Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Mascarade

Our hobby is filled with games of all sorts, designed for many different situations. And while sometimes its great to have a battle of strategies between a few friends in a deep, complex brain-burner, its also nice to just have a great time with a large group of people. That’s where Mascarade comes in.
Mascarade works with anywhere from 6 to 13 people, proving an interesting group experience. There’s bluffing, deduction, and quite a lot of confusion. Not confusion in the bad sense, but more like the kind that you will easily laugh about at the end of the round. Mascarade is similar to a party game, in that it is more focused on creating an experience than the game itself, though the game elements still matter.

Components

Mascarade is a pretty small box as it really only holds cards and coins. There are thirteen character cards, all wonderfully illustrated. The icons on each card are generally clear on what that card does, but reference sheets are also provided. The coins are, well, coins. There is also a cut-out of a courthouse, where your penalties go if you are caught lying in the game.
The characters are set in an era of decadence that you’d imagine the Vienna court to be like in the times of Mozart, for example. They include the kin and queen, the bishop, the judge, the spy, and other such roles. They are designed with elaborate costumes which are quite impressive.

Gameplay

Mascarade is made up of a deck of character cards, each one doing something different, but the ultimate goal is to make money. The first person to 13 coins wins, so the trick is to use the characters you have to get there.
But which character are you?? This is where the spark of the game comes in. Once the game starts, people’s roles are hidden, and most of the trick is trying to figure out who everyone is, including yourself! You are allowed to do one of two things on your turn: swap roles with someone, use your characters ability, or look at your own character card (though this is certainly the most boring option and I never bother with it).
The reason the role switching works is because when you do so you swap the cards secretly, which means that you may or may not have actually switched with them at all. This casts just enough uncertainly to make it more difficult to predict who everyone is,, which makes it much more enjoyable. However, it is very possible that while mixing up the cards, even you will forget yourself!
Using your ability works because you don’t actually have to be the right character to use their ability, you only need to pretend that you are. The only way you won’t get away with it is if someone else claims to be the same character and proves it. This adds a bluffing element to the game which, tied with the uncertainly to people knowing who they are all the time, can be fun to try.

Conclusion

Mascarade fills a particular niche of gaming experiences, one in which its more about the social interactions, while still providing a game element and goal. It had secret roles, similar to game like The Resistance, but can mix them up and combines it with bluffing. It plays well with a large group, and you can either really try to pay attention to who everyone is, or completely forget about it, and either way you will have a good time.
Its not perfect mind you. Some people may not like the inherent confusion that games with the game if they are not able to just let themselves embrace the chaos of it. I also think that the bluffing part should be emphasized a little bit more, as pulling off a good coup of a character is usually the best part of the game. The start of the game is also a little annoying as the first four players have to switch cards in order to cause some initial disruption, but then the next players moves are also telegraphed or else the first players after that could get to their first turn knowing exactly who they are.
These are ultimately minor squabbles which maybe prevent it from being a master design of a social game, but it is still a really good social game nonetheless. I mean, a game where thirteen people can play is pretty rare, and the game moves fast enough and has enough actions between players and struggles to figure it all out that it makes it fun for everyone, so long as your table Is ready to have some fun.

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