Tuesday, 25 January 2022

boardgaming in photos: Blue Moon, Ingenious, Attika

29 Dec 2021. I taught younger daughter Chen Rui Blue Moon, the 2-player-only card game by Reiner Knizia first published in 2004. Each player uses a preset deck of 30 unique cards. Each deck belongs to a race in the Blue Moon world, and there are eight basic races. The later expansions added a few minor races. When setting the game up, you place three dragons at the centre of the board. During play, you compete to attract dragons to your side by displaying your power. You win by convincing all dragons to work with you. 

All the eight races in Blue Moon are very different. They have different strengths and abilities. With eight races there are already many different possible match-ups to play. You can also do some deck-building with the game, replacing some cards in your deck with those from other decks. There is a lot of replayability. Reiner Knizia said this was one of the most difficult games to design. With so many different cards and abilities, it must have been a lot of work to balance the whole system while giving every race unique characteristics. 

The base game comes with just two races, the Hoax and the Vulca. The other six basic races come in the form of small expansions. After these there are three more small expansions introducing new mechanisms and races. I am thankful I bought all of the expansions when they were still available. This edition of the game is now out of print. In 2014 there was a rerelease. All the 8 races and the 3 advanced expansions were put into one box and sold as Blue Moon Legends. This is a good deal. For the price of one boardgame you get the whole game system. However this newer version uses standard size cards. The first edition uses large cards, and I like that format better. The artwork used are the same, but there is some difference in the graphic design, probably to cater for the smaller card size. I prefer the older graphic design. The only thing I don't like about the original edition is the game title artwork. The "Blue Moon" looks rather amateurish. 

To truly enjoy Blue Moon you need to get to know the decks and the cards well. You need to understand the characteristics of each deck and how it is played and should be played against. If you play by simply making decisions based on the cards you draw, you are missing out on the strategic part of the game. When you get familiar with the decks, you start anticipating what cards you may draw, and you watch out for what your opponent may have up his sleeve. You play at a deeper level. 

Chen Rui and I played three games back-to-back. She tried three different races, starting with the Vulca who are strong in fire. They are a more straight-forward race and often win by being powerful. Chen Rui thought they were just meh after losing to my Hoax deck. The Hoax are a trickster race, not as powerful but they have many clever weapons. Chen Rui then tried the Pillar, who deploy giant caterpillars which force their opponent to discard cards. She wasn't impressed either. I played the Vulca against her Pillar, hoping to convince her that the Vulca was a decent race. For our third game Chen Rui played the Khind, a race which can fight in gangs, as opposed to other races which fight one-on-one. The Khind is a fun race to play. She had good card draws which allowed her to utilise well the Khind's specialty. She defeated my Vulca deck soundly. 

Dragons in the game.

The cards are large and visually lush. Reiner Knizia later released another game called Blue Moon City which is based on the same Blue Moon world, but it is a very different game. I own that too and quite enjoy it. It is a 2 to 4 player game about rebuilding a city, as opposed to being a confrontational game. In fact it is a game which encourages collaboration. 

When I compare playing Blue Moon and Attika, I find that I enjoy the experience of playing Attika more. Despite admiring how clever and well-balanced Blue Moon is and how much character each of its races have, on the emotional level I feel more happy when I play Attika. Playing and experiencing games is still primarily about the emotions and not logic or technicality. 

I have tried all eight basic races in Blue Moon, but up till now I still have not tried any of the three advanced expansions. I still feel I have not played the basics enough to qualify to play the advanced game. Perhaps I should think of them as variants rather than an advanced version. 

31 Dec 2021. This time when we played Attika my wife Michelle wanted to join us. I was surprised she still remembered the rules and didn't need any refresher. However she did make one rule mistake which put her at a disadvantage. She thought that she needed two cards of the same resource to make a joker. You can actually use any two cards as a joker, regardless of resource type. She only discovered this error near game end. I remember we did play this rule wrong in the past, when we started playing the game many years ago. Her memory is too good and she remembered this wrong version we have played before. 

With three players, we set up three temples. The map at setup is larger too. We started our game with each of us staking out one temple. This was a conservative approach. 

As we expanded we raced toward the centre, and soon established the front lines. 

This was one tidy game. After splitting the initial land three ways, we always expanded in our respective backyards. This was a safe and peaceful game, which meant efficiency was important. The initial land grab as we rushed the centre was exciting, but after that there was little aggression. We didn't allow our opponents lucrative opportunities to jump to our backyards. 

