“Yes? What is it Viceroy?”
“It’s the peasants your majesty…”
“What of them? Please tell me they’re not eating each other again.”
“No, ma’am, it’s just that… they’re revolting.”
“For goodness sake, Viceroy, I could have told you that! Why do you think I live in a palace in the countryside?”
“No, ma’am, I mean up in arms revolting!”
“Oh. Oh! General! General! What is being done!?”
“Erm… nothing, ma’am.”
“Yes. You see it’s a problem with the militia…”
“Well… we don’t have one. The Treasurer never paid them…”
The realm is in chaos and the Queen is getting miffed. Someone should really do something about the crumbling castle walls, the Orc scouting parties or the false prophet spreading a whole new religion through the peasantry. But that someone certainly isn’t going to be you. Much better to make sure someone else takes the blame for all these issues. Just so long as you’ve not got anything in your hand that might actually be your responsibility, you should avoid the chop.
Each card features, typically, one or two coloured seals corresponding to one of the court’s 6 roles. By the end of the game you’ll want to have as few seals that match your role as possible. You can play up to 3 cards to the central pile each round, so long as you match one of the symbols on the top face up issue with one on the card you play, for each card you play. If you don’t play any, you’ll draw 3 cards. If you play one, you draw a new issue to replace it (there’s a never ending supply of problems with this country!), if you play two you get to swap the two roles depicted on the second card you play, letting you swap your role or someone else’s. If you play 3, however, you’ll discover why it’s actually a really bad idea to stick your own cards into this central pile of blame: someone’s getting accused, and someone is taking the blame for this mess!
Accusations are simple. You pick someone to blame, and then the accuser and the accused compare the number of their seals that feature on issues in the blame pile. The player with the most, takes the entire pile into their hand! Since you aren’t allowed to look back through the blame pile, you need to try and remember what’s in there. Except, by the time you’ve swapped roles twice you’ve probably got no hope of keeping track!
Accusations are the heart of this game. Throwing down a string of three cards and pointing your finger at one of your hapless friends is exhilarating, checking through a big pile of cards is tense and exciting, and someone having to pick up a great pile of cards is just funny! And of course, the result of this is weaponising their hand, and almost inevitably results in a string of tit-for-tat accusations, which is also funny! It’s not clever, but boy is it a lot of fun!
Except… maybe it is clever. You see while you can most certainly play this as just throwing around cards and banter and laughing at each other… there is some very subtle stuff working away in the background. Think: if you want a new role, you need to put your new symbol into the blame pile, putting you at enhanced risk. Even if you don’t take the blame, putting your own symbols into the pile means someone has just picked them all up! You can bet they’ll be using them on you soon. So what do you do!?
Well one option you have whenever there is an accusation is to bury a card in your pile of secrets (so long as you’re not picking up the blame). This removes the card permanently from the game and is a great way to ditch your seals or the brutal 6 point Treason Cards. Except doing so harms your flexibility! You’ll need cards of your colour to swap out in an emergency, or swap back if you’re in a good position. If you can’t play a card you’ll be forced to pick up 3 cards: risky! Treason Cards act as wild cards, playable on any colour of card. Besides, you don’t want your friends to miss out on all those treasonous points, now do you?
So you see, all the elements are subtly balanced. You want rid of certain cards but they typically offer you the most flexibility so you kind of want to hold on to them too. Balancing these competing needs is the central puzzle of the game. A player with the right balance of strategy, sneakiness and, yes, a little luck, will most likely come out smelling of roses.
That player isn’t me by the way. In my last 3 games I’ve been banished twice and hung, drawn, quartered, drowned and God knows what else…
The game does have some minor issues with length (though it never runs longer than half an hour). The game only ends once the deck has been played through entirely, but the rate at which you get through the deck hits fast and slow patches. When a lot of cards are being passed around players are rarely drawing so while stuff is being rearranged, it doesn’t feel like the game is progressing. The early/mid game, while a lot of fun, also doesn’t seem to make a huge contribution to the final result. The secrets pile is where the long term strategy must lie… but I suck at this game so I’ve not figured it out yet!
There are optional rules for each role too, but I never found them to really improve the game that much. They certainly offer some scope for clever manipulation, but the basic game is plenty fun enough to not make me care whether I include them or not. The fact that the player who picks up the blame plays next inevitably leads to a bit of a slow down while they sort through their giant hand, and if you are trying to scheme too much there is a spot of analysis paralysis possible. But under these circumstances you can take a moment to read the ridiculously good flavour text: that pale text covering every card is not some generic medieval script filler. Every card features an in depth description of the issue at hand, clearly written by some long-suffering bureaucrat, with a wonderfully satirical tone. You’ll get a lot of pleasure from reading these, and they are such a nice touch!
I’ve really enjoyed Game of Blame! The key to avoiding all the minor problems I’ve highlighted is just to let rip, accuse, and not worry about the result! Even my feeling like the early game isn’t “important”, partly that might be my lack of skill, but even then I enjoy the process, announcing the issue I play as I drop it down…
“Your Majesty! I bring terrible news: I have heard whispers of Treason! Someone here has enabled the Dragons to Return… all as cover for their Military Coup! It is the General! The treasonous cur!”
“Take all these cards, sucker!”
The process is just great fun and I am completely happy to overlook the game’s minor issues, and if you get into the right spirit, you will too! Game of Blame is a silly slice of fun that offers just enough strategy to keep you thinking, but not so much it detracts from the game’s core appeal: dumping a whole pile of problems on your friend’s plate!
Edit: I incorrectly stated that you can only accuse specific roles according to what card you play. In fact, so long as you play 3 cards, you can accuse anyone. This has been corrected in the article above!