Saturday Morning Gaming: A Board Game For When You’ve Graduated From Clue
I got an “attaboy” at work in the form of “Dude, Amazon is having a sale on boardgames this week. Pick one and I’ll get it for you as thanks for all your hard work.”
I puffed up and went to Amazon and picked out “Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death“.
I’m pleased to say that I played it… and, despite some problems (which I’ll get to), it’s a pretty good board game for helping transition people from games like Monopoly and Risk and Clue to the really crazy stuff like Eclipse or Dungeon Lords. If you’re already playing games like Eclipse or Dungeon Lords… well, you’re likely to be disappointed. If, however, you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about when I say “Eclipse or Dungeon Lords”?
Lean in. This might just be a good board game for you. (Well, if you’ve played Clue.)
The idea behind Masque of the Red Death is simple. For the first half of the game, you’re involved in an arms race to gain Popularity Points (with a minor interest in information of what happens after midnight). In the second half of the game, you’re involved in a mad scramble to not be killed by the Red Death and, if you can make it to 1AM, you’ll win the opportunity to be in a Popularity Contest where the most popular will win. (But you have to make it to 1AM, first.)
The mechanics are fairly simple for the first half of the game. Everybody gets a character based on one of the Seven Deadly Sins. You’re at a party hosted by Prince Prospero and you’re all vying for popularity as the party goes on from 8 until Midnight. You can play cards that will do various things to gain popularity or cause opponents to lose popularity or gain information about what happens from Midnight until 1AM. You’ve also got one unique card that will make your gameplay different from everyone else’s. Maybe you’ll get a card that will put spent cards back in your hand (there’s no other mechanic that will do this). Maybe you’ll get a chard that will let you play a card twice in a row before you discard it. Maybe you’ll get a card that will let you play cards on opponents without having to have them be in the same room as you.
Then you try to become more popular. You have cards in your hand that will make you more popular and, on top of that, if, as you wander around the party, the prince happens to visit the room in which you happen to stand? Congratulations! You gain a popularity point!
The other option is to dig for information. If you do that, you’ll get little cards that say either where the Red Death will be at any given time between Midnight and 1AM (in 10 minute increments) or where the Red Death will *NOT* be at any given time between Midnight and 1AM.
So you’ll spend a handful of turns running around, gathering cards with times on them, trying to remember other cards you looked at, cackling at your tablemates as you steal the time cards they hold in their hands, cursing your tablemates for stealing your time cards, and otherwise gaining popularity…
And then, at Midnight, the *REAL* game begins and you’ll have to dodge the Red Death as he visits various rooms every 10 minutes and your one job is to make sure that you are never in the same room as the Red Death. The point is to *NOT* be in the same room as the Red Death and, therefore, to be *IN* the rooms where the Red Death is not. It’s frantic and nerve-wracking.
As a mild criticism, the second half of the game does feel like it’s a Russian Roulette variant. If you know where to *NOT* be between 12:00, 12:10, and 12:20, as well as 12:40 and 12:50… well, it’s somewhat easy to not be in those rooms. But what happens at 12:30? Well… you take your chances, don’t you? Spin the cylinder and hold your breath and flip the card and either exhale in relief or yell a swear word and then give a short rant about how the mechanics of the game rely on luck far too much. Or what if you only know a handful of rooms that it is actually safe to be in and they’re on opposite sides of the map? It’s all well and good to be in the room you know is safe at 12:10 but the 12:20 safe room you know about happens to be ALL THE WAY OVER THERE. Then what? Well, “hope for the best” is pretty much what you got.
As games go, I found it to be a very *INTERESTING* game that, somehow, managed to not be particularly fun. That said, if I were trying to introduce complicated games to people who had only really played vaguely simple games to that point? This would be a great game to use as an example for what New And Different games are capable of achieving. Because, seriously, the popularity contest mechanic of the game plays *YOU*, the player, and you’ll be earnestly stabbing your friends in the back in earnest even as you prepare for the coming game of “RUN AWAY FROM THE RED DEATH”.
I found it to be a very interesting game with very interesting mechanics. That said, I am not sure that it comes even close to making it to regular rotation at game night. But *THAT* said, it’s a game that handles 7 players and if you only have games that handle 4 players or 6 players but you have 7 players in your group? You’ll want to have this one on the shelf for the odd night where every single person happens to show up (it’s a game that works better with more players than with fewer).
So if you’re playing with hard-core gamers who play hard-core games? Skip this one. If you’re trying to get your friends who have only played Clue or Monopoly to branch out and see what might be possible with more complicated games? This one might be worth having on the shelf. (But get it on serious discount. You’ll move on to bigger and better before you know it.)
So… what are you playing?
(Featured image is “Carnaval de Venise 2012” by vasse nicolas,antoine. Used under a creative commons license.)