Modern Art
Mayfair Games

Remember those unknown, starving, but up-and-coming artists from the early nineties ? Lite Metal, Yoko, Christin P., Karl Glitter and Krypto? You first met them in the now-classic Reiner Knizia game Modern Art. Now, almost 20 years later, they have all found fame and fortune in the art world and their masterpieces are displayed in major galleries around the world. But even with their success, the group?s artistic rivalry remains as lively as ever. Whose work sells for the most? Which one has the highest standing in the minds of the art-buying public? In Modern Art: The Card Game, the players are art critics, collectors and gallery owners. All have their own favorite artist in this pantheon of great ? or at least they do until the game begins. As it is in art galleries the world over, tastes and opinions change constantly in the world of Modern Art. Today?s treasure is tomorrow?s trash, and no one has more influence on the artists? values than the players in this game. Which players will exert the most influence on the art market? Who will be the best at anticipating the quickly-changing tastes and opinions of buyers, and thus assemble the highest-valued collection of these new masters? Only the most influential collector will come out on top in Modern Art: The Card Game!

I first discovered Modern Art during a “game night” held in my college dormitory. There were all the usual games there: Monopoly, Risk, and so forth, along with a few others I hadn’t seen before. 
How the game works Each player has a handful of cards that represent paintings by one of five different artists – you can think of the “artist” as being much like a suit in a normal deck of cards. The players go around the table and auction off the paintings, with the highest bidder collecting that painting. At the end of the round, the paintings are sold: the most popular artist has the most valuable paintings, followed by the next most popular artist, and so on. This gives the players money with which to bid the next round. It’s worthwhile to note that artists maintain their popularity into future rounds, so artists popular early on will always have some value to their paintings. The winner is the player with the most money at the end of four rounds.

In essence, the paintings are like any free market, and that’s what makes Modern Art so interesting: it’s the best game I’ve ever played for teaching the concepts of a free market. What can be learned from it?

Relative values change over time As the game goes on, some artists stagnate in value, while others suddenly skyrocket. If you keep betting on the same horse over and over, you’re going to lose out to people who diversify their investments.

You win by finding bargains and riding their escalation The real key to success at Modern Art, just like in the stock market, is looking at the game situation in front of you and determining which artist is going to make the biggest value jump in this round, then buying that artist’s paintings. The best investor will be the one that picks right.

Bubbles will always burst Whenever people start bidding like crazy for one artist, a good player (and investor) will hold off on investing and will look for something else to invest his or her money on. After a round or two, the bubble will burst and those paintings will be too expensive at auction to turn a strong profit on.

The art of negotiation A big part of this game is knowing how to negotiate with other players, mostly in terms of convincing them to not participate in auctions that you are hoping to corner. This usually ends up with various types of negotiations, including manipulating auctions on some paintings. It’s up to you to determine how much of this to allow, of course, but it can get very interesting.

Aesthetics versus the bottom line Another interesting aspect of this game is how many players seem to bid in relation to their personal feelings about the paintings themselves, even though it really doesn’t matter in the game. This can cause some players to train-wreck their own game, much like investors who bought into sexy stocks like Enron.

Different forms of auctions mean different strategies The game allows several different kinds of auctions, from a “once around” auction to a double-painting auction and several other variants. Each one requires a careful evaluation of what’s actually for sale and what other players are doing.

Aside from some very complicated (and often boring) board games, this is the best version of an open market I’ve ever seen in a game – plus it’s incredibly fun to play. If you want to teach (and learn about) the open market to someone, this is easily the most enjoyable way to do it. You might even find yourself playing it again and again – it takes only about an hour to play, and it gets very interesting as the players gain more skill at the game (i.e., they understand the market better).



Milton Bradley 



For many of us, Monopoly is the game that pops in our heads when the phrase “board game” is mentioned. Rainy afternoons and marathon games of Monopoly were rites of passage when I was growing up – my cousins and I played a five player game that ended up running for 34 hours because we wound up in a deadlock and no one would trade lest the other one win.

How the game works You move around the board in a loop, buying unowned properties and charging rent to other players who land on your properties. Each completed lap around the board earns you a small income. Event cards (Chance and Community Chest) alter the game a bit, but the real charm is in the player interactions: can you convince Uncle Walt to trade you Illinois Avenue for Reading Railroad, completing both of your sets?

So what does this game teach players about personal finance?

Investments pay off If you spend your money on a property, over time that property will generate income for you, enabling you to buy more property. In other words, investments earn income.

Investments have different kinds of value Many players are initially drawn to Boardwalk and Park Place because of the fantastically high rents that they bring in, but as you play more, you discover that other properties (such as Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky) are landed on much more often. Which is more valuable: a space rarely landed on with a huge rent, or a space with a lower rent that’s landed on regularly? Players learn to compare values and how to invest for themselves.

Random events Not only do the dice determine your route, but the Chance and Community Chest cards interject a good deal of randomness into the game. These cards often represent completely random events that can devastate you or save you, teaching players that if they get themselves into desperately overdrawn situations, they can lose everything at the drop of a hat. The game almost requires an emergency fund, and it shows clearly why it’s important.

Negotiation A big part of Monopoly is the art of negotiation. Can you talk your sister into trading Pennsylvania Avenue to you in exchange for the electric company and water works? A big part of the deal is how you sell it.

