Cursed Court is a tight, ingenious design that continually turns the action back to the players and their deductions, strategies, and wagers. The players take the roles of minor nobles with limited power. Each has just four wagering crowns and 20 betting coins in their color. The nine major nobles appear in a three-by-three grid on the game’s board, and four times each in the game’s 36-card deck. From the top-left they are the Courtesan, Merchant, King, Priestess, King, Duke, Jester, Sorceress, and Assassin.
Each season begins with public information. One card is dealt face-up to the tableau, an array of cards next to the board. In each season, each player places one of their crowns on a board region, either a noble region or a set region.
- A noble bet is a wager that at least one of that noble’s cards will appear — among the hidden and public cards — before the year’s end.
- A set bet is a wager that some specific collection of nobles will all appear. For example, the Opera set comprises the Courtesan, Merchant, Priestess, and Queen. If any of those nobles are missing, that wager will be worthless.
Each player will leave behind one bet per season. But! The influence coins complicate the wagers and turn the players inexorably toward each other. Each region can only hold a single player’s bet, so every time a player places a betting crown, they may place any number of their coins — up to all they have left — beneath it.
Coins protect bets. If a later player wants to bump an earlier bet to take over a region, the new bet must double the original coin stack. A player who cannot double cannot bump, and must bet somewhere else. Bumped players must re-place their bets elsewhere; seasons end only when all players have placed one bet in the Spring, two bets in the Summer, three bets in the Autumn, and all four of their bets in the Winter.
At the end of each year, the hidden cards are added to the tableau and all bets are scored. Four-noble sets pay four points, three-noble sets pay three points, and bets on single nobles pay a variable amount based on how many copies of that noble’s card appear, from one to eight points.
At the end of three years, the player with the highest score wins.