Reviewed by Pevans

MUSEUM (Holy Grail Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 30-60 minutes; $59.99)


How to be a curator

I got to play Museum at this year’s UK Games Expo and was immediately taken with it. Publisher Holy Grail Games provided me with a review copy (of the retail edition – the Kickstarter edition included several expansions, most of which are also available retail) and it’s now had several outings to a favourable response each time. The first thing you notice about the game is that, while the box is a standard 30 cms square, it’s noticeably deeper than most games. This is to allow room for the large-format cards at the heart of the game to be stored on their edge (in the carefully designed insert).

Museum is essentially a card game with a board that takes 30-60 minutes to play (double that in my experience). It was designed by Eric Dubus and Olivier Melison. There are four decks of these “object” cards for different continental groupings (Americas & Pacific, Asia et. al). The cards represent the kind of archaeological and cultural artifacts you’d find in a museum (though how you’d fit in Machu Picchu I’m not sure). They are gorgeously illustrated and have text explaining what they are and their significance. However, what’s important for the game is that each card has a points value, a coloured bar across the top for the civilisation it comes from (Machu Picchu is green for the Incas) and a symbol for the “domain” it belongs to – agriculture, warfare and so on (Machu Picchu has a stone pillar for architecture).

Players are curators of their own museum – a separate card board for each player – filling it with object cards to make collections belonging to a civilisation or a domain. The more cards in each collection, the more points it’s worth – though domain cards must all be from different civilisations to score. The standard museum boards are a 5×5 grid and have 9 coloured spaces in a + shape through the middle. There are bonus points for filling your museum or for filling the coloured section with a single collection and more points if you can do both (I’ve not seen this happen yet). If you want more of a challenge, the flip side of each museum board has some very different layouts, representing specific museums.

At the beginning of a turn, object cards are turned over so that there are two available from each deck. The player whose turn it is takes a card into their hand. Then the other players have the chance to take a card too, with the start player earning a “Prestige” chip (nice cardboard rosettes) for each one taken. Prestige is points at the end of the game but can also be used as small change when buying things. Having lots of cards is a good thing so generally everybody does take cards on other players’ turns – until the last few turns anyway.

The start player then has two options. The first is to play cards from hand into their museum, scoring the points value of the cards. However, to do this, they must pay for the cards by putting at least as many points worth of cards into storage – their ‘common pool’, as the rules have it. The twist with this is that players can also put cards into their museum from other players’ common pools (or their own). They still have to put at least as many points worth of cards into that player’s common pool. And pay others a prestige point. Hence you need to be wary about what you put into your common pool.

As part of this action, players can also buy “experts” (another deck of cards), three of which are available each turn. These provide bonuses – counting as an extra card in a collection, for example – or an ongoing advantage, such as holding more cards in your hand. The second option for the player on turn is to pick up all the cards from their common pool back into hand – a good reason for having a large hand size.

Players also have “Favour” cards which they can play in addition to their action. These generally give a one-off bonus. Players start with one favour card and get another when they reach or pass a score divisible by ten (i.e. at 10 points, 20 points and so on), an incentive to keep scoring regularly. The game finishes when somebody hits 50 points (my demo game went to 30 points, which was quicker, but meant players didn’t get the chance to fully develop their collections). After one more turn, players have a last chance to organise their museum – each collection must be a contiguous group, though a card can be in both a civilisation collection and a domain – and then score for their collections, remaining prestige and any bonus for filling their museum.

There’s one other source of points: at the start of the game players choose one of the three Patron cards they’re dealt. If they achieve the goal on the card, they score the points at the end of the game. The patron card gives each player a focus to what they’re collecting, particularly at the beginning.

And then there are “Public Opinion” cards for each deck of object cards. At the start of the game, a number of these (depending on how difficult you want to make it) are shuffled into their respective decks. When one of these is drawn, a public opinion chip is placed with that deck, representing increased public interest in artifacts from these civilisations. At the end of the game, each card in players’ common pools scores negative points according to the number of chips against that deck. So far, this has not made a significant difference in my games but it wouldn’t be a good idea to hold a lot of cards with negative values. And I can see that this will have a bigger impact the more Public Opinion cards that are included.

The game definitely has some tactical options. You can certainly use your common pool to store cards you want to use later but that can quickly go bad if other players spot things they want. Yes, you need to keep an eye on what everybody else is collecting and what they have in their common pool. Paying for cards with prestige points can be useful as well but bear in mind that you’re giving up victory points to do this so it had better be worth it.

There is obviously a hefty luck element in the game: if only a few cards come out for a civilisation you’re collecting, then that’s all you can collect. You need some flexibility in adapting your strategy to what’s available; trying to stick to a specific strategy can be frustrating. Overall, Museum is a highly entertaining game that provides some tricky decisions as players weigh up their options. There’s room for some crafty play, too. It gets a solid 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.- – – – – Pevans

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