Of all the games sitting on my shelves at home, one of the most worn down boxes has got to be the classic Citadels. It hits my table on a regular basis, especially if I’m playing with a larger group, and it always gets chucked into the games bag if I’m heading off somewhere new. Just so you know, the others being Love Letter, Council of Verona and – if I know it’s a particularly filthy crowd – Cards Against Humanity. All of these games manage to pack a huge amount of gameplay options into tiny packages, and now I’m delighted to say that there’s a new addition to the list. Brand new from Repos Productions, Mascarade is going to be your new favourite party game.
Now, I’m not talking party game along the likes of Wits & Wagers, fantastic though that may be. Mascarade is firmly planted in the eurogame end of the genre, but don’t let that confuse you – it’s still incredibly accessible, built around a simple ruleset with one target needed to win: get your hands on thirteen coins.
(Officially there’s another path to victory – have the most money when someone else is made bankrupt, but that happens comparatively infrequently. Basically, focus on building up your wealth and you’ll be just grand.)
As the game begins, you have a handful of six coins – so you’re nearly halfway there – and a role card placed face down in front of you. These can either be selected randomly from a pool of XX cards or chosen from a table included in the instructions leaflet that gives suggested set-ups for each number of players. To serve as a reminder of the characters in play, each card is represented by a token in the middle of the table with an icon to help you remember what abilities they have.
When your turn comes around, you choose to perform one of three actions. First, you could look at your card – they’re all face down, remember, so the only way to guarantee knowledge of what’s in front of you is to look. Option two is to take your card along with another player’s, shuffle them together and re-deal them, potentially swapping the two roles. The third option, however, is where Mascarade gets dirty…
This is where you declare to the group what your role is. Of course, you may not know what you’re holding at that moment in time, but the onus is on you to keep track of the character cards as they move around the table – or to try and do so, anyway. Should you choose this action, you simply say who you are and trigger the character ability… unless someone else pipes up and says that they hold the role you named.
If you go unchallenged, fantastic! You perform the ability and play moves on to the next person. If someone else declares you a liar though – or more than one person does, because those cards do move around a lot – you must both reveal your cards. Only the true character will get to to their ability, while the pretenders must pay a one coin fine to the central bank. It’s moments like these that all players must pay attention to as it opens up the table to more information that will hopefully give you the edge you need to get the thirteen coins you need to win.
Mascarade is a game built on two pillars; being able to track information that moves about the table, and having the bare-faced cheek to lie to other players’ faces when things aren’t going your way. If you can bluff your way through a couple of rounds you can easily pull in plenty of coins, but that then leaves you open to attack from characters who can steal from your pile. The trick really seems to be to plan ahead enough to stay in the middle of the pack until you’re ready to make your move and rush for the win – but of course that means that you’re going to have to follow the card movements perfectly or you’re going to end up on your ass.
It certainly gives off that vibe of Citadels minus the buildings – especially with the very lovely art and the money changing hands on a regular basis – but complaints about its older sibling barely stand up in Mascarade. Where in Citadels you could easily be picked on and effectively neutralised for round after round through clever use of the Assassin, all players are always involved and have to constantly be paying attention to what’s going on. Failure to do so leads to financial punishment and lots of “But I thought I was the Witch!” type shouting. It’s a wonderful, cruel, joyous and horrible game that should be a part of your collection, and I’ll put money on it being on the shortlist for the Spiel des Jahres 2014.