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Subject: A delightfully subtle and fun game rss

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Bob McMurray
United States
La Grange
Illinois
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Game Play - a quick summary

In Kory Heaths' 'Criminals', a game for 3 -6 players, the player's goal is to uncover his opponents' true crimes while hiding his own. Each player is dealt one secret crime card from a set of crimes. There is always one more crime in the deck than there are players thereby leaving one extra crime which no one has committed; the so-called "Crime Boss's" crime.

Each player is also given a set of alibi cards which directly match each of the crime cards in the game, which they keep secret, protecting them from all accusations other then the crime that they committed. A player's true crime is represented by their matching alibi card which they discard face-down to the middle as set up for the start of the game. Then, all of the true crime cards, including the Crime Boss's crime, are retrieved, reshuffled, and put face-down into a stack in the middle of the table. The top crime card is turned face up and a game round begins.

At this point the players are obligated to "Sell Out" one of their fellow criminals, or the Crime Boss himself, by discussing and then voting for the criminal who they think committed that crime; or, in other words, the player who no longer has an alibi in their hand for THAT crime. The player receiving the most accusations has been "sold out". However, if ALL of the players agree to accuse the Crime Boss then the Crime Boss is "sold out".

There is a strict consequence whenever a player or the Crime Boss is "sold out" depending on their guilt or innocence. If a player is "sold out", after discussion and voting, and they CAN produce an alibi, from their remaining hand of alibi cards, for that crime they are innocent. If they cannot, they are guilty and can no longer win or vote/accuse but CAN continue in the group questioning and discussion each round for the remainder of the game.

If a player is innocent of a crime of which they are accused (i.e. has an alibi card in their hand for that crime) a new feature of the game is invoked: fingering. A newly-accused innocent player is now empowered to finger (kind of, to stay within the theme, "ratting out" someone), another player of the crime of which they were just wrongly accused. This is a dangerous power since if they correctly finger another player they automatically win, however, if they finger an innocent player they lose automatically and must also reveal their true crime. So, fingering, which can be done to the Crime Boss as well, is an "all-or-nothing" proposition for the player. Players who do not wish to finger anyone that round may choose to pass. We found the rules a little confusing as to what happens after a given discussion/voting round between Selling Out, Fingering, and the role of the Crime Boss so here is a simple chart which details what can happen after a crime's given discussion/voting round.


Selling Out (Player with most accusations / votes has been "Sold Out")

- Single Player
- Is Guilty (Does NOT have an alibi in his hand for this round's crime): Guilty player is eliminated. New round begins.
- Has an Alibi: Finger Opportunity (See Fingering below)

- Crime Boss (Must be a unanimous vote)
- Game ends immediately.
- Is Guilty (All players have an alibi for this round's crime): All remaining players, those involved in the selling out vote, win.
- Is Innocent (One player does NOT have an alibi for this round's crime): Player who did that crime is the winner.


Fingering

- Single Player
- Is Guilty: Fingering player wins. (Most common way for game to end for us)
- Has an Alibi: Fingering player is eliminated and shows his crime. New round begins.

- Crime Boss
- Game ends immediately.
- Is Guilty (all players HAVE alibis for this crime): Fingering player wins.
- Is Innocent (one player does NOT have an alibi for this round's crime): Fingering player loses. All other remaining players win.


Analysis

Differences From Werewolf

Although different in many ways, it is somewhat inevitable that people will compare Criminals to basic Werewolf since both games feature a round where there is sociological discussion and voting about players' secret roles. So, I thought it might be useful to highlight some material differences I see:

- In basic Werewolf you are dealt one card. You are basically either a werewolf or a villager (plus one villager is the seer).
- In Criminals you can be one of 7 criminals

- In basic Werewolf once you are accused of being a werewolf you are automatically out of the game.
- In Criminals you get to protect yourself by having an alibi against the 6 crimes you did not commit. You get to live another day after being accused.

- In basic Werewolf there is no cost to eliminating a vanilla villager.
- In Criminals accusing someone of a crime of which they are innocent empowers them with the ability to win the game by fingering the true criminal. This is particularly powerful later in the game when more evidence (alibis) has been established.

- In basic Werewolf there is no physical evidence of any crime.
- In Criminals every wrong accusation, which prolongs the game, brings an actual alibi on to the table changing the actual probabilities that any one player may have committed any one crime.

- In basic Werewolf once you are dead you have to remain silent and, in effect, are removed from the game.
- In Criminals once you are found guilty you remain in every discussion but can no longer accuse / vote or actually win the game.


Criminals Stands On Its Own

The discussion and voting round really IS the game and where the fun is. Unfortunately, however, the first few rounds tend to be somewhat dry as most people aren't sure what to discuss or who to target since everyone starts out as a generic criminal with no tendencies or no known alibis.

But, once the initial round of crimes starts to draw to a close, and the same crimes start to come up, lively discussion follows. We found that carefully studying the subtlely differing responses that players give to different questions and crimes actually led to strong indications as to who did what crime. It was fun to notice differing players, depending on their personalities, attempt to hide from their true crime. Psychological "tells" actually DO become apparent and, just as infamously as in poker, you ultimately cannot hide from your own!

The important thing in this game is to get people talking; resist the urge to jump into voting every round. Find something to discuss that can be bounced from player to player and gauge everyone's responses. It is amazing how players will pick up on the tiniest change in behavior. In each of our 10 or so recent plays someone would successfully finger the real culprit after about one and a half times through the crime deck.

There is also quite a bit of bluffing going on since everybody seems to be constantly under the gun. Despite the similarities to Werewolf, 'Criminals' is definitely worthy in its own right due to the rich subtleties of the "tells" and "bluffing" and its ability to play with 5 or 6.


Recommendation

This is a very good game with 5 or 6 players; especially for groups fond of Werewolf that are always looking to play Werewolf in small groups. I have played it with a dozen different people all of whom enjoyed it very much. Highly Recommended.

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