Posted by: gschloesser | August 31, 2011

Masters Gallery

Design by:  Reiner Knizia
Published by:  Gryphon Games
3 – 5 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

NOTE:  This review first appeared on the Boardgame News site 

After playing Masters Gallery from Reiner Knizia, I joked with Keith Blume of Gryphon Games that my review would be just one sentence:  “It is Modern Art without the bidding.”

Truth-be-told, this is an accurate description, as the game feels very similar to the famous board game, sans the bidding.  One would initially suspect that removing the bidding would strip the game of its primary element and reduce it to a bland shadow of its predecessor.  Surprisingly, that is not the case, as the card game version, while simpler and quicker, is actually quite fun.

Interestingly, Gryphon Games has elected to release the game in two versions:  Masters Gallery and Modern Art: The Card Game.  Both have identical rules, with the only difference being the artwork on the cards.  Masters Gallery uses reproductions of paintings from famous artists, while Modern Art: The Card Game uses fanciful art from fictional artists.  The production of two different editions will likely enable Gryphon Games to obtain distribution into a variety of different markets.

Five cards – one representing each artist – are dealt in a row, which will be used to tally the scores.  Cards depicting a collection of paintings from the artists are mixed, and thirteen dealt to each player.  One more card is revealed, and play begins.  Players alternate playing one card of their choice, the objective being to play artists that will be of the greatest value once the round is complete.

Most of the time, a player only plays one card at a time.  However, many cards have special icons which allow the player to alter the normal course of play.  These powers can allow the player to draw a new card, play two cards (sometimes face-up, sometimes face-down), place a two-point award token onto an artist, or allow all players to play an additional card.  The special powers add spice to the proceedings, and force the players to make some interesting choices.

At any point a particular artist has six or more cards in play between all of the players, the round ends and points are scored.   All face-down cards are revealed, and based on the cards in play, the top three artists are determined.  In the first round, paintings of the three top artists will be worth three, two and one point respectively, plus two points if the artist has a bonus token upon it.  Ties are broken in favor of the artist who has the fewest overall paintings in the deck.  The object, of course, is to play your cards in a fashion so as your paintings represent the artists scoring the most points.

Things get more interesting in subsequent rounds.  As in the first round, only the top three artists score points, but the points each artist earns is cumulative.  So, points an artist earned in previous rounds are added to those earned in the current round.  For example, assume an artist placed first (3 points) in the first round and third (1 point) in the second round.  If the artist now places first again (3 points) in the third round, each painting of that artist is worth seven points (3 + 1 + 3 = 7).  Thus, it is wise to conserve cards of these artists and play them in later rounds to score more points.  The risk, of course, is that the artist may not score at all in the earlier rounds if you don’t play them.  That choice is at the heart of the game, which is fraught with an atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehension.

Another important consideration is that players only receive two additional cards following the first and second rounds, and none following the third round.  Thus, players must manage their hand of cards carefully, as the mix will change very little.  While proper timing is important in the playing of particular cards, there is also a sizeable degree of luck, as one cannot control the cards his opponents will ultimately play.

The game is played over the course of four rounds, and the player with the greatest cumulative value of points is victorious.  A full game can generally be played in 30 – 45 minutes, which is perfect for the style and depth of the game.

Masters Gallery and its twin The Modern Art Card Game plays in a very similar manner as their ancestor, Modern Art.  Of course, the major element missing is the auctions.  Here, players actually play and possibly score the cards they are dealt as opposed to placing them up for auction.  Removing the auction does simplify the game and remove an element that some fans of the original game might find abhorrent.  Fair enough.  However, I would urge folks not to prematurely dismiss this new game, as it is quite fun and some interesting decisions to make.  Yes, it can be frustrating to play your artists in attempts to land them in the top spots, only to have your opponents play different artists and shut you out of the scoring.  I also wish a score pad or chart had been included.  These, however, are not enough to significantly detract from my enjoyment of the game.  It works well as a light game to open or close an evening, or at family gatherings.  Indeed, it may even find wider audience than its predecessor, which was more involved and required more skill to play well.  Masters Gallery is accessible is more easily accessible, and should have broader appeal.  However, as it is in the real art world, I’m certain there will be appreciation for both the masters and the modern artists!

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Responses

  1. You’d think that ripping the auctions out of Modern Art would leave you with a shell of the original, but instead you get a completely different experience. Yes, Master’s Gallery has less player interaction, but the game requires less concentration and is easygoing. Modern Art is always lively, tense, and can play as a substantial main course. Master’s Gallery is lighter, simpler for beginners, and only plays as Grade A filler. They both work. (7/10)


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