Mascarade is one of the many tabletop games that Danny and Caylie came back with after their trip to Gen Con, and it was my clear favorite of the group that we played – which is unsurprising given its similarity to the psychological aspects of poker.
The game creator blogged about it, describing it as taking the psychological and face-to-face aspects of poker and putting it into a purer “gaming” context, stating that ever since Moneymaker won the world series of poker and made poker mainstream that the game became too technical and non-adventurous for his taste. The effectiveness in which he captures that aspect in Mascarade is striking – the game is all about making deductions based on incomplete information, and bluffing or calling out the bluff based on misinformation, reading people, and imperfect memory.
The opening of the game requires players to reveal their single dealt card before turning it over face down to give them an opportunity to memorize where things are – despite the fact that it quickly changes and not in a way that is easily memorized. Because we only played the game twice, i felt pretty novice at the memory aspect of the game – the second time i had to resort to some basic Memory Palace techniques that i have not at all trained in but know about and have done some basic versions of from watching too many episodes of the Mentalist, and that broke down fairly quickly after people started passing cards – i stopped being able to hold all of it in my head and started focusing on one or two potential cards at a time.
I think it’s the sort of thing i could get better at just through repetition – to be able to glance at any card and know what it is and what it does as opposed to having to look at a cheat sheet – but even so, the game can be played with over 10 people, and i think there’s a breaking point somewhere in there – with so much going on, the ability to keep track of the cards on top of being able to read people and deduce the likelihood of them doing this or that action would require some actual Effort at memory techniques that i haven’t done since i was a kid.
And that’s what makes the game stick out to me – if you put strategy games such as Chess or Catan or Dominion on one end of the spectrum in that the most successful players have a solid understanding of seeing the big picture based on facts that are laid out very clearly, and if you put poker in the middle of that spectrum in that the most successful players have a well-balanced understanding of the obvious facts (one more card could give me a flush) and non-obvious facts (there’s a 36% chance of that happening by the river and the immediate odds of my opponent’s bet aren’t favorable, but the implied odds are…) with the psychology of the players (…based on my read that if i hit my flush there’s a high likelihood that he’ll pay me off), Mascarade leans towards the other end of the spectrum in a place that very few other games i’ve played lives, and that makes it pretty fantastic.
I kind of want someone to create a Google+ Video hangout version of the game. I wish i had the programming chops for it. It’s totally something i would do if i did.
Photo credit to boardgamegeek.