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Modern Art

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

This new version of Modern Art is a reskin of an earlier game by designer Reiner Knizia. Like its sister but differently themed games Medici and Ra, Modern Art works through an auction mechanic.

In this game, players each take on the role of gallery curators trying to buy and sell paintings for the best price. It’s all about the money rather than the art, however. Nobody ends up owning any of the paintings: the winner is the player who has accumulated the most money at the end of the four rounds of play.

One of the attractions of this edition is that the art in Modern Art is represented by cards showing individual works by five different artists. These are real artists, each with a distinctive style. It adds greatly to the appeal of the game that you are playing with ‘real’ representations of modern works of art by actual living artists; although it is unfortunate that the painting the publishers chose for the box lid appears to be one of the least interesting works of the 70 in the game.

Players each start the game with a hand of cards representing individual works of art. These are the works each player will be auctioning. The auctions are run in five different ways, with a symbol on each work indicating the type of auction through which that picture must be sold. The different types of auction add variety to the game. For example, some paintings will be sold through an open auction, with players calling out bids; others will be sold through a hidden auction, where players do not know who else is competing for ownership or how much they are prepared to pay… In every case, the auctioneer is able themselves to bid in the auction. If the auctioneer wins the bid, he has to pay the bank. If another player wins, their cash is paid to the auctioneer.

Important as the auction phase is to play, the strategy in Modern Art goes beyond merely trying to buy and sell individual works for the best price. That’s because there is a key element of hand management and set collection in this game. Works of art are valued at the end of each round solely by ranking the artists according to the number of their works that were sold in that round. The values for these rankings are cumulative over the four rounds of the game but payments are only made by the bank for the three most popular artists; other works are deemed worthless…

The end-of-round valuation means that players will be deploying a degree of guile not merely to snag works at a decent price but also to try to push an artist into a better scoring position by getting more of their works sold in the round. Players’ hands are concealed, so we don’t know what artists the other players have for auction, and screens also conceal players’ money. Canny players will try to keep a mental note of how much cash each of their opponents has because that can directly affect how much they will be able to bid for a particular work.

You’ll also find players making sneaky use of special ‘double auction’ cards that push out two works by the same artist. Through running a double auction, a player can skew the market while also hastening the end of a round, because a round ends as soon as a fifth painting by any single artist is played.

If you are one of the many fans of Reiner Knizia’s work, or if you are especially fond of games that utilise an auction mechanic, then Modern Art will probably already be on your wants list. Some will also be attracted by the theme and the fact that the game is dealing with living but not yet well-known artists; making the game seem more real and helping to bring it to life.

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