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Mascarade Review

Mascarade Board Game Review

Bluff your way through the Mascarade and cleverly trick your opponents.

In this party, the King and Queen rub shoulders with beggars and thieves. Nobody truly knows who anybody is. This is often the case with your own character too! You can be just about to win when you’re challenged on your identity and you confidently flip over... a completely different character to the one you thought you had. Mascarade is a game that gives great space for both devious deception and hilarious hi-jinks. Players race to be the first to gain 13 coins.

Paper Faces on Parade

The first thing that hit me about Mascarade (Designed by Bruno Faidutti)  is the gorgeous art! The box is slim and long, and features some fantastic character design. Inside, you’ll find plenty of cardboard coins, a nice Courthouse placeholder for penalties paid and tokens to remind players of which characters are in play. However, the stars of the show are the oversized character cards themselves.

There are 12 unique characters which feature brilliant and sinister artwork. These capture the sly, coin-greedy feel of the game well and begin to set the scene. However, Mascarade can actually have a light, almost comedic, taste in practice and can be taken as seriously as you’d like. Often, the best rounds are the ones which come across more like Laurel and Hardy than Holmes and Watson.

Funnily enough, the majority of the game is played with these beautiful cards face-down! Once each player has a card, everybody is encouraged to remember who has who. When everybody is ready, all cards are turned face-down and players take it in turns to switch cards.

Card switching is done in a clever and specific way: a player takes their own card and another card without looking at them and mixes them under the table. They then place them back in their places as per their own choice. This allows a player to have some knowledge of what is happening in the game (as long as they don’t lose track of their own card manipulation!).

Eye of Gold, True is False

The magic of this game is in the mystery and confusion that comes from switched identities. Now, I might have picked up your King to switch with my Judge... but did I really switch them? Did I only pretend to, using my ultra-convincing hidden hand movements? Or would I be bold enough to take such a powerful card?

Little did I know in this example, I had switched to gain what I thought was the King, but actually managed to get my hands on the Bishop that you had secretly been harbouring. Even with only a couple of players, it can be easy to lose track of a certain card. Careful play and good bluffing can leave players thinking that you have one card whilst you actually have a better one for a future situation.

Switching can have a slight ‘take that’ feel to it but is a lot more strategic than other games of that genre. It can take some players a little time to get used to the idea of bluffing a switch, but once they do, the game really gets into its groove.

Every Face a Different Shade

The benefit to having different characters in front of you is that you get to use their powers. Without looking at your card, your turn can be spent announcing who you think you are – or rather, who you say you are. For example, if you announce that you are the King, you are able to gain three coins from the bank. If uncontested, this action goes ahead with no consequence.

If, however, one or more other players believe that they are the King, then each challenging player and the original player must reveal their identity and flip over their card. Any player that is wrong must pay a penalty coin into the courthouse (ready for the Judge to collect) and the true King (if revealed) may collect the three coins even if it isn’t their turn.

A player is able to secretly look at their card, however this costs them their entire turn. Normally, by the time play returns to them, their card has probably been mixed up. Knowledge is power in this game!

I love Mascarade as the quirky spectacle it is! The game has a feel similar to the excellent Coup, however I prefer Mascarade as players are not eliminated and it is less often that one or two players dominate.

Final Thoughts on Mascarade

You will love this game if you enjoy a little bit of chaos and comedy whilst you try to mess up your opponents’ plans. There’s a clever mix of social deduction and strategy as you sneakily try to outwit and out-bluff other players. The missing information – and hence lack of control – as you play might not be up everyone’s street, but Mascarade does a great job turning it into a fun game.

One thing that Mascarade is lacking is a developed theme. There is no story or explanation – players are just launched into a strange debacle of trickery and deception! Neither the box nor the rules booklet gives a clue as to how all of the different characters came together in this way. I wonder if this is because the game just doesn’t make sense thematically. In what world would a beggar, a witch, a King and an inquisitor come together with hidden identities and connive for coins? But this doesn’t take away from the fun of the game! It may appear a little ridiculous if you think too much into it, however Mascarade isn’t designed to be sensible.

It’s absolutely brilliant how well Mascarade scales for different numbers of players. I don’t know many games that are enjoyable at both two and 13 players. The rules booklet has suggested characters to include at different player counts and higher player counts actually ‘unlock’ fair use of cards like the intimidating Inquisitor – my favourite character in the deck.

Now, please excuse me as I win this round: I was holding the Cheat all along!