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Modern Art

Earlier this year, CMON released a new version of an old auction game by designer Reiner Knizia: Modern Art. You can find a Board's Eye View of that game here.

Although, in Modern Art, players represent major world art galleries and take turns to auction off works of art, this is very much a game about art as a commodity. Never mind the art, the winner will be the player who amasses the most money. That said, it’s a game where the theme invites the use of actual art on the cards being auctioned. The CMON edition, for the US and UK markets, makes use of actual working artists – mostly from Brazil.

At this year’s Essen Spiel, I noticed two other publishers with very different versions of this same game, using work by quite different artists: a Taiwan edition from GeGe Games

solely featuring the work of Taiwanese artist Chen Cheng-po, and a Korean edition from Dice Tree Games featuring works by Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Munch and Klimt. If I

can get hold of copies of these versions, I will show them off in detail on Board’s Eye View.

Meanwhile, primarily for the German market, Oink Games have produced a beautiful edition of the game in a comparatively tiny box. This version draws on works by artists Hick, Ivory, Okamato, Mondrian and Kaminski. The latter two artists will be the best known to most players, but each of the artists is appealing and they are well chosen in this edition because each has a very distinctive style.

Players each start the game with a hand of cards representing individual works of art. These are the works each player will be auctioning. Players also each start with 100 geldchips. 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 art market can be a cruel world.

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. The box lists this as a game for 3 to 5 players. Insofar as I can tell, that’s true for all of the old and new versions of this game. Nevertheless, Modern Art is a game that plays better with the higher player number.

On a side-by-side comparison with the CMON version of the game, the Oink edition scores on pretty much every count: it’s neater and more attractively packaged, and the art in the game is likely to appeal to a wider audience. Despite the little box, it even comes with a little wooden easel to display the paintings up for auction. The rules are in German, natürlich, but you will have no difficulty finding a translation on Boardgamegeek. The few individual words of German on the art cards are unlikely to trouble anyone. You won’t need me to tell you that Doppel means double (see above) and the icons are pretty much self-explanatory.

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