Aboard your cruise vessel, a grisly murder has been committed. You and the other players were dining with the captain, and so you know that you weren’t the killer. But one of the passengers was. In Perfect Alibi, you find which passenger is missing an alibi and therefore the odious killer.
The Basics. There are 16 alibi cards. Each shows one of four characters in one of four locations at one of four times. One card is chosen randomly and tucked away. The remainder are distributed between the players.
There are also sets of interrogation tokens in each of the player colors. Four are randomly chosen and set out. They depict either a clock (for time questions) or a life preserver (for location questions).
In turn order, a player must choose one of the tokens of another player color. He then gets to ask that player a question. If he selected a clock, he must ask about time. So he might say, “How many cards do you have showing 3 o’clock?” If he picks the life preserver, he has to ask about location: “How many cards showing the Library or the Bar do you have?”
The person then answers the question in full hearing of all the other players. If the answer is zero or one, then that ends the turn. If the answer is two or more, he also has to show one such card to the questioner. The game continues until someone has discovered the missing alibi.
In addition, every player gets a special power. The Captain, for example, gets to see every card that is passed around. The Psychologist never shows a card. And the Journalist can ask any player about anything regardless of which tokens are available.
The Feel. Light and fun, Perfect Alibit is almost a pure deduction game. In fact, it feels a little like the Sid Sackson classic, Sleuth. You get a hand of cards and then must determine what is in the other players’ hands. You can ask questions, but are constrained by random draws. And when you find the missing card, you win.
But Perfect Alibi is substantially lighter and quicker – which makes it a more accessible game and one that will work with more groups. The game continues to move along and, even though your questions can be restricted, clever inquiries will win you the day. For instance, if I know that all the library alibis are accounted for, I might ask, “How many Library or Bar cards do you have?” That number would have less meaning to my opponents if they don’t know what I do.
Even though the special powers add an interesting twist, they turn out to have far less of an impact on the game than I originally presumed. The fact is that you get more information from the answers to questions – including the other players’ questions – than you typically do from a given power. So while they are a nice little bonus, they don’t control the game. Often, the most hotly contested one is the Journalist since she allows you to bypass the interrogation tokens and can be crucial in asking the question you want asked.
The Standard version is great and all, but there’s a second way to play the game. You see, if you want to really deepen the experience, Perfect Alibi comes with a Rival variant that turns the players into filthy liars. In this version, each player gets a token. That token identifies a role. When a player with that role asks you a question, you must lie. Must. This provides an interesting challenge where you are not only trying to find the missing card, but also trying to establish reliability.
The rival variant does add a new twist to the game and can be a fun quirk. It makes the game a little longer, though. And it might be frustrating to new players or those who are less enthusiastic about deduction games. But the variant should scratch an interesting itch for those on the lookout for out of the ordinary deduction.
One caveat, though, is that Perfect Alibi is fantastic with three or four players. But when you bump it up to five, it gets much worse. Partly that’s because the players have so few cards. So the odds that anyone will have two of a kind is very low. No cards get passed (nullifying several special abilities) and often the answer to questions is “Zero.” When question after question gives so little info, the game can feel quite boring. Stick with three or four players, though, and it’s a great game.
Components: 3.5 of 5. The actual bits are fine. The cards are quality and so are the special roles which come on punchboard. Perfect Alibi includes a general board which is wholly unnecessary, but certainly doesn’t hurt anything. I think the main detractor is the deduction sheet. Although functional once you get used to it, it’s really not intuitive.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 5 of 5. This game has essentially a perfect balance between strategy and luck. The luck element is clearly there with the interrogation tokens that are chosen randomly. And they do constrain choice. But within that framework, players have wide latitude to craft a question that they hope will be beneficial to them and harmful to their opponents.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. The game plays very smoothly and the ruleset is simple enough that you can jump right into the action. The only real clunkyness is the Journalist. Every other power is essentially usable as soon as that card is taken. But the journalist isn’t. If you take an accusation tile to swap and get the journalist, you can’t use her until your next turn. Maybe that’s necessary for game balance, but it’s an unfortunate exception that requires a bit of explanation.
Replayability: 2.5 of 5. The only problem with Perfect Alibi is that the replay factor is pretty low – at least if you aren’t using the Liar variant. The game is absolutely identical from play to play and the strategy will be discovered and ossified before too long. Still, the Liar variant adds some value here and it’s fun enough to merit some repetition.
Spite: 0.5 of 5. There are no “take that” cards or actions in this game. And it’s difficult for me to see how players would game up or ally against another player within the game’s existing rules. This is a good competitive title for players with thin skin.
Overall: 3 of 5. Perfect Alibi is just a solid deduction game with a perfect play time. It fits a great niche where it is solidly deduction yet wipes away all the extraneous nonsense that tends to accompany the genre. If you like poring over sheets and crossing off possibilities, then this quick title is one worth checking out. And when you do, keep it to three or four players. Five, is right out.
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)
Regarding the player count I disagree: I think it is perfect with 5. The fewer cards and thus information you have initially, the higher the challenge of deduction.
If you want a card to be passed, it is up to you to phrase the question so that the answer is likely 2 or 3. For instance, you can ask about 3 out of 4 locations/times rather than just about one. If you don't want a card to be passed, so as to avoid the captain from spying, phrase the question so that the answer is likely zero or one.