Museum (2019) review
We're living in an age where everybody collects something .Whether it be stamps, beer bottle tops, pictures of the Queen or board games. Museum curators have been doing it for decades. Relying on everything everybody did in the past to create a collection of assorted Nik Naks. And if this job interests you, you will have the chance to live this dream, in a game aptly named Museum.
There is a "how to play" video lower down
This is the first “in house” game from publisher Holy Grail, designed by it’s co-owner Olivier Melison and a colleague designers and historian, Eric Dubus. And it won't be the last, as they have already designed and successfully Kickstartered “Dominations.” And if this game is anything to go by, then this is a pair of designers to look out for if you love beautiful-looking, Euro style games with a historical background.
So let's start off by talking about how gorgeous this game looks. Most of that is down to the wonderful art of Vincent Dutrait, who's work seems to stand out in the world of board games. His work shines through on all of the 180 individual relectcs and items cards in the game. And the only reason that items get put in a museum is because they look beautiful. And in fact, some this art should be on a wall in a museum, somewhere. It’s these cards that are the heart of the game. As you are set collecting. Items, objects, inventions and locations from 9 Civilizations around the world are depicted on these cards. And not just with these two. All colour coordinated on your card to make it easy to collect the sets... supposedly. When you have two civilisations that have almost the same name (Polynesian & Phoenician in this case) and they are two different tones of blue, you may find yourself collecting the wrong set. And it has happened, not just with these two.
But it won't be only Civilizations that you'll be collecting. You may be collecting domains like pottery, Warfare will navigation. Sometimes you may be doing a little of both. Depending on your patreon that you choose at the beginning of the game. You will choose this patreon from a small hand of cards which are objective cards that will give you a bonus point for the collections at the end of the game. And there are quite a number of them in the game. Which is good, although there is the possibility of being dealt the same type of objective, which gives you little choice apart from collect one type of colour. In a two player game, choosing the wrong one will bite you in the butt. More about that later. But there's more to it than just having the right objects in your Museum. I'll delve into that bit later too.
There is a third important piece of information on the cards, which is their value. Values range from 1 to 5 and they work twofold. Firstly, when installed into your Museum, the value is Victory points that you score immediately. The second is as currency. And this is where some of the fun puzzling can be had. You'll start with and start collecting objects from around the world into your hand, to add it to your Museum from your hand, you'll need to discard another object or objects of the same value or higher to pay for this. Don't worry, you won't be sacrificing anything to a bin but rather a discard pile, which I like to call the warehouse. Every player will have a warehouse of their own, which could put some of your objects at risk, as if another player see something they like on their turn they can buy it from you. And you cannot say no. This adds a the little interaction to the game. Because set collection games can normally be a solitary experience. Putting your blinkers on and looking solely at what you've got in front of you. Cards of a value of 5 are called Masterpieces and will gain you a Prestige point. You may be tempted to just fill your Museum with nothing but these items of antiquity, although they won't guarantee you a victory.
Filling your museum and scoring points will be the action that you'll be performing the most on your turn. There is a second action that you can perform which is to do an inventory check. Simply enough, you just collect all the cards in your warehouse and place them back into your hand. A sweet action if played at the right time. Playing with two players, you're probably perform this more times than normal. This is due to the circulation of cards which materialized from your Indiana Jones explorers around the world. Yes, on your turn, you’ll be relying on Dr Jones to bring something back, to go into your Museum. But other players can also collect items on your turn. Which leads to a nice trade off. They may see an object for their collection which they need, or a Masterpiece, but will they justify taking it knowing that they will give you a prestige point. Prestige points are points at the end of the game and currency which players can spend instead of placing items in their warehouse. Or they can do a bit of both, because no one like paying 5 to place an object of 3 in their Museum. Again this part of the game really shines with 4 players, because of the deliberations of either to take a card and give one player extra points is a key part to some players strategy. Plus this moves along the cards quicker from their retrospective decks, meaning you will see more Civilizations and Domains during a four player game rather than a two-player game. If the cards are not moving in the centre of the table, this can stagnate someone strategy. Possibly screwing up their chance of getting bonus points from their patreon. Giving two slightly different feels the same game with different play accounts. But it is not a problem as there is always another strategy or way of squeezing points out of this game.
