Bemused takes a darkly ironic look at the arts – players each represent a virtuoso such as the painter, poet, writer and singer, and each places a card showing their virtuoso in front of them on the table. Each player also has a gemina – this is the other virtuoso at the table with whom they have a secret relationship with. Both the gemina and the secret are drawn randomly and kept to yourself.
Play consists of drawing, playing, and discarding the two different types of cards – doubt and dread. Such is the tormented soul of the artiste – and the combative nature of this game – that each player chooses someone on whom to cast doubt or dread and places the card on them: each virtuoso is a certain colour, and the doubt colour of your card must match the victim. You can also play a card of your own colour to use your special ability, which might be to move doubt from one player to another, to turn dread into doubt, or doubt into dread. Or you can just cast dread.
The effect of all this doubt and dread is, needless to say, pretty negative. If a virtuoso receives three dread cards, they are dead (more on being dead in a moment). If they receive a total of five cards, they are insane, and must reveal their gemina (but not the nature of their relationship with them). And the game continues until less than two virtuosos are sane, at which point scores are totaled. Not being mad is a great start, but you can also win whilst mad, especially if your relationship with your gemina is intact (EG, you might want them to be dead – if they are, you get bonus points). And don’t be too downhearted if you’re killed off – you return as a fantasma and can still win whilst being dead, as you get a point for every fellow dead player (there’s a lot of death in Bemused) as well as your potential gemina score.
Two plays in at time of writing, and I am so bemused. The first play I found completely baffling, to the point where it felt utterly random. The second was much more fun, as we knew what was coming and allowed the game to play out on the table a bit more, rather than simply in the cards. It’s a really unusual idea and for the right crowd, an ideal one. But I think it is a bit of a Marmite experience – people will love or hate it. I’m still not sure which camp I’m in!
There are no crushing decisions to be made - beyond trying to make sure you score the bonus for your gemini's state at the end of the game, you just want to deal damage to other players. It's like being at the most spiteful dinner party ever.
If you like thoughtful strategy or duck-and-dive tactics, it may not float your boat: initially Bemused can feel extremely random. But the value here is in the interplay and table-talk, the silly inhabiting of roles and the surprises the game throws up at you, as killing off an opponent can start a chain of events that blow up in your face...