Monday, March 28, 2016

Art and auctions opening up emergent gameplay

Auction games are one of the things that put Reiner Knizia on the map. He has made a lot of auction games that have helped define the genre. Ra, Medici, Amon-Re, and High Society, all great auction games.

However, I want to talk about his first major auction game, not to mention his first big hit. Modern Art.

Modern Art is an auction game's game. It uses no less then four different types of auctions, not counting the double auctions. More than that, the auctions influence every part of the game. When you buy somebody else's painting, your money goes into their pocket. And the number of paintings that each artist sells determines how much they are worth at the end of each season.

Since I've already gone through the rules in a review back in 2005, I'll just include a link to that than go over the rules in detail here:

Because I don't want to do another review of the game. I want to discuss how Modern Art is an excellent example of emergent gameplay.

Modern Art isn't hard to teach people. Even if you haven't been to a real auction or spent way too much money on eBay, you've still seen auctions on TV or the movies. And each individual type of auction in Modern Art isn't hard to explain or understand. And the idea that popular artists are worth more money is also pretty easy to explain to folks. 

But we are talking about four or five different types of auctions, plus another mechanic determining the ultimate value of every painting sold, which can be zero. That's a whole lot of intersecting systems. Sure, they are all linked and dependent on each other but that's still a lot of interaction.

On top of that, there is the human factor. Sometimes people bid too high because they get caught up in the action or because they're backing an artist who ends up busting. Sometimes people have a personal preference for an artist. Sometimes, people find themselves collaborating at getting a specific artist on top. Sometimes, they push an artist to sabotage someone else's play.

Money is how you win and you get money only through interacting with the other players, one way or another. And people dealing with people always opens up the door for surprises.

Modern Art isn't my favorite auction game by Knizia. (That'd be Ra) But it is a brilliant game that explores auctions and values with the players being the center of it all.

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