And there you have it, a very simple game. Add a card from your hand and possibly get some points if other players had a card to their own hands. Then either fill your museum full of objects or empty your warehouse back into your hand. Although there is a deeper aspect to the game. I should say it aspects.
One of them comes from the positioning of your Museum pieces. End of game scoring will have you scoring bonus points for the Civilizations and Domains, as long as they are in adjacent rooms in your Museum, a 5 by 5 grid. So it's not just a typical collect the same colours or saying image type of card game, as once you've collected it you need to appropriately place it on a two-dimensional map. Which can be easy or it can be hard. As each Museum has a double-sided map for players to play with. The hard map doesn’t have corridors linking to all adjacent rooms, meaning your collections maybe snaking from space to space. Like a Labyrinth. This adds a super high level of planning. But not only can you just score points from your layout and collections, there is also special rooms that, if one Domain or Civilisation is contained within all, you get extra points. And if by chance you fill every single space in your Museum, even more points. Does this sound like a point salad?
There are ways to lose points at the end of the game too. In the four decks of continent cards, there will be a number of public opinion cards. At the beginning of the game, players can choose how many of these cards are placed into each deck. I suggest using them all for more fun. They pack a punch in a four player game, whereas in a two-player game, they only sting for a bit. These cards are the negativity from these continents. You are taking their cultural stuff away from them after all. They don't mind that you are trying to show the world their history, but if this stuff of theirs just sits in a warehouse at the end of the game…! There will be consequences. Yes, they will remove a number of points from your score for each of their items stuck in a box and not on display. The more times these cards arrive, the more devastating their sting becomes. Meaning you will be watching what you throw away.
And that is the basics of the game. A little bit economy, a little bit placement, and a little bit of set collection, all from card drafting. Now there are other things that will happen like the headline cards which will change from round to round. They basically effect the continent cards as they arrive or maybe block them from being collected. This adds a tad of laughter, as you see a card you want, but no. Can’t get it this round as there is an embargo. Then there are a favour cards which are helpful to the player playing them and gives them a little boost. Very random in their powers and some seem to be a little more powerful than others. You’ll start with one and gather more every 10 points you score. Incentive to score quicker! And then the experts, that can be purchased and mainly give you an end of game scoring boost. These are just other things outside the main game, but they can change the experience depending on if there is a power on that expert or if they just boost your collection for final scoring. All these cards add a random luck to the game, mixed with the 180 base card and you patreon card, your be adapting your end goal as you play. Nothing is straight forward unless the cards revealed work in your favour.
So in regards to gameplay you have a solid set collecting game, that has a different air to it, due to its theme. There is not a lot of waiting, as you are involved from turn to turn. There are plenty of decisions and choices to be made during the game. This is in part due to the objectives and the final scoring. The scoring is important but not like you think. The game will end when one player passes the 50 point mark. This can happen quite quickly if one player just fills their museum with whatever they have in their hand. And it also adds to the strategy of how much should you play and how much should you hold back. As normally players will be racing to get the highest score, but maybe not here. Being first to cross that line in victory points doesn't guarantee you Victory as with all great games, there is the visible scoring and the end of game hidden scoring. And the 50 point limit does make for quite a short-ish game.
Gameplay is fluent and very self explanatory. This is a game that will appeal to the family gamer, and has enough complexity and depth for an experienced gamer. The great thing is you can dumb the game down by removing the public opinion cards and playing only with the basic Museum layouts or just chuck everything in for a fun time. Again, if playing with kids, let them use the easy map while you use the hard one.
There are 5 expansions for this game, none of which I have touched. Plus some Kickstarter goodies and extras, again untouched. So therefore I cannot comment other than give my opinion on the base game and speculate what the expansions add. For one, there is an automaton player, so you can play solo or bump up your two player game to a three player game. There is fifth player game expansion. A black market, which gets you a illegal goods. A Cthulhu that gives you cursed objects from an illegal god. Another which allows you to add items to a grand show. And another that let you hire multiple Dr Jones's to get you bonuses. In time I will play these and report on them when I do. But in the meantime I am very content with the base game which feels on par to other games of this ilk, like “Ticket to Ride” and “New York 1901.” Although this game has a little deeping gameplay to it.
