The Beast is holding a party for all or the Grimm Forest’s inhabitants and you’re invited. Oh the opulence and glamour of it all! Grab your best frock and a mask. Don’t be late and don’t turn into pumpkin. Most of all do not reveal your identity to your fellow partygoers if you want to The Beast’s roses and be crowned queen or king of the ball. Let the contest begin!
The Name of the Rose
The Grimm Masquerade by Tim Eisner is a social deduction/hidden identities game that is designed to work with a lower player count. This means those of you who struggle to get a large gaming group together can get your William of Baskerville on with something that’s not Love Letter for a change. I personally love hidden identity games and am glad there’s another low player count one on the market.
The game is played over three rounds, presumably representing three separate nights at the ball. Each night players will be secretly given one of eight fairytale characters. An identity they must guard jealously while trying to unmask their competitors.
Each turn is simple. The active player draws a card from the deck and chooses to keep it or give it to another player. If they chose to keep it, they must draw another card and give that one away and vice-versa. On the cards are artefacts common to the Grimm universe. Each of the eight identities has a boon item and a bane item. If a player has two of their bane items in front of them at any point they are revealed and are out of the round. Collect three of your boon items and you are victorious for that round.
A Rose by any Other Name
Things are a little more complicated than giving away and receiving cards. Giving a matching pair to someone might expose them, but it gives them access to special powers if it fails. After each turn a player can choose to discard two matching artefacts in order to take one of that rounds three special actions. These allow players to manipulate cards in front of players, get rid of a bane that puts them at threat and more importantly point the finger. A successful finger-pointing not only knocks the other player out of the round but wins you a bonus rose. Guess wrong, however, and you hand your opponent another flower for their bouquet at the end of the game.
There are also some advanced rules that I would recommend experienced gamers play with from the start. One rule allows knocked out players to bet on who they think will win (this also requires them to guess the identities of the characters though). Another rule provides a neat catch-up mechanism by giving the player in last place after each round a bonus ability based on their character in the previous round. After three rounds you add up your roses and the one with the most wins.
Every Rose Has Its Thorns
This neat little game has few flaws, but one of them did present a problem when we played in lower lighting. The discs you use to keep track of which characters players have already declared they aren’t are too similar in colour. There’s an orange, a red and pink that blend together somewhat. It’s a minor thing but can slow things down or lead to errors when giving cards.
While the boon/bane mechanism works well, it didn’t feel fully thought through thematically. Sure, it makes sense for Cinderella to love glass slippers and be repelled by time, but I’m less clear why The Big Bad Wolf would be fearful of cauldrons and Rumpelstiltskin would be wary of crowns. The Beast’s boon item, a mirror, makes no sense given his aversion to seeing his own reflection.
Coming up Roses
These are only small quibbles with a well executed game. The artwork and production give an individual and darker slant to the Grimm world than that seen in Eisner’s other game in the universe Grimm Forest. The cardboard components are thick and the clue tokens wooden. Druid City have once again pulled it out the bag on that front.
In terms of gameplay, I was impressed that a game of this nature worked at the lower count. It is hard not to compare it to Love Letter with its draw-one-play-one mechanism. However, I think Grimm Masquerade adds thematic and complexity layers lacking in Love Letter. I felt more in control in this game and less of a slave to the luck of the card draw. You really have to be careful not to be too obvious in what you keep and give away lest other players intuit your identity.
Grimm Masquerade Final Thoughts
Overall, it was simple to learn and teach, quick to play and fun. The fact that being knocked out doesn’t mean you become a spectator and you can still play and win roses, allowed everyone to feel engaged throughout. Likewise, the game has excellent mechanisms to give players who are behind a chance to catch up without it feeling like the leader is being punished. At no point did anyone feel it was unfair or that victory was beyond them which helped create an enjoyable and friendly competitiveness around the table.
If you like casual social deduction, the sort of game you can play while having a drink and a chat, then this could be for you. Slightly more complex than some similar games, but not in a way that makes it inaccessible. Grimm Masquerade looks good, plays better and has enough meat to keep it interesting on repeat visits. Tim Eisner is fast becoming one of my favourite designers of light to midweight games and, after playing The Grimm Masquerade, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.