Combine the classic party game Apples to Apples with a visit to the fabulous home of a wealthy collector and what do you get? Words of Art. Like Apples to Apples, Charades, and Pictionary, Words of Art is multiplayer guessing game that depends, in its case, on one’s talent for finding a pithy phrase to describe the image of an artwork printed on a playing card. But you don’t really need to know much about art history to join in: The aim of Words of Art isn’t to correctly identify a work (It’s a Warhol!) but rather to convey its essence—a sort of “What does it say to you?” approach (to borrow the hoary museum pickup line).
Published by Penguin Random House, Words of Art is the brainchild of Catherine Gund, a daughter of Agnes Gund, the beloved art patron and president of the Museum of Modern Art’s board of trustees from 1991 to 2002. (Catherine recently directed a documentary about her mother, titled Aggie.) The cards feature 150 works of contemporary art (by artists ranging from Jasper Johns to Sarah Sze), all owned by Agnes, who originated Words of Art as a diversion for her family.
The game begins with choosing a “storyteller,” determined by which person has most recently visited an art gallery or museum. The storyteller deals out seven cards to each participant (who also receives a token) and selects one image from his or her own hand, placing it facedown on the table. The storyteller then decides on a “prompt”—a word or brief description—that best fits that card. The prompt can be selected from a list of provided suggestions (“nostalgia,” “reckless abandon,” “full to the brim”), or can be made up. The other players each pick one of their own cards that they think best matches the storyteller’s prompt and also put it facedown. The selected cards are then shuffled and turned faceup, and each person puts a token on the card they think is the one picked by the storyteller, who then judges which of the other cards comes closest to the prompt. This last move comprises a second version of Words of Art, which dispenses with the dealer choosing the card that players have to identify.
Words of Art bills itself as “a game that illuminates your mind,” and while your mileage may vary on achieving enlightenment, it’s certainly a fun and easy way to spend time with art-inclined friends or family.
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