Fairy tales are like free idea buckets. It’s not that using them is a bad thing or anything, it’s just that there are so many different ways of looking at or using fairy tales that they’re really attractive things to make media out of. The Grimm Masquerade takes these fairy tales and puts them (where else?) into a masquerade. You and several other players must attend the masquerade in secret and do your best to uncover the identities of the various other guests first.
The game was designed by Tim Eisner, Ben Eisner, and James Hudson and was published by Druid City and Skybound Games. The artwork was provided by the intriguingly named Mr. Cuddington. Believe it or not, that’s the name of an art studio run by husband and wife art team David Forest and Lina Cossette.
As I said before, the main idea of The Grimm Masquerade is to attend a masquerade as one of eight different fairy tale characters. Each player is dealt one character card face-down and must keep that information secret from the other players. Throughout the course of the game, you take turns picking up and passing around different artifacts. One type of artifact is your ‘bane’ artifact, and another is your boon. Collecting three boon artifacts means you win the round, but collect two banes and you have to reveal who your character is.
So that’s the thrust of it. On your turn you pick up two cards, pass one to another person and take the other for yourself. At first, it might seem like a bit of a crapshoot, but there’s a fair amount of tactical thinking needed. When you draw the first of your two cards, you don’t know what the second one is going to be yet, so you have to decide what to do with it on limited information. If you pass out your first card, you are forced to take the second one, meaning you could accidentally get two of your bane artifacts.
Because the artifacts each character has are face-up on the table in The Grimm Masquerade, the game is all about gaining information while trying to give out as little as possible. When you decide who to give one of your drawn artifacts to, you have to be aware that you might be informing others that you don’t need certain cards, giving clues as to who you may or may not be. Then again, you can always do this to bluff people if you think you can get away with it.
There’s also the fact that you are forced to reveal information when you pick up two artifacts that are not your bane. When this happens, you have to put a market in your color on the character portrait whose bane they are. So as you gain more and more doubles, you have to keep revealing more characters that you definitely aren’t, making it harder and harder as you go along to keep your character’s identity a secret.
There’s one final facet to The Grimm Masquerade’s gameplay: actions. Basically, during each round, there are a few different actions you can take by spending any pair of artifacts that you’ve collected. One of these actions is permanent, point the finger, which allows you to guess who you think any given player might secretly be. The other two options change each round and can do various things, such as forcing a player to reveal another character that they’re not or steal another player’s artifacts.
These different actions you can take can really turn the course of the game. If you look like you’re losing, just force someone to whittle down the options or take some of their resources away. In particular, the ability to whittle down options is super overpowered in a 2-player game.
Once you’ve played enough games, you can add some of the more advanced rules and variants to subsequent playthroughs. These variants not only add new elements to the gameplay, such as wagering on who you think is going to win, but also things that help to balance the game for players who aren’t doing so well by giving them special abilities in following rounds. They add some much-needed depth to the game and do help make playthroughs a bit longer lasting.
Overall, The Grimm Masquerade is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a fun, social game that is best played in larger groups. It also comes with a lot of replayability thanks to the added variants as special rules that can be brought in as you get more and more used to the core gameplay. If you have some friends over one evening, it’s certainly worth trying out. If it’s just the two of you playing, you might be better off looking elsewhere.
Designer: Tim Eisner, Ben Eisner, James Hudson
Artist: Lina Cossette, David Forest
Publisher: Cranio Creations, Druid City Games, Lucky Duck Games, Skybound Games