The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Masquerade Initial Ponderings

The Killers ask the (insufferably twee, but catchy) question — “Are we human, or are we dancer?

In Masquerade, the answer is “Dancer.” The players are battling for the world, but with a dancing motif. I picked this up at a deep discount after being intrigued by a few reviews. Unlike most of my reviews (or initial thoughts), I’m going to dive into the rules.

Masquerade uses only cards, and for a game with only 72 of them, types abound:

  • Dancers — The players representative in the battle for earth. Each has a combat power (2-4) and a special ability.
  • Order cards — These determine player order (1-5) and each has a special ability (apart from #1)
  • Stage — These are locations dancers go to (in order to take actions). Each location can only have 1 or two dancers, and provides a different action.
  • Mask — These cards track your dancer’s lives (0-2), and provide a secret “Bonus VP” condition at the end of the game if unrevealed. You can reveal them for a huge combat bonus (once).
  • Emblems — A card that provides 1 VP at the end of the game. These are vaguely “Longest Road” in settlers.
  • Spells — Dancers use magic, of course. Spell cards mainly provide combat bonuses, extra lives, a bit of ‘take that,’ and a few special things. Spells have a cost from 0-3, which is how many other spell cards you have to discard. Dancers normally have a hand limit of five spells, and never draw above their limit.
  • Guardian/Treasure — One side shows a beasty that has a combat power and a special ability. If you defeat the Guardian, you flip it over to get a treasure worth 0-2 VPs and (wait for it) a special ability.
  • Events — Each quite different, of course.

A turn:

  1. In (last turns) player order, players choose their order for the rest of the turn. (You can’t keep the same number you had).
  2. Players dispatch their dancers to the stage and resolve the stage and any special abilities that apply (usually orders and dancers).
  3. Players can cast spells
  4. Players issue challenges.
  5. An event may occur.

The core of the game is the challenge. Players may challenge each other (mainly by going to the “Arena”, but through other ways). The attacker can play any spells he likes to boost his power, then the defender. If tied, nothing happens. Otherwise the loser drops one life and the winner draws one spell card and can then convert a spell card to a VP (removing it from the game). Some treasures and emblems move to the winner, which may shift another VP.

A dancer whose life is at 0 may not initiate challenges, and has a base power of zero (instead of whatever is printed on the card).

The tower lets you challenge the guardian. The guardian gets the top card of the spell deck as a strength bonus, so you know approximately what you’ll get. If you beat the guardian, you get a spell card and the treasure. No converting spell to VPs.

So, lets look at the stages (# of dancers):

  • The Arena (2) — +1 Power, and you may challenge another dancer (during the challenge stage).
  • The Chapel (1) — During the event phase, pick an event and resolve it. [The chapel closes the turn after an event].
  • The Circle (2) — If you are above 0 life, lose one and draw two spell cards.
  • The Library (2) — Draw one spell card.
  • The Fountain (2) — Gain Two life, and immunity from being challenged (unless you happen to be in the lead).
  • The Tower (1) — You must challenge a guardian.

That’s pretty much it (barring special abilities and spells). The game ends when either the event or guardian deck runs out, or the spell deck has been reshuffled a number of times equal to the number of players. Score it up.

[Fair warning, these comments are from reading the rules, and running through a game solo. I haven’t played yet.] My first comment on the game: The rules don’t cover but 1/4 of the game. Like Struggle of Empires (among others), you have a ton of options that require knowing a bunch of special abilities. I think the first game will be brutal. Imagine picking your dancer during setup. Big decision, and basically blind. (It may be better for first time players to just get them randomly). Players may also be need to examine the spell deck. Most spells are repeated several times, so it’s useful to know that +1 power spells are free, +2 power costs 1 card, +4 power costs two cards, “Auto-win” costs 3 cards. There are cards to force a discard from an opponent, place a card as VP, steal a specific emblem, gain life, and fish a spell from the discard pile. The events can switch dancers, cause a massive wave of challenges, dole out some spell cards, let a player buy a treasure, etc etc. If you dislike chrome, avoid this.

Once I solo’ed a few turns, the rules solidified in my head, and even some basic ideas. You want to stock up on spells (or life) and then challenge a guardian (or player) or grab the events. I think the player order cards are pretty well done.

  1. Leading — No special power
  2. Rumbling — +1 Combat Power
  3. Guarding — You may not challenge or be challenged (unless in the lead)
  4. Meditating — Draw a spell
  5. Watching — Gain a life.

