Jim Felli is the kind of game designer that doesn’t seem to give a shit what kind of games are in ‘the hotness’ because his designs are novel, interesting, and mostly completely devoid of the derivative mechanics and lack of emotion that we’ve all become used to. Beyond that, he doesn’t ask you to fund his games via Kickstarter; he funds these out of his own pockets, betting on himself. Gary Vaynerchuk would certainly be proud of him, without a doubt. He’s also unpredictable, as his games seem to have no central wellspring which he uses to come up with these ideas. In short, Devious Weasel Games is unlike most other publishing companies because they seem to be focused on delivering some of the quirkiest, weirdest shit in gaming, with no real marketing, and no zealous fanbase of sycophants proclaiming that any game Jim Felli designs is (*queue Valley Girl accent) “Literally, like, the best games, like, ever.” It’s an odd company and an even odder Designer-in-Editor In Chief, to be sure.
While some Devious Weasel games are batshit crazy, like Zimby Mojo, others are very conservative and are a throwback to “the old days”, like Shadows of Malice. I even once got a preview copy of a game that I told him flatly had a market of around 10 people: the CEO and board of directors at Bear-Stearns. His most recently published game, Bemused, is not those games though. This is a much more mainstream game that deserves a hell of a lot more love than it has gotten, mostly because if you include myself, about nine people on earth know it exists thanks to his grassroots style of marketing which doesn’t seem to work in gaming, thanks to the abundance of marketing coming from reviewers. It’s a nasty, nasty little card game which is a bit like Cosmic Encounter or City of Horror in that it encourages fierce negotiations in which self-preservation forces players to lie straight to each others’ faces and then almost immediately slide a shiv beneath the opposing party’s ribs. It’s an intensely interesting game in that the rules are contained in a sparse nine pages, but the gameplay explodes into much greater action than the rules would lead you to predict once players understand the “why” behind the “how” the rules provide. Even more interestingly, and completely in the spirit of Devious Weasel, the game requires a minimum of four players, and a maximum of six. Quite odd for what is clearly the length of an appetizer, but with the depth of a main course.
The premise of the game is also quite intriguing; it’s a game about mythical phantasms pulling the strings on their own, personal, real-life Pinochhios, who happen to be artists. The goal is to elevate your Muse’s particular artist, or ‘Virtuoso’ as the game calls them, to greatness and fame. Unsurprisingly, though, your Muse doesn’t only pump up your Virtuoso with visions of greatness and whispers of encouragement, your Muses also whisper “you’re a fucking hack, you cunt” into the ears of your opponents’ Virtuosos. It’s here that the game lies; you must spend your time balancing between pumping up your guy, beating the hell out of your opponents’ guys, and lying to everyone about which guy you’re really looking to screw. Even better, you can literally drive your opponents insane, or kill them. Now, it’s not explicit, but you’re really driving them insane no matter what, but if they die of their madness, you literally catfished them into suicide. So crucial is it to the design that you do this, that the game literally doesn’t end until you’ve either convinced all but two to kill themselves or driven them fully insane. In short, this is a nasty, nasty little game, and is the “blue port-a-John fluid” equivalent of negotiation games.
The fact that you have to sit and intentionally lie to people’s faces during the entire game may turn people off. These are likely the same people who pay sticker price for their car and take whatever trade-in value the dealership gives them without haggling. That’s fine; this game is NOT for you, so stop reading and go play Agricola instead. If you’re the kind of person who brings your infant to the dealership, hungry and with a pee soaked diaper, at the end of the day, so that the dealer’s salesperson is subjected to countless hours of wailing infant when they should have already gone home, dreaming only of freedom and an end to their suffering, like some SEAL training exercise…this game is absolutely your huckleberry, and I encourage you to read on.
This game punches all of the usual buttons for a card game, but this is definitely one of the more involved card-only games I’ve played. You have your Virtuoso, of which there are six types such as Painter or Singer. You also have a Gemena card, each of which matches one of the Virtuoso’s types, which are secret cards that allow you, eventually, to stick it to the Virtuoso whose type is depicted on it. Then, you have a card which is sort of your motivation with regard to the Gemena – you might admire that Virtuoso and want them to survive, or hate them and want them dead as Elvis. No other player will know your motivation, which is a key point to the game – lying about your motivation is crucial, and you can quite cleverly jack that Virtuoso up while simultaneously proclaiming your admiration and devotion. It’s also worth mentioning that each Virtuoso has its own special power, and you’d be well-advised to barter with those if you plan to live long. Basically, this game is an Ameritrasher’s dream, but without any dice.
The long and short is that this is a great little game, albeit very difficult to grasp at first despite the rules being very explicit about the motivations and mechanics. It’s an odd bird, like all previous Devious Weasel games, but if you’re into nastiness, backstabbery, and settings which aren’t often integrated into a game, this may be for you. Just be advised…it’s nasty. Really, really nasty.
Why I’m Amused By Bemused:
– So utterly nasty that Janet Jackson’s song was dedicated to it
– Very unique setting and themes seperate this from the pack
– The rare gem which is short to play but very satisfying
Why Jim Felli’s Muse Failed Him:
– Most of the cards lack any art
– The gameplay takes a bit to wrap your mind around, but not too much
– It plays best with six, and filler-length games don’t usually have six
I highly recommend this for people who want a really good negotiation game with a body count that erupts from indirect combat-of-sorts. The magic in this game is the ability to ask for favors from other players and be asked favors while knowing that the opponents will only do what’s in their interest at the time. It’s this sort of prediction and psychological analysis which makes this game special, in my view, and worth owning.
Learn more about Bemused here: