Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Bruno Faidutti


No. of Players:
2 - 13



It's quite unbelievable, but it has been 13 years ago when Bruno Faidutti first published his rather successful cardgame Citadels back in the year 2000. As a core element, this game was focused on the players taking and changing the roles of characters at a medieval court, and all of these different roles came with different special powers which then could be used by the players. To give the game a certain degree of uncertainly, the players only had a vague idea which roles the others might have chosen for the upcoming round, and this usually resulted in surprising situations since the special abilities of some characters allowed the players to steal from or even murder another character, and the victim of such an action might well be a different player than originally intended. In the end, the players tried to use their characters from round to round to gain enough money to build a certain number of buildings, and once a player had succeeded in building eight buildings the game came to its end. Victory points were assigned on the basis of completed buildings and some minor extras, but the winner was quite often the same player who had caused the game to end by placing his eighth building.

Why am I telling this as an introduction to Bruno Faidutti's new game Mascarade? Well, the answer is easy enough, since first contact with Mascarade may leave the impression that the game actually is a simplified clone of Citadels. In its core mechanism the players once again take changing roles at a medieval court, but all the fancy extras like different types and functions of buildings have been abolished. Instead, the game focuses on the characters and their special abilities, with the notable difference that the players will not always know which character they currently represent.

At the beginning of the game each player is randomly assigned a character card and six coins of gold, and before the game starts all characters will be revealed so that everybody knows who is who at this moment. Then all character cards will be turned face down and the game will start.

During their turns the players can perform one of three actions:

  • A player may take his own character card and the card of another player, mix them both under the table and then return one character to himself and one character to the player from whom he has taken the other card. This may result in the players changing their characters or both of them staying the same character. Only the active player knows whether he has changed the cards or not.
  • If a player has forgotten who he is (or if he is not sure anymore), he may use his turn to look at his character card. But he may do nothing else during this turn.
  • Finally - and that's where the spice comes into the game - the player may announce that he wants to use his character's ability. Now in turn all other players will be asked whether they claim to be the same character. This may result in different situations. If only the active player claims to be the character whose ability he wants to use, he may use the ability and keep his character card secret. However, if one or more other players proclaim to be the same character, the character cards of all involved players (including the active player) will be revealed and only the player who really is the character in question may perform the character's action. All other players have to pay a fine to the bank.

As I have indicated earlier, all characters in the game have different abilities, and the players will try to use these abilities to be the first player to collect 13 or more coins. If a player successfully collects this sum, the game is instantly over and this player has won.

Looking at the different character abilities, some of the characters like the King or Queen have very straightforward abilities, simply offering the players to collect 2 or 3 coins from the bank. Other characters collect money in a more interactive way, like the Thief who steals money from the player's right and left neighbors, the Judge who takes all fines from the bank or the Peasant (the only character available twice) who collects more money of both Peasants are revealed during the same turn. The Spy and the Fool on the other hand have abilities allowing their players an exchange of character cards plus the checking of a card's identity or the gaining of an additional coin, and the Cheat even allows a player to win with 10 instead of 13 coins. Quite nasty is the Witch who allows a player to exchange his fortune with the money collected by another player, or the Inquisitor who may challenge another player to correctly guess his character card. If the guess fails, that player must pay some coins to the Inquisitor.

This information is actually all you need to know to envision Mascarade in action, and as you can see the players need a good memory and outstanding bluffing abilities to prevail in this game. Thus, if an exchange of character cards is performed by the active player, all other players constantly will try to guess whether the active player really has changed the cards or whether the involved cards simply were returned to their respective owners. As this kind of guessing is the most predominant feature of the game, it becomes clear that individual planning and strategy is far less pronounced because of the constant interference of the other players. Especially if played with a high number of players (the game can be played with a range of 2 to 13 players), a player may well find himself involved in two or three card exchanges before he will take another turn. This makes it virtually impossible to plan ahead, but instead a player has to rely on the bits of information he might have about his current character, executing his character's abilities whenever the chance appears. Here it comes in handy that a player is allowed to challenge a bluff of another player, so that the players do not always have to wait before they become active player once again.

Despite the fact that special rules are included, the game cannot really be recommended for two or three players because the additional rules seem to overburden the game's generally slim and elegant design. Instead, Mascarade shows its real strength if played in a larger group of people, provided everybody is willing to invest a bit of care into the ongoing character exchanges. If everybody tries to follow the game, the game offers both atmosphere and hilarious situations - and that's everything needed for a great group experience.

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany