Friday, November 02, 2007

Respect, Not Love

I didn’t get to the Appalachian Gamers meeting this week (and thus missed what will probably be the only game of Arkham Horror played by us until next Halloween), and I missed my usual blog inspiration. But as I was pondering what to write about this week, it occurred to me that there are games I admire, but don’t actually love. Probably the epitome of this contradiction is Knizia’s Modern Art.

Modern Art is a sophisticated and elegant auction game that can inspire amounts of truly Machiavellian mind games. Each round players are dealt a hand of cards that represent paintings by several different artists. Players take turns auctioning off cards from their hand. If another player buys a card, the auctioneer keeps the cash. The auctioneer can bid as well, and if she wins the auction, the money goes to the bank. Each sold painting is left on the table in front of the owner. When the fifth painting by one artist is sold, the round is over. Players then collect cash for their paintings in proportion to their popularity; the paintings of the most popular artist generate the most cash, while the works of less popular artists generate less money.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize the opportunities for guessing and bluffing created by the game. If you draw a lot of paintings of one suit at the beginning of a round, then you probably want to invest in that artist. But if other players see you buying a lot of your own paintings, then they will probably guess your intentions, and either try to acquire that artist’s work for themselves, or bid you up to limit your profits. You could always auction a painting by a different artist just to fool other players, but you risk helping another player with his plan. There is a constant tension in the game between the need to further your plans, and hiding what your intentions really are.

Why wouldn’t I love Modern Art? Well, it is merely a card game, and I tend to like games with boards. And if it isn’t entirely abstract, it comes pretty close to being so. I also tend to do poorly at auction games, but in the right frame of mind I regard that as a challenge and not a reason to avoid a game.

But having expressed those reservations, I still have a hankering to try the game once again. It may be an abstract card game, but it is a darn good one. It may be the most fun to play the games you love, but playing games you respect isn’t bad either.

1 comment:

huzonfirst said...

Good insight, Kris. There's a number of games I respect, but don't love. Settlers may be the most prominent; as much as I admire the design and recognize its importance in the history of the hobby, I've never truly loved it. Modern Art is obviously a quality design, but I've never played in a game where I felt its brilliance revealed itself. Maybe we're not much for bluffing in our games (only a few of our members like Adel, for example, and I avoid it like the plague). Unlike you, I love auction games and tend to do well in them, but there are many other Knizia auction games I prefer to Modern Art (such as Traumfabrik, Medici, and the brilliant Medici vs. Strozzi). So this may just be a classic that I'll play, but never request.