The wrestlers are waiting to join the stage, there is excitement in the air, but there is one question hanging over everyone, which wrestler is strongest? There is only one way to find out, yep that’s right, with a card-shedding/ trick taking game from Oink Games. Maskmen is a small box game for two to six players where to win you need to play all of your cards as quickly as possible. Played over four rounds, special belts are awarded to the first two players to play all of their cards (gold belt worth 2 points for the first player, and silver belt worth 1 point for the second player), then there is the dreaded black belt (minus 1 point) for the last player left with cards in hand at the end of the round.
After four rounds the player with the most points win, in the event of a tie the player with the most gold belts wins.
Ok, let’s get to my final thoughts. What do you mean I have to tell people how to play the game, oh man, I was dreading this. Ok the following is as brief a how to play as I can possibly manage. Please keep in mind that there are very good tutorials for how to play Maskmen on YouTube (look up Taylors Trick Taking Table).
I really love this game but the teach is a bit of a tough one, here we go.
How To Play
There are six wrestlers (suits) which have an equal number of cards in the deck. None of these cards are numbered, instead each round you will be working out the strongest wrestler in a series of tricks.
A hand of cards is dealt to each player (the number of cards depends on the number of players), then the first player will introduce a wrestler to the ring. They do this by playing a single card of the chosen wrestler’s colour.
You then take that wrestlers strength marker and place that on the table to start a column.
The next player in Maskmen then needs to introduce another wrestler themselves or pass. To introduce a new wrestler, they have to prove the new one is stronger. They do this by playing two cards of their chosen wrestler (different to the first one). The strength marker for this wrestler is placed above the first one to show it is stronger.
Then, the next player can either pass or introduce another wrestler by playing three cards and placing the strength marker at the top of the column.
Three cards are the most you can ever play so all players must now pass. The player who played the three cards, clears all of the cards played, and starts the next trick. They can either play one card to introduce a new wrestler or they can play one, two or three cards for a wrestler whose strength you already know.
If you introduce a new wrestler you need to place their strength marker on a new column as you don’t know their strength relative to the wrestlers previously introduced.
This is where it gets a bit head scratchy. If the current trick is for a wrestler whose strength you do know you can play the same number of cards for another wrestler if you also know they are stronger than it (so three cards of blue if you know blue is stronger than green and 3 green cards were just played). If you don’t know where their strength is in relation, you would have to play one more card than was played to prove it.
But keep in mind you don’t know the wrestler’s strength in relation to the other column so you could play one more card than previously played to place a wrestler in this column.
Sometimes columns merge when all the permutations are calculated. At which point it is a straight race to clear all your cards. Keeping in mind you can only ever play a maximum of 3 cards on your turn. What you don’t want to happen (as so often happens to me) is to be left with a single card in your hand from the weakest wrestler.
After belts are awarded at the end of the round, the strength columns are reset and players start at the beginning again with a new hand of cards.
Ok, breath, my terrible description of how to play is over. Let’s get to my final thoughts.
Maskmen is one of my favourite games I have played this year. However, if you had asked me after my first teach / play I might have not been so keen to promote it. There is no getting around the fact that the game takes more than a few minutes to get your head around the very clever but unusual mechanisms. When you do get used to it there is something very special contained within this little yellow box.
I love the art style and the fact there are no numbers at all on the cards. The gameplay is almost a mathematical equation you are working on as you are playing (blue is stronger than green but weaker than pink which is stronger than orange, etc). Knowing when to ‘short’ a suit and when to hold onto lots of a suit is key to winning (something I rarely do).
The game plays especially well at three and four and I like it at two, but at five or six it is too chaotic for me. I crazily played a six-player game where none of the other players had played it before, I will not repeat that mistake.
The first three tricks in a round seem to be a little bit on rails and I wonder if the game would have been better to have the first three wrestler’s strengths determined by a random card turn.
Oink Games continue to produce highly unusual and memorable games and Maskmen now sits in place in one of my favourite games not only released this year, but also of all time. I genuinely love this game that much.
Now, let’s get ready to RUMBLE.