Masterpiece Board Game: Overview, Rules & Strategies

Updated August 16, 2021
Auctioneer with old painting

From the treasures that you stand in line for at Louvre to the pieces featured along the closely guarded halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dedicated collectors and auctioneers have spent years working to hunt down and authenticate the artwork that you love to look at. Thanks to Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game, you don't have to go through years of schooling and hours of training to take a stab at collecting priceless works of art for yourself. Try to win pieces from your friends' collections and avoid spending big on forgeries in the Masterpiece board game from Parker Brothers.

What Is Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game?

Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game is a linear board game manufactured by Parker Brothers and first released in 1970. Sporting a quintessential mid-century design and easy gameplay, Masterpiece is a hidden tabletop gem you can find at thrift stores and vintage shops which highlights some of the best western art from history. For example, you can find cards depicting Caillebotte's 1877 Paris Street; Rainy Day, Renoir's 1881 Two Sisters (On the Terrace), or Hopper's 1942 Nighthawks. Some ambitious sellers even list their vintage sets around $100-$200. While the game is out of print and the first edition is listed for the highest prices, you can find other, more recent, editions online to snatch up for your personal game closet. With new boards and selections of historic artwork, these boards from the '80s and '90s will give you the same amount of fun as the 1970 release will.

The Goal of Playing Masterpiece

The purpose of playing Masterpiece is to try to accumulate the largest number of assets out of all the people playing the game. Your assets are the summation of the money you have left over at the end of the game and the value of the artworks in your collection. Whoever has the largest asset total will win the game. The game is considered finished once all of the artworks have been collected or discarded.

Pieces Included in Masterpiece

Masterpiece isn't a particularly hard board game to set up as it doesn't involve any 3-D sets or dozens of pieces to keep up with. Within every box you should find:

  • Instructions
  • 1 circular game board
  • Clip pieces
  • 2 dice
  • Money of varying amounts
  • 5 player tokens (red, black, yellow, green, blue)
  • 5 character cards
  • Value cards
  • Artwork cards

How to Set the Game Up

Set up should only take a couple of minutes once you've unboxed the game, as there are just a few steps you need to follow before you can begin:

  1. Unfold the game board and set it in the middle of your group of players.
  2. Every player selects a token and a character card, and places their token on any space on the board.
  3. Every player gets $1.5 million dollars of paper money to start.
  4. Shuffle the artwork cards and have every player select one piece.
  5. Shuffle the value cards and making sure that they're turned upside with their values hidden, have every player select one.
  6. Using the white clips, secure the cards with their backs together so the artwork faces out; set the cards with the artwork facing up so all the players can see.
  7. Place the remaining cards in two stacks (1 value stack and 1 artwork stack) facing down in the center of the board.
  8. Every player rolls the dice with the highest number getting to go first.
  9. The first player re-rolls the dice and moves in either direction the number of spaces allotted by the dice.

Playing the Game

As you move around the board, every space you land on will give you an objective. These objectives can either help or hurt your chances of having the best collection and the most assets at the end of the game. The spaces that you'll encounter include the following.

Bank Auctions

When you come to a bank auctions square, you'll take the painting on top of the deck and set it somewhere that all the players can see it. Starting at $100,000, players bid in $50,000 increments on the piece. Once the highest bid is reached and no one else wants to bid any higher, the winning player will give their money to the bank, take the winning painting piece, and select the hidden value card on the top of the pile. These value cards have various amounts, ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. Somewhere in the stack are forgery cards which make a painting worth absolutely nothing, and you can select these cards at any time.

Private Auctions

Similar to bank auctions, the person who lands on the private auction square gets to select one painting from anyone's collection and put it up for auction. The auction process begins again, and whoever wins the painting gives their money to the player who used to own it. Once they get the new painting, they're allowed to look at the painting's secret value and see if they've made a good investment.

Collect Money

Spaces that will let you collect money - ala payday spaces on Life - are vital for keeping the game progressing. Try to head for these spaces if you're low on cash.

Purchase Paintings

You can also land on spaces which direct you to purchase a painting from the bank for a specific amount of money, say $400,000. You're then forced to pay that money to the bank and claim the top cards on either of the stacks. Hopefully, the value of the painting you purchase will offset the amount of money you spent on it.

Sell Paintings

Similar to purchasing paintings, landing on a space that forces you to sell paintings can be helpful and hurtful. If you've got a forgery, these spots are perfect for you to get rid of something that's not valuable. However, if you only have one or two paintings, and they're both worth a lot of money, you'll have to sacrifice one of them to the bank, and hopefully the amount of money you have to sell it for will cover the costs of the loss. Note that once a piece has been sold to the bank, it's no longer in play.

Inherit Paintings

The only way you can get free paintings is by landing on spaces that instruct you to inherit one. Inheriting a painting means you get to select the painting on the top of the pile from the bank for free.

Tips for Winning Masterpiece

Masterpiece seems like a straightforward game that focuses more on luck than strategy, but if you pay attention and plan your movements right, you might just close out the game as a multi-millionaire art auctioneer.

Pay Attention to Everyone's Paintings

You want to pay close attention to your competitors and see what paintings they have and how they're handling them. Are they ordering them in some organizational fashion? Are they favoring one card? These might be tells of the cards that have the highest values and can give you a hint as to which ones to try and get for yourself.

Keep Bids Conservative as There's No Guarantee

While you do want to be constantly acquiring new paintings, you don't want to do so at the risk of losing all of your money or paying too much for a worthless piece. Keep your bids on the smaller side unless you're sure you know the card's value.

Don't Stick to One Type of Space

Explore the board and try to land on a multitude of spaces; getting money is just as important as getting to participate in an auction.

Let Paintings Change Hands Multiple Times

Don't be a stickler and encourage people to let the cards only change hands once or twice. The more cards that change hands, the more aware you are of the values in play and the ones still in the stack. This can help you better plan your investments moving forward.

Sotheby's Has Got Nothing on You

Hop into the role of a world-renowned auctioneer with Parker Brothers' mid-century board game, Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game. Battle against your friends and family to get the most priceless pieces of art for dirt cheap and come out on top with the largest cash pile to win the game. Although the game isn't being produced anymore, there are various editions online and in thrift stores for you to find that you can gift to yourself or the art lover in your life.

Masterpiece Board Game: Overview, Rules & Strategies