Jim Felli/Devious Weasel Games
Duration 10-30 mins
A couple of months ago a lovely promo came my way in the form of Jim Felli’s Bemused. This is a gorgeous thematic card game involving hand management and bluffing with a strong take that element. And when I say it’s gorgeous I mean the artwork is really is beautifully detailed, with an ethereal feel that resonates throughout the game. Later on I became privy to some information about the intent of the artwork and it’s meaning, but first of all I should really give you an idea of what Bemused is all about.
It’s very much a social game (well all games are social but you know what I mean) it’s 4-6 player, and I’d say it’s essential to play with those whom you’re comfortable with. Or with a certain type of tabletop gamer who will catch the Bemused vibe. Having said that I can almost see it having the potential to be used in a weird psychosocial experiment- with disastrous consequences, like something out of a horror film. It is a weird one. And if you know me by now you’ll know that I’m good with the weird.
You are playing as a muse, who is on a mission to elevate a human virtuoso to toppling heights, and the virtuoso is the character card you will be randomly dealt. There are 6 virtuosos available- the dancer, the painter, the thespian, the singer, the musician and the poet. But since your protégés are pretty damn fabulous already you are now seeking to destroy each other instead, by driving virtuosos insane and/or killing them. You achieve this by planting niggling doubts and seeds of dread in the form of coloured doubt and neutral dread cards. The colour of the doubt cards depict the type of virtuoso it associates with. You begin the game with a hand of five cards, including one dread, plus an unrevealed Gemina card and a secret (more on these later). Whilst you are still sane you draw two doubt cards into your hand and are able to take two actions on your turn if you choose; plant a doubt, instill a dread or use your virtuoso’s/ Gemina’s ability. These are individual abilities that can shift, change or remove doubts and dreads from yourself and each other. A combination of five dreads and doubts will drive a player insane, which limits the amount you can do on a turn, but also reveals the insane player’s Gemina card. An insane virtuoso can regain sanity, but if they receive further dread in the meantime their insanity kills them…but their phantasm can still haunt the remaining players! The Gemina cards represent a virtuoso and once revealed you can use that virtuoso’s ability as well as your own. The secret cards add further depth, as these reveal your hidden feelings toward your Gemina. So maybe you secretly hate your Gemina and wish a horrible death upon them, therefore if the Gemina is a phantasm at the end of the game you will gain further points for their death.
The game end is triggered when there are fewer than two sane virtuosos left. There are some rules around what players can and can’t do depending on the state of your character throughout the game, so please visit the BGG page to have a peek at the rulebook.
So there’s a fair bit to absorb here, and it can take a little while to get your head around it, but trust me- the pay off is worth it. In terms of gameplay it’s actually dead simple and fast paced, but it has that intriguing depth and complexity. It’s clever. And I’m pleased to say- it’s also a lot of fun and highly amusing. But it is what you make it. There’s not much entertainment to be had if you choose to move through the rounds in a monotonous fashion, simply slapping dreads and doubts on other players. But if you can get down with some ‘shameless table talk’ as the rulebook encourages, and start to weave a narrative around each other’s characters, that is when the real soul is breathed into the game. The way that the rules shift with your virtuosos change of state is also interesting. As well as some clever hand management it’s the dual use of the cards, the choices you make with them and the virtuoso’s secrets that give the game it’s bite. No one can really tell who’s playing whom until it’s perhaps too late. This is where the good stuff begins- the bluffing, scheming and contemplation as to what the hell is going on.
I appreciate the thematic quality of Bemused, and how it leaves you questioning each other’s motives during the game and in the aftermath. It definitely has that ‘fancy one more quick game?’ appeal. I also think in the case of Bemused, it’s the more the merrier; we had fun with 4 players but I imagine it will be even better with 4 plus.
As previously mentioned the stunning artwork is a wonderful addition, it’s diverse, and laced with intentional nuances, which the designer let me in on. Despite wanting to share those with you I’m instead going to leave it here and ask you to look closer…what do you see?? This I think is where the game is a winner for me- physically there’s not a huge amount to it, but it’s chock full of stuff and it’s your job to figure it all out. And I love that about small box games.
If this sounds like your weirdly wonderful cup of tea, or vicious and thematic card games are your penchant you can pay the BGG page a visit here. It’s available for pre-order on the Devious Weasel website, or you can pick up a copy at Gen Con in August. Until then I’m going to be concocting ‘Bemused- the social experiment gone wrong’ movie script…Thanks for reading!