Darkness is closing in on the mob-ruled mountain town of Mantis Falls. It's the 1940s, and you were witness to something you really weren't meant to see. The only way to get protection is to make your way out alive, and you've been informed that another witness will join you. As you start to plan your perilous escape, you stumble across another frightened-looking soul, and exchange looks. Is this another witness, or might they be out to kill you?
Players: 2-3 Ages: 14+ Game Time: 60-90 Minutes
Mantis Falls is an award-winning sometimes cooperative sometimes competitive hidden traitor game for two to three players, published by Distant Rabbit Games LLC and originally launched on Kickstarter. The box includes the base game, as well as three add-on modules (Full Circle, Triad, and Under The Rose). Distant Rabbit also created an original soundtrack for ambient music as you play. This review is based just on the base game.
Social deduction games tend to work better with higher player counts. Mantis Falls is very unusual in that it is a social deduction game for two to three players. You might be inclined to think a two/three-player-friendly social deduction game would be virtually impossible to create, but here it works beautifully. A game may be entirely witnesses, in which case players only win if they all survive, or one player could secretly be an assassin, subtly manipulating the situation and waiting for the right moment to strike.
Your objective will depend on the role you are secretly assigned at setup - Witness or Assasin. It's feasible to have a game with only Witnesses, as for a two-player game you draw between two Witnesses and an Assassin and in three-player three Witnesses and an Assassin. So this means that as play continues you have to try and work out which of the roles they are, and therefore whether to trust or deceive them.
To begin the game, first set it up as per the instructions depending on how many players you are. Once you have set up, in two-player you alternate turns and for three-player games turns rotate clockwise, with players playing as rotating pairs with one player acting as a bystander.
Each turn has six main steps:
Action Reveal and Processing
For the Initial Movement phase, the active player first decides whether to move one road forward, and whether to expend Conserved Energy to either add one to movement or heal one wound. They then draw an Event card, which is not resolved until step five.
When drawn, Events are either Seen or Unseen, with Seen being shown to all players and Unseen only visible to the player that drew it. You must process the card accurately (no cheating now!). More on this later.
Events are either an Incident, a harmful occurrence, or an Opposition, a foe you are facing. There are ways to prevent Incidents, and an Opposition is defeated if the actions processed that turn dealt wounds at least equal to the foe's health value.
During the Main Play phase, both active players choose to either:
- Create Action Play, placing any number of action cards of a single suit in a selected order
- Conserve Energy, placing one action card face up in Conserved Energy
- Do Nothing
You then complete the Event Processing phase based on the effects of cards played in the Main Play phase. However, you can bluff about Events before they are processed, and Events may state to receive wounds 'divided among the players as you choose', so you could be sneaky and pretend that the other player receives all wounds and that there was no choice. You are also not obliged to explain what would have happened had the event not been prevented.
In the Action and Reveal and Processing phase both players create action plays then they are processed in alternating order starting with the player whose turn it is. Order of action plays can therefore be very important if there is an Assassin in play.
In the Replenishing Hand Phase players can either draw from the 'Conserved Energy' or from the draw pile, with the 'Conserved Energy' section therefore also being a way for players to trade cards.
To win as a Witness, you must begin a turn with all Witnesses at The End of the Road or have all Witnesses alive when the Assassin dies. Whereas to win as an Assassin, you must be alive when a Witness dies. If both Assassin and Witness die, it’s considered a tie game.
The road itself combined with wounds from events can be pretty brutal for all players, so don't underestimate the power of healing.
You can find that an Assassin wins not through cunning but through luck. Healing can be very important.
You might be wondering why as an Assassin you wouldn't just kill a Witness more or less from the get-go, but that's where the Call in a Hit card comes in - this card allows true Witnesses to force another player to randomly discard a number of action cards equal to half their current wounds and then receive nine wounds.
You have a maximum wound count based on your character, the standard Urbanite having eight. If you hit your maximum wound count, it is not instant death as you get to make a Last Gasp play. This allows you to put face down in front of you any number of action cards in a single suit as a sidebar to everyone else. Slide your last gasp marker one space right. If this play allows you to go below your maximum wound count, then hurrah you live. You die if after the Last Gasp play you are still at maximum or if your gasp marker ever hits three. They can be important even when you can't heal, in that they may still allow you to salvage a tie.
Personally, I would have preferred there to have been more road cards and character options for additional replayability, but there is still a reasonable amount of variation in the overall road between games. In one game, for example, I was mighty glad my opponent was not an Assassin as in the Dark part of the road I was very far away from a phone, and Call In a Hit only works if you are near a phone...
I love the simple artwork and colour scheme, as it seems very befitting of a game set in a town in 1940s as darkness falls. The cloth bags and wooden components are of decent quality. I particularly love the wooden player boards and bespoke meeples. The cards perhaps would have merited a linen finish, but the publisher at least included card sleeves to avoid them getting damaged. One thing I really love is the playmat. For many games that do include a mat, it is made of neoprene and has to be stored apart from the main game. In Mantis Falls, however, there is a super soft and foldable cloth playmat that can fit neatly into the box alongside everything else.
Overall I really love Mantis Falls and really enjoyed playing it, particularly with the bespoke soundtrack playing in the background. The gameplay is fairly unique and the production quality is great. It's also great that the game comes with its own strategy guide to help enhance your gameplay strategy. I hope to be able to test it out as three player with the DoaLG team soon. Whilst I appreciate that two to three-player is a design choice it might have been nice to have at least the option of four players so that for example two couples could play it together.
Following the successful Kickstarter campaign, it is currently only available to purchase from the publisher's website shipping to the US but they are investigating options to make it available to other regions. You can also play it on Tabeltop Simulator.