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Clash of the Titians Old Masters Trump Cards Review by Melanie Reynolds

Mikkel Sommer, James Cahill
Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
t +44 (0)20 7841 6900
361–373 City Road
London EC1V 1LR
United Kingdom

Have you ever used a game to teach an educational topic or skill? I personally believe that games can be a wonderful and effective part of teaching and learning…even in the subject of art! Laurence King Publishing Ltd., which has an exceptional collection of art books and materials that are perfect for the teacher or homeschooler, has a fascinating game which will enable you to expose your students to major artists and facts about their styles and influences. Clash of the Titians is an art card game which features 32 influential artists from the past 752 years. The cards are enclosed in a boxed slipcase (measuring 4” x 2”) and are smooth and sturdy yet flexible, making them easy to shuffle. The set also includes one card of playing instructions and another card which details information on scoring as well as on the game’s authors. Clash of the Titians can be purchased for $9.95.

Each of the 32 cards represents a different artist, whose portrait is beautifully recreated in the style of the artist himself or herself. For example, Van Gogh’s card features his angular face with wavy background lines behind him, à la Starry Night. Raphael’s includes his famous two cherubs leaning on the wall behind him. Bernini’s looks like the head or bust of a sculpture, and so on throughout the rest of the cards. In addition to these gorgeous and recognizable artist portraits on each card, the authors include the full names of the artists, their birth and death dates and a short biographical paragraph. 

A key element for scoring and game play is featured at the bottom of each artist’s card. A list of six different categories (Influence, Innovation, Versatility, Critical Reception, The ‘Beautiful’ Factor, and Highest Price) is printed there, and each element is given a particular weight. On Titian’s card, you’d see that his Innovation receives a score of 82 while his Versatility is scored at 70. Leonardo da Vinci’s scores include 99 for Critical Reception and 78 for Influence. Rembrandt is graded with a 75 for The ‘Beautiful’ Factor and the Highest Price known for one of his works is $180 million. 

Game play for Clash of the Titians is extremely simple to understand; if you’ve ever played War you’ll easily master this game. Theoretically, you could play with any number of players (but I’d recommend 2 to 6 players). The dealer passes out all cards to players, who then hold them in a stack with cards facing up (rather than fanned out as players would in spades or Uno). A coin can be flipped or a die rolled to select who goes first. That person looks at his top card and selects one of the six elements listed, then reads that element and the number assigned to it. Each of the other players then reads the top card’s score in that category. The player with the highest scored number wins all the players’ top cards and places those cards on the bottom of his stack; then repeats the process with his next top card by selecting one of the six elements and reading its score. The rest of the players read their own scores and the player with the highest scored element wins that round. Play continues in this manner until one person has won all the cards. In general, game play can take from about 5-12 minutes on average. That’s a somewhat wide range, but for us that range depended not only on how long it took to play the cards themselves but the conversation that the game inspired.

I love teaching art, so I have a natural predisposition to like Clash of the Titians. But I wasn’t the only one in my family who did; even my guys (who are, respectively, math lovers and computer experts) found it interesting! Even though this game is very simple to play and to master, it inspires more than just game play fun. It teaches a thumbnail sketch of these 32 artists; who they were, when they lived, what their lives and art were like. It gives players a sense of familiarity with artistic styles attributed to each artist. It informs the players of artists’ influence on the world of art and culture at large. And it illustrates how subjective art, and the appreciation of it, can be; whether it’s by experts or novices.

Clash of the Titians inspired some lively conversations in our family. For example, the authors (who are trained artists and connoisseurs themselves) ranked Vincent van Gogh with a 69 in The ‘Beautiful’ Factor category. That was honestly anathema to us! We think his works are exceptionally beautiful. (They did also mention that the Highest Price for one of his works was $82.5 million. That mollified us…a little.) And da Vinci was only given a 71 for Innovation; a score that seemed low for the original Renaissance Man. However, Michelangelo was given a score of 89 for Versatility, and Caravaggio, a 91 for Innovation. Those numbers seemed much closer to what we’d have imagined or ranked ourselves. But these conversations reminded us how differently each of us responds to particular artists or artworks; and how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

My son is a high school junior, and while game play itself was simpler than he was used to in a card game, the actual information on each card was written at a perfect level for him. I would imagine that this game would be effective for and enjoyed by both middle school and high school students, who’d be able to critically think about why the artists received the scores they did. I believe that these students would also be able to recognize the styles of the artists and be able to apply that recognition to their own art study or museum visits. 

I’d like to mention one caveat about the artists represented in Clash of the Titians. I’d recommend that the parent or teacher read through all the artists’ cards before game play begins. Neither the company website nor the game instructions specify age range for players, but some art information is better suited for mature readers. The cards truthfully represent the works and genres of the artists, but you’ll want to be aware of the intimate and sexual nature of some art mentioned (but not pictured) by several of them.

We really enjoyed playing Clash of the Titians. It is simple to learn and easy to play. But it provides hours of fascinating debate and conversation (in our family, anyway!) about art, its value, and artists. It teaches a great overview of three-quarters of a millennium of art. And it trains the eye to recognize the style and the faces of 32 great artists. What a great way to spend time with your older students!

-Product review by Melanie Reynolds, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August, 2018