Hidden role deduction games often demand a largish group of players so it's especially pleasing to discover a deduction game that caters for 2-5 players. It's not quite at its best with just two (played with modified rules) but it is still playable, and the game's strong fairy tale theme helps to make Grimm Masquerade instantly accessible as a family game.
In Grimm Masquerade, players each take one of the eight fairy tale character role cards and they place it face down so that other players can't see it. The character cards carry a portrait of the character - with great art by Lina Cossette and David Forest - plus an illustration of the artifact that's considered to be that character's 'boon' and the artifact that's their 'bane'. You don't need to worry about remembering the information on your card because players all have sight of a board that shows all eight characters with their respective boons and banes.
The game is played using a deck of 48 artifact cards: six of each artifact. After an initial round of open card drafting, players' turns involve them drawing a card and allocating it either to their own or another player's tableau. They then draw a second card. If the first card was given to another player then the second card must go into your own tableau, and vice versa. If you can get three copies of your boon artifact into your tableau then you win the round. Likewise, you win if you are the last player to have their hidden role exposed. If at any time a player has two bane artifacts in their tableau, they must reveal their identity. They cannot now win the round but they are not eliminated from the game. They continue to play, and they can still score in other ways - for example, by correctly unmasking another player.
Discarding two matching artifacts from your tableau lets you take one of the special actions displayed. These mostly vary between rounds but the 'point the finger' action to call out another player's hidden role is an always-available option. If your guess or deduction is correct, you win two 'roses' (victory points): one for making a correct guess and one for unmasking a player - no matter that these both amount to exactly the same thing. The other special actions include being able to peek at one or more of the unused character cards or requiring other players to mark on the board a character that they are not...
With Grimm Masquerade, Tim Eisner, Ben Eisner and James Hudson have designed a highly entertaining game that plays quickly (even with five players you can expect to complete three rounds in around 30 minutes). The game offers scope for bluffing: you might, for example, deliberately put a bane artifact in your tableau in order to misdirect other players, tho' that's a tactic that carries a serious push-your-luck risk... The designers have also included optional extras that you can incorporate into the game. These are described in the rules as 'advanced mode variants' but they don't by any means overcomplicate the game and we'd recommend including them from the outset. The 'treasures' gives every player a single-use treasure token that can be used to make a pair with any artifact card. This gives immediate access to the special actions, as well as providing a means by which a player can discard one of their bane cards. Meanwhile, the Special Abilities cards offer a catch-up mechanism for the second and third rounds to aid the player trailing with the fewest victory points.
You can also play using 'wager' cards. Don't worry, this doesn't turn Grimm Masquerade into a high-stakes gambling game, it's an opportunity for an unmasked player to predict who they think will win the round. If their prediction is correct, they get the same victory point benefit as the round winner. You can also add the wager option to the available special actions: that way you can even back yourself to win - offering the prospect of doubling the reward for victory.
Skybound and Druid City have done a good job with the components of this game. Our one gripe is that the tarot-size character cards are printed with a dark edge so could be prone to nicks or marks that could make them identifiable. Rather than risk spoiling the game with accidentally marked cards, we'd recommend sleeving these cards.