Archive for the ‘Card games’ Category

One of the more perplexing mysteries in society is the monetary valuation of visual art.  This is especially true when we look at contemporary work, which has not withstood hundreds of years of critique to determine its intrinsic worth.  While one person may look at Mark Rothko’s Green and Tangerine on Red and say it just looks like a couple squares of paint, others see deep meaning, earning it a prime location in Washington D.C.’s Phillips Collection.

To get a better understanding of how contemporary art is valued and sold, I encourage you to learn more about the subject.  The first half of Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist provides some insight into how art is acquired by museums and private collectors.  You may also enjoy this podcast by NPR’s Planet Money, that looks at how pricing works in the art market.

But if you want to experience the unpredictable world of buying and selling paintings for yourself, then you need look no further than Reiner Knizia’s masterpiece of a game – Modern Art.  This is a game with broad appeal that puts you right in the middle of the wild and wonderful world of art auctions.  The game is published in the U.S. by Mayfair Games, and is not to be confused with Modern Art: the Card Game, which is a vastly inferior impostor.

In Modern Art, each player is involved both with buying and selling paintings by five fictional artists.  While this makes certain thematic sense (museums generally only sell art to purchase other art), I’ve found it easier to explain as players wearing two hats.  First, you’re an art dealer, anxious to unload a painting to the highest bidder.  Secondly, you’re a museum director, looking to acquire something by the Next Great Artist.  Think of the art dealer being in cahoots with the museum director – he may sell it to his best pal, who has a little insider information about what’s about to hit the market.

The game is played over a series of four rounds, and the winner is the player with the most cash at the end of the game.  At the start of the first three rounds, players are dealt a hand of cards, each of which has a painting by one of the five artists.  These cards represent the holdings of your art dealer side (paintings acquired by your museum will be played on the table in front of you).  Those cards also each have a symbol which represents the type of auction that must be used to sell the painting.

Moving around the table in turn order, players will offer up a painting for auction to everyone, including themselves.  The card symbol tells you how to conduct the auction – it may be traditional, each player may only get one bid, it may be a secret sealed auction, or the painting may be offered at a single fixed price.  There are also cards that require a double auction – two paintings by the same artist go on the block at once.  Then the bidding begins!  Players are trying to determine what they think the painting is going to be worth at the end of the round – because that’s when the art really pays off.

At the end of the round (which happens when the fifth painting by a single artist is played), everyone looks at the three top artists – those that had the most of their art sold.  Each painting by the #1 artist pays out at $30,000, the #2 artist’s work gets you $20,000 apiece, and #3 pays $10,000 each.  The other two artists just didn’t make it big this time around.  All cards on the table are discarded, and a new round begins (players keep unsold paintings in their hand to carry over).

The game really heats up in later rounds, because those payouts are cumulative!  So if, for example, Karl Gitter is the #1 artist in the first round, and in the third round he’s the #2 artist, his paintings are now selling for $50,000 each!  Which means the bidding goes higher and higher…  The challenge is that players are trying to do quick calculations in their head as the game goes on; “If he ends up being #2 this time, I could get $50K , so I think I’m willing to bid up to $40K to get it.”  You’re working with limited information based on what you see on the table, what you remember has been sold in the past, and what cards you hold in your hand.

This on the surface is a straight-forward game, but the right group of people can turn it into a party game.  I first learned Modern Art with a bunch of theater-folk, and we naturally found ourselves naming each art piece as it was played, adding back-story about the artists, and working hard to convince each other to BUY THIS PAINTING!  Believe me when I say this makes the game twice as much fun.  Sometime I’ll tell you the story of how my sister-in-law named a Yoko painting simply with a sound effect.

It’s really a fantastic game, and represents auction games in the purest form.  The agony of knowing that you need to spend your money to make money, and you also need that money to win is just delicious.  The game works for 3 – 5 players, but I strongly prefer it with 5, as you get the maximum excitement in the bidding process.  Modern Art is a contemporary classic that gives you a window into the wild and wonderful world of art acquisition – and it remains one of my top ten games of all time.  Check it out!


