Masters Gallery: Review Rewind

Fairway has a thing for art games. Today he picks up master game artist, Reiner Knizia’s, Masters Gallery and released by Eagle Gryphon Games. Find out if Fairway is as good a gallery manager as he is a paint-by-cube artist.

Masters Gallery is a two- to five-player set collection and hand management card game in which players are gallery operators trying to assemble the most valuable collection of art. Using an interesting scoring regime, Masters Gallery is a thoughtful and brainy economics game wrapped inside an easy to play card game.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The game play capitalizes on a great scoring mechanic to turn a simplistic set collection game into one of pretty deep, yet subtle, card strategy.
  2. The game is simple to learn and teach and the nuances of scoring are quickly learned after one play.
  3. While the game uses some beautiful works of art from great masters, the presentation and style is overall pretty lackluster.

Game play ^

Masters Gallery is played over four hands during which players are attempting to score the most points by collecting a set of the most valuable paintings. What constitutes the most valuable painting during any given round is where the game hides its magic.

At the start of the game, a row of masters cards is turned up. These cards will be used to track the point value of the paintings over the rounds.

The large deck of cards is then shuffled and cards are dealt to each player to form their initial hand. These cards are colored and correspond to the matching great master shown in the masters gallery: brown, orange, green, purple, and yellow. Some of the cards include an icon that indicates, when played, the player (or all the players) may take an additional action: play a card face down, play another card of the same painter, add a bid token, or everyone simultaneously plays a card.

Taking turns, players take a card from their hand and play it to the table in front of them. The goal for any round is to have a collection of paintings in front of you that will score the most points.  During the first round, points are determined by frequency order: you score three points for cards that were the most played, two points for second most, one point for third most, and no points for the remainder. During subsequent rounds, those point values are retained, but what constitutes the ordering is re-evaluated and new chips get added.  In addition, certain played cards allow players to add two point tokens to certain groupings.

Rounds end when a certain number of cards of the same master are face up in front of the players (e.g., five for two players). Then cards that were played facedown (as a result of the special action) are turned face up and the point tokens added to the paintings. Players then score points for their face up cards. In addition, as an interesting twist, players can play one additional card from their hand for each unique painter face up to score even more points.  Points are totaled up, face up cards discarded, and additional cards are dealt to each player depending on the round and and player count.

The game ends after four rounds.

On the green ^

For what appears to a straight-up card playing game, the game embeds ingenious game play hooks.

Scoring. I love it. The scoring regime makes playing cards, holding cards, and using abilities forces players to be both strategic and thoughtful. While it was confusing at first, one play of the game revealed the interesting dynamics the scoring fueled amongst the players. The scoring forced players not just to match colors, but do so in ways and at times that would capitalize on the point system.

Game play.  It was really rewarding to have played a near perfect hand and scoring the most points in the round. The decisions between playing a card, holding it for the end, or even holding it for another round, made for exciting reveals. The strategy of the game is subtle at first and that makes for a lot of replay.  More than one player asked to play again immediately.

Play length. There’s no huge commitment to the game. The four rounds, even at higher player counts, go by pretty quickly. While the game has a brainy aspect to it, players grasped pretty quickly what they wanted to play.

Traditional card gamer appeal.  The game struck a note with players who enjoy traditional card games like Rummy and Gin. The card playing mechanics will be easy to teach to folks who enjoy those games.  And would be readily teachable to players of those games too.

Where it comes up short ^

Presentation. I really enjoyed that the game featured great works of art, but it’s not a “pretty” game. The cards come across as functional and players tend to think about them in colors rather than in terms of art.

Scoring with paper and pen.  Keeping track of individual scores requires a paper and pen. That’s not the end of the world and over the six years, players have created handy scoring charts.

Higher player counts.  This game seems to suffer a bit with more players. While it supports up to five players, that fifth player can take away a lot of control and reduces the playable cards by good amount.  The sweet spot seems to be three to four players, which is great for most game tables anyway.

In the hole ^

Masters Gallery is a highly enjoyable card game. The subtle strategies and decisions involved to score big make this game more than it would appear to be on the surface. What’s more, even though they’re subtle, those same strategies are readily discoverable by players of all stripes. That’s hard to achieve and Masters Gallery does it well. Masters Gallery is a nice game to have for those wanting a more interesting card game.

Masters Gallery is in the hole for a Birdie! ^

Fairway was provided a copy of Masters Gallery to do this review but was not otherwise compensated for his opinion.

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