Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...
1) What is it?
Masques is a hand management card game mixed with area influence and card drafting. But mostly it is a mean game.
In Masques players are vying to get the most influence with the guilds - either 1 influence with each of the 5 guilds, or 4 of influence with one of them.
Masques offers a good amount of decisions, in both phases (drafting and placing cards), while also being easy to teach and to play (to a point - it can be hard to decide what to play where).
It is very portable, being just a small set of cards and some tokens - but, the set up requires a good amount of room, because of the way the cards are placed. The production value, of the FF edition, is merely OK: there is nothing to be excited about in the art, quality or graphic design, and nothing is objectively bad also.
2) How do you play?
Once the set up is done (rooms are placed such as money and guilds are intercalated; with a hallway space - for the family and Guest cards - between each of them), the round starts with a draft of cards. All the family cards are put together, alongside the neutral family cards. The draft is a usual one: pick one card, pass the others, until everyone is back to the same amount of cards they start with. Family cards have values ranging from 2 to 4.
Then comes the placing cards phase. Cards are placed in the vacant places of the "ball room" and influence both rooms it touches (usually a card with a guild token and other with money - a ducat). Instead of playing a card from hand, the player can pay to use a Guest instead - the Guest also goes into a vacant corridor, and then its ability triggers. Guest can do several things: move family cards, change tokens, turn down family cards, call for specific cards, and so on. They have costs, which are paid in ducats - and the sooner they are used, cheaper it is to use.
Once all the hallways are occupied, comes the resolution: tokens (either guild influence or ducats) are given to the family (player) that has the higher number around that token, starting with the room (card) that has the door symbol and going clockwise. Ducats are used, in later rounds, to pay to use Guests. Guild influence is what wins the game: either by having 1 in each guild, or by having 4 in a single guild - the player that first do this, wins the game! If none do, a new round begins.
3) Which are the decisions made during play?
On the draft: which card to keep;
On the placement: which card to put and in which place. This is the key decision, both in trying to get influence or money, and also to block others from getting what they want. This decision also connects with paying or not to use a Guest. There is a lot of back and forth going on around here - and is important, while deciding, the moment of using certain cards: be to wait and see what the others will try, be to snag a hallway before someone else.
Overall, the decisions, as seen, aren't complex on themselves. However, what make them hard to be made, sometimes, is all the connections: timming, board state (what is where and who is where), the needs of everyone (including yourself), the cards you are holding, what Guests the others and you can hire. This makes the possibilities around a decision plentiful, and the best choice difficult to see.
4) What are the good things in the game?
- Small box, being highly portable;
- Language independent;
- Easy to teach;
- Has a fine quantity of decision points;
- High level of interaction between players, even with some very light cooperation.
5) Which are the bad news?
- Takes a fine chunk of table space (it is small to carry around, but it will be hard to be played in small tables);
- Has bash the leader and take that (with the Guest cards);
- Takes more time to finish than it should;
- Random elements (in the distribution of cards and preparation of the rooms) can make luck an important factor in deciding the outcome.
6) How do you feel while playing?
Masques is a complicated game to know what I should feel about it, both when playing and afterwards. In one hand is has good mechanics: the draft is a good idea, the positioning of cards is clever and gives many relevant decisions and some tension, the Guest cards allow for many possibilities and, when properly used, can cause big twists, and the two ways for the game to end (having 1 of each influnce or 4 in one) makes basically all influence gained be of use, be for now or by the accumulation. Great.
On the other hand, though, it has plenty of scuffle. Is a constant bickering of fingers on the eyes of others, taking the candy of the child, kicking the blind man on the ground. This turns the game, besides a strife match, into a drag, going on for more than it should: this level of cretinism can work and be supported by around 30, maybe 45 minutes - but not 60 to 90. This end up being the death of Masques: few have the interest in returning to it, knowing what will come and for how long. Sure, it is the nature of the beast: the designers had a big success into making the game into a huge back and forth, a battle in a ball; but failed in make it end quickly enough.
Image credit: W Eric Martin
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Your criticism sums up my feelings about this game perfectly. Not recommended.