24 November 2017
Knizia’s classic returns in a set you’ll want to hang on your wall
Despite being a game about bidding on paintings you’d want to display in a gallery, Reiner Knizia’s Modern Art has become notorious for its various unsightly editions over the last 25 years. CMON’s long-awaited re-issue of the first entry in the designer's auction trilogy (which also includes Medici and Ra) finally does justice to the game’s hugely entertaining gameplay with a striking set featuring the works of four real-life modern artists displayed on gorgeous oversized cards, putting forward a collection you wouldn’t be ashamed to see framed in your own living room.
For some, the switch to genuinely good illustrations will detract from the amusement of seeing the value of disgusting pictures rise as each artist’s work becomes the most popular under the hammer. Whether you’re after an ironic showdown or a more earnest battle to sign real talent, Modern Art’s stripped-back auction setup shines through above all.
Each painting dictates the style of auction held, ranging from hidden bids and single chances to see off your rival collectors to classic last-one-standing and fixed-price sales – plus the chance to nab two paintings at once in precious bundled deals. The constant shifting of strategy required to outbid your fellow curators means that things stay unpredictable and amusing throughout, especially as artists begin to grow in standing over the course of the four rounds, leading to tactical auctions to bump up or undermine the value of paintings.
There’s very little chaff to cut out of Modern Art – in many ways, this is the ultimate auction game. Other than the varying worth of paintings, there are simply no other underlying mechanics to distract from the clean joy of swiping a hotly-contested painting through tactical bidding, fast-talking diplomacy or even sheer dumb luck.
With so little needed to improve the way the game actually plays, the new edition has only added to the presentation, pushing the delightful entertainment factor of the bidding format. Each player stashes stacks of satisfyingly chunky money tokens behind their screen, with the folded walls decorated to represent a gallery from around the world – London Art, the Sao Paulo Museum, New York Art and so on.
The rules in the manual take up just a few sides, with the majority of the 20-plus-page book dedicated to bibliographies and examples of the work of Ramon Martins, Manuel Carvalha, Sigrid Thaler and Daniel Melim – a definitive statement that this is a set that has been put together with the utmost thought and care.
Sure, the box could be smaller if you shrunk down the rulebook and screens, but that would go against the feeling that Modern Art is finally a game to display proudly in your collection, instead of having to explain ‘it’s better than it looks’ to every newcomer.
The changes made are ultimately small tweaks, but they matter; this is a box that oozes pleasure and fun from the bespectacled eyes staring out from the centre of an explosion on the box cover downwards. Did we mention that the player marker is a hammer you can bang on the table at the end of every auction? Well, it is, and banging it on the table never ceases to be as entertaining as it sounds.
A quarter of a century on, Modern Art continues to prove that it’s the gold standard of auction games. This latest makeover might finally bring the visuals into the 21st century, but it’s also a reminder that Modern Art’s gameplay remains timeless.
Delightfully silly and yet utterly earnest at the same time, Modern Art’s resurrection is a joyous return for a classic long in need of a new look, allowing the simple auction setup to sparkle brighter than ever thanks to the excellent presentation.
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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