19 August 2019
It belongs in a– wait, hold on…
Museums are perhaps the most extreme realisation of set-collection the real world has to offer, so it’s maybe little surprise that a board game called Museum offers a particularly clever twist on classic collectathon gameplay that will get your grey matter whirring.
Museum casually breezes past the morally dubious nature of its theme (rich and powerful countries taking objects from other cultures, often by force, for the sake of exhibition) under the guise of its pseudo-realistic historical setting, taking place during the ‘golden age of museums’ at the beginning of the 20th century. Wherever you fall on the acceptability of its theme, it’s hard to argue with its presentation; Vincent Dutrait’s unique depictions of almost 200 real-life artefacts are thoroughly stunning and elicit the same sense of wonder as wandering the halls of an exhibition.
Players’ curators must fill the halls of their museum – one of several fictional institutions clearly inspired by real-life places – with an impressive array of these treasures from around the world.
It’s not quite as easy as chucking a bunch of random ancient bowls and statues in a room, though; scoring takes into account cards from the same civilisations, objects in the same domain (such as ‘culture’ or ‘naval’) and whether they’re actually physically located next to matching cards on the layout of your museum player board, bringing an aspect of tile placement and arrangement into the already heady mix. Quickly the simple task of obtaining like cards becomes a brain-taxing exercise in maximising combos up, down and across your board – even with the ability to rearrange cards at will throughout the game, it can make for a level of unexpected complexity and admin when end-game scoring hits.
The sense of hidden depth runs throughout Museum, giving its simple core of collecting cards an impressive level of strategy. One of its strongest elements is the way that cards double as both object and currency; cards must be discarded to play an item of matching value into your museum, setting up the tension of holding onto high-value items to pay for multiple objects in the same collection or losing several lower-value artefacts to make one large acquisition. Even cards discarded continue to play a vital role – they can still be played into the museum on later turns, but can also be pinched directly by rival curators. Left to linger in the pile, they can subtract from a player’s final score as the result of negative public opinion cards – one of several events that can shift the available cards and options each round.
Like trotting down a corridor filled with wonders of the world, Museum is filled with these nifty gameplay twists and tricks that will make you go ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’. At other points, it feels like the simple set-collection surface struggles to hold up the weight behind it – where the turn-to-turn gameplay slides by with little friction, the scoring can feel bogged down by the sheer number of bonuses awarded for experts, patron objectives, layout, cards in multiple different sets and more. It leaves the experience a bit lopsided and overstuffed; something that the inflated table footprint of the boards used to hold a few decks of cards reflects.
Museum does a lot to offer a set-collection game that goes beyond the norm with engaging gameplay twists, plenty to think about and absolutely sumptuous presentation. But this generous offering of an interesting experience and visual grandeur comes with the downside of a hidden weight that makes it hard to fully enjoy without reservation – something it shares in common with its real-life counterparts.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Museum is a smart set-collection game with plenty of depth – even if that depth overly impacts on the experience of playing. Even so, it looks fantastic, plays well and will give you lots to think about from turn to turn.
Designer: Eric Dubus, Olivier Melison
Artist: Vincent Dutrait
Time: 30-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the May 2019 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.