Friday, February 07, 2020

Board Game Review - Obscurio

Obscurio is a semi cooperative board game where players are working together to try and escape the confusing Library of a terrible Sorcerer. One player takes the role of the Grimoire, a mystical book that provides (silent) clues. The other players take on the role of the daring wizards who foolishly ventured into the Library and stole the Grimoire. When playing with 4 or more players, one of the wizard players will have "fallen under the Sorcerer's spell" and will be acting as a traitor trying to keep the group from escaping.


Prior to each round, one or more "traps" are identified to add some twists and make things a little more difficult for the wizards. After the trap is identified, the clue-giver (Grimoire) draws an image card which will be the one CORRECT door for the given round. After studying the image for a few moments, the clue giver then draws two more image cards which will be used as clues and sets them on a special book for all players to see. The clue giver next takes two "butterfly tokens" to point arrows at pieces of the clue images to emphasize those aspects as important.

After the clues are marked, all "wizard" players close their eyes except for the traitor wizard who gets to look in a special folder and select up to two additional image cards to be used as incorrect doors. This is done once the traitor knows the clues that the clue-giver has presented which means they can pick doors most likely to mislead.

Now that the traitor has selected their cards to mislead, an additional set of random cards are drawn to bring the total to 6 door/image cards. The wizards open their eyes and those 6 cards are randomly placed around the game board. A timer is turned and the wizards each need to move their player token to one of the 6 doors.

If at least one wizard selects the correct door, they have successfully escaped this portion of the library. For every wizard who selected an incorrect door, the team's "cohesion" decreases by removing cohesion tokens from the board. If any cohesion tokens remain, the cards and player tokens are reset and we start a new round. Over the course of the game, the wizards must successfully chose six correct doors before running out cohesion tokens. If they do this, they have escaped and won the game. If all cohesion tokens are removed, the wizards have failed to escape and the traitor has won.

Comparisons to Mysterium

When initially reading about this game, I was immediately curious how different it would feel from Mysterium. If you're not familiar with Mysterium, it involves one player acting as a ghost passing clue cards to players to help them solve a mystery. The clue cards consist of vibrant, creative and surreal imagery intended to be both evocative and confusing. The clue giver is required to be silent and the players need to collectively come up with correct answers within a certain amount of time. From a high level, I was worried that this would feel too similar. After playing it a few times I was excited by the differences and pleased to know that each game stands on its own.

In many ways, I feel like Obscurio is accessible to a wider audience. The game mechanics are smooth and a little more streamlined than some of the techniques present in Mysterium. When teaching Mysterium, there were usually a handful of points of confusion for either for clue-giver or the guessers but with Obscurio I found that people grasped the concepts quickly and dove right in with no questions or struggles. That said, having taught both games to new groups (and in different teaching order), I have found that some people prefer one game over the other for widely different reasons.

The two main polarizing aspects I found were the traitor role and the randomization of the image cards. In Mysterium there is no traitor and all of the prospective image choices are present through the entire game. In Obscurio there is a traitor player trying to lead the group astray as well as random image choices added to the pool of options AFTER the clues have been given. Some people loved the variety and randomness this provided while other players preferred to have a fixed set of images.


I enjoy both Mysterium and Obscurio but this post is about Obscurio so I'll leave my final thoughts on that game.

I am thoroughly impressed with the production value from Libellud. They went above and beyond on the production of this game. The box is solid and the insert is well designed and functional. The individual components have a heft that makes them just feel good while also being graphically pleasing and super useful. The player tokens are great but the magnetic book for displaying the clues goes to another level. It is a solid component that fits the theme super well and functionally is a joy to interact with. We did find that sometimes as we passed the book around to get a closer look at some clues that the magnetic tokens slid slightly so my only gripe would be to have a bit stronger magnet but overall that book is a standout component.

The image/clue/door cards are filled with wonderful art that's super fun to look at. Libellud has a history of producing wonderful cards like these, previously in Mysterium and before that in Dixit. The art in Obscurio is vibrant, interesting and well presented to be able to create insight and confusion when trying to convey and interpret clues. My only real complaint with the clue cards is that there aren't as many of them as I'd like. Knowing that each round of play uses at least 8 of the clue cards, we found that after playing the game just a couple of times we had seen all of the cards. As a result, if you play with the same group of players time after time, you might get some "group consensus" about important parts of given cards. This is a minor gripe and one that is sure to be resolved with new cards from expansions.

I personally really loved the ability of the clue giver to help pinpoint important parts of the clue through use of the butterfly tokens. I also loved the various traps, the use of a traitor player and the random cards added to the door pool that added difficulty to the selection process. I felt there was a good balance of randomness and predictable strategy.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Obscurio. Even though the narrative of the theme is a little bit crazy, I felt like the theme was carried well into the game. I had a lot of fun with the random elements of cards selected by the traitor and random cards coming from the deck. As the clue-giver I would try to find elements that felt very unique or evocative. As the traitor I would try to look at the train of thought the clue-giver was using and try to either do the same thing or something opposite. In some ways I felt like the traitor role was the hardest and also the most fun.
This is a good game that can be taught quickly and played quickly and results in a fun experience that players will keep talking about. Once you've played a couple of times and/or if you're in a large group, I would definitely recommend playing at the higher "difficulty" levels (fewer cohesion tokens). Also, don't be afraid to try and vote off that traitor. I'll be keeping an eye out for new expansion cards to add some variety but as it currently stands, I'm sure this game will be getting plenty of play in the future.

4 out of 5 stars

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