Review: Mascarade / Designer: Bruno Faidutti / Publisher: Asmodee / Release Date: Out Now
Bluffing games are currently the big thing when it comes to table top gaming. Board and card games positively encourage you to fib to your friends and family in the name of fun. Mascarade is a game of courtly deceit. Each of you takes on the role of someone who happens to be at a masked ball in a fantastic (yet undefined) place, and the first person to collect 13 coins, wins. At the start of the game you’re dealt a card face up, which you then turn face down.
Each role has a specific ability. For example, the King can claim three coins every turn, the thief can take coins, etc. Each turn, you can do one of three things. You can swap your card with someone else’s , but you can do this under the table so no one except you knows if you’ve really swapped or not. Alternatively, you can look at your card, or you can activate the card’s power. When you activate the card, other players can call you on it; if they catch you in a lie, you lose coin, but if you’re telling the truth, they lose coin.
Those familiar with the game Coup may notice some similarities here, but whereas Coup is focused on fast-paced bluffing, Mascarade is more about showmanship; how wicked a lie can you tell, how much of a show can you make of swapping the cards and so on. It evokes the vibe of those strange and ethereal masked balls much loved by fantasy and horror writers.
Components wise, it’s quite pretty. Each card is intricately illustrated, but clear and distinctive enough as to not confuse the player, and the counters and rules sheets are of a good quality and are unlikely to wear out quickly, even with heavy play. The rule book is a little unclear in places, though thankfully this is just with the set-up phase; the core game rules are clearly presented, so once you’ve played it once, the muddy language in the set-up becomes irrelevant.
Mascarade can deal with up to twelve players, but works best with half that number; it’s the intimacy of the bluff and the keeping track of who has control of what that makes this game fun. With larger groups it bogs down and becomes sidetracked, becoming more an exercise in bookkeeping than anything that’s actually fun. Mascarade is a great game for small groups of friends, and takes about 30 minutes to play, making it a good addition to a gaming evening where you intend to play lots of different games.