It is the 1940s. The mob rules the town of Mantis Falls. At least one person saw something they were not supposed to see. Now the witnesses must get across town to where people are waiting to protect them. However, one of the witnesses may in fact not be a witness at all but an assassin sent out to prevent the witnesses from leaving town. Who can you trust?
Mantis Falls is a 2-3 player game that can be cooperative or competitive. However, players don’t know which until the very end. Produced by Distant Rabbit Games, Mantis Falls is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. The game sells for $29 and includes the base game as well as the Full Circle and Triad game modules. Mantis Falls is suitable for players 13 years old and up.
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Here is what you get in the box:
Note: I was provided a prototype of the game for this review. Components may change once the project launches on Kickstarter and after stretch goals have been achieved.
Action cards are what moves the game along. Players have a hand of 7 actions cards which they can play each turn. The cards are divided into six different suits. When playing action cards, a player can play as many as they want as long as they are all of the same suit. Most action cards are played and then discarded. Some cards, called conditions, remain in play. They are often an item or an ability. For example, a gun is a condition, you can put into play. It then allows you to use Bullet action cards to inflict wounds to the opposition or the other player.
Each turn an event card is drawn at the start and then processed at the end of the turn. There are two types of event cards, seen and unseen. Seen event cards are shown to all players while unseen event cards can only be viewed by the active player. Events can also be either an incident or opposition. Incidents usually inflict wounds on players. Opposition events can also inflict wounds, but they can be prevented if the players inflict enough damage on the opposition. Then they can receive a reward instead. Events add randomness to the game and provide a players vs. the game element to Mantis Falls.
Some action cards allow you to call in allies. These cards are drawn from the ally deck and act like a set collection. Allies can require 2, 3 or even 4 cards. Once you have the complete set for that ally, you play the ally in front of you and can use their ability. Until you have a complete set of an ally, any ally cards you have remain face down in front of you.
The road cards create the town through which you must travel to make your escape. During a game, you use four sunset, four night, and four dark road cards. Each card has a traffic light with a number in each of the three colors of the traffic light. These are referenced by other cards during play. Road cards may also have a payphone icon, bus stop icon, or an ambush icon which are also used throughout the game. One of the sunset road cards is the starting location and one of the dark road cards is the end location.
The four conserved energy cards are placed across the top of the play area. They act as a holding area where players can place an action card during their turn. These cards can then be drawn back into player’s hands during the draw phase or used for extra movement or healing if four action cards are stored in this area.
Each player receives a character card at the start. For the base game, each player is an urbanite with a maximum health of 8. However, the Full Circle module adds two other types of characters, a doctor and a pugilist, each with different amounts of maximum health as well as a special ability. Each player also gets a role. They can be a witness or an assassin. There are always witnesses in a game, but there is a possibility one player may be the assassin. Roles are not revealed to other players until the end of the game.
Each player receives a life tracker as well as a red wound marker and a black gasp marker. The markers are used on the life tracker to record the player’s wounds as well as the number of last gasps they have made. Players also each have a playing piece that represents their current location on the road cards.
Mantis Falls also includes two modules in addition to the base game. The Triad module adds 12 cards and is required when playing with three players. Most of these cards are used with a bystander. The Full Circle module provides more in-depth play and includes the two new character types, new ally cards and new action cards. It is best to play with the Full Circle module after all players are familiar with the base game.
You can download the game manual and watch videos on how to play Mantis Falls here. For the purpose of this section, I am describing how to play a game with two players.
The first thing to do when setting up the game is creating the town with road cards into a 3×4 grid. The sunset start road card is placed in the lower right corner and the end dark road card is put in the upper left corner. Shuffle the rest of the road cards and remove one road card of each type (sunset, night, and dark). Then place the remaining cards face down in rows base on their type with sunset along the bottom, night in the middle and dark across the top. The four conserved energy cards are placed above the dark road cards. Remove the cards of the midnight suit from the action card deck. Each player is given a Call in a Hit action card. Then the remaining midnight cards are divided into a stack of three placed to the left of the night road cards and a stack of two to the left of the end dark road card. The remaining action cards are shuffled and six cards dealt to each player. The action deck is then placed to the right of the road cards face down. The event cards are shuffled and placed near the action deck. The ally cards are shuffled and placed face down in a deck where all players can reach them. Each player is given a character card (urbanite for the base game). The three role cards (2 witness and 1 assassin) are shuffled and then distributed to the players. These roles are placed face down and not revealed to the other player. Each player takes a life tracker, a red and a black marker, and then a playing piece matching the color of their life tracker. Place the red maker on the 0 for wounds and the black marker on the 0 for last gasps. Finally, players put their playing piece on the start sunset road card and flip over the sunset road card adjacent to the left.
Mantis Falls is played in alternating turns of six phases: Initial Movement, Event Draw, Main Play, Action Reveal/Processing, Event Processing, and Draw. During the first phase the active player may move their playing piece to the next road card. Then turn over the next road card so players can always see one space ahead. Movement follows a serpentine pattern as players move left along the sunset road cards, then up to the night card on the far left. Next they move to the right along the night cards, then up to the dark card on the right side, then finally to the left along the dark road cards to the end. Movement is optional and players can only move forward during this phase.
