#143 – Bemused

Box

Base price: $22.
4 – 6 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 4

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Bemused was provided by Devious Weasel Games.

So, art is pretty neat, especially as someone who works in a technical career (as many people in my field are a bit more excited about logic than art, which makes me sad). This means that I try to seek out games that are about art or music (like DropMix) or that sort of thing rather than technology or science (if possible, though I’ll still play games that involve the latter quite happily, like Factory Funner). Naturally, this means Bemused caught my eye, so here we go.

In Bemused, you play as one of several muses who have been trying to make their chosen virtuosos into the greatest artist of their day. Unfortunately, they’ve all been pretty successful, so all of their virtuosos are basically the top of their field, but none can be called the greatest artist. As a result, they decide to take the more nefarious route of driving their opponent’s virtuosos toward insanity or death, as one does. Will your virtuoso be the last one standing?

Contents

Setup

So the first thing to do is to pick virtuosos and put them in front of you, colorful-side up. You can either choose the one you want or randomly deal them to each player:

Virtuosos

Once you’ve done that, you should prep the Doubts deck (Well of Doubt) by only shuffling together doubts for those virtuosos:

Doubt Cards

Deal each player 4, face-down. That plus one of the Dread cards will form their starting hand:

Dread Cards

Put the Dread cards face-up in the center in a pile (the Well of Dread). Additionally, give each player a Gemina, face-down. The player may look at it but should keep it hidden. This represents a virtuoso that a player has some kind of affinity / feeling toward:

Geminas

As with the Doubts, only use Geminas for virtuosos that are in play. Finally, deal each player a Secret, face-down. The player may look at it but should keep it hidden.

Secrets

Once you’ve done all that, choose a player to go first and you’re pretty much ready to start!

Setup

Gameplay

A game of Bemused is played as a series of turns in which you try to drive your opponents to despair via doubts or dreads. So cheery! Either way, you will find your character in three states over the course of the game: SaneInsane, or, uh, Fantasma:

States

Left: Sane; Bottom: Insane; Right: Fantasma

That’s a fancy word for dead. Each of those states are caused by having Doubt or Dread cards placed on (or removed from) your Virtuoso, and each determines what actions you may take on your turn. I’ll describe the various turns … in turn. You can also move between states (sometimes), as described below.

Going Insane

That said, if you ever end up with 5 cards on your Virtuoso and 0, 1, or 2 of them (< 3) are Dreads, you go Insane from all the Doubt! Turn your card horizontally and use the Insane Turn to determine your actions, depending on when it happens. Also note that if you go insane, you flip your Gemina. If it’s face-up, it turns face-down. If it’s face-down, that counts as revealing it! However, instead of you taking the Dread, your Gemina takes the Dread! This can trigger a chain reaction, as if your Gemina is already Insane, you replace one of their Doubts with this Dread.

Going Sane

If you, by some Good Fortune, end up having cards removed from your Virtuoso, you can have your sanity restored. Return your Virtuoso to its vertical orientation and play using the Sane Turn rules.

Going … Dead

If you end up with 5 cards on your Virtuoso and 3 or more of them are Dreads, you get overwhelmed and just die. Flip your card over to the greyscale side; you’re now a Fantasma! You do not reveal your Gemina, in this case. You’ll use the Fantasma Turn Guide from now on. You cannot return to Sanity or Insanity once you are a Fantasma; you’re just dead. Also, discard your hand, placing Doubts in the Well of Doubt discard pile and Dreads into the Well of Dread.

Sane Turn

So, if you start your turn and you’re sane, your turn proceeds as follows:

