Duration: 45 min.
You’ve done it now… you all went into the library, knowing that bad things have happened in there even though it has been told there is a magical book known as The Grimore inside. Well… you found it, but now you’ve angered the great sorcerer and he will stop at nothing to get it back. The library is a huge maze now, but you do have one trick up your sleeve: The Grimore knows the way out, but unfortunately it cannot talk, but must use the pages inside to show you clues. However… the cunning wizard also has a trick… he’s managed to put one of you under a spell, and now they work for him and are trying to sabotage your escape…
Obscurio is a co-operative role driven storytelling game. It’s mechanics are similar to Dixit and Mysterium… and it’s actually more like Mysterium, in where a player takes the role of The Grimore and must help the other players, but cannot communicate with words and must use pictures instead. However, there is also a traitor in the midst of the players, and how the Grimore communicates is used via new methods to this genre… but is that enough to make Obscurio stand out, or will it just fade into obscurity? (see what I did there?) Read on and find out.
What’s in the box?
Inside the box there is a foldable card holder with a time track on he back, a game board, a desk board with 2 butterfly markers, 7 loyalty card (6 loyal and 1 traitor), 7 character cards and matching tokens, 14 traps with a cloth bag for them, 30 cohesion tokens, 1 60 second hourglass, a more difficult room tile, 4 special round plastic sheets and 84 unique illusion cards.
Libellud has always had amazing artwork and components… but this really takes it up a step. Starting with the cards, they’re super thick and I like how they’re round and it works really well for the game. The character tokens are awesome, they actually remind me of Splendor and are nice and heavy like proper poker chips, and everything else is solid quality. Now… the best part of this game is The Grimore book… not only is it nice and heavy (and magnetic… more on why later), but it’s a standout component unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game yet and it’s just amazing and utterly functional. It might be one of my favourite game components ever, and you’ll know why as you continue reading. Components are just awesome and there are no complaints about quality here.
The art is also amazing, especially the cards and character art, just like Dixit and Mysterium are. If there is anything that can be a knock, its that the board and time track are kind of dark and drab… especially the time track spots for the hourglass. It does fit the theme and works, but it could have made some things stand out more. That being said… it doesn’t actually affect the game at all and still looks good, and the art is otherwise near flawless and up there with the best of them.
So how do you play?
To begin, choose one player who will be The Grimore: That player takes the book, the deck of cards, the bag with the traps, the folder and the hourglass token. Then place the board out for all the players to see, and each player gets a character card and the matching token. Then the players all get handed out a loyalty card, which they keep secret: one of them is a traitor. Then, as a group, you choose the difficulty level and add the appropriate number of cohesion tokens to the board. The Grimore will shuffle the deck of cards, then secretly open up the binder and add one to each of the 8 slots. Now let’s get ready to play the game!
Before we start, let’s define the roles in the game a little:
- The Grimore cannot talk at all, and will know who the traitor is. They can only communicate by clues via the book
- The Loyal Wizards try to decipher the clues given by The Grimore to pick the correct room, and escape the library
- The Traitor is trying to misdirect the Wizards, all while keeping their identity hidden. They are essentially playing against everyone else.
So now that we know who’s doing what, let’s explain a typical round:
- The Grimore will draw at least one trap token per round, and possibly more depending on how the wizards did the previous round.
- The Grimore will then set up the riddle: They will draw an exit card, and keep it secret from everyone. Then they will draw 2 other cards and place them in the book, and then use the butterfly tokens to point at clues that will help the wizards find the exit card. The clues may be placed one one or both cards, or one at the bottom below the page of the book indicating the whole page is a clue. Then the Wizards can freely discuss about the clues.
- Once that is done, it’s the Traitors turn to do his work. The Grimore will instruct everyone to close their eyes, and once that is done, they instruct the Traitor opens their eyes. It’s important that the traitor will do nothing to reveal themselves to the others, or the Grimore do anything to reveal the Traitor. Then the Grimore will open the card holder, and the Traitor may choose 0, 1 or 2 cards from the holder that they believe will throw the Wizards off from finding the exit card: they will use fingers to indicate the number they wish to choose. Once they’ve done that, the traitor will add the cards on top of the exit card and the Traitor will close their eyes, and the Wizard will instruct everyone to open their eyes.
- The next step is for the Grimore to add enough cards to the pile with the exit card and the traitors cards so that there are 6 cards in total. Then the Grimore gives the cards to the wizards, and they begin to place them face up on the door markers on the board. As soon as the first one is placed, the Grimore begins the timer, and as soon as the timer runs out the Grimore will flip it over to the next slot. The job of the wizards is to find the exit card, and they can talk freely and place their character token on the door they choose. The wizards don’t all have to go in the same room, they can spread out, but you will lose a cohesion token for every wrong choice. When the wizards are happy with their decisions, they will tell the Grimore and the timer will be stopped. Alternatively, if the timer runs out on the last space, the Grimore will stop the round and any unplaced characters are considered to be at the wrong door.
So what are the cohesion tokens for? Well… if they ever run out, that means that the wizards and the Grimore are trapped in the library forever, and the traitor has defeated the team! If the wizards and Grimore guess 6 rooms correctly, and there is at least one cohesion token left… everyone wins except the traitor!
