Masque of the Red Death is a deduction and movement programming game set in the grim world of the short story by the Edgar Allan Poe. This game is fully illustrated by Gris Grimly and game design by Adam Wyse. Players are nobles attending an extravagant masked ball while a plague ravages the country. Players are trying to do what nobles do – feast, dance, celebrate –become as popular as they can. But rumors swirl as the night goes on, and everyone feels oddly nervous each time the clock chimes. The nobles might be wise to spend some time listening to these rumors. It is becoming increasingly clear as midnight approaches that something sinister awaits. In this article we sat down with designer Adam Wyse, to talk about designing Masque of the Red Death and a look behind the scenes.
What inspired you to want to make a game about Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death?
I first discovered the story in grade 9 English class and fell in love with it. I had always been a fan of horror movies and literature, but somehow had never read any Poe until then. I found Red Death so evocative… it really left a huge impression on me.
When I was getting into game design years later I was reminded of the story again, and on a re-read realized how perfect it was for a board game. It takes place in a closed setting that seems tailor-made for a game board – 7 rooms, each in its own colour, connected to two adjacent rooms. The large masquerade full of nobles gives you lots of characters to work with, allowing for a high player count. And since none of them are named besides the prince, you have a lot of space to be creative and give them names and personalities.
The story itself has a building sense of dread, and I really wanted to see if I could replicate that in the game’s story arc.
What mechanics in this game do you really enjoy?
I absolutely love movement programming games… one of my favourite games of all time is Space Alert. And though Masque of the Red Death has little else in common with it, they both share movement programming. I really enjoy it as a mechanic because it can produce this interesting puzzle where you’re holding in your head what you’ve done, where you are now, and what you want to do next. The key of Masque of the Red Death is movement programming; you’re spending your time during the masquerade gathering information about where the Red Death will strike and you will likely not have complete information. You have to spend your actions wisely to deduce where the Red Death will be so you can make as good a plan as possible.
The game also has a fun dose of push your luck that is not immediately apparent. The goal is to be the most popular noble to survive the night, so there’s this balancing act going on between gaining popularity (to win) and gaining information (to survive). If you spend too much time on popularity you might know very little by the end and really be putting your noble’s life in the hands of fate.
Do you have a favorite moment when designing this game?
I entered Masque of the Red Death in the Canadian Game Design Award in 2015 and was one of 3 finalists. In the judges’ feedback afterwards I found my favourite point of feedback of all time: “This is the first time I felt legitimate fear playing a board game”. That’s exactly what a designer wants to hear!
What did you think when you found out the game was going to be partnered with Gris Grimly art?
When IDW told me that they had signed on Gris Grimly to work on the game, I immediately spent a couple hours looking over all his amazing work. He has illustrated several Poe stories before, including Masque of the Red Death itself, in his book Tales of Mystery and Madness.
What experience are you hoping players will get out of this game?
I want players to feel lots of emotion playing Masque of the Red Death. Players will often start out the game, as the nobles in the story do, unconcerned and heedless of what’s coming. Mingling, flirting, dancing… wasting their time basically, fighting to become most popular. But I love that moment about half way through the game, when someone says “Uhh, I don’t know ANYTHING! I’m going to die! How much time is there left until midnight?”.
I want players to feel that building sense of dread as midnight approaches. Needing more time to feel more safe, but not having it. Being unsure about certain information that they have seen but not been able to keep. Feeling nervous (and then hopefully relief) as each Red Death card is revealed one by one at the end of the game.
Is there anything else you want to share about this game?
It’s been an amazing ride bringing Masque of the Red Death to life. So much time and care was spent to do justice to the story and provide players with the experience that I was hoping for. I can’t thank IDW enough for the game’s amazing presentation – the Deluxe Edition especially is so beautiful. Gris Grimly’s art is really unique and gives the game a look that is nothing like any other game out there. Lastly, I want to thank everyone who has supported the game along the way. I can’t wait to see it start appearing in stores and on people’s tables!
The designer of Masque of the Red Death, Adam Wyse, is a former software engineer who has been designing games for several years now. He now does logistics and development work for Roxley Games and designs games full time. He lives in Calgary Canada with his wife Chelsea, dog Scooter, and far too many cats.