I got this game years ago. I remember opening it, looking at all the pieces, punching out the cardboard bits, reading the rules...then packing it all away again. Since then, I've opened it two or three times with the same outcome. A few years ago, it disappeared into my loft.
What always put me off playing was my understanding of the rules; I kept feeling I was missing something. I'm always the one to read the rules and explain it to the others in my group, but I never felt I quite got to grips with what was going on here.
So I've rescued the game from my loft, persevered with the rules, and realized why I never played it. And perhaps why no one else appears to have done either.
"Diane, I'm holding in my hand a small bag of plastic donuts."
Inside the box, there's a rule booklet, a game board, two dice (one regular, one poker), 6 coloured pawns, a deck of 50 suspect clue cards, a plastic arrow spinner (that attaches to the centre of the board), a perforated cardboard sheet of 30 pentagram pieces and 75 "donut" counters (though I only got 70...).
This is a "Murder Mystery Game" for 4 to 6 players. Your goal is to identify Laura Palmer's killer and trap them. To achieve this, you must accomplish the following: collect 12 donuts; collect the five pieces of the Pentagram Deathtrap; collect four suspect clue cards, all bearing the same suspect name but also bearing identical poker suits or one of each suit.
Set in the town of Twin Peaks, the game board consists of a fairly simple track around which you move your playing pieces at the throw of a die. There's the familiar picture of the road into Twin Peaks in the centre of the board, with photos of the log, two doughnuts (thought I'd get the correct spelling in somewhere) and a slice of cherry pie in three corners. The rest of the artwork is basic, looking like clipart. Most squares contain said clipart, a reference to an event or location from the series and an instruction ("Roll again", "Miss a turn", "Go to [particular square]", "Collect/Lose [some] donuts", "Draw/Exchange clue card").
The playing pieces are generic plastic pawns in six colours. The colours relate to a symbol from the world of Twin Peaks: Red=The Heart (the gold chain, or the poker suit perhaps?); Blue=The Pie; Green=The Poker Chip; Yellow=The Log; Black=The Gun; White=The Coffee Cup. How much more interesting would it have been to actually have these objects as your playing pieces, à la Monopoly? Ah well, at least you can refer to the instructions to find which is which if you forget. You'll need to know for the exciting dream-speaking part of the game...
"Gimme a donut."
The donuts are small brown plastic counters, that look rather like squashed colonists from the game Puerto Rico. You acquire these by landing on particular squares instructing you to collect between 1 and 4 donuts. You can hold up to 13 (a Baker's dozen). There is only one square where you can lose donuts (the morgue...what are you doing, feeding them to corpses?!), and there's one other square that sends you to the morgue (though not literally). Both of these squares lie upon an optional part of the game track, running diagonally across the board, that you can avoid for most of the game.
Suspect clue cards are likewise collected by landing on particular squares instructing you to take a card. Each card bears a clue (irrelevant to play, but supposedly there to add to the theme), a poker suit (heart, club, spade or diamond), and a suspect's name. There's no way of losing cards, however, so if players aim to collect as many as possible, some unfortunate player could find themselves without enough to ever win the game. It's unlikely, but it's possible.
Only two squares allow you to exchange cards with another player. You get to select which card they get, but it's unclear whether they get the same privilege. If so, a problem with the clue cards could render this pretty useless:
Keep in mind you need four of the same character, and you soon realise some characters are there for "atmosphere" only. People like James Hurley and Bobby Briggs appear only once or twice in the entire deck, and there are six such characters on 7 cards that therefore serve no other purpose than to frustrate victory. New players may find they have exchanged useful cards, hoping to collect a set that does not exist. If the "exchange cards" part of the game allows both players to choose the cards they wish to get rid of, these useless cards will be the ones being swapped about.
There are five other characters that you can win with. Jacques Renault and Mike Gerard (referred to in the instruction booklet as "Phillip M. Gerard" just to confuse the Twin Peaks novice) both have four cards exactly, meaning you need a "perfect hand", so-to-speak, to claim victory. Leo Johnson and Leland Palmer have a few more cards, but again the available cards restrict your combinations (for example, to win with Leo you would need either one of each suit, or four hearts or four clubs. No other winning combination is possible). BOB gets the lion's share of the cards, allowing any combination of winning cards except four diamonds (since there are only three of these).
