A wall-spanning, golden yellow photograph, a rounded sculpture I can't understand, and a painting that must be beautiful to someone. All are on display in my gallery, visitors perusing, ready to open their wallets.
"Don't sell," my Curator whispers in my ear. "This is a great combo. We'll get all the points."
"Sell'em all," texts my dealer. "I've got clients lined up. Top dollar. And guess what, this collector wants this painting so bad because it'll complete his collection. He'll pay extra."
I'm sweating, glancing at the coins on the table. Counting them. Glance out the window at the gallery across the street. The other one down the block. The third across my own lawn. They're all popular, they're all selling. Worse, we're all about to meet up for coffee, see who's doing better than who.
Bragging rights up for grabs, and I can't lose. Not again.
I sell. The dealer's ecstatic, the payment comes through quick. The collector leaves my gallery happy, mingling with various visitors outside to show off his new piece. My phone goes off. Time's up.
Did I make the right call? Should I have thought longer, run through all the options?
Maybe, but this is speed art. The gallerist that thinks fastest wins.
Vital Lacerda is a game designer that won't often be found in Barnes and Noble or even in most board game stores. His designs are rich, layered, almost like (dare I say it), works of art. And like most art, they don't work for everyone. Not so much because of their rules, though there are plenty, but because the games push their players into a complex decision space where brains have a tendency to melt.
The Gallerist, my first Lacerda game, is one of his 'lighter' offerings, which is like saying Trigonometry is 'lighter' math. True, if you've already taken the pre-requisites. We're talking games that teach you worker placement, set collection, hidden objectives, and a kinder, but still present, 'take-that' opportunity.
I'm not going to go into all those pieces here, because there are videos aplenty that'll break down The Gallerist and how it works out there. Deploy your Google and go forth if you're interested.
What I want to talk about, instead, is how we, a 4-player group, knocked out a game of this from scratch on a week night in under 2 hours. On our second playthrough.
First, we set the stakes: we'd call the game by 9:30 PM if it wasn't finished, giving people time to hit the hay for work the next morning. Everyone loaded up with a beverage (me: Noble Oak bourbon on the rocks), sorted their pieces, stared at their hidden objectives like they were treasure maps.
I asked if anyone needed a rules refresher. It'd been 3 weeks since our last play. Everyone shook their heads. Foolish confidence? Maybe. I will, though, attest that we played the game correctly, with only a few minor mistakes caught in the act.
Then, I started. A first move from the gut to discover an artist and snag a commission, giving me the chance to get some cheap art later. The other players followed suit, snagging contracts, hiring assistants, and, in one case, plunging right into the international art market on the very first play.
That, my friends, is like buying a Porsche as your very first car. It's either brilliant, or ridiculous.
The carefree attitude set the tone. We weren't playing stupid, but we were playing by feel. Kick-out actions, extra turns taken when someone places their worker where you already are, abounded. Artists gained fame with the random alacrity of Tik Tok or Instagram. Money came and went, degenerate gambling on pieces of art claiming no victims, only opportunities.
A little after eight, we ran out of visitors. One of the two end-game conditions already triggered because we'd gone about hunting more artists, and attracting more people to our galleries with our wild abandon. We threw invites to those people too, enticing them to come in so they could buy that art we'd purchased on a whim. The tickets, another end-game condition, were dwindling.
We all looked at each other. Decided to get a second round and push through. We could do this. Speed art might let us finish this game in record time.
Playing a strategy game without too much strategy sounds like sacrilege, like missing the point. I'm sure The Gallerist is rewarding if you grind it out, making each action a carefully calculated move designed to maximize your points and screw the other gallery owners out of theirs.
But it's pretty darn fun when you just go for it too. In fact, my group had a way better time tackling Lacerda's game at this pace, the chaos adding a delightful edge to everything. I doubt we'll go back to the slower-paced version any time soon, if only because this style lets us tackle these big games on week nights, without three or four hours to burn.
So that's my message to you, reader. If there's a game in your collection that demands a long time, consider why. Is it because every turn boils your brain? Then consider trying it with the analysis turned off, the instinct turned on. You might find the play goes much faster, the moves get wilder, and everyone's laughing as poor actions become great stories.
As for my move? Selling the painting was a mistake. I'd have scored more leaving it in my gallery.
C'est la vie.
I was smiling anyway.