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.
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 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.