Obscurio is a semi-cooperative game for 2-8 players in which you take on the roles of wizards trapped in a seemingly abandoned library, by an evil sorcerer. With the help of a mystical Grimoire providing vague clues, you must work together to find your way out before you’re trapped forever. However, one of your party has been ensnared by the sorcerer’s spell and is actively working against you.
First, decide who will play as the Grimoire. Place the game board in the middle of the table, with the progress marker on the first space of the progress tracker. Shuffle the illusion cards and place them in a stack near the Grimoire. The Grimoire receives the desk, the butterfly markers, the hourglass, and the cardholder. They then secretly fill the cardholder with eight illusion cards and close it. The Wizard players choose a character card and the matching chip, placing it in front of them.
Then take the traitor card, then add loyal cards until there are as many Loyalty cards as there are Wizard players. Randomly deal them out to the Wizard players, who will secretly look at this card and keep it face down in front of them. This way, one player will always be the Traitor. Fill the bag with trap tokens. Fill the dark area of the board with cohesion tokens depending on difficulty level and player count.
To win, players must work together to find the correct exit card in each round. If they can do this six times without running out of cohesion tokens, the Wizards and Grimoire win. If they run out of tokens, the Traitor wins.
Each round begins with a trap token being drawn from the bag, adding an extra challenge to overcome. The Grimoire then secretly draws an illusion card. They then draw two more illusion cards, placing them in both slots on the desk. Using the butterfly markers, they must point to specific parts of the image they think will help guide the Wizards to the correct card.
After looking at the desk and discussing what they think the Grimoire might be trying to draw their attention to, all players except the Grimoire close their eyes. On the Grimoire’s instruction, the Traitor opens their eyes and secretly chooses up to two cards from the cardholder that they think they can trick the Wizards into choosing. For example, if the Wizards think the Grimoire is trying to draw their attention to the colour blue, the Traitor can choose cards where blue things are prominent.
Now the Grimoire draws more illusion cards until they have six, then places them on each door space around the board. As soon as the last one is placed, the hourglass is flipped and placed on the first space on the cover of the cardholder. The Wizards must now try to identify the correct exit card, while the Traitor tries to confuse and mislead them into choosing one, they know to be incorrect.
Each time the hourglass runs out of sand while the Wizards are still choosing the correct card, it is flipped again and moved one step along the track until it reaches the end. Each space on the track adds an additional trap to the following round, so Wizards are encouraged to make their minds up quickly.
Once each Wizard has made their mind up, the Grimoire reveals the correct card. If even one Wizard guessed correctly, the progress marker is moved along one space. Each Wizard who guessed incorrectly removes a cohesion token from the board. If no player guessed correctly, the progress tracker is not moved, and the round is repeated.
Once enough cohesion tokens have been removed, the Wizards get a chance to identify the Traitor, kicking them out of the party. The Traitor can still choose cards from the cardholder to confuse the Wizards and can still win if the Wizards are left trapped.
Fans of Mysterium, also by Libellud, may have noticed this game is essentially that with extra steps. They would be right; if you like one, you will surely like the other too.
The similarities are rife, the silent game-master guiding their friends, the abstract art on the cards. The core gameplay loop of players trying to get into the head of their friends, trying to understand how they think.
It has enough differences to be a separate experience, however. The Grimoire is unable to choose from a hand of cards, but the ability to point out specific parts of the images they have balanced this limitation nicely. The traps add an extra dimension of a challenge too, limiting the Grimoire’s ability to give clues or handing more power to the Traitor.
Speaking of the Traitor, this is the aspect of the game that really sets it apart the most. Having one player actively working against the team sows an element of doubt into every discussion while also adding social deduction into the mix. Trying to figure out why the Grimoire specifically drew your attention to a man’s feet is fun in itself but trying to work out which of your friends is misleading to you. Or, doing the misleading yourself is particularly engaging.
However, it is also this aspect of the game that is most likely to turn players away. In our group, most players were on board with the deceit, merrily accusing everybody of being a traitor for any reason, even adding to the confusion by implicating themselves. A couple of players were not so sold on it though, musing that the game would be better if they could just get on with trying to interpret the Grimoire’s clues.
Another issue is that figuring out who the Traitor is sometimes boils down to keeping quiet during the eyes-closed phase of the game and listening to who is shuffling about in their seat the most. This can be solved by encouraging conversation between players during this phase, so everybody is making noise, but it is a clear weakness. It also only takes one other player to peek, and the game is essentially ruined.
The game is perfectly functional without a Traitor, of course; in fact, playing with any less than four players means there can be no Traitor. The problem is that the social deduction element of the game is such an important part of what makes it fun that removing it weakens the game considerably. Players who don’t enjoy this aspect of the game should consider Mysterium instead.
It’s also the harder of the two. Our group was only able to win once because, while we were often able to root out the Traitor fairly early on, the rest of the game is enough of a challenge than finding the correct illusion cards is very difficult. The Grimoire often has to think way outside the box to find anything in the images on the desk that links to the exit card, and then the Wizards have to know their friend well enough to figure out what they’re thinking, all while the Traitor is obfuscating everything. Sometimes it is a near-impossible task for the Grimoire as nothing about the desk cards bears any resemblance to the exit, and there is no way to change any of the cards to mitigate this. As frustrating as this can be at times, it means victory is all the sweeter when it is earned.
Obscurio is not for everyone, groups who enjoy jolly cooperation will find the traitor mechanism frustrating and limiting. The rest of the game is solid fun without a traitor and still worth playing but removing it is like having pizza without cheese; missing the heart of it and a large part of what makes it good.
However, friends who enjoy stabbing each other in the back will find it thoroughly engaging, and a real challenge, too. It is certainly not without flaws, but when the game runs smoothly it is a joy to play and has more to offer than its counterpart.