Published on November 7th, 2014 | by Nicole Jekich0
You Are Cordially Invited
Belle of the Ball Review
A year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, DiceHateMe Games and Daniel Solis have delivered a stunning, casual party game that is all about parties! As a renowned host, you and the other players are competing to throw the most memorable and perfect party during the eve of Carnivale on the Victorian isle of Ludobel. It is your responsibility to select guests out of the growing line out the door and invite them to share in the conversation and company of guests with similar interests. Are you ready for a fancy party?
Belle of the Ball is a card game that is composed of three card types in the basic game: Guest, Regret and Belle Cards. There are 60 Guest Cards represented by a portrait, a selection of three different interests, a flamboyant name complete with title and country. Guest Cards represent the variety of guests you can invite to your parties. The Regret Cards feature an image of an envelope sealed with wax and are also the back faces of the Guest Cards. They are kind of like the currency of the game. Belle Cards are the action cards that affect the groups of Guest Cards each player will be organizing.
Belle Cards come in three varieties: Mayhem cards are instant effects that can affect each player or give that active player bonuses like “The Belle Loves a Crowd”-Score 2 points for each Belle card in all parties. Mirth cards are added bonuses for parties that follow a certain rule, like “The Bell orders Tea, Earl Grey, Hot”- which means this party scores +2 points for each tea icon in that party. And finally, there are Mischief cards which is placed on an opponents party to cause a loss in points, party structure or other negative effect on the party such as “The Belle is feeling RUSHED” – This group is now full. This means the group scores immediately.
Like in many of Daniel Solis’ card games, the art is front and center and is the most impressive feature of the game. It is colorful, stylish and feature a universal theme about fancy, high-society parties presented in a much tongue-in-cheek manner. I’m a sucker for great art but I was never quite sure what to think of the ridiculousness of the guest names. This character can’t really be called “Gigglelack Lololol, Zest of Latesun”. Or “Lord WibblyWobbly WantonMutt, Lance of Indigum”.
Yes that is the level of silliness in their names and titles which I have come to enjoy. In order to get across the pretentious and fanciness of these characters, their names needed to sound unrealistic and over the top. (We’d love to hear who your favorite guest is in the comments.)
These three card types are all that’s required for playing and players are constantly drafting these cards to build and alter their parties and the parties of their opponents to be crowned the winner and earn the title of best host or hostess in Ludobel.
If you have ever played a tabletop game with a complex market, purchasing from a pool or drafting card resources, then Belle of the Ball will be a simplified version of that game. Each player begins with 3 Regrets and 3 Guests. The Guests are placed face up in front of their respective player and represent the starting guest of three separate cliques. Players will be trying to build up these cliques with other Guests that will share similar interests as listed as different icons in the upper left corner of the Guest card.
Players can invite Guests and Belle Cards to their parties by picking them from the line up as shown above. There are six cards in each line with one card face up on top of the deck. A player can pick the Guest or Belle Card furthest away from the deck aka “back of the line” without paying regret. In order to invite guests that are in the back, the player must pay one Regret to each Guest or Belle Card that they pass up.
If you’re familiar with Smallworld and the purchasing mechanics for the unique culture and adjective combinations, Belle of the Ball is similar. Any player that chooses a Guest or Belle card with Regrets on it, gains those Regrets. Each time a card is invited from the line up, the line shifts down and is refilled from the top.
Newly purchased Guest Cards go into a player’s party of their choosing immediately. Purchased Belle Cards are played at the beginning of the following turn. Once a group contains 4 Guests, it will score and is removed from the game. A player scores 1 point for each shared interest between Guests in that group. If there were any bonuses from Mirth Belle Cards, those points are scored immediately. Players are competing to have the highest score at the end of the game. The player with the highest score when there are no more Guests left to invite to a party, is the winner.
Belle of the Ball has a nice pace for a card game. We played with three players and finished our first game in 30 minutes. Players are constantly looking to collect guests and place them in organized parties while also trying to prevent opponents from doing the same. It is a great version of a set collection game and has even more collectible options in the advanced play which gives players even more opportunities to collect sets of cards. You cab do things like collect similar titles, similar families, similar countries (which give special abilities in the game when matched) and inviting Grifters which are special Guest Cards. These Grifters add 3 points to a player’s party and 0 points when played on an opponents party.
I feel that I love more complicated games now than I did a couple years ago. I haven’t touched many of the games I first bought when I started getting into gaming like Munchkin, Dominion and Smallworld. While I feel like I’ve outgrown those games, after playing Belle of the Ball I realize that a good game designer can take a basic mechanic that people are familiar with and present it in a completely new and entertaining way.
Belle of the Ball isn’t complex in its gameplay. If you are familiar with complicated markets in Euro games, Belle of the Ball is a breeze to learn. As an experienced gamer, I feel the set collection is easy to identify and it is easy to set your efficient party-scoring machine. Gameplay is fun, simple and is a great way to casually play a game with friends, family or strangers.
Where Belle of the Ball shines most for me is in its art direction and presentation. Daniel Solis is constantly designing games and working on bringing a modern level of design and art direction to games. DiceHateMe Games are all about bringing colorful and uniquely-themed games about fancy parties, beer making and building chemical compounds into the market where we are still making zombie, Cthulhu and generic fantasy games.
Belle of the Ball has women and people of color presented casually in the variety of Guest Cards without relying on tokenism. I supported this game because DiceHateMe is one of those companies that represents where I want games to be in the future.