This temple was almost completely surrounded by my buildings.

1 Jan 2022. Michelle said we should play a game as a family on New Year's Day, and she suggested Ingenious. So this time elder daughter Shee Yun joined us. I later realised I had forgotten a rule. In the very first round, every player must place her tile next to a different starting shape printed on the board. In our games, once the first player placed her tile, everyone else would place theirs next to this tile, because that would earn more points. This was unfair for the starting player.  

Ingenious may look like a dry abstract game, but when playing it there is actually much drama and emotions. You score points in six different colours, and your final score is based on your lowest scoring colour. That means you must score your six colours evenly and not allow any to fall behind. If any of your colours hit the maximum score of 18, you get to shout "Ingenious!" to congratulate yourself and then play one more tile. This is a wonderful feeling. You feel clever, and being able to play another tile is certainly helpful too. It is always tempting to go for this high, even though you have to keep reminding yourself to grow your points evenly. 

I tended to be conservative and didn't push for the max points much, but everyone else loved going for the max. It was certainly fun. 

That very long row of blue stars gave us tons of blue points. We did not emphasise much on stopping the next player from scoring a lot of points, which was probably not the best way to play. We just enjoyed scoring lots of points ourselves. 

We had so much fun that once we finished our first game, we decided to go again. Ingenious runs smooth and is constantly engaging. Even when it is not your turn you will be watching the board and hoping your opponents won't take that perfect spot you are eyeing. The children won both games. Shee Yun won the first one and Chen Rui the second. Kids 2, Mum & Dad 0. 

Friday, 21 January 2022


The Game

Babel is a game from 2000, designed by Uwe Rosenberg and Hagen Dorgathen. This was before Uwe Rosenberg transitioned from famous to very famous due to Agricola (2007). There was a period when Kosmos published a series of 2-players-only games, the most well-known one being Lost Cities. Babel was part of this series. It is not a new-to-me game. It's just that I had not properly introduced it before.  

The setting is the cradle of civilisation - Babylon. There are five tribes in the game, and you use them to help you build majestic towers. This is a game with much aggression. You steal, rob and destroy. It may be a 2-player game, but it is probably not an ideal spouse game, unless you are prepared to sleep on the sofa tonight. 

The board is divided into five regions. Each player gets to build his own tower in each of the regions. There are two types of cards in the game - tribe cards and tower cards. You draw and play tribe cards. Tower cards are numbered 1 to 6 and they are shared by both players. These are the tower levels you will build. You start a tower with a Level 1 card. You then stack a Level 2 card on it, then a Level 3, and so on, working towards Level 6. Level 6 is the highest you can ever go. 

Each player has a marker. One player uses the red marker and the other the plain marker. To perform any action in a region, you must have your marker there first. The regions are colour-coded. To move your marker to a region you must play a card of the corresponding colour. To build a tower, you must have enough population supporting the height of the tower. This is another way you use your tribe cards. Playing a tribe card onto a region means you are getting that tribe to settle there. When a region has 1 tribe card, you may build a Level 1 temple. With 2 tribe cards, you may build up to Level 2, and so on and so forth. 

So far this all sounds progressive and peaceful. Let's move on to the more interesting bit - the tribe skills. 

When you have 3 or more consecutive tribe cards of the same colour in play, you will be able to activate the skill of that tribe. To use the skill you must discard one of the cards. So if you only have 3 consecutive cards, you will be able to use the skill just once, because after that you will only have 2 consecutive cards left. If you have 4 consecutive cards, you can use the skill twice. The Assyrians destroy temples. The Hittites steal a temple level. The Sumerians steal one whole tribe from your opponent, getting them to join you. The Medes forces away one whole tribe from your opponent's settlement. All of these can be very nasty. Only one tribe does something constructive. The Persians let you skip a level when you build your temple, e.g. you can go straight from Level 2 to Level 4. 

One thing you can do once per turn is to move exactly three cards from one region to another. When you have 3 consecutive cards, you are effectively threatening your opponent in all five regions because with one move you can redeploy your cards to the region you want to attack. This is one scary aspect of the game. 

There is no limit to the number of actions you may take on your turn. You draw 3 cards at the start of your turn. Most actions require playing a card. If you accumulate many cards, you can play many of them within the same turn, pulling off a major offensive or making swift progress on a particular tower. However there is a risk when holding too many cards. All tribes have a second skill. They can force your opponent to discard half his cards. 

