If you've been on the internet long enough, you've seen the works of Cyanide and Happiness. Created by Explosm Entertainment, the web series is known for their absurd, anarchic humor packed into quick digestible sketches. It's the kind of format that served Explosm well. They have turned that madcap energy into quick and easy board games like Joking Hazard and Trial By Trolley with easy rules and short run times. Now with their third board game, Master Dater, it seems they have refined that energy even more.
How Do You Play Master Dater?
We were sent a prototype copy of Master Dater by Explosm Entertainment to try at our gaming table. As the name implies, the game is framed as a dating show. There are three decks of cards, one of Heads, one of Bodies, the other of Interests. All players start with a hand made up three Body cards and three Head cards. One player takes on the role of the Sexy Single and reveals the top three cards from the Interest deck. These Interest cards can range from “I need someone to marry me right now” or “I love people with a tragic backstory.” The other players then create an ideal date for the Sexy Single using a Head and Body card from their hand. One by one, they reveal their creation and get a small amount of time to argue why they would be the perfect match.
Once all players have made their case, the Sexy Single then gives out the Interest cards as points for whoever made the strongest (or most deranged) argument. The role of Sexy Single goes clockwise around the table and a new round starts. The first player to score five Interest cards, including one of all three card types, they are declared the winner.
How Did It Feel To Play Master Dater?
First impressions of Master Dater were stellar. The rules are simple. Set up is quick and easy. The central premise is basically a riff on old dating shows like The Dating Game or The Bachelor. The variety of the Head and Body cards are versatile, capable of many different combinations. Some of them can be as straightforward as a Secret Agent with the head of a Goth or as weird as a Taco On a Unicycle Juggling Chainsaws with the head of a Toilet.
In other words, Master Dater is one of those “party games for terrible people” made popular by Cards Against Humanity. The kind of raucous pub games where you and some good friends get some heady drinks and indulge in some fun. Granted, it's the kind of fun where you feel like you should go to church the next day or take a long hot shower afterwards, but fun nonetheless.
What makes Master Dater stand out is the shifting criteria of the Interest Cards. A Secret Agent Goth might be great for those interested in going to exotic locations, not so much for someone who “Knows For A Fact The Earth Is Flat.” It helps keep each round interesting as well as keeps players engaged. No defaulting to the same shocking, transgressive answers that lose their bite each time. There's even a bit of strategy involved with what contestants will focus on for points, which adds some structure to the stretches of improv they're expected to do.
Furthermore, a game of Master Dater is short. The demo box stated that a single game takes about 25 minutes. The game my group played, four players total, lasted about 30 minutes, although that was because we had to take a break from laughing too hard. Much like a Cyanide and Happiness sketch, the game was full of bizarre set-ups and quick punchlines, all maintained at a breezy pace.
If there is a complaint I do have with the game in its current form it would be that there's no set time limit for the contestants to speak to the Sexy Single. In the games we had, we houseruled that each player got about 30 seconds to talk with a brief rebuttal between them and the Sexy Single. It was a fair house rule given the dating game show structure of Master Dater, but making that more clear in the rules can help keep the pace quick.
Overall, Master Dater makes a great first impression. It shows that Explosm's talent for juvenile absurdity has only gotten stronger. It lead to the most fun I've had with good friends and a stiff drink in a while. Finally, it actually demands a bit more thought from their players other than brief shock. If you are even a little interested in this game, the Gamefound campaign for Master Dater concludes on May 5 and includes additional expansions. You can back the campaign and secure your copy here.