More than three years ago–and my, how the time flies–I wrote about the early career of Reiner Knizia, whose career spans three decades, several Spiel des Jahres winners, and scores of designs, many of which are considered modern classics. Modern Art is one of his earliest successes, one of several games whose focus is the auction; the others are Medici, Ra, High Society, and Dream Factory.
I’ve played Modern Art dozens of times–hundreds, if you include the surprisingly-challenging computer version (still playable on Windows 10) that came out in the mid 90’s and is available for download here. I hadn’t played it in quite awhile; part of me kept it only for its nostalgia value. Surely more recent designs had surpassed it?
Then in 2017, CMON took advantage of Modern Art’s 25th anniversary and reissued it, which aroused some excitement as it had been out of print for some years. Recently I had a chance to take the new version for a spin, and happily I can say the design holds up amazingly well and is still worth playing for its own sake. What’s more interesting to me are CMON’s decisions around packaging, graphic design, and the Double Auction rule.
There have been seventeen editions of Modern Art since 1992, four of them in English. Whereas 2009’s Masters Gallery used the paintings of Vermeer, Degas, Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh, every other edition used made-up artists and artwork. And Masters Gallery itself was just a retheme of Knizia’s knock-off Modern Art: the Card Game, which shares a theme and some gameplay but no auctions, so let’s hear no more about it, shall we?
My point is that the CMON edition is the first one to use actual, real, working artists and their work. Not only that, but each artist gets a two-page spread at the back of the rulebook with a biography and a selection of their other works. I wonder how CMON sold this idea to these artists–did they do some research that showed that tabletop gamers also like to invest in the avant garde? And when you think about it, just how much do you look at the artwork when you play Modern Art? (Me, not so much.) Still, it is nice to see working artists get even a slight boost to their visibility. Someone at CMON must have aspirations to become a patron of the arts.
Fortunately, the rules and gameplay have been left alone. Modern Art is a finely-balanced design that requires all players to be able to evaluate expected prices and revenues relatively accurately. Having even one player be out of whack in terms of bidding can throw everyone else off their game.
For this edition, CMON and/or the Good Doctor Knizia decided to revert to the original German rules for Double Auctions, so that if one player lays down an unaccompanied Double Auction card, the next player in sequence who completes it gets all the revenue from the auction. In the previous Mayfair version the two players split the revenue. This very much discourages players from playing unaccompanied Double Auction cards–which was apparently the point. Trouble is, in the years since many of us have got used to the socialist sharing version, which is more forgiving, and it will take some effort to switch gears. Effort? Waaah!
I would recommend Modern Art to be in anyone’s collection–its auction mechanics make every game a saga, considerably improved if you play with friends who know how to talk up the art and/or bidding. Personally, I prefer the more compact Mayfair edition but, if you can’t find a copy, then by all means go out and grab CMON’s version before it, too, goes out of print.