So what’s that line on the cohesion token board… well, when you are forced to take a token from there, you will enter what is know as the accusation phase. The timer will flip, and all the wizards will talk amongst themselves and try to find out who the traitor is. After the 1 minute from the timer is up, the wizards will count 1, 2, 3, and then point at who they believe the traitor is. The wizard with the most votes is the accused, and if that player was the traitor, then they will remove their playing piece from the board: they cannot vote during phase 4 anymore, but can still add cards during step 3. If the accused was not the traitor but a wizard, play will continue as normal, but you will lose 2 cohesion tokes for each wrong accusation (ties count as accusations, so you may have multiple accused. You may even accuse a wizard and the traitor, which means the traitor is revealed but you still lose 2 tokens.
Keep playing until either the wizards and Grimore has won, or the traitor wins!
If you are playing with 2 or 3 players, there are some different rules, the most notable being that there is no traitor. Also, in a 2 player game one person is the Grimore and the other player will take the role of 2 wizards, meaning they can vote on multiple rooms.
Is it any good?
Libellud is the master game producer of these party-type storytelling games. The gave us Dixit, a Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) winner, and then brought over Mysterium for us to enjoy. Now they bring Obscurio, which I’ve already said is very close to Mysterium… but is it better? Is it necessary? The answer to both questions is… yes. Yes it is.
I’ll start with the fact that Obscurio is very easy to teach. The mechanics just make sense and blend in very well with the theme, which is huge because I feel it all blends well together. It has a very nice flow, and there’s still a little downtime to when the Grimore places the butterfly tokens some rounds, but it doesn’t feel to bad. And speaking of the butterfly tokens…
The book and the butterfly tokens are some of the best game components I’ve ever seen. Firstly… they’re both magnetic, and when you place the cards in the book and then place the tokens over them, there is no movement when you pass it around. No worry about holding it still, you can turn it upside down and it stays in place. It’s so well done… I was really excited when I first saw it, and when I first played it I was even more excited… and I still am. I love playing it and when I’m the Grimore, I just love making the book and passing it around because it’s just that cool.
I already stated how great the rest of the components are too. If there’s one thing that was hard, it was getting the cards into the folder slots, they are very tight and they seem to be getting looser, but they are thin plastic and may become too loose after many plays. Hopefully that won’t happen, but it does work and is functional. Again tho… not a major issue, and everything else is top notch.
Back to the gameplay. What Obscurio has over other games of this genre is the traitor. Now I have mixed feelings on traitor games, some implement it well, while some just feel like it’s gimmicky. Luckily, Obscurio implements it very well, and may be one of my favourite traitor mechanics. The traitor is a lot of fun and when you find the right card in the binder you’re just like “yes” and it’s not smiling and giving yourself away when the wizards pick your card and you watch them get closer to their trapped eternity… yes it’s bad, but it’s also oh so good!
Being the Grimore is great too, and unlike say… Mysterium, you feel like you have more options with the butterfly token instead of just handing a card to each player. It’s nice to just pinpoint to certain areas on cards instead of just giving the whole card as a clue (although you can still do that). It’s a fun role, and its hard not to talk but it doesn’t feel as stressful as some games do.
I also like that you can increase the difficulty by removing cohesion tokens, and there’s those pesky traps! You do draw at least one each round, and it’s really hard not to go over the time studying all the images on the cards, at the risk of getting more traps. Most of them are fair and can make the game more intriguing: the best I feel are the concealed door, where one card won’t be revealed and may even be the correct exit card, and those pesky ones where you cover the cards in the book with ether the red sheets or the printed mist sheet… and make it even harder (am I the traitor? Im getting too excited about this!). The only one that isn’t fair is that draw 2 more traps, cause it can really make it unfair. But the trap mechanic is well done and adds more tension to a already engaging game!
If Obscurio has one flaw… its the 2-3 player variant. Without the traitor, this game is still good… but it lacks that tension and really lacks the interactivity. It’s not the type of game meant to be played at that low player count, and really shines with 4 or more players (it plays up to 8 people! The more players, the easier it feels the traitor can hide in their ranks. But it really should be a 4-8 player game… I know it’s hard to put that on the box because it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but that’s where this game is meant to be played. And it does that perfectly!
So if you have Mysterium… is it worth getting Obscurio? Well, let’s give an example. I have both San Juan and Race for the Galaxy, and they are very similar card games… I play San Juan a lot more, it’s simpler and easier to teach, but I also love Race for the Galaxy and even though its more advanced with some really hard to learn mechanics and combos, I still love it. So I own both of those, and feel the same about Mysterium and Obscurio.
So at the end of the day, I really do feel that Obscurio really is amazing. It’s one of the best, if not the best storytelling game out there, and it’s simple to teach with solid mechanics. Libellud has taken it’s tried and true mechanics, and added some well needed and improved components and tricks to it, and might have one of the best new games of 2019 on their hands. Obscurio is a absolute blast and if I did my list of Top 5 Games to play on Halloween today it would be on there. I highly recommend Obscurio, and if you’re a fan of working together with friends and just a hint of distrust… you won’t be disappointed. Now grab a copy and escape the library… or maybe just do enough to keep your friends in there forever!
- Amazing artwork, components… top notch production all around!
- Really great implementation of the genre, possibly the best.
- The traitor mechanic really shines well in this game.
- Mechanics really work well into the theme
- Easy to teach and learn, but the gameplay always engages.
- Plays really well with up to 8 players!
- It really shouldn’t be a 2-3 player game at all, it loses the magic that makes the game so great.
*Thank you to Asmodee Canada for providing a copy of Obscurio for this review, and you can find more about them by clicking here. You can also find more about Libellud Games and their lineup by clicking here*