  1. Draw 2 Doubts. You’ll take these from the Well of Doubt. If the Well of Doubt is ever empty, draw from the face-down discard pile and that’s the new Well of Doubt.
  2. Choose an Action. You may take any one of the following actions:
    • Plant Doubt. Play one of your Doubt cards onto any alive and sane virtuoso’s card. The doubt you play must match the virtuoso you’re playing onto.
    • Plant Dread. Play the Dread card in your hand onto any alive and sane virtuoso’s card.
    • Use Ability. You may reveal and discard a doubt card matching your Virtuoso to use the ability on your card. The abilities either let you move Doubts, move Dreads, discard Doubts, discard Dreads, or swap Doubts for Dreads / vice-versa. This may mean that a player ends up with a Doubt on their card that doesn’t match their color, and that’s fine.
    • Instill Dread. This one is much more sinister. This requires you to show two of the same card in your hand, discard both, face-down, and then you may take a Dread card from the Well of Dread and place it on any alive and sane Virtuoso’s card.
  3. (OPTIONAL) Take another Action. If, after your first action, you are still alive and sane, you may take another Action of the four I listed above. If you’re not, well, that’s a bummer. Take a look at the Insane Turn to see what to do next.
  4. Discard. If you are Sane, discard one card from your hand face-down to the discard pile. This means if you do anything that uses extra cards during the turn (Instill Dread / take another action), your hand size will be reduced.

Additionally, at any time during your turn, you may Reveal your Gemina. If you do, you flip it face-up and take a Dread card from the Well of Dread and add it to your Virtuoso. However, you can now use their ability as well as yours. If you are your own Gemina, then you may instead draw three cards, every turn. Not bad!

Insane Turn

So, if you start your turn and you’re insane, your turn proceeds as follows:

  1. Draw 2 Doubts. You’ll take these from the Well of Doubt. If the Well of Doubt is ever empty, draw from the face-down discard pile and that’s the new Well of Doubt.
  2. Shuffle your hand. Just mix up all the cards in your hand and take two cards from that without looking. Those are the two cards you can play, this turn. If you can’t use either, you discard both, face-down.
  3. Choose an Action. You may take any one of the following actions:
    • Plant Doubt. Play one of your Doubt cards onto any alive and sane virtuoso’s card. The doubt you play must match the virtuoso you’re playing onto.
    • Plant Dread. Play the Dread card onto any alive and sane virtuoso’s card.
    • Use Ability. You may reveal and discard a doubt card matching your Virtuoso to use the ability on your card. The abilities either let you move Doubts, move Dreads, discard Doubts, discard Dreads, or swap Doubts for Dreads / vice-versa. This may mean that a player ends up with a Doubt on their card that doesn’t match their color, and that’s fine.
  4. Discard. Discard the card you didn’t use this turn. That’s about it.

Fantasma Turn

So, if you start your turn and you’re a spooky ghost, your turn proceeds as follows:

  1. Spook. You can use your spooky ghost powers to basically instill pure Dread into your opponents. Take a card from the Well of Dread and add it to any player’s card, replacing a Doubt if they’re already insane. If that kills them, well, you won’t be so lonely.

Game End

The game continues until one or fewer players are left sane. This could mean that all players are Insane or Fantasmas, which happens, sometimes. Players will then score:

Sane Players

10 points – (1 x # Doubts) – (2 x # Dreads)

Insane Players

9 points – (1 x # Doubts) – (2 x # Dreads)

Fantasmas

4 Players: 2 + # Fantasmas
5 Players: 1 + # Fantasmas
6 Players: 0 + # Fantasmas

Now, every player reveals their Secret and scores that, as well, if they can. The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

I think the game changes a fair bit based on player count, as there are both more turns that happen in games with more players between your turn and also it’s a bit easier to get players to gang up on another player if there are more of them. This means you need to be really careful in 6-player games, as a player can be killed / driven insane without you ever taking action against them pretty easily, and it’ll require a bit more work in 4-player games. That said, the hands will be a bit more diluted since there are more Doubt cards in play. I don’t have a strong preference, but I probably prefer the 4- or 5-player versions, as I feel like I have a bit more control over the outcome.

Strategy

  • Work towards your Secret. That’s generally how I’ve seen people win, as it differentiates between players at similar point tiers.
  • If you’re a Fantasma, make more. That’s how you win, especially if that works well with your Secret.
  • If you’re not a Fantasma, don’t let the Fantasma make more. You should be leveraging abilities to remove / move Dreads around or encouraging the player who can do so to do so. Ghosts, am I right?
  • Insanity really messes with a good strategy. Don’t be afraid to play a few cards onto another player to really mess their next turn up.
  • Keep an eye on who players target (or don’t!). This can give you some insight into their Secret, and you really want to derail that.
  • Keep an eye on your score, as well. Generally Dread is twice as bad as Doubt, so try to avoid it.
  • Flipping your Gemina isn’t always a terrible idea. It is if flipping it would make you go insane, sure, but if you reveal that you’re your Gemina you can draw three cards, meaning you can either always take a second action consequence-free or you can play more aggressively. Plus, if you have the right ability, you can just move / discard the Dread or turn it into a Doubt, which isn’t too bad, either. I generally think it’s a pretty good early-game idea, especially if you can rid yourself of the effect.