So going first to grab a key spot comes at a steep price. It’s worth going late to get the extra spell/life. Sometimes you want “Guarding” so you can draw two spells (dropping your life to zero) in safety. I suspect you’ll sometimes see the first two cards swap hands, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Going last lets you take riskier plays (like making a risky arena/tower play, since if you run out of life nobody can follow up with a hit before you run to the fountain next turn).

Another nice point — the game moves inexorably towards completion. There are only 7 guardians (and 6 events). If all the players are holding a hand of spells and have captured a few as VPs, the deck can shuffle fairly quickly, so the game won’t drag.

Still, some worries — Are the dancers balanced? A few seem weak. Are the masks balanced? No idea (but the nice point is that a mask that has no real hope of earning a 2VP bonus will just be used to win a challenge, which is worth a VP. But once you’ve spent it…). But I’m mainly worried about chrome overwhelming new players.

(Hopefully this will help alleviate that). I’ll let you know more after I play.

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Written by taogaming

March 17, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Reviews

5 Responses

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  1. I’m a very big fan of this one, as I am of Fairy Tale. It’s a tight design, and scores are often quite close.

    The only negatives for me are the perils that come with all multiplayer games featuring a healthy amout of targetting.

    The flipside of these negatives are that the worry of balanced characters is washed away by players’ targetting decisions, and balance of the masks is washed since they are often used for plays that net >2 VPS, or, 2 VP plays that hurt an opponent.

    The flipside of the flipside is that endgame battles can often be decisive to victory, and, one player choosing to unmask against you instead of a rival can decide the winner.

    All in all, however, I’m a fan.

    Anthony Rubbo

    March 18, 2009 at 10:09 am

  2. I’m a very big fan of this one, as I am of Fairy Tale. It’s a tight design, and scores are often quite close.

    The only negatives for me are the perils that come with all multiplayer games featuring a healthy amout of targetting.

    The flipside of these negatives are that the worry of balanced characters is washed away by players’ targetting decisions, and balance of the masks is washed since they are often used for plays that net >2 VPS, or, 2 VP plays that hurt an opponent.

    The flipside of the flipside is that endgame battles can often be decisive to victory, and, one player choosing to unmask against you instead of a rival can decide the winner.

    All in all, however, I’m a fan.

    Anthony Rubbo

    March 18, 2009 at 10:09 am

  3. This makes me want to play the game again. 🙂

    As Anthony said, the negative is the multiplayer-targetting, and how you can really get ganged up on if you are weak. If someone attacks you and you cant defend yourself because you dont have defense cards, then everyone knows they can go attack you.

    The starting characters have different combat power levels, which means that if youre playing against multiple opponents who are stronger than you, you can get attacked a lot. Also if you have a higher strength character, you dont need to worry about being attacked much. My recollection is that the War Maiden is best (3 strength, and when you win a combat you draw 1).

    There are many things I really like about the game, such as the treasure/guardian deck, which is ordered instead of random, and all the different card effects, locations, etc. It does require a lot of learning to understand what all the options are and what cards are in the deck.
    But the scores in the end are usually close and often determined by who got ganged up on less (or targetted by certain spells less).

    Alexfrog

    March 18, 2009 at 12:32 pm

  4. I haven’t played Masquerade, I just have a question about its designer Satoshi Nakamura: what’s happened to him? After releasing this and Saga in ’03, he had his big hit with Fairy Tale the next year. This was followed by two small card games in ’05 (Dimension 0 and Phantom Rummy) and since then, nothing. On the strength of Fairy Tale alone, you’d expect to have seen something in the last four years. I wonder what the deal is (and if maybe he’s released things in Japan that haven’t made their way to the Geek).

    Larry Levy

    March 18, 2009 at 3:21 pm

  5. I haven’t played Masquerade, I just have a question about its designer Satoshi Nakamura: what’s happened to him? After releasing this and Saga in ’03, he had his big hit with Fairy Tale the next year. This was followed by two small card games in ’05 (Dimension 0 and Phantom Rummy) and since then, nothing. On the strength of Fairy Tale alone, you’d expect to have seen something in the last four years. I wonder what the deal is (and if maybe he’s released things in Japan that haven’t made their way to the Geek).

    Larry Levy

    March 18, 2009 at 3:21 pm


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