value from $10 to $80. A player pays the appropriate amount and then secretly examines that stack, taking one of the cards into his hand. Thus, as the game progresses, the lower valued stacks tend to be picked over early, forcing players to pay higher amounts in order to find anything worthwhile.
A player then has the option of playing one or two cards. Cards can allow a player to move his pawn on the track, replace a pawn which had been removed due to losing a duel, etc. These can be critical decisions as a player must decide how and when to move his pawns so as to be able to maintain or gain influence over particular artists.
Ultimately, the game ends when an artist reaches the end of the track, or if two artists fall to the bottom of the value track. At that point, the values of player's artwork holdings are tallied to determine the winner.
The game begins fairly slowly as all artists are located at the bottom of the track, along with the players pawns. Thus, every player can influence every artist. Once the artists begin moving along the track, however, the game becomes much more interesting and intriguing as not all players can influence each artist. This is where the decision making comes in, and there can be some tough decisions to be made.
Eric got slammed early in our game as he was collecting one particular artist (known as the 'Colonel'). Unfortunately, everyone else seemed hell bent on forcing that artist's value to plummet. The Colonel was driven out of the game early, meaning Eric's four holdings put him in deep financial trouble from which he couldn't recover.
Ted and Bill seemed to be doing the best early, but Bill got into financial trouble and was forced to borrow heavily. Plus, the artist he had invested heavily in dropped drastically in value during the final few turns of the game as he no longer had a pawn next to the artist, meaning he couldn't fight Ted and my efforts to devalue his work.
The game ended when Bill's favorite artist sunk into obscurity. The final tallies revealed:
Ted 970, Greg 670, Bill -30, Joe -50
Ratings: Ted 7, Greg 7, Joe 7, Bill 2