This review of Obscurio appeared in Episode 82 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.
So you thought it would be a good idea to sneak into what you and your wizard friends thought was an abandoned library and help yourself to a tome of ancient spells. Unfortunately, there’s an evil sorcerer that’s that kinda sore about the whole stealing-his-rare-and-powerful-fancy-book-of-spells and he’s set up various traps to stop you and your friends from escaping. To make matters worse, one of your wizard pals has been corrupted by the sorcerer and is actively trying to sabotage the team. Fortunately, the book you’re stealing is determined to guide you out of this labyrinthine library.
Obscurio is a visual clue interpretation game similar to Dixit and Mysterium. It’s published by Libellud and designed by L’Atelier. It features wonderful art by Xavier Collette and M81 Studio. In Obscurio, two to eight players play as wizards with one player taking on the role of the grimoire, giving out clues and guiding the wizards to the library’s exit.
A round in Obscurio has the grimoire player drawing a card from an 84 card illusion deck that features whimsical, dreamlike imagery. This card becomes the only exit that will allow the wizard players to progress to the next room. The grimoire player draws two additional cards and places them on the desk, which is a board that looks like an open book. Now, the tricky part. The grimoire player uses two butterfly markers to emphasize aspects on these two cards to guide the players towards the one, true exit for the current round. These butterfly markers are magnetized and they stick to the cards and the board, allowing players to examine and pass around the desk. All players,even the hidden traitor, discuss and interpret what the grimoire player is trying to tell them via the clue cards and butterfly markers.
Once the wizards players have been given the opportunity to discuss the grimoire’s clues, they are asked to close their eyes. The traitor, having been chosen at the beginning of the game through the traditional custom of being dealt a traitor card, opens their eyes. The grimoire player holds up a huge folder containing eight illusion cards, each in its own numbered slot and the traitor signals which one or two cards are to be added to the possible exit options. The grimoire player then removes these cards, draws a few more cards from the illusion deck, creating a six card deck, which then gets shuffled. Each of these cards are then placed on the main board as the six possible exits. The wizard players then have a minute to consider the six magical doorways and select the one they each think is the real door based on the clues given by the grimoire player at the beginning of the round. The good news is that if any player selects the correct door, everyone moves on to the next room! Players who chose incorrectly, take a cohesion token from the board and place it in their play area.
Once a certain number of tokens are gone, players get to discuss and vote on who they think is the traitor. If the traitor is found out, they can participate by being able to influence the game by adding illusion cards to the available possible exits .If the traitor is not found, the voting process is repeated and more cohesion tokens are lost. If the cohesion tokens are ever depleted, the wizards and the Grimoire players lose and the traitor wins. The wizards win by making their way out of the library before losing all the available cohesion tokens.
Wow, that’s a lot of rules explanation for a review, but I wanted to give an accurate impression of how the game works. The traitor’s ability to influence the game is really intriguing. Most games that involve a hidden traitor often place too much emphasis on the traitor player having to be a competent liar, Often they are required to persuade other players to choose them for a mission, or convince them that they are on the same team, or otherwise gain their confidence in some way. If you’re like me and tend to have a bad poker face and the mere thought of being the traitor gives you the giggles, you probably don’t like being the traitor. What I feel is a saving grace for Obscurio and its traitor mechanic is that you don’t really have to lie to be good at being a traditional board game traitor. Since the traitor in Obscurio doesn’t get to see the exit card, they can just sit there with all the other wizards and interpret the cards. Sure, as the traitor, you may offer alternative interpretations or you can agree with the group’s interpretation, but you don’t need to subvert this process. You can wait until all the other players have closed their eyes and the grimoire player presents you with that eight card buffet of visions. And, if the wizards had been talking about how the grimoire was pointing to a glowing orb, guess what, you should capitalize on that and choose cards that have glowing orbs or other round objects. Did the wizards convince themselves that the grimoire used the butterfly markers to point at certain colors? Choose the cards that have that same color. Once those cards are added to the deck containing the real exit, you’re literally stacking the deck in your favor.
I’ve been in games of Obscurio where the traitor played off of the other wizards’ interpretations so well that every round was wracked with difficult choices. For players that aren’t that great at playing as a traitor, the game’s mechanisms help to balance what can be a difficult role. There are also traps that are sprung as punishments for taking too long during the doorway selection phases. There’s a trap that forces the grimoire player to place a red tinted plastic film on top of the two clue cards, rendering any color identification moot. And this leads me to my only gripe about Obscurio, it’s kinda hard to win as the wizards. The traps, the traitor, the cohesion tokens that seem to run like water through a sieve, make for a challenging experience. Luckily the game lets you scale the difficulty. So, if you’re into games like Mysterium and Dixit, are comfortable with hidden traitor games, and you love a good challenge, take a look at Obscurio.