In the photo above, the two columns of cards on the right are the tower cards. Tower cards are square. Although they are arranged on two sides of the board, they do not belong to either player. They form a common pool. You can only use the last card in either column. When you use a card, you free up the next one in the column. 

To win the game, you aim for 15pts. If you reach 15pts while you opponent hasn't reached 10pts, you win immediately. Otherwise you trigger the sudden death mode. In sudden death mode, whoever reaches 20pts first wins, or whoever falls below 10pts loses. 

The Play

When playing this game I feel I have a lot of freedom. Since I am not limited to a fixed number of actions per turn, I have the flexibility to hoard cards and plan for powerful moves. It is always satisfying to pull off something clever which you have been positioning yourself for for the past few turns. You can score at most 6pts from one region, which means to reach 15pts you will need to build towers in at least 3 regions. It costs cards to keep moving your marker around. You would want to conserve your cards. You need cards to move your marker, to use the tribe skills and also to support the height of your towers. You are torn between all these needs. 

Chen Rui greatly enjoyed using her Assyrians to demolish my towers. I had spent much blood and tears building them and she kicked them down like sand castles. That was painful. 

At the end of your turn you always draw two tower cards to add to the column on your side of the board. The tower card columns keep changing. When there are tower cards you can use, you try to grab the opportunity. Having 5 regions gives you some flexibility. If you have multiple towers at different heights, it means you can use tower cards of multiple different values. 

I kept a close eye on which tribes Chen Rui played together because I knew the tribe skills were scary. She not only destroyed my towers, she also stole my people and dispersed my people. What a horrible daughter I have. Later on I did take revenge and burnt her towers too. I also stole her tower levels. 

The four red Sumerians on Chen Rui's side was a huge threat. They could steal all members of a tribe. If I were to assemble a big group of a particular tribe, she could steal them all away from me and then use their skill on me. That would be akin to me training a group of fighters, only to have them turn traitor and then attack me. So ungrateful! 

After much struggle I made it to 15pts. At the time Chen Rui had exactly 9pts, which meant I won without needing to go into sudden death mode. Despite losing the game, Chen Rui smugly declared that she had won in spirit. There is truth in that, because throughout the game she had been dominating and bullying me. I was so bruised and battered it was a minor miracle that I managed to crawl back to squeeze out a victory. 

The Thoughts

Babel is the kind of game you want to play with no holds barred. If you want to play nice, you'd be missing the point. Go play Lost Cities instead. Babel is the kind of game where you'll kick your opponent after he falls down. Twice. The theme may be about construction, but be prepared to do a lot of destruction. It is a rare gem among Eurogames. I like that it allows me to be creative and manoeuvre for big moves. I like the tension of defending against tribe skills while trying to pull off my own offensives. It's a game of just one deck with 5 colours and another deck with 6 numbers. It is amazing how much excitement and player interaction come from such an unassuming package. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

My boardgame shelf in 2004

I recently came across an old photo which was taken shortly after I became a boardgame hobbyist. It brought back many memories and feelings, of when I first started out in this hobby, the kinds of games that were popular back then, and what made me buy the games I bought. 

This is my collection in 2016, and you can contrast it against the photo below taken in 2004. The 2016 photo shows about 80% of my collection. I now realise I have not taken photos of my game collection for six years! I have not been buying many new games in recent years, so my collection now does not look all that different from 2016.  

This is the photo from 2004 of my game collection then. This shelf was not bought specifically for boardgames. This photo was taken in Taipei. At the time I worked there on a long-term assignment, and my company rented an apartment for me. This was an existing shelf at the apartment. 

When I look at these games, I feel I am transported back in time. These are games from a different age. Mexica has a newer edition now. Java has gone out of print. Many other games have newer editions now - Carcassonne, Ra, Medici, Saint Petersburg, Puerto Rico and Lost Cities. Samurai wasn't mine. It was Crystal's. I wasn't particularly fond of it when I tried it then, so I didn't order a copy. Crystal liked it very much so she got herself a copy. Good on her. This edition here is the best one. The later editions were not as pretty. 

Ticket to Ride, Goa and Saint Petersburg are games released in 2004. Goa was a gift from Yoyo. I visited his boardgame cafe regularly then, and often ordered games from him. He had a copy of Goa with a slightly damaged box. He said if I didn't mind he'd give it to me. I said yes thank you. The game inside was in perfect condition. 

