Updated: Oct 24, 2020
'Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.'
You'll find yourself easily slipping into quotes from dime novels and film noir detective movies as you settle down to play Mantis Falls. It's a two or three player hidden role deduction game set in the dark streets of a 1940s film noir thriller. You'll be moving your meeple along a winding road drawing event cards along the way that will mostly do you and your companion player(s) harm unless you are able to fight off attackers and ward off damage by playing action cards from your hand or reserve cache. Some of the events you each encounter will be 'seen' (played openly to the table) but others will be played 'unseen': only the player drawing the card knows the details of its contents and those other mugs have to rely on the truth or otherwise of what they are told.
You see the twist in Mantis Falls is that each player has a hidden role card. Ostensibly players are all Witnesses to a crime who need to work co-operatively and help each other to reach the end of the winding road. It's possible that all the players will be Witnesses: if you're playing a two-player game and you know you're a Witness then there's a 50% chance that the other player will be a Witness too. Trouble is, there's an equal chance they'll have drawn the hidden card identifying them as an Assassin. If they've drawn a Witness card then they'll be pondering the same odds over your hidden card. If it turns out that there is no Assassin then the players can only win if all of them survive. If one of the players is an Assassin, then the Assassin can only win by killing the Witness(es). Likewise if the Witness(es) are certain that there is an Assassin in the game, they can also win if the Assassin is killed. These win conditions are like the Prisoners' Dilemma with a gun to your head and they'll feed players' paranoia; and of course they fit in perfectly with the game's film noir theme.
If you've ever fancied yourself as Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade out of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel then you'll lap this game up. You'll love the way it drips with theme tho' you'll likely end up cursing if you succumb to a succession of unlucky card draws. By banking cards in a 'conserve energy' cache you can help to take out mutual insurance against mishap but a run of harsh event cards can still polish players off with them really left at the mercy of lady luck. Frustrating, but then 'common sense is the guy who tells you that you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he had been on the team. But he never is. He's high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a grey suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it's always someone else's money he's adding up.'
Mantis Falls is designed by Adrian Kerrihard, with art by Juli Bierwirth. The game is published by Distant Rabbit, who are bringing it to Kickstarter, so what we've been playing and are showing off here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype. The Kickstarter is live now. Click here to check it out.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)