This would be the first review I have written since my Review of Reviews. I chose Masquerade partly because I have owned it for a while and I have been meaning to write about it but also because it is fairly simple and I hope to demonstrate how I plan to review further games in the future with a game that will not be too overbearing.
Masquerade is a fairly simple card game that plays more like a board game. Players play the part of powerful entities who battle each other indirectly. Each player has a “dancer” that represents them in the battle which is called The Masquerade.
How to Play
The game is played over a series of phases: Order Phase, Stage Phase, Spell Phase, Challenge Phase and Event Phase, and players are trying to accumulate the most victory points before one of the end game conditions are met. Players take turns acting in each phase based on the order determined during the Order Phase. One interesting aspect of the game is each order card (1 – 5, all of which are used even if there are less than five players) has a special power on it available to that player that turn (actually, the 1 card does not have a power, going first being the power that it grants you). This makes the order change as different players will seek out both a different position for the next round as well as a different ability.
Once order is determined during the order phase players can move their “dancer” (the dancers each have a special ability as well) to a location. This aspect of the game feels a bit more like a board game than a card game. There are six locations, each of which do something different and while they are represented by cards they could just as easily have been on a board. Some locations give the player more spells (spells are used during challenges mostly but there are few with other simple effects) or heal their dancer (dancers only have two life and become weak if they are reduced to zero) but two locations allow players to make challenges and one location allows the player to play an event during the Event Phase.
The Spell Phase allows a player to play a spell from their hand. This phase is generally rushed through as there are only a few spells that actually are played during it, most spells are used during challenges.
During the Challenge Phase players can either Challenge the current Guardian (if they are at the tower) or another dancer (if they are at the Arena). The Guardians each give a treasure if defeated while the winner of a challenge against another player may draw a spell and then use a spell as a Victory Point (by simply placing it in front of them).
The final Phase is the Event Phase. It allows the player at the Church to choose and play one event from those remaining.
The game ends when all the Guardians are defeated, all the events have been played or when the spell deck is shuffled a number of times equal to the number of players.
What I Like About Masquerade
Masquerade comes from Z-Man Games and is fairly inexpensive. These are the two main reasons I picked it up. Also, it has a very interesting look having been brought here from China the feel of the game is different from many others of its type. Most cheap card games that I see have very little strategy to them and really heavily on their theme to remain interesting, but Masquerade has a good deal more going on within it.
Each player has a “mask” at the beginning of the game, this mask can either be used to almost automatically win a challenge or can be bonus Victory Points at the end of the game if that player achieves a secret goal. I like things like this, secrets that keep the game interesting. I also like the artwork, even though it is really weird.
What I Don’t Like About Masquerade
Unfortunately there is more to dislike about Masquerade than there is to like. The game does not flow very well and constantly feels clunky. The Spell Phase is a good example of this in that most of the time players will have nothing to do during it and yet to be fair you should go from player to player, in turn order which is constantly changing, and ask them if they wish to play something. Other aspects of the game play like this as well, with players waiting and nothing much really happening.
While the game has a lot going on within it, it almost feels like it has too much going on or at least more than it can handle. I have a theory that games can only be as complicated as they are interesting (it’s not a very complicated theory…) and this game simply feels too complicated for how interesting it is. For players that find interest in complication, this might be a good thing but most players I have played this with simply did not care enough to put in the thought that the game seemed to be demanding.
Masquerade is unfortunately an example of an Avoid It. I love Z-Man Games and I would love to say better of this game but the truth is it just isn’t very much fun. If you like games that are very complicated with a bit too much going on (especially for a game that only has 72 cards) than perhaps this game becomes a Try It (which is the rating I would like to give it but I just can’t). See more about my rating system here.
I have played a lot of great games recently, unfortunately Masquerade is not one of them. If you have played it I would love to hear your opinions on it, even if you have a contrary opinion.