Masque of the Red Death – Review
Every time I’ve brought Masque of the Red Death out to a new group, I get the same reaction: “What’s going on?”, followed by “I think I might be getting it now… But I don’t really think so” about halfway through the game. Up until the last part of the game, everyone is confused, and yet somehow as soon as we finish playing every single person seems to agree that it was a lot of fun and they’ve had a great time. Masque of the Red Death is better enjoyed the second time around, but that’s not to say that learning it with the new groups wasn’t fun.
Inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, Masque of the Red Death puts you and three to six other players in the setting of that story. Helpfully for anyone (like myself) who is unfamiliar with this story, the entirety of the short story is included in the rulebook. The art style seamlessly combines the image of the eerie and gloomy art connected to Edgar Allan Poe’s stories with the look of a well designed board game. This is one of the nicest looking board games I’ve ever played without a doubt.
The Winner of the Game..
is the player who has gained the most popularity by the end of the game, and has also not died. The trickiest part about it is finding enough relevant knowledge to survive, while also spending your time to become popular. It requires a perfect balance of this. Usually when I play Masque I end up just trying to survive, not worrying about popularity, which I originally thought would be the most important thing, but it’s resulted in me being second place every single time.
Since Masque is a game where everyone has to keep all their information private, the first game with a new group can end up being very confusing for most of the players. It really requires a group of people who are into the idea of learning a new game. Besides this minor issue (that most games have so it shouldn’t be given all that much consideration for an experienced group) there are one or two more serious issues. The first problem being that the game uses cards with actions on them that each player has a hand of 10 of, but the rules of what the cards do are not actually printed on the cards. What we’ve ended up doing is passing around the rulebook open to the page with the card descriptions on it for the newer players. It can be quite an inconvenience especially when new people are trying to learn the game for the first time. My other issue with the game is not so much a problem, and more of a design choice that I don’t agree with. The board comes with a big cardboard piece that folds into a clock to keep track of turns. Every time we’ve played the game it’s been in the way more often than not, it’s not a huge issue it just seems very unnecessary as a piece. However outside of these couple complaints I love everything about the game.
The Best Way to Describe It
I think the best way to quickly describe Masque of the Red Death is to call it something like “Reverse Clue” (Most people who ask me what the game is like have played Clue before). You gain private knowledge through cards you draw or look at through the game, like Clue. The way Masque differs is that you use this knowledge to learn how to avoid dying come the end of the game. You put all the things you’ve picked up together at the end. With a little bit of luck and some slightly panicked preparation you can watch the end play out, and assuming you’ve done everything right, survive.
by Akira Larkin