Most “betrayal” games are large group games- think The Resistance, Shadows over Camelot, or Diplomacy. That’s what makes Mantis Falls so unique- it takes this genre of betrayal games and fits it nicely into a 2-player experience (it plays up to 3 players with the expansion).
In Mantis Falls, players play as witnesses trying to survive the night without being assassinated by the mob. Each turn, the group must survive an encounter (for example, an ambush by the mob) and coordinate resources in order to defeat the encounter. One player alone will often not have enough damage dealing cards in their hand, but working together the players can handily defeat most enemies. Failing an encounter is also common, in which case the players often have the choice in deciding which characters get injured. The catch is that one of the players is secretly working for the mob, who wins the game by sabotaging the witness. Won’t you automatically know who the “betrayer” is, since there are only 2 players? Well, there is a small chance (33%) that both players are witnesses. This is mathematically brilliant because it means that statistically, you should be suspicious of the other player. Yet, if you are too suspicious then you’ll have no chance to win the game.
We liked the game a lot overall. There were more rules/set-up than we expected given the box size, so it took a while to get started. That said, it is also a testament to how much content is included in the game. On top of the base game, there’s also plenty of expansions that add certain twists to the game. While we didn’t play the game enough to get a good sense of balance (we got about 2 or 3 plays in before Covid-19), we did feel that it was a little difficult to be a mob member, especially in the 3-player variant. In one of these 3-player games, the mob member betrayed too early and the next several turns were spent slowly killing the mob member until the game predictably ended. We also felt that the games in which all players were innocent were a bit anti-climactic. While the 3-player variant is a great feature to have, it definitely seems like 2-players is the better player count for this game.
We highly appreciated the strategic gameplay, especially when it came to hand management. We really liked how, similar to Keyforge, you would declare a suit and then play all cards of that suit from your hand. This incentivized clever discarding where you might discard a very good card because it isn’t in one of the suits you needed to play later on. We also thought that the face-down discarding was nice because it allowed the mob member more flexibility to self-sabotage their own hand and get rid of combo pieces that the group was looking for. On the other hand, this was kind of annoying on the first play-through because it only added to the confusion.
I’d recommend Mantis Falls to anyone looking for a solid 2-player game, especially if they are cunning- they’ll need it to succeed at this game.