Infinite variety There are countless “house rules” for Monopoly that changes the flavor – and the skills needed. As the rules of the game change, so must your gameplay. For example, the free parking variant makes die rolling more important, whereas the bank lending rule enables players to go into debt without mortgaging. Different rules mean different strategies.



The Game of Life
Milton Bradley


Life is one of those “standard” board games that are often found in the back of a grandparent’s closet, pulled out once every few years to be played by the kids during holiday get-togethers. Yet hidden behind this simple facade is a game that teaches a number of valuable and interesting lessons about the progression of a person’s financial life.

How the game works The board consists of a long path of rectangles, most of which refer to specific life events, such as having a child, having a home fire, collecting stock dividends, and so forth. You’re represented by an automobile with a small peg in it (representing you) and room for many more pegs (representing your family). You move along the board using a spin-dial, moving the number of spaces represented by the dial, and perform whichever action is prescribed by the space.

So what does the game teach players about personal finance?

Random events Over time, random events can greatly help or greatly hinder your personal finances. You might buy a great stock and make a truckload of money, or you might lose a lot of your money to a long hospital visit. This can be used to demostrate the usefulness of an emergency fund; in fact, spending all of your money in the game is a very, very dangerous strategy.

The use of insurance The game allows you to purchase insurance against various calamities. This insurance is inexpensive and can be purchased early on. If you buy the insurance and hit one of the “disaster” spaces later on, you won’t have to pay the steep cost, but if you hit that space without insurance, it’s terribly expensive. Of course, there’s a good chance you won’t hit a disaster at all because of the “chance” factor. Is insurance worthwhile? This game can generate a good discussion on the topic.

The progression of life events – and what they cost As you move through the game, you might get married, have children, get divorced, and so on. These choices have financial consequences within the game, but can also have benefits depending on the path that you follow throughout the game and which spaces you happen to land on. Life events affect future life events and can have significant and unseen costs and benefits.

Setting individual goals and meeting them Although the official rules of the game state that the goal in the end is to have the most assets, the game allows people to set their own goals. I used to play with a young girl who would believe that the winner was the person with the most children at the end, because having a big family was the best life you could have. The game lets people figure out what’s important to them, whether it’s money or not.

Different lives have different issues If you’re not as rich as your neighbor, it might be because you chose different jobs, had different numbers of children, and had different life events. Even if you measure your success within the game as the amount of money you have at the end, the game reveals that different life paths can mean different levels of financial success and that having money is a mixture of good fortune and good choices.

The Game of Life is a simple game that can be played in an hour and provides great insight into many of the financial issues that an average life can have. Throughout the game, there are countless opportunities to learn about and teach key personal finance issues. Plus, it can be a lot of pure fun, and you can engage relatively young children (second and third graders can handle it with some occasional reading help).



Acquire Avalon Hill

As a powerful tycoon, there are only seven businesses in the world worthy of your attention. Using nothing but your wealth and wits, you must vie against other business superpowers to manipulate construction and capitalize on mergers -- buying, trading, and selling stocks in order to get the greatest return on your investments. Acquire challenges you to pit your resources and resolve against other players in this high-finance game of speculation and strategy!

How the game works The board is a grid of 120 squares. Upon these squares, players take turns laying tiles out of their “hands”; this is all much like Scrabble. Each tile has a letter and a number in it that refers to a specific square on the board, so you choose the tile from your hand that best improves your situation on the board. Tiles that are next to each other represent corporations, and players can buy stock in these corporations. Over time, as more tiles are placed, corporations grow (a group of adjacent tiles has another tile added) or merge (a tile connects two corporations). When corporations merge, the larger one swallows the smaller one, and so the smaller one can cash out their stocks or receive stocks in the larger one. The game ends when the market is full (i.e., no more tiles can be placed). The player with the strongest portfolio of stocks and cash wins.

In other words, the game represents a market, with corporations merging, investors capitalizing, people holding insider information (like in Scrabble, you know what your tiles are, but the other players don’t), and people diversifying their portfolios. It’s an incredibly enjoyable simulation of the wild ride that is Wall Street.

What sorts of lessons about finance does this game teach?

Buy low, sell high You win the game by doing this well. If you know a corporation is going to grow in the future, you can do very well by buying stocks in it.

The only kind of information is insider information The tiles you hold for yourself are your insider information; you know some elements of where the market is headed that other players do not, and you can choose to guide corporations in these directions. For instance, a handful of tiles that can help one corporation means you have a ton of information about that company, and thus buying stock in them early means you’ll turn a nice profit.

The market is complicated Once you get into the game, many layers of strategy begin to reveal themselves. How long do you hold onto certain tiles? Should you force a merger now? Do you cash out or take valuable stock in a huge corporation?

Startups are insanely lucrative but very risky It is this aspect of the game that so effectively parallels the stock market. When companies start up in the middle of the game, there’s a chance that the holders of the stock will get very rich. There’s also a chance that they’ll barely be worth the paper they’re printed on. Does the investor have inside information?

Mergers often pay off better for the acquired than the company that acquires. Quite often, it is the investors in the smaller company that gain the most in the long run with a buyout. This is true not only in this game, but in real life.

Acquire is deliriously fun and a great abstraction of how the real market works. If you want the challenges and the joys of stock investing in a board game form, Acquire is a wonderful choice. Plus, it may be my favorite game of all time.

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