Most of the games in this photo are published before 2004, but they still represent the kind of games hobbyists would buy circa 2004. There is much sentimental value to me, and I would say there is some archaeological value too. The photo was taken with a film camera and not a digital camera. That's archaeology! 

Friday, 14 January 2022

Chen Rui's first outing to Sekigahara

25 Dec 2021, Christmas Day. During younger daughter Chen Rui's school holidays I taught her a number of games. Since she is usually open to try anything, I asked whether she wanted to try Sekigahara. She watches Japanese anime and I thought she would know Tokugawa Ieyasu and maybe Ishida Mitsunari, but she said no. She had not played wargames before. Going through the rules was a little overwhelming for her. I said don't try to memorise all the rules and just get a general idea. Although I had summarised the rules into a one-page A4 sheet, there was still a fair bit to go through, more than she was used to.  

I let her play Tokugawa (black), because I think it's generally more fun. You usually draw more combat cards and also more reinforcements. I played Ishida (gold). 

At the start of the game Chen Rui didn't have much idea what to do. Although she won the bid to decide who to be start player, she let me go first. This was the western side of the map (I sat at the north edge), and the Ishida faction was stronger here. I took the battle to the Tokugawa faction armies. 

In the east I took on the aggressor role too, since I had the right cards at the time. One unit split away and went north to capture a resource location. That allowed me to place a gold cube. 

In the west, although I was moderately successful, I did not manage to truly dominate the area. The Tokugawa faction had one special unit led by Ii Naomasa. This was the strongest unit in the game with strength 4. It could be deployed with any card unlike other units which could only be deployed using matching cards. Also it would never turn traitor. I remember in previous games Ii usually died early, because he was located in a hot spot. In our game Ii lasted a long time, giving the Tokugawa faction great support. 

The siege of Ueda Castle would always happen. It was just a matter of how long it could hold against the Tokugawa faction (black). Chen Rui sent Tokugawa Ieyasu himself to besiege the castle, and the castle fell quickly. Sanada in our game was not as successful as his historical counterpart. 

My Uesugi army (gold) in the east attacked Chen Rui's Date army (black). I wanted to capture her recruitment location so that I could take control of this area. 

In this battle I played the loyalty challenge card, and it was successful. One of Chen Rui's units turned traitor and came over to my side. However she too later played a loyalty challenge card, and was successful too. Although I won this battle, I did not gain much edge over her. One of her losses was taken by my unit which turned traitor. We lost about the same number of units. In the end I was only able to temporarily force her to retreat. I could not destroy her army. 

Chen Rui's Maeda army along the northern coast (lower part of this photo) had now marched to the front line to help protect her castle in the west (right). My army was marching towards that castle. Along the southern coast, Chen Rui sent a Tokugawa army from Edo to the west to help Ii Naomasa. They took the Tokaido highway, which allowed them to move faster. 

One of Chen Rui's castles (the rightmost one) was only garrisoned by one unit now. Unfortunately my three units besieging it could not muster the 7 impact needed to kill that last unit. I had to send in reinforcements before I could storm the castle successfully. 

Battle is met in the north west (bottom right). 

There is no randomness in the battle system in Sekigahara. Well, unless you argue that the card draw is a form of randomness. The strengths of the units on the board don't change. It's just that your opponent may not know them yet. Also he doesn't know whether you are holding the right cards. Conducting a battle is not so much about executing the steps. It is much more about deciding whether to fight. This is where the psychology and the manoeuvring come into play. 

In the east (left) my small army was about to be squashed. Tokugawa Ieyasu himself had come to make sure it would not live. In the west I had consolidated my power and could now plan my expansion. Most of the time throughout this game I fell behind Chen Rui in both the number of castles and the number of resource locations, so she usually drew more cards and reinforcements. I also suffered more battle losses than she did. I was constantly under pressure and lagging behind. 

I was now stronger along the northern coast, and eager to go on the offensive. The units in the central area had thinned due to the multiple clashes. One of my armies took the opportunity to capture a resource location. 

Tokugawa Ieyasu himself captured my only castle in the east. What was left of my army was just waiting for the inevitable. Eventually Chen Rui completely controlled the east. 

