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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Well-written and strong theme
  • Rules for detectives are very easy to teach.
  • Questioning suspects is a blast.
  • No two cases are alike.
  • Specifically designed Solo Mode available.

Might Not Like

  • Each case can only be solved once.
  • The Chisel has a lot of responsibility for a successful game.
  • Damien Christmas…

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Detective: City Of Angels Review

Detective City Of Angels Feature Image

“If you want to get ahead in this town, bein’ squeaky clean ain’t gonna cut it. You’ll have to get your hands dirty.”

If you owned a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 in 2011, then you probably remember the excitement of Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire and its MotionScan technology. Staring at your TV screen, trying to spot the ticks and tells of a perfectly animated witness was what made L.A. Noire unique. The unforgiving consequences of an interrogation gone bad ensured every question felt tense and every clue proved vital.

Jump forward to 2019 and it’s impossible not to compare Van Ryder Games’ Detective: City of Angels to the L.A. Noire experience — indeed the designers themselves invite the comparison. This is a board game that throws the players into the seedy underbelly of 1940s Los Angeles. You solve crimes by exploring the city, gathering clues, and, you guessed it, interrogating dishonest suspects.

The Detectives

Detective: City of Angels comes with nine cases, varying in difficulty from Gumshoe (easy) to Hardboiled (hard). Each case is unique and can be solved only once. Each provides a new experience for the detectives who will use any means necessary to catch the killer (or culprit. They aren’t all murder cases!)

A game begins with each detective being handed a case file containing the details of the mystery they are about to solve. As well as some thematic script, these briefings will include important information which can give the detectives a head start in their investigation. Each round, the players will use up to four actions. You can move across the map, search locations, and question witnesses, building up a picture of what happened and trying to be the first to solve the case.

The Chisel

Where the game really comes to life is with the Chisel. In every game of Detective: City of Angels, one player takes on the role of the Chisel. They are the game master whose job it is to keep the detectives from getting to the bottom of the case. As well as being responsible for handing out the secret results of searches, and tracking the case’s various twists and turns, the Chisel has a casebook of their own which includes all the scripted responses for the suspects.

When a player chooses to question a suspect, the Chisel will choose one of several possible answers. It’s then up to the detective to deduce whether that suspect is telling the truth or deliberately misleading them. Guess right, and you get the truth, as well as leverage over that witness to use in future questions. Guess wrong, and the Chisel gets the leverage over you, making the case that much harder to solve.

This dynamic interrogation mechanic is where Detective: City of Angels really shines. The superbly written suspect responses bring out the theme and make each character and each case feel real and unique. Nothing is more satisfying than correctly challenging a tough witness, and nothing is funnier than watching a player repeatedly failing to recognise that the sweet old lady next door really doesn’t know anything!

Scratch And Snitch

With the Chisel trying to thwart you at every turn, at least you’ve got your fellow detectives to help you out, right? Wrong! This is 1940s L.A., and it’s every detective for themselves. As well as collecting evidence and witness testimonies, you’ll have to manage your money. Players can spend actions on their turn to gain ‘scratch’ or claim a hefty kickback from the mob if they’re at the right location. This money is spent to get ahead of your fellow detectives (whatever it takes, right?) Whether it's bribing a desk clerk to sneak a peek at someone else’s hard-won evidence. Or paying a snitch to listen in on a private interrogation. How you use your money can be the difference between victory and defeat as the rounds count down. And if no one solves the case before it goes cold, the criminal gets away and the Chisel wins!

Favours, Grifts And Hildy Johnson

After playing the easy cases, players can mix up the gameplay with several optional variants. Favours provide each detective with a unique one-time power to turn the tide on a failing investigation, while Grift cards help the Chisel to foil even the most intrepid flatfoots. And Hildy Johnson, reporter for the L.A. Times is always on the lookout for the next big scoop. Couple these with the unique mechanics of later missions and no two games of Detective: CoA are ever the same.

Sleuth Mode a.k.a. Solo Play

While the multiplayer experience feels like the true way to play Detective: City of Angels, the game also comes with a solo/co-op mode where search cards and suspect responses are scripted in a specially designed ‘Sleuth Book’. In this variant, the detective still challenges the suspects, but an incorrect guess will result in stress. Get too stressed and you’ll lose precious time. Sleuth Mode also leaves out all rules involving scratch, since you’ll have no need to bribe fellow officers.

Despite missing some of the mechanics of multiplayer, Sleuth Mode is a solid way to experience the game, particularly if you’re more interested in exploring the narrative or lack a regular playgroup. Sleuth Mode is also great for a Chisel to get an understanding of a case before taking it to the table for the detectives to solve.

Final Thoughts

Detective: City of Angels is a game that draws players into 1940s noir using well-written scripts, dynamic mechanics and thematically perfect artwork – the board itself is based on a real map of Los Angeles from 1932 that was the original inspiration for the game! At times, it almost feels like a tabletop RPG, and like many RPGs, it can live and die on the Game Master. The instruction manual does come with a great example of how the Chisel can make the game more exciting, and the more the Chisel gets into the theme and the excitement of those interrogations, the more fun all the players will have.

Of course, like almost all detective board games, each case can only be solved once, so replayability is limited, but with nine mysteries in the base game and two expansions offering four more cases each, you’ll have a lot of content before the game runs dry. And even then, if you enjoy playing the Chisel, you can always introduce the game to a new playgroup and run all the cases again! It’s also worth mentioning that cases should ideally be played in sequential order so as to avoid spoilers. There are a few connected cases and you don’t want to spoil one before you’ve even played it!

Ultimately, if you like mystery games and a 1940s theme, then Detective: CoA is well worth a look. There’s nothing else quite like it, and the simple but effective rules will appeal to both new and experienced board gamers alike. Now get the hell out of my briefing room and catch me a criminal!

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Well-written and strong theme
  • Rules for detectives are very easy to teach.
  • Questioning suspects is a blast.
  • No two cases are alike.
  • Specifically designed Solo Mode available.

Might not like

  • Each case can only be solved once.
  • The Chisel has a lot of responsibility for a successful game.
  • Damien Christmas

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