Reiner Knizia’s Modern Art board game features a series of art auctions that players bid on. From there, you’ll exchange the paintings you’ve purchased for cash. The amount of money depends on the artist’s rating of that painting. At a high level, it’s like playing the stock market if companies were artists and stocks were paintings. But figuring out your strategy can take some time to figure out.
To win you have to earn the most money. And in order to make money, you need to be able to determine the ranking of a table so that you don’t overbid. It’s hard to do when everyone is trying to do the same thing.
Additionally, this overview of Modern Art’s strategy may not be apparent when the game is explained to you. Some players will look at Modern Art and think that making a profit is enough. If you buy someone a painting for $ 19 and it’s worth $ 20, you have a head start, right? Wrong. What matters in the end is the total profit, and the player with the most profit will win.
There is a lot to unpack out there. To understand how to do well in modern art, you have to understand the mathematics behind the strategy of modern art. If you prefer to see it as a video, check out the video below. Otherwise, read on!
The mathematical strategy behind modern art
The foundation of modern art lies in understanding where the money comes from. From there, you will need to figure out how to calculate the profit. To get started, the money comes to you in one of two ways. The first way is to buy nice paintings and buy them back for profit. The second way is to sell paintings. The question then becomes how to maximize your intake of each of these activities. To do this, we turn to basic accounting, using the concept of cost, income, and overall profit in our analysis.
Let’s illustrate this using a 3 player fictional game. Here you will be a buyer in a game where you, Alpha, and Beatrice each start with $ 100.
One purchase of paint
Alpha is selling a painting by Sigrid Thaler which will be the subject of an auction. The auctions fly fast and furiously, but in the end, you’ve beaten everyone and bought the painting for $ 12. Now let’s assess the position of each player.
For Alpha, it’s easy. She adds that $ 12 to her bankroll. Everything the saleswoman makes from selling the painting is pure profit, so she makes a profit of $ 12, which brings her bank balance to $ 112.
For you, it’s more murky, depending on the evolution of the art markets. If the board costs $ 30 at the end of the turn, you will make a profit of $ 18. It’s $ 30 to $ 12, to get $ 18. This means that you will have $ 118 which puts you in first place. This is a pretty impressive result of the auction.
If the board costs $ 20, you will still make a profit. It won’t be as high as it used to be, but it’s not that bad. You will make a profit of $ 8. It’s $ 20- $ 12 to get $ 8. That gives you a total of $ 108, leaving you in second place.
But if the board costs $ 10, you don’t make any profit. In fact, you lost money on the deal. It’s $ 10-12, you lose $ 2. That leaves you with $ 98, leaving you in third place behind Beatrice who did nothing and still has $ 100. And as you would expect, it’s even worse if the painting ends up losing value.
Understand the distribution of the profitability of a table
From the previous example, the buyer and seller must determine the selling price of the painting by predicting how much the painting will be worth at the end of the turn. When you are the seller, you want to keep in mind an idea of the selling price of a painting. The price you set it at will be different if you think a painting will be worth $ 30 versus if a painting will be worth $ 10. This is because the buyer and seller share the final value of the painting.
So what does an equal division look like? Easy: take the final value from the table and divide it by 2 and this value will be the equal distribution between the two players. If you buy a painting of Alpha for $ 10 and its value at the end of the turn is $ 20, you and Alpha will end up having $ 110. Any sale price over $ 10 benefits the seller, Alpha, say $ 112 against your $ 108, and any sale price below $ 10 benefits you, the buyer, say Alpha’s $ 105 against your $ 115.
But no price is a guarantee and this is where the challenge of Modern Art comes in: determining what the probable value of this painting will be at the end of the round. A painting might be worth $ 10, but with a plot, it can easily be worth $ 30. Or someone thinks a painting will be worth $ 20, only to end up being worthless.