Chen Rui's (black) army attacked my army (gold) which included Ishida Mitsunari. This was a dangerous situation for me. If Ishida got killed, I would immediately lose. When the dust settled, I lost the battle and three units. Ishida was the only unit that survived. Chen Rui's Tokugawa army had zero casualties! Ishida had to run for his life through village roads and scurried back to Osaka. I even had to pay an extra card to let him run faster, else Chen Rui would have been able to catch him. It was quite a disgrace. 

Ishida barely managed to run back to Osaka. 

Chen Rui continued to send units forward using the Tokaido, and by now had assembled a large army of 11 units. My largest army in the area had 8 units. 

I managed to capture the Tokugawa faction castle along the northern coast belonging to the Maeda clan. This was an important 2 victory points for me. For most of the game I was behind in points. Only by the final round I managed to overtake Chen Rui. 

At this point it seemed the most likely battle would be the clash between our largest armies, and this was actually pretty near the Sekigahara battlefield. Ironically Tokugawa Ieyasu himself was absent. He was still far away in the north. He was within striking distance of my medium sized army which had captured the Maeda clan castle. Chen Rui still controlled some resource locations along the northern coast. She was worried I would continue to advance and capture those locations. She had one unit guarding a resource location which I could overrun, and she felt bad leaving it to die. She sent the small army led by Tokugawa Ieyasu to join forces with the lone unit, and at the same time help guard her resource location. I had told her previously this was risky because Tokugawa would come within striking range. She undid her move then, but later on she forgot about it and pushed Tokugawa forward. 

The upcoming Sekigahara battle looked rather iffy to me. Chen Rui had more units. I thought my odds would be better if I tried to catch Tokugawa. My whole army in the north were Ukita units. About half my units at Sekigahara were also Ukita units. I did have Ukita cards in hand. However I knew if I spent my Ukita cards attacking Tokugawa in the north, after the battle concluded, I might not draw enough Ukita cards again to be used for the Sekigahara battle. Attacking Tokugawa was a gamble. If I didn't manage to kill him, the Sekigahara battle would likely mean doom. 

Thankfully I gambled right. Although Chen Rui had three units, she was only able to deploy two. I had just enough impact to win the battle and kill two units. Since she had deployed Tokugawa himself, she must pick him as one of the casualties. That meant game over for her. 

Chen Rui could have decided not to deploy any units. If none of her units were deployed and I made only two kills, she could sacrifice the two other units and let Tokugawa escape. However I did have enough cards to inflict three kills. It would not have worked for her if she depended on me being unable to inflict enough damage. If I remember correctly, once I played my last unit, I would run out of Ukita cards. If Chen Rui played a loyalty challenge card then, I would have no Ukita card to show her. That would mean one of my units would betray me. I would not be able to inflict enough damage to get Tokugawa killed, and the traitor which went to her side would become one of her casualties. The battle would have ended with fewer losses for her. Thankfully I did not have to deploy my last unit and I did not use my last Ukita card. Else the outcome of this battle would have been very different. Tokugawa would have lived.

Chen Rui had a few loyalty challenge cards in hand which she had held on to for some time. The card value was high, and that made her reluctant to spend them. This was a little misleading. It can be bad having too many loyalty challenge cards, because it means you are less able to deploy your own units to fight. They reduce your fighting ability. Loyalty challenge cards can certainly be very powerful, but only when you play them at the right times. She probably should have used some of them and only kept one, or at most two. 

I could have deployed my last unit, but I did not need to. 

In the end we did not fight the Sekigahara battle proper. The game ended when Tokugawa Ieyasu fell in battle in the north. However we did run a what-if simulation. It turned out that I would have lost the battle. That meant I was right in gambling on being able to kill Tokugawa. After the Sekigahara battle, I would still have some units left, and Chen Rui would not immediately control the area. Time was running out, but since I would be weaker, she would still have a chance to capture enough victory points. We did not further simulate the situation, but I was not optimistic about my prospects. 

After the game Chen Rui studied the troop composition of the clans. She found that there were at most two gun units and two cavalry units per clan. I had never bothered to count that. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

The Gallerist

The Game

Vital Lacerda is a popular game designer. I am guessing The Gallerist (2015) is his bestselling game, since it has the most number of ratings among his games on BoardGameGeek.com. You play art gallery managers in the game. You discover new artists, buy their artwork, make them famous, sell their works to make a profit and increase the influence of your art gallery. At game end the richest gallery owner wins. Running an art gallery is a business after all. You have to make money. Money is victory points. 

