is a new card game by Reiner Knizia, published by Gryphon Games.
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes
Masters Gallery is #9 in Gryphon Games's series of bookshelf filler games. As such, it comes in the standard small, bookshelf book for the series, here featuring Van Gogh's beautiful The Starry Night painting on the cover. Inside the box are 100 cards and 17 tokens.
The Cards: These include 5 artist cards and 95 masterpiece cards, all printed on medium-weight, linen-textured stock.
The artist cards are mainly placeholders, to remind you of the current value of each artist, the color used to depict the artist, and how many masterpieces there are available for that artist (which affects ties in the game).
The masterpiece card similarly are outlined in the color of their artist. There also include symbols on about a third of the cards, depicting their special powers.
The center of each card in the game is filled by a piecs of art from one of the five masters chosen for this game: Jan Vermeer, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. There are a total of six different pieces of art for each of the artists: one for all the normal cards and one for each of the special cards. Thus, for example the standard Van Gogh painting is "Cafe Terrace at Night". The other five cards for that artist are "Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers", "Van Gogh's Chair", "Self-Portrait as an Artist", "The Church at Auvers", and "Road with Cypresses".
As you'd expect, the masterpiece artwork looks gorgeous, and adds a lot to the game.
Tokens: A set of circular disks printed on linen-textured cardboard. Twelve of them are white disks, numbered 1, 2, or 3, while the last five are black disks, all numbered 2. They're entirely utilitarian, and keep track of the value of artists from one round to the next.
Overall, Masters Gallery includes good-quality components that are competently designed. However, the inclusion of 24 of the finest pieces of art in Western Civilization raises the game up to the next level. Primarily for this latter point, I give Masters Gallery a full "5" out of "5" for Style: gorgeous!
The Game Play
The object of Masters Gallery is to make the most money from the sale of artwork over four rounds of play.
Setup: The five artist cards are laid out in the middle of the table. Each player is dealt a hand of 13 cards. An "extra card" is flipped up from the draw deck, showing an artist whose works are in particular demand this round of play.
Play: On his turn, a player plays a card from his hand. The majority of the cards have no other effect, but there are six cards for each artist which do have a special power which you get to use when you play the card (unless it's the card ending the round of play). The powers are:
- Draw a card from the deck.
- Play a second card of any artist face-down.
- Play a second card of the same artist face-up.
- Every player simultaneously plays a card face-down; they're then all revealed.
- Place a "2" point award token on any artist.
Ending a Round of Play: A round of play ends when the sixth card of the same artist is played face-up. This count includes that "extra card" revealed at the start of the round, but doesn't include any cards that are currently face-down.
At this point, all the face-down cards are turned face-up. Now, the popularity of the artists is calculated. Whichever artist has the most cards out is awarded first place and given a 3-point value token. Similarly the second and third place artist get 2- and 1-point value tokens. (Ties are broken by the artist with the least cards in the deck, e.g. Vermeer with 17, then Degas with 18, etc.)
Finally, each player can play a limited number of additional cards from their hand if they want to earn additional points this round.
Now players sell all of their played cards from the top three artist. Each painting is worth the total of all of the award and value tokens placed on that artist--which could include tokens from previous rounds! This total score is recorded for each player.
Now all played cards are discarded, even those that didn't earn anything!
Preparing for the Next Round: At the start of the second and third round, each player is dealt a few additional cards from the deck. A new "extra card" is flipped up, then a new round of play begins.
Ending the Game: The game ends after four rounds of play. The player with the most total points wins.
Relationships to Other Games
Masters Gallery is an auctionless version of Reiner Knizia's popular Modern Art game. Frankly, the idea sounded ludicrous to me when I first heard it, because I couldn't conceive of what'd be left when you took the auctions out of Modern Art ... but Masters Gallery proves that Knizia knew what he was doing, as the result shows off all of the careful card valuation that does indeed occur in Modern Art, but in a tighter, simpler package.
Masters Gallery is also the ninth game in the Gryphon Games bookshelf series of games. They've thus far all been filler games, that on average have been some of the best in the field. Other games released at the same time as Masters Gallery were Incan Gold, Looting London and Birds on a Wire (together enumerating #6-#9 in the series).
Relationships to Modern Art: The Card Game
Gryphon Games simultaneously released Masters Gallery in a slightly different form as Modern Art: The Card Game. It's got the exact same rules as Masters Gallery, but is packaged in a smaller box. It also features art that looks quite a bit like that in Mayfair's release of Modern Art. However, there's only one piece of art per artist in Modern Art: The Card Game, rather than the six pieces of art per artist in Masters Gallery. Between the smaller box and (I expect) the lower count of art, Modern Art: The Card Game has a price point about $9 lower than Masters Gallery.
The Game Design
I've already said that Masters Gallery proved that Reiner Knizia knew what he was doing when he took the auctions out of Modern Art. The result is very intriguing card play, where you try and figure which cards to play at which times for maximum value.
As with Modern Art, a lot of the difficult decisions come from the fact that an artist could be worth more in a future round of play than the current one; thus, you always need to balance maximizing your own returns for each card with making sure that an artist scores at all.
I think if anything the tension has been cranked up a bit in this new game, since a social dilemma rises in the face that you can play additional cards to score points. If no one throws out a specific artist in this phase, he's more likely to score in the future, but once one player does, it's liable to start a domino effect, as each player finds it more likely that the artist in question is "done".
Rather than saying Masters Gallery is Modern Art without auctions, it might be more relevant to say that it's Modern Art without all the math and all the additional time that the auctions require. The result is a tight game of card management tied together with some brinkmanship and some reading of other players that plays in 30 minutes or less.
Gryphon Games has been reprinting some of the best German fillers, such as Money and For Sale, in their new bookshelf line. Masters Gallery stands right up with those masterpieces, and thus earns a full "5" out of "5" for Substance.
Masters Gallery is a great filler by Reiner Knizia that has many of the strengths of Modern Art but also plays a lot faster. The result is a unique and thoughtful card-management game.
And, if you don't like the artwork of the masters, you can get it in a Modern Art: The Card Game edition instead.