The Grimm Masquerade Review

You’ve been invited to The Beast’s 2019-Masquerade-Secret-Santa-Ball-Annual-The-Bachelor-Night! Everyone will be dancing and exchanging gifts, trying to remain anonymous for the longest time whilst striving to collect all their favourite artifacts and avoid their most loathed items. And of course, the currency of the evening is roses, just like all good reality TV shows.

2-5 Players | 45 Minutes |
Designed by Tim Eisner, Ben Eisner and James Hudson

The Grimm Masquerade adds to Druid City Games’ Grimm universe. The previous entry, The Grimm Forest shares some mechanics and ‘spirit’ with this new addition. I felt Forest brought something fresh to my table in that it was a game that allowed and even encouraged mean spirited interaction between players, but left no one feeling spurned at the end. Masquerade feels very similar and it’s another fresh and welcome addition to the world of boardgames. Unlike Forest which was brought life via Kickstarter, Masquerade is brought to us by Skybound Games, who publishes an interesting mix titles in all areas of the media world.

Partway through a round. I’ll probably point the finger at the red player next!

How does it work?

The Grimm Masquerade is a hidden role social deduction game in which players are aiming to unmask opponents while keeping their identity hidden. The game is played over three rounds which have increasing rewards for the round victor. Each round begins with players being secretly allocated a character card to determine their identity for the round.

Each character in The Grimm Masquerade has an item that they like/want, and one that they don’t. In each round, player’s will work to collect 3 artifacts that match their character’s wanted artifact while unmasking (revealing the character card of) other players. The first to collect three of their artifact or the last one left masked will win the round.

A player turn is simple – you draw a card from the artifact deck and decide to either keep it for yourself, or give it to another player. Then you draw a second card, doing the opposite of what you did with the first (e.g. if you kept the first card, you must give the second away). Cards are always laid on the table face-up for everyone to see. Your motivation for giving a card or keeping it may be that the card is good or bad for you, or you want to gain information about other player’s character cards. When you give another player a card, if it results in them having a pair or triple of artifact cards, they must reveal some information about their character. They could be un-masked (if they ended up with two of their character’s dislike), or otherwise they must indicate they are not that character.

All information revealed about a player is recorded on the board in the middle of the table (players place markers to indicate which characters they aren’t). Any time a player is unmasked by another player, the un-masker earns a rose. There are also some additional actions that can be performed in a player’s turn by spending sets of cards. The main action is ‘Point the Finger’, which players can use to guess which character they think an opponent holds. If they are right, they unmask them and earn some roses. If they are wrong, the spurned player gets a rose instead. Other actions allow players to gain more information, or move cards around.

In each round players will gain roses for unmasking others and winning the round. If you are either the last standing or first to collect your three wants, you win the round. After 3 rounds, players tally their roses and see who the Grimmest Masquerader was!

Character cards, showing their desired and un-desired items.

What do I think?

I’ve played The Grimm Masquerade several times now with 4 or 5 players. I haven’t experienced the game with 3 (and 2 players has special rules which I’ve not read). I’ve also played a couple of games with the ‘advanced mode’ additions which I’ll comment on below.

The Good Stuff

  • The Grimm Masquerade is simple while allowing for a large number of situations to arise. You can teach the game in a few minutes but there ends up being a fair few interesting options and decisions available to players.
  • The rulebook is well written and easy to learn from. We picked up the game on our first play with no prior preparation, just 10 minutes leafing through the rulebook.
  • Everything is amazingly presented. The beautiful artwork and theming as well as the graphic design and iconography fits in perfectly with the setting while remaining functional and readable.
  • The ‘keep one card and give one card out’ mechanic is very interesting. If you give your first card away there is a risk the second card could do something bad to you, but if you keep the first card you might miss out on something you need!
  • There is always a cost to gaining information – when you give someone cards to attempt to unmask them or narrow down their character, you are handing them the ability to take an optional action (potentially against you) on their next turn. This creates some really interesting situations to play with.
  • The way the game is structured (three quick rounds with scaling rewards) allows new players to get the hang of the game the first round and then participate fully in later rounds while not being disadvantaged. I really like games like this where the rewards ‘ramp up’ as you play through, because early mistakes or not knowing the full strategy when you begin isn’t penalised.
  • I think it’s cool how you can still somewhat participate in the round after you have been unmasked and even earn points, albeit at a significantly reduced capacity.
  • I really like the ‘historical record’ – the board which keeps track of all information that has been revealed about each player’s character. This stops the game from being a memory game where certain players who are simply better at keeping track of revealed information will be advantaged. At all times everyone has full access to all of the information that has been publicly revealed about each player.
  • I really enjoy the theming surrounding each character having artifacts they want and don’t want. The way these have been arranged so that each artifact is a like of one character and a dislike of another is clever and really adds to the imaginative magic of the game.

The Bad Stuff

  • Simply by luck (or being forgotten) you can quickly end up being in a very strong position in terms of information available about who your character is. Conversely, the opposite can be true. Because what information is revealed about everyone is largely decided by the players, it is also up to the players to try and keep everyone on a level playing field. If someone is heading into the last round of the game markedly ahead, they can be quickly knocked out and blocked from winning the game. Depending on your approach towards games this could be fun, or annoying.
  • In addition to the above point, you can be unmasked very early in a round ‘by accident’ if someone happens to give you the cards your character doesn’t want. Each time this has happened in games I’ve played it’s been a pretty fun moment with lots of laughter, but then the player who was unmasked has a ‘sit out’ the round with severely reduced gameplay available to them. With rounds lasting 10-20 minutes this can be a bit of a drag.
  • The production quality isn’t as great as The Grimm Forest. Everything is perfectly serviceable but the cards for example are a bit thin and bendy and don’t have a linen finish. I can understand this because the game has aimed for a low price point, and it’s a light social deduction game.
  • I was very excited to play the game with the addition of the ‘advanced rules’ because the way they are presented in the rulebook seems to imply (at least to me) that you are playing 2/3 of a game without them and a whole game when you add them in. I was a bit disappointed when we first added them in to find they only make pretty minor changes to the gameplay. While I wouldn’t play without them from now on (even with new players), I don’t find them particularly interesting over and above the core game mechanics (which I do find very interesting). While the wager system is very cool, in practice it’s a lot more difficult to make a successful prediction so it’s more of a guess. The special abilities are fun but I don’t find them particularly remarkable.
A fairly compact game, it can be played on a small table with no problems.

The Grimm Masquerade was a big surprise for me. I was more or less expecting ‘just another hidden role social deduction game’. The fact the game is about deducing the player’s identities is a fresh twist on what is usually a hidden traitor ‘us vs them’ genre, and the mechanics used make the deduction element more logic based than bluffing based which I like a lot. The ability to cater to a small player count while providing a social deduction experience is something unique and I have really enjoyed every game of The Grimm Masquerade I’ve played. If it sounds like something you would enjoy playing you can find it on the Skybound Store or at your local game shop!

For more photos of the components, check out Beth’s unboxing article!

The copy of The Grimm Masquerade used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Skybound Games

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