Designed by Bruno Cathalla & Ludovic Maublanc
Published by Hurrican Games
2 Players, 30 – 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Back in 2006 designers Bruno Cathalla and Ludovic Maublanc teamed to create Mr. Jack, a delightful, atmospheric and challenging 2-player game themed around the notorious London killer known as Jack the Ripper. The duo devised a clever system that was original and ingenious, and their effort was recognized as the game received the International Gamers Award for best 2-player game of the year.
It is no wonder that the system has been utilized in subsequent designs, all featuring the elusive Mr. Jack. The system, however, is one that can easily adapt to other settings, an idea that has not escaped Monsieurs Cathalla and Maublanc. Their latest design utilizing this system is Phantom of the Opera, which loosely borrows the theme of the classic book and subsequent stage productions.
Set in Opera Garnier in Paris, France, the famous opera signer La Carlotta has been spooked by a series of frightening events. She is convinced the theater is haunted by a ghost, so she is threatening to depart for Milan unless the spirit is expelled. French authorities must race to find the true culprit from amongst eight suspects before La Carlotta makes good on her promise and departs for Italy.
One player represents the Phantom, while the other player assumes the role of the inspector. The Phantom is attempting to keep his true identity hidden and continue to frighten La Carlotta, causing her to flee. The inspector attempts to uncover the phantom’s identity before La Carlotta departs for Milan.
The board depicts the ten rooms of the ornate theater, along with some secret passages that connect a few non-adjacent rooms. The eight character tokens are randomly placed in the rooms. The Phantom player draws one Alibi card and keeps its identity hidden, as this is his true identity. It is his job to keep this identity secret until La Carlotta flees.
Game turns alternate between Investigator and Phantom turns. Four character cards are revealed. On an Investigator turn, the investigator chooses one of the cards and moves the matching character. The Phantom player then chooses two of the remaining cards and moves those characters, leaving the final card for the investigator. The next turn is the “Phantom” turn, and this order is reversed.
A character may move from room-to-room via connected doors or passageways. A character may move a number of spaces equal to the number of characters who began the turn in his/her room. For example, if there are a total of three characters in Madame Giry’s room, she may move up to three spaces. There is only one character—Meg Giry—who can use the secret passageways.
Each character has a special ability or power, the timing of their use varying based upon the character. For example, after moving, Christine Daaé can attract all characters in adjacent rooms to the one she occupies, while M. Moncharmin forces all characters in his room to move to adjacent rooms. Instead of moving, M. Richard may swap places with any other token, while The Persian can take one other character occupying the same room with him when moving. Raoul De Chagny draws the top Alibi card, which if it is a character, lets the investigator know that the character depicted cannot be the Phantom. There is a danger, however, as if one of the three Phantom cards is drawn, the La Carlotta marker is moved one space further along the track. If this marker reaches the end of the track, she departs Paris and the Phantom’s nefarious plan has come to fruition.
After all four characters have been moved, the Phantom must declare whether or not he can appear. In order to appear, the Phantom character must either be alone in a room or in a room that contains the “Blackout” token, which is considered unlit. This token can be moved by the Joseph Buquet character.
If the Phantom is able to appear, the investigator gains useful information and is able to absolve all characters who are in the company of other characters in a lit room. These tokens are inverted, making it easy for the investigator to track the remaining suspects. Likewise, if the Phantom is unable to appear, the investigator can eliminate from suspicion any characters who are alone in a room, as well as all characters who are in the room with the blackout token. This is the main process by which the investigator can narrow his list of suspects. Thus, it is his goal each turn to maneuver characters into locations that will eliminate the most suspects as possible. It is in the Phantom’s best interest to keep the list of possible suspects long.
If there is more than one suspect remaining, La Carlotta is frightened, and her marker is moved along the track a number of spaces equal to the number of remaining suspects (plus one if the Phantom appeared that turn). Thus, the more suspects the Phantom player can maintain, the faster La Carlotta will move towards the end of the track. That is his goal.
New rounds are conducted in the same fashion, alternating between Investigator and Phantom turns. The game ends when either the La Carlotta marker reaches the end of the track (16 – 22 spaces) or only one suspect remains, in which case the investigator has successfully unmasked the Phantom and saved the day for France and its opera scene. The game usually plays to completion in about 30 – 45 minutes.
When Mr. Jack was first released, it used a novel system that proved quite popular amongst gamers. It has been no surprise that the system has spawned numerous spin-offs, including this latest version. As with its progenitor, Phantom of the Opera is a clever deduction game that is fast, fun and challenging. The rules are fairly simple, but it does take a bit of time to decipher and understand the icons on the cards that depict the characters’ special powers and when they can be used.
While it is classified as a deduction game, the game is more about cleverly maneuvering the characters and using their special abilities to either cause more to be eliminated from suspicion (investigator) or keep them in the suspect pool (Phantom). Fortunately, the system does provide ample opportunities to cleverly use these powers in pursuit one one’s goals, but spotting these opportunities and properly executing them can be challenging.
The game does appear to be well balanced, with no stark advantage for either the investigator or Phantom. If one player has greater experience or skill than his opponent, the difficulty of the game can be altered by starting the La Carlotta marker earlier or later on the track. The new setting and theme will appeal to a different audience, but the familiar system will also attract Mr. Jack fans who are seeking a new setting or adventure. I am happy to see designers Cathala and Maublanc continuing to utilize their Mr. Jack system in new settings.
4 (Love it!): Nathan Beeler
3 (Like it): Greg J. Schloesser
1 (Not for me):