I've already gushed about the wonderful art but what about the rest of the components. A superd rule book which explains everything and is specially laid out with all its wonderful artwork and it's appendices. The Kickstarter version has some nice sculpted player tokens which seemed oddly reminiscent of the ones in Monopoly. The card quality seems a little plastified and not your traditional card stock. It feels a little strange in your hand but the colours and text still pop from them. Talking of text, all the artefacts have an interesting bit of history about the object themselves. This will obviously submerse the historical geeks a little more deeply into this game. The main boards are solid card and although a little brilliant in colour, maybe a little distracting, function very well. And the players museums are on a thinner card, obviously to lower the weight and size of the box. All these boards and pools of cards will take up a large amount of space on your gaming table, so beware board game cafes. The tokens and nice and chunky although I recall having a little trouble punching them out. With all these components, there is some downtime setting up the game, mainly shuffling cards. This is helped along nicely courtesy of the box insert. The insert has plenty of space for those who like to sleeve their cards or maybe those who wish to place the expansions inside.
Technical score 9.5/10
Solid components (maybe too solid to punch out), all layered in Dutrait’s magical icing. Bizzare card text that I hope lasts as long, or if not longer than standard cards with all the shuffling and handling you’ll do. Storage is spot on, as is the rule book.
My BGG score 8/10
(very good - enjoy playing and would suggest it)
A grandiose family game that stands out with its theme and what you do with your set collections. With a delicate structuring of strategy that will make you play it differently each time. Again, player counts change how the game unfolds and how you play. Best with 3 or 4 and not to long of trek
Combined score 8.75
And now it’s over to you...
how to play
The first thing that hits when you look at the game is the incredible work of Vincent Dutrait. We can not hide that it is also what gives the strength and interest of the game. All the illustrations are different. On this, the game has kept its promises. The game material does not give the same satisfactory. The cards are very thin and seem fragile in the long run. Player boards are only thin sheets, we could have had thick cardboard.
Now, let's tackle the gameplay. First of all, I want to say that I did not have the opportunity to try the extensions. My opinion is therefore only about the basic game. The installation is done fairly quickly and logically enough. There are quite a few modules that can be removed or added to vary the gaming experience and its difficulty. With the luck of the cards, the replayability is quite important. The rules, even if they are badly written and they offer a few moments of blur, are quite simple. Once understood, or adapted, the game is explained quickly. At first glance, this is clearly a family game that can become more complex.
The game is nice, simple to play and the rounds are connected rather well. Depending on the number of players, the experience will not be the same. A two, you can find that card decks do not turn enough. Some variations exist to make the experience better. The interaction is quite present without being aggressive. The event cards bring a little unexpectedness that is rather interesting. Museum has good arguments and good ideas (sometimes not quite well exploited).
However, the game seems to suffer from a relatively limited mechanical replayability. Even if at the material level and component, you can have a large replayability and more and more important discoveries, at the level of pure gameplay, the game is quite repetitive if you chained the games back to back. In addition, unless you have participated in KS, the cost of buying the extensions is quickly expensive just to boost interest.
Thematic level, you’ll quickly forget the museum aspect to focus on the collection aspect. Yet some points in tring to hang on to it through the explanations of the objects (who read them all honestly?), Or the plan of your museum (you’ll quickly focus on how it brings you points, that something else), or the events. Symbols or colors will naturally attract your attention more than managing a museum and rekindling the crowds with your finds. As a reminder, you are still a wealthy owner plundering all civilizations in search of their historical treasures to gain world renown ...
The game is clearly not bad, but it will not leave you with an unforgettable memory either. However, once installed, you will usually spend a good time around the table. If you like this style of play, you will not be disappointed. It's simple, easy going, beautiful, with a wide variety of effects and cards.
Technical Score: 8/10
What is added to the score is Vincent Dutrait's exemplary work on illustrations. There is clearly a problem of detail and finish with regard to the components.
My BGG score: 6/10
(OK - will play if in the mood)
A good family game, easy to install. But there is a feeling of repetitiveness, a mechanics that takes the theme and some rule flaws (and that can be equal to some cards?). To be tried with the expansions to see if the score remains ...
Combined score: 7/10
Now it's your turn.
Barry Doublet &