After playing this game the fourth time, I understood what I love about it. Beautiful and snazzy.
Tabletop card games are a favorite of mine. They turn out to be a brilliant addition to any RPG session, as card games can rebuild group cohesion. A fun card game can get a session's ball rolling, the quicker the better. And they are a great palette cleanser after playing other board games.
Sometimes one might think of card games as lacking the strategic depth or complexity of their bigger cousins. This isn't always true. I've found that games like Fluxx or Chrononauts can take up the same time of some bigger games, often having emergent game content that keeps my group entertained. This is where I find Belle of the Ball is beautiful. It was designed with variable depth and difficulty.
After our initial game, we thought Belle of the Ball was interesting, albeit leaning toward the luck end of things. But we pulled out the advanced setup the second time around. That made the game feel deeper.
I should also note that one critical neat aspect of Belle of the Ball is that isn't violent. Its about creating a interesting party. I imagine one could alter Belle of the Ball a bit for handling some sort of social event, who knows. I'm just musing at this point. The key interesting part is how interesting competing parties can be as a theme instead of some of the normal ones others might think of.
Belle of the Ball is a game about assembling sets of interests. The goal is to get guests together that share interests, earning points for matching interests. You also can obtain Belle cards, which provide other effects. Some can be used against other players. Some let you earn easy points on the side.
But most interesting? Your choice each turn is limited to adding a guest or taking a Belle card. There also is a internal economy to the game as well. That choice each turn is what makes the game interesting to me. Single turn, each time a step in a strategy. There is always an available option.
It is a puzzle really. But the factors of dealing with what others are doing or what they could do to your plans, force you to adapt. The luck in the game is balanced out by the amount of skill you have are seeing what's coming or could come at you.
As for RPG potential, I the internal universe of Belle of the Ball uses fanciful names. Some may be turned off by this. This is a soul test- if you have a soul, you will enjoy the fun of the names in Belle of the Ball. Only the soulless and the damned would be turned off by them.
The damned I say.
I think one could have fun RPing as one of the noble party-makers of Ludobel. In fact, you could do a quick legacy hack of Belle of the Ball by giving each player index cards. Name your character. Whenever you win a game of Belle of the Ball, each player can choose a interest. You gain 1 extra point next time you each score a group that has that interest in it. Whoever wins can add or remove 1 interest from a guest card.
Belle of the Ball is a keeper. Go here if you are interested in the designer, Daniel Solis. Or go here if you want to check out a copy for yourself.