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Today I’d like to introduce you a simple game that’s like a game MVP at our house – Fairy Tale .  This is an easy card game to learn, and plays very quickly.  And like most card games, it’s small and easily portable, as you can see below.  It’s become one of our Renaissance Festival favorites to stick in our bag and carry along for playing at the tavern.  In this game you are spinning a fantasy tale of dragons and fairies, demons and knights.  The person that is able to compile the best collection of cards wins the game with their tall tale of a land far, far away.

Players are dealt a hand of five cards – each one pictures a person, place or story in one of four “suits.”  Some cards are just worth a few points by themselves.  Others, such as the Mischievous Fairy, are worth more for each one that you have – so one is worth one point, but two are worth two points each, and so on.  Then there are the combo cards – where having one card (the Sky Dance Dragon, for example) makes another card (the Dwarven Warrior in this case) worth more points.  Lastly there are cards that have a minimum requirement for you to score the points.  For example, the Shadowking’s Tale – Chapter 1 card requires you to have the most shadow cards in order to get a big 6 points.

Now that’s all well in good, but you don’t just play the cards you’re dealt.  First you use the game’s special “drafting” mechanism.  Look at your hand, and pick one card you’d like to keep.  Now pass the rest of your hand to the player to your left.  After picking up what was passed to you, select another card to keep, and pass the remaining three to the left.  And so on, until you’ve accumulated your five cards for the round.  I should mention at this point that the game is played with four rounds, and you alternate drafting left and right each round (i.e. rounds 1 and 3 to your left, rounds 2 and 4 to your right).

With your drafted hand of five cards, you now have to make a tough decision – because you will only get to play three of those cards this round!  And it’s not as simple as just picking any three – the choice of which to play when is a key part of the game, because a number of the cards have actions associated with them – flip, unflip and hunt.  Players all select a card, hold it out at the center (as you can see happening in the photo above), then reveal at the same time.

Flip cards instruct you and/or your opponents to flip a type of card over – for example, the Vampire card means all players have to turn a fairy card face-down.  This is significant, as any flipped cards are worth nothing at the end of the game!  If you don’t have any of that type of card you’re all set, but it’s important to note that the card you’re playing at the moment counts.  The solution, naturally is the unflip action – which allows you to turn a card back over.  The Staff-Bearing Sage is a card that allows you to turn one of your flipped knights back up to its scoring position.  The last type of card which can wreak havoc is a hunter.  Hunt cards “attack” a specific type of card – so if another player reveals that type at the same time, it must be put face-down on the table, and any action on it is lost.  As an example of this, the Fairy Queen hunts all shadow cards.  It’s also worth mentioning at this point that the order of actions is always the same – hunt, unflip, flip.  Non-action cards that weren’t affected are simply played to the table face-up.

photo courtesy BGG user EndersGame

After going through four rounds, it’s time to score your cards.  You’ll have 12 cards on the table, most of which will hopefully be face-up!  Simply add up your points, not forgetting combos and requirements, and see who told the best fairy tale.

What I love about this game is the various directions you can decide to go with your cards.  Stock up on strong combinations?  Corner the market on those Mischievous Fairy cards?  Or hope for the right card to make that 8-point card pay off?  The game plays very quickly once players understand the mechanics, and you could go through a couple of games in less than an hour.  The cards are durable, and the artwork is an interesting take on Japanese anime. Fairy Tale has been a good stand-by when we don’t know what else to play; I think you’ll find this little “filler” game will make a reliable addition to your game collection.  It is for players at all skill levels and is designed for 2-5 players.  Fairy Tale is published in the U.S. by Z-Man Games, but was recently published in a new edition by the What’s Your Game? company.

Thanks for reading my review – and I promise to be back soon with another game review.

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