Phantom Ink follows a simple process, players split into two teams with each team choosing one person to become a spirit (Clue Giver). The two spirits draw a card from the object deck and between them decide on one of the six options.
Once agreed, it’s time for the mediums (Guessers) to start asking their spirit some questions.
Each team has a hand of 7 cards from the questions deck. Each turn, the current team has two options.
Firstly, they can ask their spirit a question. The team will hand two of their question cards to the spirit, who chooses one to answer, shows this card to their mediums and discards the other. The spirit will provide an answer to the chosen question one letter at a time, speaking it aloud as they write it in the relevant space on the game sheet.
Once the mediums think they know what the answer is they can shout “Silencio”, this forces the spirit to stop writing letters. After this, the team draws 2 replacement question cards and that brings their turn to an end.
The other option the team has is to take a guess at the mystery object, The mediums start writing their guess in the current space on the game sheet one letter at a time, if the letter is correct, the spirit knocks and they can continue their guess. If the letter is incorrect, the spirit raises a finger to their lips.
They then cross out the incorrect letter and their turn is over. On certain spaces of the game sheet, there lies an eye, these special spaces allow the mediums to specify one of the previous answers from either team and that spirit must reveal the next letter of the chosen answer.
This then continues back and forth until a team has guessed the secret object or both teams have had 8 turns, resulting in a loss for both teams.
The presentation for Phantom Ink really is impressive, the box is nicely themed with a kind of ouija vibe but without it being off putting for anyone. Spot UV on the box creates a unique view on how the game plays without even opening the lid, and once you open it up, the game sheets and cards are consistent with the theme without being cluttered or hard to read.
There are plenty of cards included, with 312 different objects over 52 cards and 102 question cards, the games are always going to be different. And there’s really nothing stopping you from writing your own questions or coming up with your own secret objects if that’s your thing.
I would still like to see more cards released as expansions or booster packs, they could very easily release themed sets and there is still plenty of space left in the box.
The question and answer mechanic is a breath of fresh air in my opinion, often when playing other word association games, there are often occurrences of analysis paralysis. With Phantom Ink, this is rarely the case. You only have 7 questions you can ask at any one time, and the spirit has to provide a word that answers the chosen question.
One of the best things about the game is when you think you’ve worked out what one of the other team's answers are, the next step is to try and reverse engineer the question. This becomes tricky when you realise the question could be flipped. Maybe the question isn’t “What material is it made of?” but rather “What material is it NOT made of?”.
What if the chosen question is “What has NOTHING to do with it, just to confuse the other team?”. We had this pop up with the secret object being “Dragon” and the answer we got was “Chees”. Clearly, that’s the word “Cheese” and only we knew it was unrelated to the actual object.
Some other questions and answers we had were:
Object - Dragon
Question - What Powers it?
Answer - Mag(ic)
Question - What causes people to fight over it?
Answer - Ques(ts)
Object - Sausage
Question - Where is the nearest one?
Answer - Fri(dge)
Question - What tourist destination would you most likely find it at?
Answer - Fete
The sausage one really threw us for a loop, we were sure the answer to the first question was ‘Friday’, so much so that we used an eye space to reveal the letter D, it was the only word we could think of that matched, needless to say, we lost that game.
The game runs quickly and is a great starter game before getting into something a bit meatier or to be played when time is short. There’s always something to do, trying to suss out the item within your team or working out which question will best prove or disprove your current theory.
They provide a healthy pad of game sheets within the box with more available to download and print from the publisher’s website, in standard, low ink and giant variants. I however prefer reusability and so a quick laminator session later, I have dry erase compatible sheets for endless replayability.
Phantom Ink has gone down brilliantly every time I’ve played it, and it may even replace our other similar games. Setup is pretty much instant, tear down the same. Teaching the game takes a matter of minutes and it plays well with a wide range of player counts and ages. We’ve had objects guessed a few turns in and the odd round where we’ve all lost.
In those rare cases we did all lose, we found no one wanted to try guessing the word as it gives a lot of information to the other team but maybe that’s just us. The publisher does provide a Print & Play version on their website but the production of the physical game is so nice it’s definitely worth the buy.