While writing this, I noticed the back of one of my clue cards has been printed in reverse, making it stand out from the others. It's one of Leland Palmer's cards, so fans of the show may wonder if it's deliberate. The clue given on the card is "A man in a smiling bag." Creepy. The most atmospheric part of the game...
Which brings me to the clues themselves. As I said earlier, they aren't relevant, but apparently are there to add to the atmosphere. Some are obvious references ("Clawmarks and animal bites on Laura's body"), some rather obscure except to fans ("A family named Robertson") and some very obscure clues that perhaps some hardcore fan can unravel the relevance of ("The number 3.").
"The owl pieces are not what they seem..."
Now we come to the pentagram pieces. There are five pieces that form a five-pointed star. Each piece is a point of the pentagram and depicts a character from the series: Owl, Little Man, Little Boy, Cousin and Giant. Putting the five pieces together forms a white horse in the central pentagon labelled "BOB". To collect these pieces requires travelling around a special inner track on the board, and rolling the poker die.
You are forced onto this track by landing on one of four squares: Horne's Department Store, Laura Palmer, One-Eyed Jacks or Easter Park. The track itself consists of card values: 9, 10, J, Q, K, A, also represented on the poker die. As you move around the track (by rolling the normal die), you also roll the poker die. If the square you land on matches the poker die face, you claim a particular part of the pentagram: e.g. Jack=Owl piece, King=Little Man piece. The pieces aren't labelled as such, so you have to refer back to the rule booklet the first few times.
Which brings us to another problem. There are only five pieces on the pentagram, but six different squares on the playing card track. The Ace, according to the rules, gets you the BOB piece. But there isn't a BOB piece, as Bob is made up of all five pieces. So do you get all five pieces in one go, or do you win the piece which has "BOB" written on it (which is also the Owl piece)?
Needless to say, it takes ages to acquire all five pieces. When you do land on Q, for example, as you roll Q on the poker die, you probably find you already have that piece. This process is hampered by movement being restricted in one direction: once you're on the track, you must keep moving in one direction until you get off. The ability to switch direction may have helped speed things up here. Thankfully the same squares that force you onto the track are also your exits, so you only have to go around a quarter of the track at a time. But it won't be long before you're sent back to the most mind-numbing part of the game. And you will need those five pieces to win.
All 4-6 players are taking their turn to collect donut counters, clue cards and pentagram pieces. Get what you need, and you've won. So what's with the spinner in the middle of the board? Ah yes, the dream-speaking part of the game, a reference to the Waiting Room from the series, where certain characters have stilted speech because, although they're speaking forwards, the actors have been recorded speaking backwards...or something like that.
Now don't get too excited. If you are sent to the dream-speaking square, or land on it, you spin the spinner, giving you a number from one to six (or rather, I to VI, otherwise you could have just used the die...). Now your choice of pawn colour becomes "relevant", as each piece has a different page in the instructions to look up (I can sense your excitement building at this point...squash it now). There, the player will find six sentences that include a phrase written backwards. While another player counts from 1 to 10, the current player must unravel the sentence indicated by the spinner. If they fail, next go they must spin the spinner and try again. If they succeed, they follow the instructions that follow the mystery sentence.
I don't consider myself a genius, but I've never found reading backwards to be much of a challenge. Even as a kid, I never had to hold those "secret messages" up to a mirror to unravel them, and these aren't even written in mirror writing. If these are meant to be so difficult, I wonder how other players are meant to know if you read them correctly?
Here's an example. The second sentence is the instruction the player follows if they're successful. And yes, this is one from the game, shown as it appears in the rule booklet:
The shadow means, "DRIB HANYM EHT ODLAW"
(Go to Waldo the mynah bird)
In fact, completing the dream-sequence successfully always results in being instructed to go somewhere, which doesn't really add anything to the game. And it isn't always easy to find where you're being sent to! When told to "Go to the Rock and Bottle", I thought it was some obscure pub that my memory of Twin Peaks failed to recall. Until I found the square that read, "Agent Cooper throws rocks at bottle. Advance to dream speaking." Hang on, didn't we just come from there?!