During the Event Draw phase, the active player draws an event card. If it is a seen event, it is placed face up so both players can see it. It is not resolved until later in the turn. If it is an unseen event, the active player can tell as little or as much as they want about the card and can be truthful or not. It is placed face down next to the active player. For players new to the game, the designers suggest treating all event cards as seen to help players learn how events work.
The Main Play phase lets both players use their action cards. There are four options available to each player and they can choose only one of the four for the turn. They can play as many action cards of the same suit. These cards are then placed face down in front of the players in the order they are to be played. Players can also take one card and place it face up on one of the conserved energy cards. A player could instead discard face down up to two action cards. Finally, a player could also choose to do nothing. The active player does their play first followed by the other player.
During the Action Reveal/Processing phase, starting with the active player, the first action card is flipped over and processed. Read the text and do what it says. Some cards have sometimes actions that only take place if a certain condition is present. After the active player processes their first card, the other player processes their first card. Player alternate until all played action cards have been processed. Use action cards are discarded face down into a discard pile.
Next the event card is processed. If it is an opposition card, then the result depends on if the opposition was defeated by the players by inflicting enough damage on it. If it was not defeated, players usually take wounds as directed by the card. If the opposition was defeated, then players get the reward and result from the card. The event card is then placed face down in the event discard pile. Finally each player, beginning with the active player, draws action cards to bring their hand up to seven cards. Now the other player becomes the active player and the phases start over again.
The goal of Mantis Falls is for all witnesses to get to the end dark road card. The game ends if at the beginning of a new turn, all players are alive at the end card, or if a player dies. If both players are witnesses, then they both win once they both reach the end. However, if one player is the assassin, the assassin wins if the witness is dead and the assassin still alive. The witness wins if the assassin is dead and the witness is still alive or escapes by reaching the end. If both witness and assassin die during the same turn, the game is a tie.
A unique feature of Mantis Falls is the concept of a last gasp. If a player’s life tracker is at their maximum wounds, the game pauses immediately and goes into a sidebar. That player can play as many action cards of the same suit at that point. The goal is to heal so that they are no longer at their maximum wounds. If they are able to do this, the black gasp marker is moved one space. This gives players a chance to avoid dying. However, if their last gasp marker reaches 3, they are dead. Also, if the player is unable to heal or reduce their wound number, they are dead as well. As a player takes damage, wounds can’t go past the maximum wounds. So having an action card that heals one wound will keep you in the game if you have to make a last gasp. Therefore, it is often better to hold on to healing cards rather than play them during the Main Play phase.
Mantis Falls is an interesting and unique game with a hint of social deduction. The game has a film noir feel to it due not only to the theme but the art on the cards as well. I really enjoyed the factor of the unknown in the game. If you are the assassin, you know it is a competitive game. However, if you are a witness, you are not sure if the other player is also a witness or the assassin. It is a 50% chance either way. Therefore, you don’t know if you should be playing cooperatively or competitively. You don’t want the other witness to die, but want to kill the assassin if you can. If you end up killing a fellow witness, you both lose the game. Playing as the assassin, you don’t want to give away your role too early. The witnesses can use the Call in a Hit action card to inflict a lot of damage against another player. Assassins can only use this card against opposition events, not other players. So the assassin has to instead use event cards to slowly wound the witness and wait for an opportunity to make a final attack and hope the witness can’t make a last gasp.
The game has a lot of action and event cards. During most games, players will not get through a deck of either type of card, so there are cards which will never be played during a game thus adding to the replayability. The ability to play more than one card during the Main Play phase as long as they are all of the same suit also offers a lot of strategy to the game. Do I want to play a good card now by itself, of wait until I get some more of the same suit and have a power play of several cards? In fact, early in the game, players are making basic plays while saving up for larger plays later on. While each player starts off with a Call in a Hit card, the other cards of the midnight suit which can be gained while in the night road cards and at the end dark road card can be powerful.
The Conserved Energy is often neglected by beginning players. Why discard one card that any player can pick up later when you could discard two cards? However at times an extra movement or healing can come in handy. Also, it is a great way to give a card to another player since there are some cards that require both players to play the same type on the same turn in order to use them.
By adding the included modules to the game, players can make the game more complex. In a three player game, one player is the bystander each turn while the other two players play like it is a two player game. A few action cards affect the bystander. Otherwise the bystander only discards or conserves energy and draws new cards. They are not affected by effects or actions otherwise. Players can choose to use any or all modules as they wish to customize their gaming experience.
Mantis Falls is unlike any other game I have played. The combination of moving through the town while playing cards from your hand builds suspense which only increases as players get nearer to the end. I really enjoy the tension of not knowing the role of the other player which continues throughout the game. This tension increases as wounds are inflicted by events and the other player so that all players are near death for part of the game–right up until the very end. Whether I win or lose, I want to try something new or different and play another game of Mantis Falls. I recommend Mantis Falls as an important addition to any game collection, especially for those like myself who enjoy playing something different for a change of pace. Visit the Mantis Falls Kickstarter campaign page.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.
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