There are four art galleries on the board. The game supports at most 4 players. There are four groups of actions on the board, with two options per group (the white squares). On your turn, you may place your pawn in any action group then pick one of the actions to perform. This is not a worker placement game. Other players' pawns being present does not block you. However once you complete your action, they have the choice of also performing an action by paying influence (a currency). This is a unique element in the game. Players tend to hope others will come to where their pawns are, so that they get to perform an action on other people's turns. When you remove your pawn from an action group, you may leave behind an assistant. When another player's pawn comes and kicks out your assistant, you also get to perform an action. Basically you'll often get to perform actions on other people's turns. You want to always have some influence so that you can afford to perform these extra actions. 

This is a player board. The upper half is your art gallery. There are four walls for you to display art pieces. There is a small work area on the right, big enough for four employees (assistants). The column on the far left are the assistants you can recruit during the game. 

These are two secret objectives dealt during game setup. You fulfil the one on the left by having sold specific types of art by game end. You fulfil the other by having on display specific types of art. 

When you discover a new artist, you flip over the artist tile to reveal a fame track. This particular artist is a sculptor. The white cube marks the fame level. As she gets more famous, her works become more expensive for gallery owners (i.e. players) to buy. The star icons indicate how much you can sell her works for. When the fame level hits the top, the artist becomes known as a master. Artists reaching master level is one of the conditions which triggers game end. The marker below the artist is a signature marker. Every artist has only two of them. When you buy an artist's work, you claim a signature marker. When you sell it, you return the signature to the board. This means at any one time there can only be two of an artist's works in circulation. 

The track on the right is used for tracking which artists' works you own and how much they are worth. The signature marker at the bottom means this is an artist you discovered and he still owes you a piece of commission work. When you discover an artist, he will be grateful to you and he will commit to sell you a piece of art at his base price, even if he later becomes famous and could have charged more. 

This part of the board, which I call the Facebook Like section, is for players to increase the fame of artists. You spend your influence (a currency) to help artists. It increases the value of their works.  

This part of the game board is all about long-term investments. You need to send assistants here, and they will be locked here for the rest of the game. The top half are bonus points you can score at game end, depending on how well you meet specific conditions. The bottom half is for bidding for imported art work. There is one each of the four types of art work, and everyone will get to pick one, except for the player who bid the least. How much you have bid determines whether you get to pick first. 

At the bottom of this table you see some bonus points. This is for area majority competition for each column. If you have the most assistants in a particular column, you score the highest number. 

Your art gallery is divided into two parts, the gallery itself (solid line) and the lobby (dashed line). Everyone's lobby is connected to the plaza outside, which is where visitors appear. During the game you need to collect tickets (a type of currency) and spend them to move visitors from the plaza to your lobby, and then from your lobby to your gallery. You need visitors because without them you can't sell art. They help you make money, gain influence and increase the fame of artists you support. Every time you sell a piece of art, you must discard a visitor from your gallery. That means you need to keep replenishing visitors. 

The lobby is not just a transit point. In order to claim game-end bonus points and to bid for imported artwork, you need to have specific types of visitors in your lobby. Visitors in your lobby can be moved out by other players. Only visitors in your gallery are secure. There are three types of visitors. The pink celebrities increase your influence. The brown investors help you earn money. The white collectors make artists more famous. 

This section at the bottom left of your player board is for placing your game-end bonus tokens. You have only six slots. When you place a token, you gain a one-time benefit according to the icons printed on the space. 

Three conditions cause the game to end. Once two of them are fulfilled, the next round will be the final round. The first condition is the bag running out of visitors. Most of the time you draw visitors from the bag to place in the plaza when you buy art. The second condition is two artists becoming masters. The third condition is the board running out of tickets. You have some control over how soon the game ends. 

When the game ends, artwork still in your gallery and not yet sold are worth points, based on how popular the creators are. You don't necessary have to sell them all. Selling art is important during the game because you need cash flow. You also need to sell to free up space in your gallery, so that you can continue to buy. By game end, your influence level is also translated to points. 

The Play

I did a 3-player game with Allen and Han. Allen and I were new. Han had only played once, and it had been a while ago. The rules were a little overwhelming to digest initially. There were many nitty gritty details and many small icons no look up in the rulebook to see what they meant. It took a while to get familiar with the iconography. 

