What's Eric Playing? #131: Maskmen
Alright this has got to be one of the weirdest-themed games I’ve bought. In Maskmen, another one of the Oink Games line, you play as wrestling promoters starting a new wrestling season with total unknowns. You need to figure out how strong they are, and, well, there’s only one way to do that.
Let’s get ready to rumble.
There’s no setup for this game, practically. First, set out the Wrestler Masks:
You’ll use those to indicate how the hierarchy of strength begins to form. Next, shuffle the cards:
And deal them out to each player, depending on your player count:
- 2 – 4 players: 15 cards, each.
- 5 players: 12 cards, each.
- 6 players: 10 cards, each.
Set aside the Champion Belts; you won’t need them until the end of the season:
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
This is such a weird little game. So, here’s how each turn goes. Each turn is considered a round, hosted by one player. The host must play one card of their choice. The next player has three choices:
- If they want to play a wrestler that is not known to be stronger than the current wrestler, they must play X + 1 cards of that wrestler’s color, where X is the number of cards played by the previous player. This establishes that the wrestler they just played is stronger than the one the host played for the rest of the season.
- If they want to play a wrestler that is known to be stronger than the current wrestler, they must play X cards of that wrestler’s color, where X is the number of cards played by the previous player.
- If they cannot or do not want to play a card, they must pass. They cannot play any more cards this round.
There’s one very important rule: you can never play more than three cards.
Play then continues to the next player. Once every player except for one has passed, the round ends. Set out the masks in a ladder to indicate which wrestlers are now known to be stronger than other wrestlers. The player who played the last card last round is now this round’s host.
As a quick example:
I have three players: A, B, and C. A plays one Blue card, B plays two Green cards, and C plays three Purple cards.
As of right now, Blue -> Green -> Purple, where Purple is the strongest. C is now our host, and C plays a Green card. A plays two Orange cards, and B passes, then C passes. We now know two things:
Blue -> Green -> Purple
Green -> Orange
Since both are stronger than Green and Green is stronger than Blue, we know that Orange and Purple are stronger than Blue, but we do not know if Purple is stronger than Orange or vice-versa.
A is now our host. A plays one Grey card. B plays two Blue cards, and then C plays two Orange cards (since we know Orange is stronger than Blue, since Orange is stronger than Green, which is stronger than Blue). A now plays three Purple cards, cementing Purple as stronger than Orange. We now know this:
Grey -> Blue -> Green -> Orange -> Purple
But how strong is Pink? Nobody knows.
Anyways. Hopefully that example helped elucidate how the game is played. Once any player runs out of cards, the round immediately ends and that player wins the Season! If you’re playing with 3 – 6 players:
- The winner gets +2 points;
- The player with the fewest cards in their hand that didn’t win gets +1 point;
- The player with the most cards in hand gets -1 point.
The player who got the -1 is the first host of the next season.
Play until four seasons have been played, and the player with the highest score wins! If you’re playing with two players, just play until one player has won three seasons.
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
I’ve tried both the high and low ends of the player count, here, and if I’m being honest I probably prefer it at lower player counts. It’s a bit more strategic and less random when you can guarantee you’ll get one play per round in the earlier rounds, whereas at higher player counts you’re just hoping that nobody plays the card that will wreck you. Also, passing early is a lot more useful in the two- and three-player games, as passing in a two-player game ends the round immediately. Passing early in a five- or six-player game is just a fool’s errand.
I don’t dislike it at any player count, but it’s a lot more chaotic at higher player counts. Still would happily play, though. That said, I’ve been playing it a preposterous amount at two players (to the point that we’ve started just playing “rounds” rather than full games, a la Spyfall), and I think it’s dynamite at two.
- I generally get rid of the only card that I have 1 of, first, when I’m the first host. It means that that card will almost certainly be weaker than something, unless every player is crafty enough to pass.
- If you’re playing a two-player game, remember that if one player passes the round ends. This is a good way to avoid having to make cards you have a lot of weak to another card.
- Try some weird plays. For instance, if you have Pink and it’s nowhere in your hierarchy, this means that your opponent needs two cards to be able to play anything on top of it. This means that if you’re playing a two-player game and they only have one card left, you can freely play pink and all they can do is pass. This means you might be smart to just pass until they think they’ve won and then slam them.
- Hold on to cards you have a lot of and try to make sure they’re the strongest or second-strongest card. That’s tough to do, so you might have to spend a couple to cement them, but having strong cards is the best.
- Sometimes, you might want to keep two of certain cards, that way you can assert that they’re stronger than a single card another player plays. It’s a good idea to keep two of the “worst” card, for instance, so that if your opponent(s) attempt to play a card that they want to make the highest you can quickly push it below the current bottom, effectively ruining them.
- If you play 1 of the strongest card, everyone else has to pass. Nobody can play anything stronger than it. If all you have left are the strongest cards, then you win the season, effectively. You really want to get to that point.
- Sometimes it’s worth playing three cards. Remember, you want to get rid of all of your cards, so you need to balance when you want to hold on to cards and hope they are revealed to be strongest against needing to get rid of all the cards in your hand.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- I love the theme. It’s sorta a luchador-palooza. What’s not to like?
- The game is super brightly colored. I know I said the same thing about Insider, but man, whoever they’ve got doing box / art design for Oink is really knocking it out of the park. All the games look super interesting and really pop on the shelves.
- Neat concept. You’re essentially building a hierarchy so that you can be the best, but you have to work with other players to build it? It’s tough, but a lot of fun.
- Super portable. I mean, that’s to be expected from Oink Games, but it’s still always nice to see.
- Just a bit brain-burny. Not as much as, say, Nine Tiles, but that’s definitely the hardest of the Oink Games line.
- Hoo boy those score markers are tiny. Don’t let them near children. Also, you’ll probably lose one in no time.
- I generally don’t like multi-round scoring games. I don’t like it in Spyfall or Saboteur or Love Letter / Lost Legacy, but it’s not a strict con here because I find that it’s super difficult to target one player in particular in this, so even if you completely ruin someone it’s usually not a direct attempt to ruin them.
- The strategy is pretty opaque for new players. I usually try to run an example round / example season before we play, but this is definitely one of the more confusing Oinks.
- That, in turn, causes the game to run long (at higher player counts). I’ve watched players agonize their way through this and that kind of makes the game a bit less fun? You can probably logic it out if you spend enough time sitting there figuring out permutations and counting cards … or you can play three games in that same amount of time. I generally prefer the latter, but I’ve played with people that prefer the former. Makes the game … a bit less fun.
OVERALL: 8 / 10
Overall, Maskmen is a lot of fun! I know there are some complaints that the back half of a season can be kind of a slog (since you’re just trying to figure out how to play cards such that you can win), but I find that kind of interesting, personally? I’m also a huge fan of the theme and find it to be an interesting little game, so that kind of redeems the slower parts, in my eyes. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend playing it with your analysis-paralysis-prone game friends, but … there aren’t a ton of games that mitigate that concern well, so I’m not going to penalize Maskmen for it. Anyways, if you’re looking for something a bit off the wall and you like bright colors and flashy wrestlers, check out Maskmen!