Another quirky piece of board design is the square that tells you to "Advance to Saw Mill", which is the very next square. I don't know, perhaps all these quirks are contributions from David Lynch, intent on deconstructing our preconceived notions of board games. Ri-ight.
"That game you like is going to come back in style."
Do I have anything nice to say? Erm...okay. You could use the pawns for some Cheapass games, or in place of some counters in Betrayal at House on the Hill. The donuts could be used in place of lost Puerto Rican colonists (the donuts are slightly bigger). You get a nice little poker die. The instructions contain a map and a little information on the town of Twin Peaks, including some very brief personality profiles of a random cross-section of characters (many of whom aren't otherwise mentioned in the game). But I suspect nothing will be new to fans, especially if they possess the "Access Guide to Twin Peaks" book.
I hoped to write a session report for BGG, but I really don't think I can put anyone else through this. I tried playing it on my own twice, controlling four pieces, but both times I lost the will to finish; the collection of the pentagram pieces is so laborious, I felt a strong desire to wrap the game designer in plastic.
You kind of suspect someone knew a Twin Peaks game should consist of the most iconic moments of the series: donuts, dream-speak, weird locations and weirder characters, solving the murder of Laura Palmer. But they never figured out how to combine the elements. I seriously doubt this game was ever play-tested.
There seems to be a lack of proof-reading too. According to the instructions, the suspect clue cards are meant to be stored on the "space provided on the board". While there is sufficient space to store the cards, I assumed they meant a specially marked rectangle (there isn't one). Whoever chooses the yellow pawn – sorry, The Log – is supposed to go first, but there's nothing about what to do if no one chooses The Log. One suspect clue card shows the suspect "Wyndham Earle" (rather than Windom), and contains the clue, "A Walther P.B.K. (James Bond's gun)"[sic]. All of this sloppiness makes you feel you're playing a design in progress rather than a finished product. I imagine the makers were relying on the name to sell the game (which is probably the only reason people are still interested in it).
While attempting to play, I kept feeling I had misread the rules, that the designer surely couldn't have meant it to be like this. The rule booklet even suggests there's something mysterious going on, as shown in this bit from page 2:
A Word About – The Inside Track
As a Special Agent, you are obliged to pursue every clue and walk every pathway to investigate, apprehend, and prosecute any suspect or suspects, you deem to have a direct connection with your case bringing them to justice in a timely manner.
Within this manual, you will find certain personality profiles, clues, and admissible evidence that will aid you in your task. It has consequently been pre-established that five clues linked directly to any of the following personalities are the required amount with which to secure your suspect.
While treating yourself to copious amounts of sliced huckleberry pies, and fistfuls of glazed and sugared donuts, be forewarned that you are about to embark on a perilous journey; one of mystery, intrigue, danger at every corner, and the unexpected. Take heed and remain prepared at all costs: for many things are not what they seem!
Virtually nothing in that excerpt is relevant to the game. It's a description of a different game, perhaps the one the designers wanted to make but couldn't meet the deadline. It's interesting to read the incorrect descriptions across the internet of what this game is about - usually proof the seller on e-Bay really hasn't played it! Ultimately, this is just a tedious collecting game.
You could make it almost playable with a few tweaks (or should that be "tweakies"?!). Allowing movement in either direction on the poker track at any time might decrease time spent gathering pentagram pieces. So might allowing the Ace to mean you can take any pentagram piece you need. A limit on the suspect clue cards in hand might get the cards flowing quicker. Failing that, a marker pen should help you turn this into Twin Peaks Monopoly, where you build donuts on the locations you own, and "Go To Jail" means you go round that darn poker track until you land on a square matching the poker die.
Play it if you must, but you will need a damn fine cup of coffee. And HOT.
Absolutely wonderful review Dan, everything I was hoping for and more...well, if you discount the fact that I would have preferred that the game was actually halfways decent, but that apparently would have been way too much to ask
Thank you for saving me the hell of purchasing this game and trying to coerce my unsuspecting friends into playing it...
The pleasure, if I can call it that, is all mine...
And thanks for the gold!