Almost in panic the other magicians look around in the dark room of the library Obscurio. The grimoire they have stolen shows them pictures which should help them to find the right way out. They don’t agree on where to go. Two of the doors fit almost perfectly with what the book showed us. Of course I know that one door is definitely the wrong one, because I chose the picture on it myself to confuse the others. They still have no idea that I haven’t been on their side for a long time. They’d probably call me a traitor.
There are several association games with beautifully illustrated cards on the market. Starting with Dixit, Mystery and Shadows Amsterdam, there is a good selection of high-quality board games. But Obscurio from the designer team L’Atelier and published by Libellud wants to bring a fresh breeze into the genre and comes up with a traitor mechanism. How we enjoyed the escape from the dark library, you’ll find out in our review.
A view into the forbidden library
As a student of magic, you get the stupidest ideas. I think one of the worse ones was breaking into the magic library. The keeper of the library is not exactly known for his friendly and accommodating manner. Now you’ve got the mess and don’t know where to go to get out of here. In each room only one door will lead you closer to it, unfortunately you don’t know which one it is. Fortunately you’ve taken a Grimoire (a technical term for a book with magical knowledge in it) from the library, which will gladly help you escape, as this library is far too dark for him as well. Probably it needs some fresh air.
Play with distributed roles
Since a book cannot speak, the Grimoire tries to help you find the right door with pictures. In Obscurio one of your fellow players must agree to take over this role. But the evil guardian of the library doesn’t want to let you go and has even managed to get one of you under his magical mind control. At the beginning of each game, a traitor among the wizards is secretly chosen, who now works against the other players as unobtrusively as possible.
During a round, the Grimoire player draws one of the beautifully designed round cards. This is the target card to find. Next, he draws two more cards and places them on both sides of the Grimoire tableau. With two markers he can now mark details on the cards or even a whole card, which he thinks that the players would have to get to the target card known only to the Grimoire.
Then all players close their eyes and the traitor chooses some of the cards the Grimoire shows him, which will definitely be available for the doors as well. This must be done as secretly as possible and with sign language, so that no one suspects who the traitor is. Afterwards, everyone is allowed to open their eyes again. The target card and the cards chosen by the traitor are filled up with cards from the deck, shuffled and distributed randomly to the 6 exit doors on the board.
Eenie, meenie, minie, moe and what door do you take?
Now the players can discuss which of the door illustrations the Grimoire wanted to point out is the right one. Of course, the traitor also participates in the discussion and tries to guide the other players to the wrong door as subtly as possible. Meanwhile, an hourglass runs against you. The longer you take to decide, the more Trap Tokens will be drawn in the next round, making it even harder to find the right exit card.
For every person who chooses the wrong door, you lose a cohesion token. Since you don’t have forever to escape from the library, you will only have a certain number of cohesion tokens available. The exact amount depends on the number of players and difficulty level. If you use them up before you have left the last room, the traitor has won and you will have to stay in the dark library forever.
The level of difficulty in Obscurio is already quite tough. It is not so easy to mark suitable things as grimoire. Since you draw the two drawn cards, which serve as reference and on which can be marked, by chance, it’s also by chance what’s shown on them. This can be a great fit, but it can also lead to the Grimoire player’s frustration when no similarity can be found. Well, you don’t have to mark anything and sometimes no marker says as much as a well-placed marker.
Lean back, the traps will do the job.
The traitor now has the opportunity to listen to the first thoughts of the other players and then, in the phase in which the wizards have closed their eyes, to bring exactly those cards into the later selection that match these thoughts. In the following discussion phase he may not even have to do much because even the randomly filled cards from the deck sometimes fit especially well to the markings of the Grimoire. And the longer the discussion lasts, the more trap tokens make life even easier for the traitor.
The trap tokens do funny things. For example, you have to cover the Grimoire pages with the clues with a semi-transparent printed foil, which makes marking even more difficult. Or you have to put a red foil over it, which makes it impossible to mark colors. You can also add a seventh door card. Or, which is by far the worst thing for the wizards: You have to reveal the door cards one by one and immediately. Then you decide whether to choose this exit before the next card is revealed. Especially if more than one of these traps comes into play, hardcore combinations can arise where the traitor only has to sit back and relax.
