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Mantis Falls by Distant Rabbit Games Preview

Quick Look: Mantis Falls

Designer: Adrian Kerrihard & Juli Bierwirth
Artist: Juli Bierwirth
Publisher: Distant Rabbit Games
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 2-3
Ages: 13+
Playing Time: 60-90 mins.

From the publisher:

Players are set on the dark film-noir roads of Mantis Falls, a mob-ruled mountain town, in the 1940s. They have been witness to something they were not meant to see and are now hunted for their information. Taking single steps down increasingly dark and dangerous roads, players must survive the night and make it out of town alive. Together, they must frequently apply cooperation and trust to navigate the night together... but things may not all be as they seem.

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Mantis Falls. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

In Mantis Falls, you will take on the role of either a witness, who is trying to escape the town, or an assassin, who is trying to stop the witness from leaving. You travel through Mantis Falls with your companion(s) facing different obstacles together, but beware, your companion may not be who you think they are. This is one of the most fun aspects of the game, you don't know if the other player is a witness or an assassin.

This review will cover mostly the 2 player version of the game, as it is the one I had the most plays with.

Setup and Rules
This is a card game with a lot of cards. That makes setup simple and somewhat tedious, but it only takes about 5 minutes to do. To setup, you place the ally, action, and event decks in reach of all players, place the road cards in the specified pattern, give each player a role, character, and life tracker card, and deal each player action cards. Place your markers on the zero spots of the life and last grasp trackers on your life tracker card and your character token at the beginning of the road.

It took me a game or two to fully grasped the flow of the rules, but once I did, it became second nature. The basic concept you need to know is, to win if you are a witness, all players must reach the end of the road or for the assassin to die, but if you are the assassin, your goal is to kill a witness. I'm not going to explain all of the rules, but I will give a brief overview of them.
On your turn, the first thing you will do is choose if you want to move one road ahead (always revealing the next road card). Most of the cards are the same, with a few minor differences that can come into effect when you play cards later in the turn.
You will then draw an event card. If this is a "seen" event, it is open information for all players to see. If it is "unseen" though, only the player whose turn it is will see the card. These cards represent problems you encounter on your way out of town. A lot of the cards will deal damage to the players, but it is usually an option to the active player on how the damage is divided. This is where the "seen" and "unseen" come into play. If you draw an "unseen" card, you can lie about how the card tells you to process the results, but you cannot lie about the results (that's cheating!). For example, if the card says deal 4 damage to the players divided however you choose, you could say that the card says deal 4 damage to the other player, but you have to deal that 4 damage. This causes you to never believe what your companion says!

The main play phase of your turn is where most of the action of the game is. Both players will also play in this phase no matter whose turn it is. During your main play you can; play action cards into your queue face down to be processed later (as many as you want of the same suit), converse energy, discard cards, or do nothing. More times than not, I found myself playing action cards. These cards allow you to do things such as; do damage to the event opposition or to other players, heal wounds, move forward down the road, take ally cards, and much much more. There is a wide range of abilities the cards can do, which is always nice to have in a game. Once you have processed all of the action cards from the players, you will then process the event card by doing what it says. Both players then draw up to seven action cards drawing from either the action deck or conserved energy. It is now the nest players turn.
Play will continue until one of the end game conditions have been triggered. Either all players reach the end of the road or there is a death. If the assassin is killed, the witness wins, but if a witness is killed, the assassin wins. It is also important to note that just because you dealt damage to your maximum wounds, you are not dead. You will have a "last gasp" action to try to heal yourself or take out another player if you are so inclined. Be careful though, you can only make 3 last gasps before you are dead. The game can end in a tie if both a witness and assasin are killed.
Theme and Mechanics
I really enjoyed this theme. I've always enjoyed old mobster movies, so this is right up my alley. The goal of the game ties in nicely with the theme as well. You are trying to escape the town because you witnessed something you shouldn't have, but you don't know who you can trust. It is all very well thought out.
A lot of the game focuses on managing your hand of cards and playing them at the correct time and in the correct order so that you can maximize what you are trying to do, but also keep your role hidden from the other player. You also find yourself trying to collect as many cards of the same suit as you can so that you can play more at one time. My favorite part was when both players played action cards because you would alternate revealing them and it would create a tension of what would happen next. 

Another great mechanic was the "seen" and "unseen events". More specifically, the unseen events. They give you the opportunity to be sneaky about your motives.
Artwork and Components
I received a prototype copy of this, so I will not comment on the component quality. Most of the components are cards, but there are a few other pieces to track your movement and stats.
The artwork on the action cards is great. They are simple and effective. As I found with most of this game, everything ties in with the theme and feel of the game. The artwork was no exception. It gives you a nice vibe.

The Good
I love that this is a hidden role game that can be played with 2 players. As I have mentioned before, I enjoy the theme and how everything works around that. It is high in player interaction and it creates a lot of tension because of that. You never know what the other player is going to do and it leaves you on the edge of your seat at times. Once you figure out what role they are (or think you have it figured out), it is a race to kill each other.

The Other
I only have 2 gripes with the game. One that I will talk about now and the other in my final thoughts. My biggest complaint is that I wish that it was easier to get ally cards. I had one game in which both players were loaded with allies, but in my other plays, they were impossible to come by. This is probably because there is such a variety of action cards and it is hit or miss if you will get one that will help you get an ally, but I wish there were maybe a few more.

Final Thoughts
I really went back and forth with this game and that is indicative of where I ultimately landed. I'm on the fence about it. I had some really fun games in Mantis Falls. Like, really fun. It creates such a fun tension and it puts you in some interesting situations that you have to figure out the best way to handle it without giving away your role. On the other hand, I had some games that just fizzled out and weren't a lot of fun. This happened mainly whenever one of the players discovered the role of the other one. Either through the cards they played or how they reacted to events. I think the game would be a lot of fun if all or most of the events were unseen ones. 

The upside is so high, it is definitely a game worth checking out. Because of that, it is a game I would gladly have in my collection.

Players Who Like
If you mostly play at a lower player count and enjoy hidden role games, give this one a go!

Check out Distant Rabbit Games and Mantis Falls on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/291847/mantis-falls   http://distantrabbitgames.com/  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mantisfalls/mantis-falls-a-game-of-trust?ref=bggforums  https://www.facebook.com/DistantRabbitGames/   https://twitter.com/Distant_Rabbit   https://www.instagram.com/distant_rabbit_games/   https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM375F3fRJxP0Vcpq6LxmKA  

Full-time father, part-time nerd. When not spending time with my family, I try to fill the rest of my time playing tabletop games. Some call it an obsession, I prefer the term passion. Either way, I will play any game, with anybody, at any time. 

You can find Eric's articles HERE.

Mantis Falls by Distant Rabbit Games Preview Mantis Falls by Distant Rabbit Games Preview Reviewed by Eric Schevenius on May 22, 2020 Rating: 5

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