Updated: Oct 24, 2020
When you think of all the well known geographically eponymous board games - Brass: Birmingham (Roxley), Castles of Burgundy (Ravensburger), and Orléans (DLP) are in the top 30 games on BoardGameGeek - the one which comes to mind first is Carcassonne (Hans Im Gluck/Z-Man). The simple, low-rules-overhead tile-laying game is a family favourite and a great 'gateway' game. Whatever its merits, tho', the theme is only really present in the artwork of the walled cities and little else*. Theme can really help bring players into a game and, while Montmartre's internal structure is all numbers and set collection, the artistic stylings evoke the arrondissement's cultural past and serve the game's structure well. The artist, Jeanne Landart, has illustrated the four styles in the game wonderfully, using the techniques of Alfons Mucha, Modigliani, Picasso, and Toulouse-Lautrec, with lower value cards being sketches and higher value cards fully inked.
Designed by Florian Sirieix and published by BLAM!, Montmartre is a family-weight card game for 2-5 players which actually does play in 20-30 minutes, as it says on the small box. Players are artists eking out a living, selling their best works to four buyers who indulge in different art styles, and occasionally working for the local gazette. Each turn, a player may either 'Paint' - place card(s) in their workshop, discard unwanted canvas for francs, and refresh their hand - or 'Sell' - take a buyer's payment for their best work in that style, as long as they have the best on offer, and maybe take a contract with the paper.
The set collection here is not based on a prescribed formula: you must have either the highest total value in an art style or the most cards of that style on display. For both cases, the other players will try to stop you by playing higher values or more cards; for the latter, you are restricted to just six cards in your workshop. This means that you need to keep a good eye on the other players' workshops to see who you're contesting with for each buyer and, with the buyers' payments ascending from 2 to 10, you will want to time your sale just right. As the rewards of those buyers become ever more lucrative, you could concentrate on just two and rush to the end of the game, but all players are incentivised to broaden their endeavours with those gazette contracts awarded for selling to multiple buyers.
Montmartre is not a complex game but it has enough on its palette to allow for clever play, reading of others' intentions, devious positioning of the buyers' agent, and emergent gamesmanship in manipulating the freedom of others to best suit yourself. The only area there isn't much control is in acquiring cards: three face-up stacks offer what they will, but you may be left with little choice occasionally. (Speaking of things 'face-up': the English rules state the cards in a player's workshop be placed 'face-down'; this should read 'face-up'.)
The game allows for different play styles: preferring quality over quantity; blocking others' potential sales, especially important in the zero-sum two-player game which tweaks the rules well; even selling canvases for a franc apiece can net enough both to trigger the end of the game and/or make the difference in the final tallies. Due to the lockdown restrictions, I've not yet played Montmartre at the maximum player count, where the game feels like it could lack in control and the otherwise minor first player advantage become more potent as the buyers' stacks empty.
By the time you pack Montmartre away - hopefully after a couple of plays as it really does not overstay its welcome - you will have enjoyed some good art, sufficient agency, and sneaked a sale or two from under your opponents' noses. As a gamers' filler or a family focus, there is plenty to admire here, not least those beautiful cards. To paraphrase Walt Disney, I know it's a numbers game and I know I like it.
(Review by David Fox)
*As we don't get to mention Carcassonne all that much on Board's Eye View, it's worth noting that the game is credited with coining the word 'meeple' and giving them their iconic shape, even if the pawns in the game are actually called 'Followers'. More here.
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