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Masters Gallery - A Family Filler

I’m a philistine. I’ve been to (well dragged round by my art appreciating wife) Momo, Tate Modern, and a few other torture chambers masquerading as temples of culture . It all has the same effect - I get a head ache looking at all those swirls, colour explosions, pictures that look like nothing more than the pavement after a particularly drunken night out. . I just don’t get it. It got so bad that half way round a Brigit Reilly exhibition I had to leave the gallery to lie down - I was just about to throw up.

Go one stare at this for two minutes and see if your lunch stays down

Give me a picture with real things in, people and landscapes, even a bowl of fruit. I can look at one of those for at least ten minutes with out sweating and reaching for the Tylenol .

That’s the same way I feel about Masters Gallery vis a vis Modern Art. I admire Modern Art as a game design and I want to like it but I’m terrible at it. I suspect any game that has inspired geeks to write mathematical valuation formula that makes Black-Scholes look like the two times table is something that is going to be beyond me. So the news that a de-auctioned version of Modern Art was being released with pictures of old masters intrigued me. My initial reaction was ‘Ha, Modern Art for Dummies!’. And whilst Master’s Gallery takes the rocket science out of Modern Art it adds a great deal of game play and not only for the Modern Art challenged. It turns an auction game into a set collection game.

Master’s Gallery is a recent release in the treadmill of Gryphon bookshelf games. It comes in a small box that fits nicely along side the other games in the series. It consists of 100 cards, five place holders for each of the five ‘masters’ (Vermeer, Van Goch, Degas, Renoir and Monet) and ninety five cards divided unequally between the five starting with 21 Van Gogh down to 17 for Vermeer. The cards are made of good quality stock, though I would recommend sleaving them as mine are showing small sings of wear after ten games. The rule book is well written and easy to follow.

Game play is deceptively simple. The five place holder artist cards are placed on the table, Two to five players are dealt a stating hand of 13 random cards and an artist card is drawn and placed face up on the table. Each player takes it in turn to place a card from their hand on to the table in front of them. The round ends immediately when a sixth artist card is played on the table with the initial random draw counts towards the six. Cards are then scored, and a new round starts with players receiving more cards (except for the fourth and last round when no more cards are dealt) and another random card from the draw pile placed on the table. The game finishes after four rounds with the points being tallied and a winner decided.

Some of the cards allow special plays. One allows the player to immediately lay as second card of the same artist face up, the second allows a second card of any artist to be played face down (., another allows the player to draw a card, another has all players simultaneously playing a card from hand to the table and the last allows a 2 point award token to be added to one artist (and each artist can only have one of these tokens place on them).

The scoring at the end of each round is simple. The face down cards are turned up and the artists who has the most cards played (tie breaks are broken in favour the artist which have the fewest cards in the deck) receives a three value token the second a two and the third one. Players then multiply the artist cards (that came in the first three) in front of them by the total value of the points tokens for each artist. Tiles points on the artist place holder cards are cumulative and therefore some artists become more valuable than others as the rounds progress.

Key to success in the game is planning ahead, and trying to draw other players into scoring artists that you can score in later ( and more valuable) rounds. The ‘special’ cards add some spice to the game and timing when to play them can be crucial though I have seen some one win without drawing any throughout the game.

In a few areas Master’s Gallery falls down compared to Modern Art, first the table banter is missing from Master’s Gallery, players don’t talk up the value of their hideous pictures. You can get the hideous pictures in Master’s Gallery’s sister game Modern art the card game (and its a few bucks cheaper). The other area is that you can win in Modern Art without buying many pictures, just selling stuff at inflated prices. In Master’s Gallery you have to play a card each turn. Another concern I have is scalability the game is great with three or four players, Ok with two and poor with five. With five players the rounds finish so quickly you do not have time to play many cards and try and influence the outcome of the ranking. Despite these reservations I whole heartedly recommend the game for families and those who like the idea of Modern Art but not the valuation.

Comparisons with Modern Art are inevitable howeverthese are two different games that share a theme and some mechanics. Master’s Gallery is set collection and manipulation Modern Art other is a valuation and arbitrage game. Both have their place, though if both are on offer I will be found, wearing my dunces’ cap, sitting at the Master’s table.

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