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Quick -- name a party game that doesn't rely on partners, word play, or trivia that is actually fun to play. Charades, you say? Well, take the physical concept of Charades, add some structure with cards and a clever scoring system and you have Maskenball: a fun party game that should be on everyone's game shelf.
The card deck consists of twelve nicely drawn characters at a masked ball. There are five copies of each character, and you use as many characters as there are players in the game. One copy of each is separated, shuffled, and passed out secretly. The remaining are placed face-up in individual stacks of four in the center of the table. The party begins on the word ``go'', when everyone looks at their character.
What distinguishes each character at this ball is the physical positioning of their hand on or near their face. One may have their index finger over their mouth, another in a ``salute'' type pose, another with two fingers touching their cheek. Your job is to identify as many of the guests as possible while trying to have yourself recognized exactly twice. This all happens at once, and the resulting game play allows for great bluffing, lots of laughing, and scrambles for the cards in the center as you recognize everyone else. When someone has recognized three other people, they can call ``stop'' at any time and the round ends.
You gain points in two ways: having yourself recognized correctly by only one or two people, and correctly recognizing other players. You lose points in three ways: incorrectly recognizing someone else, being left with a card because you forgot why you drew it, or having your bluff recognized the same by more than two people. Let's walk through an example round to clarify this.
At ``go'', I look at my card and see a character with their right hand loosely around their neck. I then divide my time between showing this motion to hopefully only two people (elbow the person to my right, rapid positioning of my hand to my throat, back to looking around... and watching everyone else. Ha! I see Brian with two fingers on his cheek looking at Maria! Find the card matching this motion quick and put it front of me! (But remember it's for Brian.) Now, let's try to give Denis some negative points since he is in the lead. Denis looks over, I put my hand across my forehead, and Denis bites. He takes that card, and I think ``great, minus one for him!'' Back to the table, whom else can I see? Is that Ray with his fingers over his lips? Only one of those left, better snatch it. Only one of my cards taken? I need to reveal myself to someone else. Damn! Barb just called ``stop'', and the round is over.
Since Barb called stop, she begins the scoring. She asks, ``who am I?'' and everyone who thinks they recognized Barb puts the card they took for her face down. These are revealed simultaneously, and scoring is as follows: everyone who correctly guessed Barb's character gets one point. Barb gets one point for everyone who recognized her only up to two; more than two, she gets zero. Anyone who guessed Barb wrong gets minus one point, unless two people guessed her wrong the same way (her bluff was too wide). In this case, Barb scores minus one for everyone who saw this bluff, but the people who fell for the bluff get nothing. Once Barb's character is scored, everyone moves around and does the same thing. At the end of the scoring, if you have any cards in your hand that weren't used (because you forgot why you took them), you score minus one for each. The first player to 10 wins the game.
During the round, play is frantic. You have to quickly and constantly assess the number of people you've revealed to, try to determine if the signals you're given are real or bluffs, and match the motions accurately with the cards on the table. It is very easy to take a card and then forget during the scoring who it was that showed you that motion. If you reveal yourself too obviously, you are giving everyone else points but gaining none for yourself. If you try to never show yourself and only guess other's characters, there will not likely be enough activity to keep things moving. Great fun, fast play, and everyone will probably want to try it again.
The game works very well with the suggested numbers, but becomes quite difficult with 10 or 12. There are of course more people to see, but also it is harder to be recognized by only two. It is more difficult to bluff for the same reason. At the risk of sounding sexist, every time we've played the women always do better than the men. We chalk this up to women being more observant in general, but you may have your own theory.
Adlung's ``Verrater'' has been called a board game that fits in your pocket. Maskenball is the party game cousin, and provides a fresh, exciting, and enjoyable play in a card deck sized packet. Good overall value.