Multiple Art Auctions May Skew Math Incentives
And as if that weren’t enough, the concept of equal sharing tells an incomplete story as it only considers a painting auction in isolation and not the entire system where many paintings are sold. Sometimes it’s up to buyers to give sellers slightly better deals on a painting’s income split, such as paying $ 12 for a $ 20 painting, but offsetting the higher cost in volume.
For example, let’s say you bought a painting that you are absolutely sure will be worth $ 20 for $ 12 from Alpha. Quick math puts it at $ 112 for Alpha and $ 108 for you. Good, but not first-rate material.
But now it’s Beatrice’s turn and she’s setting up a board that you know will be worth $ 30. And let’s say you wanted to buy it and decided to get Beatrice a good deal. Instead of doing a 50/50 split by paying $ 15 for it, you decide to give it $ 18.
This means that you will earn $ 12 net on profits, taking you from $ 108 to $ 120. Beatrice now has a total of $ 118 and Alpha still has her $ 112. While you give sellers a larger share of the profit for each board, you’re still ahead of the overall profit, which puts you ahead.
So yes, there is a lot in Modern Art. There are a ton of keys you can throw into the system and a lot of manipulations you can do. Do them right and you will be in a very good position to win. The next logical question is what levers do you have to dispel the uncertainty and tip the scales in your favor? Here are three tips that I think are worth using.
Understand your market positioning and your market power.
It can be difficult to discern the prices due to all the unknown information available. Fortunately, you have one source of information you can rely on: your hand. Look at your hand and use it as an indicator to determine how much you can bid on a board in a given auction. And also use it to see when others might underestimate a painting.
Let’s say someone just put a Ramon Martins painting up for auction. Look at your hand. Do you have 3 other paintings by Ramon Martins in hand? If so, you may be able to increase the value of Ramon Martin’s paintings to $ 20 by the end of the round by auctioning off some of your own. But if you don’t have one, maybe wait a bit until you can better guess whether a given artist’s paintings will be ranked and rated before you bid. And if the response to an auction is lukewarm, but you can increase the value of that painting in your hand, you might want to feign disinterest when bidding for this painting on the cheap.
In summary, the more certain you are of the value of a painting, the more you will be able to design an optimal offer according to the technique of mathematical mastery of modern art that I outlined earlier.
See what paintings other people are bidding on and buying on
I just told you about using your hand as information to guide you on the difficulty of bidding. If your opponents are smart, they’ll do the exact same thing. In light of this, pay attention to which paintings other players are bidding on and at what price. You can use this information to determine what paintings your opponents might have on their hands and how they might value a given artist.
So how would you benefit from this information? This helps you decide which paintings to auction. If a painting from a previous auction has caused a furious bidding war, this is an opportunity for you to grab the value of a painting into your hand. If two artists are neck and neck in the value rankings, maybe now is the time to support which one can bring you the most value based on the bidding behavior of others.
It’s even more relevant if you are bidding on this double paint auction. At the right time, you can cause chaos and get more value from an auction than you otherwise would.
Develop (informal) alliances
Two heads are better than one and this adage is true in Modern Art where two heads can handle the market better than one. The idea behind forming an alliance is simple: With all the market manipulation that happens in a modern art game, you want someone on your team who has an interest in manipulating the value of paintings by the same painter. that you want to manipulate.
Let’s say you own a Manuel Carvalho and Alpha owns a Manuel Carvalho. Now you both have an incentive to make sure Manuel Carvalho ranks and ranks reasonably high to maximize your profits. In this arrangement, it would be best if you went to Alpha to auction more Manuel Carvalhos and secure his high rank.
To make an alliance work, you might want to auction off a painting for a very low price. Maybe you’re auctioning off a painting that you think might be worth $ 20 for $ 8 so someone else is more than willing to buy it. Once that other player does, now has a vested interest in making sure the Painter ranks up, giving you an ally you can count on to help you get rich.
Nothing is worse than being the only person who owns a certain painter’s paintings because no one else will really want to help you. It is really difficult to classify an artist without help. But get someone else to put the skin in the game and you can turn the art markets in your favor.