Museum is a set-collection game of acquiring and arranging priceless artifacts in – you guessed it – a museum. Though it is not overly complex, it is more involved than most other set-collection games out there. The theme of preserving historical treasures comes to life thanks to the gorgeous artwork of Vincent Dutrait.
Museum is a game I have wanted to try since I first learned about it, because in my actual, real-life job, I am a museum curator. I have been in the field for almost a decade, and I love working hands-on with history. As both a historian and tabletop nerd/reviewer, I had to see what this game was all about.
The goal of Museum is to earn the most points. Players accomplish this by placing artifacts on their personal museum boards, preferably so that they form “collections” of adjacent, like cards.
In addition to players’ individual tableaus, the game has a central board where artifact cards appear. Artifacts come from 4 decks, each corresponding to a region of the world.
Every artifact card has a color, a symbol, and a point value. All of the pertinent information is listed at the top of the cards. Everything below is just eye candy and historical info.
The first player is the person who most recently visited a museum. (I love this rule because it gives me an unfair advantage, but I digress…)
Players take turns choosing a card from the main board, taking it into their hand, and placing cards into their museum. When the active player drafts a card from the center, the other players have the option to take one as well, but for each person who does, the active player earns a prestige point (basically, the game’s money and a source of endgame VP).
To add cards to their museum, the active player must discard cards from their hand of equal or greater value. For example, if the active player wanted to add a 4-point card to her museum, she could discard a different 4-point card, or two 2-point cards, or a 1- and a 3-point card, etc.
Each player keeps their own discard pile. The rules say this can be thought of as the museum’s storage. Players can move cards from storage into their museum, but they still have to discard an equal value of cards to do this. Basically, players will almost always have stuff in storage, and as someone in the museum profession, let me tell you that this is 1,000% accurate. (You should see my office… hoo boy.)
Players can also take cards from opponents’ storage, but the cards they spend to do this go into the opponents’ storage. Essentially, this represents museums loaning or trading objects.
The main way to remove cards from storage is to forego placing new artifacts into the museum, and instead to draw cards from the discard pile. This is helpful to do, because a player with few or no cards in hand will have trouble affording to place new artifacts, since they will have nothing to discard.
Taking cards from storage is also strategic because throughout the game, “public opinion” cards will come out. When this happens, the region where the card appeared receives a token, and at the end of the game, each card left in a player’s storage is worth negative points according to the number of tokens on the region it came from. (e.g. If the Europe region had two public opinion tokens on it at the end of the game, any Europe cards left in players’ storage are worth minus two points each.)
When a player adds a card to their museum, they immediately receive its points, moving their score marker along the track accordingly. When someone reaches 50 points, they trigger the game end. After the last turns are taken, players can rearrange their cards to optimize their final scoring. Sets of adjacent cards that show either the same color, or the same symbol but different colors score points. The larger the set, the more points it is worth.
There is a little more to this game, such as recruiting experts, resolving headline cards, and earning favor cards, but for the sake of length, I am going to gloss over these so that I can spend more time giving my thoughts about the game.
There is a lot about Museum that feels thematic. In my work, I frequently design exhibits, and when I do, I have to think about more than just what is being displayed. I have to ask myself how and why; how do these pieces, together, tell a meaningful story?
The spatial puzzle of organizing cards to form collections is a nice abstraction of this concept. Thematically, a player might be assembling a collection of Greek artifacts or weapons of war or ancient religious symbols to tell a historical narrative. Even if it is just colors and symbols, the basic premise is spot-on.
Also, as I said before, the notion of museum storage is very appropriate. Every museum out there has tons of stuff in storage, and it’s up to curators to make sure that people can see and enjoy as much of it as possible.
Museum prestige and public opinion is also a totally real thing. I work in a fairly small museum, so we don’t have nearly the pull of the Met, the Smithsonian, or the Louvre. In general, though, the better a museum’s collection is, the more it’s going to generate buzz and interest from the community.
Museum adapts these themes surprisingly well. (And let’s be honest, the entire museum field is basically one big set-collection game.) As for the gameplay, it is good, but perhaps a bit complex for what it is. At its core, this is a game of picking and placing cards. It has shades of Archaeology: The New Expedition, with players trading cards for other cards, trying to form sets of artifacts, but it is much more involved than that game. This is not a bad thing, per se, it just means that it will appeal to a different crowd.
If set collection is your thing, this is almost certainly a game you’ll enjoy, particularly if you want a more involved experience than other games in the genre provide. On the other hand, if you are looking for light, snappy gameplay, this may not be the right game for you. Personally, though, the theme does it for me, so I say give it a try.
A review copy was provided by Luma Imports.
The Bottom Line
As a curator, I am very impressed with this game's integration of them museum theme. The gameplay is good, but it is perhaps a bit complex for what it is.