If you have nobody to mess with, mess with the player on your right. It takes the longest for it to be their turn and players might pile on if they’re looking particularly weak.

  • Watch out for chain reactions. Remember, a Virtuoso going insane causes their Gemina to be flipped, and if it’s revealed, then that player also gains a Dread, which might cause them to go insane, and so on. If that happens you might end the game more quickly than you expected, or worse, ensure a Fantasma victory. The Fantasma should be trying to set this up, if possible.
  • Add some flavor. Usually when we play we tell the player we’re trying to instill Doubt in things like “Painter, your use of colors is pedestrian, at best” or something as a joking way to instill doubt. If your group can handle it, it makes the game a bit more fun, in my opinion. If your group does not like that sort of thing, do not do it. That can be really aggravating. Try to be sensitive to your group.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The art is incredible. And diverse! There’s so much going on and I think it’s great. It’d’ve been nice if the Doubt cards had been similarly detailed (the Dread being stark makes sense), but I can hardly complain given how intricate the Virtuosos are. I really like them.
  • The tiles are also a nice thickness. Gives them a good weight, and I appreciate that.
  • Plays pretty quickly, once you understand the flow of the game. That can take a while, but once you’ve got it, it all makes sense, which I appreciate.
  • No player elimination. Even though the Fantasmas have a reduced role, they’re still pretty important to the game itself (and they serve to accelerate the conclusion of the game), which I really like. A game like this could very easily have player elimination, and I’m glad it doesn’t.
  • I like that there are two of each Secret. I think that’s pretty cool, as it means that two players could be trying to do roughly the same thing to different players. It means that it’s also a bit harder to suss out what their secret is, as it might match yours or another player’s. I’d love to see more games with duplicated hidden goals, as that could introduce an interesting bit of contention.

Mehs

  • I always whine about tiny cards. It’s irritated me since Ticket to Ride. Thankfully, there are enough here that shuffling them isn’t too bad, or I’m getting better at shuffling tiny cards. One of those.
  • You can lose control of the game pretty quickly. Given the nature of the game, it’s pretty chaotic, making it hard to play a strategy as much as a series of tactics that are designed to advance your overall goal. This means you can get wrecked pretty quickly without you having the ability to do much to stop it, as, for instance, if you have none of your own Doubt cards in hand you can’t use your ability to mitigate opponents’ attacks. This can frustrate some players.

Cons

  • A bit take-that, for my tastes. Just a personal preference. You have to directly take players down in order to win, which isn’t my personal flair. Thankfully, it’s a short enough game that it doesn’t really matter, that much.
  • You kind of need to pile on to players. That might be upsetting for some, but that’s how you avoid an even distribution of Dreads and Doubts and risk a chain reaction. This is part of the reason I suggest that you be mindful of your group.
  • Highly group-dependent. If you play this with the wrong group it could be a disaster. You gotta have people who are okay with a fair bit of flavor table talk and sass during the game and a game where people will often pile on to other players. If you don’t, the game will fall flat.

Overall: 6.5 / 10

In Progress

Overall, Bemused is pretty fun. I think I’m probably not the target gamer for this game, but there are still reasons why I would enjoy it. For one, as mentioned, the art is incredible, and I’d love to see more games with this art. I also find the structure of the game interesting, as the different states affecting gameplay really make for a varied experience depending on where you are in the game. I’d like to see similar structures applied to games that are a little less take-that (maybe an exploration game), as I feel like that might appeal to me and my game group, but this isn’t a bad game to break out for Halloween (spooky ghosts!) alongside, say, Don’t Mess with Cthulhu. I find five players is often a tough count to seat (though Magic Maze has fixed that, somewhat, for me), so it’s nice to have games that stick to that band. If this sounds up your alley, I’d recommend checking it out! Just keep in mind your group and how they’d react to a game like this. It’s definitely interesting, and I look forward to seeing more games with this type of system in the future!

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