Discovering artists, buying their works, making them famous and eventually selling their works to make money are a very logical process. When playing The Gallerist you have to manage a few such processes running concurrently. You will be managing multiple pieces of art by different artists and they will be at different stages of the process. You need to manage the currencies - cash, influence and visitors - to make sure you are not short in any, which could otherwise hurt your tempo. Your assistants are a currency to take note of too. 

The blue artists are regular artists. The red are the talented ones. The base prices of their works are higher, and they become masters more easily. At game setup, only one regular artist has been discovered. You need to discover the rest. 

We had started competing for the game-end bonuses. What we picked would affect how we play, since we would try to fully utilise the bonuses. 

The art galleries we used were at the top left, top right and bottom right. The unused art gallery at the bottom left was blocked with an unused easel. The easels in the game are just for aesthetics. You can play without them. They are just an indicator for how many imported works will be available, which is number of player minus 1. 

We started discovering talented (red) artists. Those stacks in the rightmost column are the works of art. When you buy a piece of art, the tile tells you by how much the artist's fame increases, which tickets you get to collect, and how many visitors get added to the plaza. 

Art pieces you have sold are placed along the bottom of your player board. Those which you have not yet sold are displayed at your art gallery, i.e. placed on the walls on your player board. 

One thing I struggled with was maintaining a healthy number of visitors in my lobby and my gallery. I didn't collect enough tickets and fell behind Han and Allen in this aspect. I also fell behind in managing a healthy level of influence. I tended to spend influence too freely, and I didn't earn it frequently enough. I had expected to lose to both of them by a large margin. When the game ended, I was surprised that I didn't do as poorly as I had thought. I had many valuable art pieces at my gallery which gave me many points. Indeed I had been aggressive in buying art. 

Both the artists who eventually became masters were painters (palette icon at the top left corner)

This was the imported art piece I won at the end of the game. It helped me tremendously. 

The imported art piece helped me fulfil some of my missions. 

I was surprised how much impact the imported art pieces had. They decided victory in our game. I (purple) had spent $9 on bidding for imported art pieces. Allen (yellow) and Han (orange) both spent $7, but since Allen had an assistant in the rightmost column, he gained an advantage over Han. I was first to pick an art piece, and Allen second. Han couldn't claim any. 

Allen was the eventual winner. His final turn, which was also the last one of the game, was crucial. He placed that yellow assistant in the rightmost column. Prior to that both Han and I had one assistant in the column and Allen had none. Han and I would have scored 12pts had Allen not placed his assistant. 12pts was a big deal. Also by placing this assistant Allen managed to get the extra art piece, which gave him the victory. Had he not placed this assistant, Han would have claimed the extra art piece. The extra art piece not only helped with missions, it was worth money (i.e. points) too. 

The Thought

The Gallerist is a heavy strategy game. The setting is a rare one and it is entertaining to experience something a little different, at least story-wise. This is a game about coordinating multiple concurrent projects. Every project is a lifecycle, from discovering an artist and buying his art to promoting him and eventually selling his art for profit. There is challenge in managing these parallel projects. This is not really a game in which you block your opponent much. You have much freedom to do what you want. You just worry whether your action will help your opponents by allowing them to perform extra actions. There are still some elements you fight over, e.g. the limited number of art pieces, the visitors and the game-end bonuses. Generally you can plan what you want to do without worrying about others hindering you. 

The game feels constrained to me, in the sense that as long as you follow the steps, everyone will score about the same number of points. The game seems to be so well balanced that scores will be close unless you play very poorly. This may not necessarily be a good thing. It felt a little like playing bowling with guardrails on. You can't fail too badly. I might be wrong, since I've only played this once. It's just a hunch. Games by Splotter (e.g. Food Chain Magnate, Indonesia) don't care about keeping players' scores close for the sake of making everyone feel he has a chance of winning. When you play their games you really have to earn your position. If you are able to keep up with your opponents, it means you really are doing something right (or everyone is equally lousy). One reason The Gallerist made me feel it constrains players into a narrow point range is how there can only be at most two art pieces for any artist in the market. This feels unnatural to me. The rule seems to exist for the sake of game balance. 

The Gallerist is a typical heavy Eurogame. The theme is a little different so if you like this kind of games it's worth trying. I can't say I like it. It was okay. So far of Vital Lacerda's games I haven't tried any I'm specifically keen about. I hear Kanban is pretty good. Hopefully I'll get to try that some day and it'll break the streak.