The search for the traitor
If things don’t go well for the wizard players and you lose a lot of cohesion tokens, you might realize that there is a traitor among you. Once you have reached the limit, there will be a voting phase. There you will discuss and then point your finger at someone. If the majority of the fingers point at someone, he or she must reveal his or her role card. Thus reveals whether he or she is the traitor you are looking for. Should you be wrong here, you will lose cohesion tokens again. This will continue until the real traitor is found. For the rest of the game, the traitor may no longer actively search for the exit, instead he may only cause confusion by continuing to select additional cards for the door cards of each room.
At this point, however, the game usually does not last very long. Either you, as a wizard, were already very close to the final exit from the last room and manage to escape, which means a victory for all wizards and the Grimoire, or you fail and lose your last cohesion token as well, whereby the traitor wins.
Love at second glance
Sometimes board games just wait for the right opportunity to finally shine. It was similar with Obscurio. Since I am a fan of Mysterium, I quickly took the game to my heart. Jan however does not like such games at all. Therefore, it took a while until we could play Obscurio. Nevertheless, the game managed to convince Jan of itself, too. At least it won a place before Mysterium and that’s mainly because of the traitor mechanism.
This brings a new breeze and tension into the genre that is already a little bit stuck. This is the heart of the game and with it the whole game stands and falls. However, there is also a big but: The traitor is sometimes not really needed to cause confusion among the wizards. The randomly combined cards make it quite difficult for the Grimoire to mark something reasonable.
Whereas in Mysterium and Shadows Amsterdam the players who give the tip try to choose the best fitting card from a selection of cards, in Obscurio chance dominates. The traps, of which at least one is drawn each turn, add to the fact that the experience can be very frustrating for everyone but the traitors. I see that this was a decision to make it easy for the traitor. However, the balance between the two sides is often very much to the disadvantage of one side.
The party makes the game
Whether the whole thing works depends, as with all association games, on the harmony in the party. Those who know each other well may be better at giving and interpreting clues than players who happen to meet on a game night. And also in Obscurio the same requirements for traitors apply, as in other games. The traitor must be able to fulfil his role. He must be able to bluff and must not betray himself. Those who know each other well here, in turn, may be able to interpret the signs better than in a round that happens to meet on a game night. You see, the question whether Obscurio is suitable for you as a party is not so easy to answer. However, we can say that Obscurio forgives a cautious traitor more easily than other games do.
Great illustrations, great material
On a positive note, I would like to mention the game material. On the one hand, there are of course the many great designed cards. Responsible for the illustrations are Xavier Colette and M81 Studio. Both have experience with similar games. Xavier Colette has worked on Mysterium and Dixit: Journey, M81 Studio has contributed illustrations for Shadows Amsterdam and Detective Club. The card illustrations for Obscurio are correspondingly well done. The pictures are varied and not too gloomy. They use very different settings, moods and color schemes, where nice details are worked into the scenery.
But the rest of the material is also well-thought-out. For example, the desk with the sides of the Grimoire is made of multi-layered thick cardboard. It has recesses for the two round cards so that they don’t slip when passed around with the desk. The markers that are placed on the cards are, like the desk itself, very heavy and stick magnetically to the desk. Here, too, the idea of passing them around was certainly thought of, so that a player can look at the cards better.
Obscurio or Mysterium?
Jan likes Obscurio more than Mysterium. In groups of at least four players you have here a soft beginner’s version of a board game with a traitor mechanism. But I have to say that I like Mysterium a bit better in the area of similar association games. A round of Obscurio shines only with the largest possible number of players. While Mysterium works already well with fewer players. For two and three players Obscurio works anyway only as a variant without traitors, which we haven’t tested at all. Here Obscurio loses everything that makes it special. And it’s a special game from a group size of four players on, which is fun and which I like to play again and again, especially since I can’t get Jan enthusiastic about Mysterium as often as I’d like to.