If I was to ask anyone to name a board game that saw players attempting to identify a killer by analysing both the crime scene and the clues left behind, you could be sure the majority of those people would answer Cluedo (Clue for our American friends). While this game would fit into this category, it's fair to say it doesn’t involve any “real” detective work and the way you get to find the killer is a frantic finger-pointing race. Portal Games want to change that.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is the latest offering from Portal Games, with the aim of getting players to take on the role of detectives and will have you using REAL detective skills to solve crimes, both present and historic.
When I first heard about Detective, the premise sounded like a breath of fresh air to the classic “who-dunnit” genre. Having to use actual detective skills and the fact the game even suggested that players write EVERYTHING down had my interest peaked! Far too many detective-style games try to lead the player to an outcome or try to guide the story too much and this is an instant turn off for that genre in my opinion. “Detective” on the other hand promised a completely “free” experience, one which would have an outcome very different for each player, depending how good of a detective they are.
I managed to play this at Tabletop Gaming Live and took on a case which tasked us to find the killer, the motive and also various other details that were perhaps deemed irrelevant while working the case (I loved this element as it kept us on our toes and pushed us to really dig into the case files, like real detectives).
What's in the Box?
The game comes with five cases, these cases being essentially a deck of cards detailing evidence, interviews, data analysis, leads and various other bits of information that will help the players come to a decision on who the killer is, what the motive was etc. The key element that ties this game nicely together is the web app.
“Detective” relies heavily on the Antares web app, a “detective database” which players will interact with to bring up transcripts of interviews with suspects, search the data of said suspects and also compare fingerprints that are found at the crime scene (it is a string of digits and characters that make up the fingerprints and material data so you can compare them to evidence). All the information is obtained using the number system that is also used with the cards so navigating the game and the app is no problem at all.
Alongside the cards and the app, the players are presented with five different sites they can travel to, along with a time scale (both day and specific time) and skill tokens that can be used to perform certain actions detailed on the cards. These can range from pressing suspects a little harder to get them to talk more or performing deeper analysis on certain bits of evidence, all yielding extra information but also taking up valuable time.
A nice little mechanic that is used is the simple timeline, most events taking up a specified amount of time, the players allowed to work at any time of day, but be warned, work any longer than eight hours and you will start working OVERTIME. Each case, the players are given overtime tokens and each hour of overtime worked means one spent token. Run out of tokens and the detectives run themselves into the ground and you fail the case.
Each of these elements is set up according to the case and then the players are set free. Each crime scene that is investigated, each suspect that is interviewed and each piece of evidence that is analysed will usually give the players a lead, another nugget of information for them to continue their investigation. Apart from that, and the information on the app, it is very much up to the players to guide their own investigation.
Each case will have a time limit and after that time has elapsed, the players must decide on the answers to the given criteria, be that who the killer was and what weapon was used for example. The answers are selected from within the app, the app giving the players a final score out of 40. There isn’t necessarily a win or a lose scenario, but simply a scale on how good of a detective you are!
So, what do I think? Well, I absolutely love “Detective”. It is a game that breaks away from the linear mould of board games and gives its players a real sense of achievement throughout. You will find yourself feeling like a real-life Sherlock, trying to piece together all the little details to get a bigger picture and to eventually solve the case with your teammates!
The game warns against hurrying through the clues, something I think we were guilty of when playing it to begin with. IF you do this, you get overloaded with information and then find yourself chasing something that really has nothing to do with the case and will affect your final score. While frustrating, this encourages greater engagement with other players and means real focus is needed by all!
Another element I think is great is the subtle clues placed in each case that will form part of a bigger reveal later in the game. In each case, players will notice a recurring theme that at first may seem insignificant, but, over time and after playing the cases, will begin to make sense and allow players to piece together a case that links all the cases in the game.
Perhaps most important of all is to not get carried away! This game may seem simple, something I definitely felt to begin with, since the components are few and the premise just seems quite easy! How wrong we were when we found ourselves scoring an outrageously horrendous score of -2! My partner and I looked at each other when the score came up and laughed hysterically, mainly because we thought we had cracked the case perfectly! This game will lead you down rabbit holes and YOU MUST keep track of all the data given otherwise you will find yourself with a measly score like us (we did end up playing it again and scored a much more respectable 32 out of 40!
The only criticism I have of this game is the lack of replay-ability. Unfortunately, as soon as you solve a case, that's it! You know the outcome, you know how to answer the final questions and this means once the five cases are complete, you lose that replay-ability. I don't want to hold this against the game though! I knew this would be the case before playing and this drawback is massively overshadowed by the sheer quality of the gameplay and the enjoyment I had solving the cases. The length of time it takes to complete the cases also ensures you have at least 10 hours of game time!
This aside, we both had a fantastic time playing Detective and having completed most of the cases, we are definitely looking forward to the new ones that are due to be released soon!
Overall, it is safe to say that Detective really tries something different for the crime game genre. It really tests players while also providing an enjoyable experience for all and a real sense of achievement at the end, provided you have actually worked out who was responsible! If you are looking for a game that a is a little different from the norm and will keep you engaged over a period of time then Detective is definitely a game for you try!
You may feel like Sherlock Holmes by the end of it but it isn’t recommended to try and go out and solve real life cases after a couple of play-throughs of Detective! If only solving crimes was as easy as turning over cards and adding points to a mind map! While not entirely accurate, it gives you a real taste of proper detective work and this is guaranteed to have you hooked from the beginning. A great crime game and one that you really don’t want to miss!