The Best Auction Game: Modern Art

Sometimes I think that Modern Art could have been called the Ebay game. Not really, but just like Ebay, the bidding can sometimes get a bit….odd. My brother and I, for example, like to start bidding prime numbers or the Fibonacci sequence..

There’s a lot of variety in auction games out there; the boardgamegeek database has about 2000 games tagged as auction/bidding, and I’ve played quite a few of them. In my opinion,Modern Art is the best of the lot (although many people prefer Knizia’s other big auction game, Ra). The game is based on the simple premise that art is worth whatever you can convince someone to pay for it. Over the course of four rounds, you’ll buy and sell paintings by five not very talented artists; if you’re lucky, you’ll strike it rich by investing in artists right before they become popular..

You start the game with a handful of paintings, and get more in the second and third rounds (the fourth round you just use whatever’s left over from the previous rounds); each one has a color denoting the artist and a symbol denoting the type of auction. There are four types, none of which are particularly esoteric. First off is the standard open auction: people keep bidding until all but one person drops you. There’s the sealed auction: everyone hides some auction chips in his hand and the high big wins. (Ties are broken from the seller’s left). In a once around, everyone starting from the seller’s left (and ending with the seller) gets one chance to bid. In a fixed price auction, the seller sets the price he wants…but if nobody takes it, he has to buy it! Finally, a double auction lets you auction off two paintings by the same artist, with the second painting determining the auction type. You can also put the double auction painting down by itself and let somebody else put down the second one, in which case you’ll split the profits; if nobody puts down a second, you just keep the double painting for free!

If you buy somebody else’s painting, you pay them; if you buy your own painting, you pay the bank (so you usually prefer not to buy your own paintings, as auctioning off a painting is the main way to get money). Paintings that you win at auction are placed in front of you until the end of the round, which happens when the 5th painting by the same artist is placed up for auction. That painting is discarded without being auctioned; every remaining painting by that artist is worth a whopping 30 grand. Whichever artist has the second most paintings out is worth $20k apiece, third most is $10k, and the others are not popular this season and are worth nothing. In future rounds, an artist that comes in fourth or fifth is still worth nothing, but if he places in the top three, you get to add up the sales prices…so if a painting comes in 2nd the first round, then doesn’t place in the 2nd, it’ll be worth nothing the second round…but if it comes in first in the third, each of those paintings will now be worth $50k! You sell off all of your paintings (tossing the worthless ones in the trash) and start the next round with no paintings in front of you.

After four rounds, whoever has the most money wins. Modern Art takes 3-5 players and retails for around $30.

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  1. This reminds me of a game I had when I was growing up. It was called Masterpiece. This sounds like an interesting game!

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