Review: Masters Gallery
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
Category: Card Game
Price: $9.75 Amazon
Eagle-Gryphon Games brings us Masters Gallery. Masters Gallery is featured as number 9 in the Gryphon Games Bookshelf Series, which also includes games like Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, For Sale, Incan Gold, and many others. As mentioned in our SiXes review, Eagle-Gryphon Games also publishes another series of tinier, mostly party games in their E.G.G Series. They also publish larger strategy titles, like Age of Steam, Baseball Highlights 2045, Railways of the World, and Brass.
For those in the know, please take note I haven’t played Modern Art: The Card Game, and aside from some research, I only believe Masters Gallery to be a reskin of that card game, but different from the board game. Here is a fantastic review of the similarities, if you are interested.
Masters Gallery features famous paintings from several prominent artists, but none feature any questionable content, especially as far as historical paintings go.
Ah, how wonderful to peruse lightly through the annals of famous, classical artwork, posing as a preposterously pretentious art snob, who leans to or fro, based on the cultural sway of whichever artist seems most presently delectable to the art scene. Well, look no further. You don’t need rich parents or a lavish lifestyle, because Masters Gallery simulates that experience for less than $15!
In Masters Gallery, players are indeed, art critics, bidding on the masterpiece artwork from Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Degas, and Vermeer. Like the eccentric twit you are, your opinion on which artist paints the most valuable masterpieces is dependent on what everyone else thinks.
Players are given a hand of cards, which match the five famous artists laid out on the table. Taking turns, players will play one card from their hand, some of which have a special ability, allowing you to play secret cards, increase point values, or play additional cards. Counting the cards played around the table (and one card from the draw pile) once there are five cards from one single artist out, the round is immediately over.
Players reveal any secret cards they had played face down, and those gathered will now count up the total number of cards played for each artist. The top three artists of the round are then given point values from 1-3, based on how many of their respective cards were played.
Players may play an additional card from their hand that matches one of those lucky three artists for additional points, and then each player receives the tallied point value for each card they played from the select trio of artists. If someone has played cards from the unlucky two artists that were not top 3 scorers, then that player receives no points for those cards.
After scoring, all played cards are discarded, and players draw additional cards, and the game continues for three more rounds. Each round, the scoring chits will stack, so one artist could indeed become extremely valuable in later rounds.
The player with the most points at the end of the fourth round is the most valuable critic, holds the most valuable masterpiece paintings, and is the winner of Masters Gallery.
Masters Gallery balances risk between two possibilities: getting a huge point payout from a valuable artist, and playing several cards and getting no points, because your artist was outvoted.
As you can already tell from my opening paragraph, I’m entirely unfamiliar with the art community, so most of my ramblings on art critics are hyperbole. That said, I don’t think this game really—and I mean really—makes you feel like an art critic. It’s just cards on a table with some point value chits. This doesn’t take away from the fun of the game though. I suppose I’m just not sure it’s an incredibly thematic game.
On the topic of chits and cards, I find them just decent. The beautiful masterpieces are surrounded by drab, plain colors, adorning the edges of each card. It’s not inspiring, but I’m sure the design purpose is to to draw attention to the classic nature of these artworks. Of course, those artist cards in the middle of table do get covered up by these oversized, round cardboard chits, with huge red numbers printed on them.
The box is small and fits the game perfectly, with Starry Night by Van Gogh, printed carefully over the top. The game is a small game, after all, and I also think the insert nicely holds the cards and chits. One thing missing, as is the case with these multiple-round games with scoring, is a notepad. I know it’s 2016 and most civilized people have a cell phone, or live in homes with pens and paper, but an included notepad seems the minority these days.
The rulebook is okay, but I did have some issues I needed clarified. The rules are mostly linear, but there was some confusion on how and when players can play an extra card after each round. Of course, I understand it now, but I was a little confused up front. That said, the game doesn’t take much to explain and teach.
Now, strategically, there is only so much you can do. Much like the constant creation of culture, alongside the rise and fall of popularity of different art forms, filmmaking, or even games, knowing how to judge and estimate which masterpieces will rise in value is the heart of Masters Gallery. Furthermore, all the information you have is what’s in your hand, and also what others are playing.
Let’s say you play Vermeer early because you have seven Vermeer cards. Well, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Degas end up round champs. You waste another two Vermeer the next round. In the third round, you play two more Vermeer, and Vermeer gets third place. Congrats. You get two points. Now, it’s the last round, you play your last two Vermeer, and Vermeer ends up in first place because of other players. Now you get four points per card, while other players are picking up twelve points for each Van Gogh card (which you never drew).
To this level of play, Masters Gallery is about hedging your bet and trying to influence the market value of cards, even to your own demise. I find this aspect of the game to be a tiny bit social, but very interesting. In addition, I think most players will find their influence multiplied at lower player counts, and somewhat random at five players. Two to three players seems a sweet spot.
What makes Masters Gallery work is the extent of random mitigation you can do. You get a big hand of cards to start, and you can even use different card abilities to get more of your hand out onto the table and influence the end of the round count. Maybe you could even get another set of Van Gogh’s played in order to end the round before the other players can take their turns.
This is a distinct advantage of being able to point manipulate (a card that lets you choose an artist that will receive an extra two points per card for the rest of the game) or play face down cards. The secrecy of which artist you are hiding with your collection could completely swing points and make a huge difference at the table. These are the kinds of mechanics that solve the problems that random card drawings creates in a card game.
Aside from basic graphic design and slight rulebook issue, my biggest complaint with Masters Gallery is playing with five. Five players seem entirely too random, and reminds me of trying to manage your position in Gravwell at four. Two players seems just about right, and partially manageable in Gravwell, and two to three allows for a little more control in Masters Gallery.
Even so, by the final round, you realize your play from previous rounds matters more than ever. You are left to the remnants of your gameplay, because you don’t draw many new cards every round. Whatever you have left at this point, you must make do with. This makes me wonder if it’s the shining moment for the mathematician, or the card counter, as they effortlessly have gamed the system up to this point, and even now, deliver the killing blow to you and your pathetic, archaic plotting.
Overall, I think Masters Gallery shines. Of the small card games in my collection, this is one I don’t mind bringing out often. It plays quickly, but it has more thinky brain power than a lot of other small card games. This one has the thick and crunchy nature of a Reiner Knizia game. While I would rather play something else at five players, I think fondly of this game at 2-4 players.
A copy of Masters Gallery was generously provided by Eagle-Gryphon Games for a fair and honest review.
The Bottom Line
Masters Gallery is a smart bidding game that lets you outwit your silly friends with better, more prominent art collections than they have. Even with a few strange rulebook issues and some less fun randomness at higher player counts, Masters Gallery brings risk and mystery to the table.