Review by Bob Rossney.
Modern Art is an art-auction game. It is for 3 to 5 players, and takes about an hour to play.
This is a truly great game, and in the wake of Res Publica and Quo Vadis it firmly establishes Knizia as one of the best boardgame designers currently practicing.
The game revolves around a deck of cards, each of which represents a painting by each of five artists. Each turn, a player lays a card from his hand face up and it is auctioned off. Essentially, he can either sell it to the other players or buy it himself, paying the bank for the card.
As soon as the fifth card by one artist is laid down, the round ends (the fifth card is discarded) and paintings are valued; the artist who has sold the most is worth 30,000, with the second- and third-place artists' paintings being worth 20,000 and 10,000. There are four rounds in the game, and the values of an artist's painting accumulates from round to round, although in any given round only the three artists whose paintings placed in the top three are of any value.
The other dimension in the game is that each card has a symbol on it that determines which of four different kinds of auction are to be used in sel- ling it. There are open auctions, secret bids, single-bid auctions, and fixed-price auctions (the seller names a price, and if nobody else will buy the painting he must buy it himself). There is a fifth type of card, (the "=" card) whose effect is difficult to describe and whose impact is considerable.
The game continually confronts the player with difficult choices. You make more money by selling paintings than by buying them (and selling them at the end of the round). However, if you can buy a painting at a low enough price, you can make more money off of the painting than the person who's selling it. If you sell a painting to another player, then that player has an incentive to sell more paintings by that artist, which will drive up the price of the artist's paintings.
Any transaction can be evaluated as a zero-sum situation between the buyer and the seller -- one of them is going to come out ahead -- but the transaction's real impact is on the uninvolved players. Even if only three people are playing, it is often worthwhile to make a deal that isn't directly to your advantage that improves your position relative to the third player.
This would be a great game to play for money.
In addition to being a great game, this is a beautiful one. Each of the 70 oversized cards has an original painting on it. Each of the artists has a distinctive style (even if two of them are clearly just Photoshop effects).
I recommend this game very highly.
Copyright 1994, Bob Rossney.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell