Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Modern Art

I firmly believe that every single human being on the planet is very good at at least one game. Whether or not they are interested in that game or - honestly - ever even encounter that game is another question entirely.

For me, that game is Modern Art. The game's been through a couple of publishers - it was originally published in German by Hans im Gl├╝ck in 1992. Mayfair Games published an English-language version in 1996, and again in 2004. And this year, CMON tossed their hat into the ring. In between, it's been published in several languages by a bunch of different publishers.

Many (most, even) of these publishers have used new art.

Modern Art is a Knizia game. This means that it's mathematically sound. A lot of people dislike Knizia because his games often almost play themselves. This does not. This is an auction game, so players need to interact with each other, and that interaction can be unpredictable.

I first encountered this game in about 2001, when I was starting to spin away from RPGs and into board games again, and I'm very glad I did. This was one of those rare games that instantly clicked for me. Everything made sense.

Rules-wise, it's pretty simple. There are a handful of artists whose works are being auctioned off. Players are museum buyers whose goal is to make the most money by selling their works while simultaneously buying other works.

Each card represents one work from a specific artist, and each indicates what type of auction will be held for that piece. There are five types of auctions - free-for-all, once around, fixed price, closed fist, and companion pieces. The actual names vary depending on the edition and translation of the game. A free-for-all is a traditional auction with players bidding against one another.  Once around means that each player bids (or passes) once (and only once) in turn. A fixed price auction is really just a sale. In a closed fist auction, each player secretly bids by hiding money in their hand with a simultaneous reveal. Companion pieces aren't sold on their own - if you play one, you'll generally want to play it with a second piece from the same artist.  That second piece determines what type of auction it will be.

Companion pieces, by the way, are the one rule that I can find that's changed over the various editions.  If Player A plays a companion piece and can't (or chooses not to) play a second, then the next player clockwise can play the second piece from that artist. In the original German, the second player gets all the money from that auction. In the first Mayfair edition, the two players split the money from that auction (I don't know if it was changed for the second Mayfair edition).  In the new CMON edition, it's back to the original German rule.

The round ends as soon as a fifth card from any artist hits the table, and then players determine what each artist's paintings are worth. At the end of the round, all art purchased that round is sold to the bank. Only the three artists who sold the most works are worth points. The other artwork is worth $0. So bid wisely.

Artists who sell more works are worth more money at the end of the round. Artists who are in the top three for multiple rounds get to stack that value, so the best-selling artist in round one will always be worth more money if they're a best-seller in later rounds.

There are four rounds. After the fourth round, players total their money and the player with the most wins.

It's an interesting game - you want to sell art for as much money as possible. So you want people to think that the art you are selling will be the most popular art in the round. At the same time, you want to buy art as cheaply as possible - and you want the art that you buy to be the most popular art of the round. It means that you want to buy art for artists that you have cards for in hand, so that you can increase the value of what you've bought. But you also really want to sell art that will be worthless at the end of the round, because that's money in your pocket that your opponents aren't getting back.

It's a tricky game with a great deal of player interaction and not a lot of downtime. It's smart, it's fairly quick-playing, and it's just plain awesome. I heartily recommend this one.

As an added bonus, I'm really really good at it. I won't claim to be undefeated, but I'm close. This is the one game in my collection that people who game often with me will refuse to play because I win so consistently.

Have I mentioned, lately, that CMON is killing it with their game releases lately? Because they are. I haven't seen a dud from them in a while, now. Fantastic job, guys. Keep that up.

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