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Subject: When the Box Doesn’t Have a Clue rss

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James Fehr
Canada
Edmonton
Alberta
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Playing games with my wife’s family for the first few days of the New Year has become a special tradition. There’s usually one day where her sister and brother and their spouses travel from about an hour away to come over to her parents’ for the afternoon and evening to join us in some late Christmas dinner, a good visit, and some games. There were nine of us that day, and everyone seemed to be expecting me to arrange the line-up of games once the dishes were cleared from the table and the little kids were put to bed.

We started with a couple games of Wits and Wagers, which went over very well, followed by a couple games of Incan Gold - also a hit. When it was clear that the guests wanted to stay longer, even though it was close to 11:00 pm, I pulled out one of the only other games I brought which could support at least 7 players: Sleuth. The game box said 30 minutes, and although I hadn’t actually tried this one myself yet, I thought it sounded like what our group might enjoy. My wife’s sister-in-law is a high school teacher and really enjoys activities involving deduction, so I thought she would have fun with it anyway, and at 30 minutes, the rest would be able to handle it even if they didn’t end up liking it.



The simple rules took a little longer than I thought for everyone to grasp. In fact, there were a couple of people that never quite understood the concept of the Free Choice Search cards, even by the end of the game. But we dealt out the cards (only five Gem cards to each player with 7 players), tucked away the “stolen” gem card, marked the identities of our gem cards on our tracking sheets, looked over our individual sets of starting Search cards, and dove in.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was going to be more difficult than it first appeared. The most significant challenge was keeping our notes organized in such a way that we could make sense of them later. The first question that was asked was using a single attribute Search card, but after that, I think those Search cards were only used once or twice more in the whole game, since people didn’t think it gave them enough information to be worthwhile – it wasn’t as satisfying to record that Craig had 2 diamond gem cards, as to actually look at the one red diamond he might have, and be able to put an “X” on the corresponding space of the tracking sheet. This was an obvious mistake looking back, but we were having such a difficult time tracking the information we were getting that I don’t know how much of a difference it would have made in the end.



30 minutes in, we weren’t even a quarter of the way through the game, but my teacher sister-in-law was having a blast, and the rest of them were still willing to hang in there and let the game run its course. It became very obvious that the only way this game could take a half-hour would be with 3 people, or at least with several very experienced note-takers, but even then - never with 7. I think there were one or two times were someone responding to a 2-attribute Search query passed the interrogator more than 1 card to look at. Most of the time, we were just recording how many cards were being passed from person to person, if there were any being passed at all. It didn’t take long to start running out of room on our sheets, even using a form of shorthand, and as the game progressed, I thought of a couple of ways I could track information better next time (like marking the initials of who owned each gem beside each “X” on the sheet for example). The fact that each person only held 5 gem cards, that the Search cards rarely lined up with what we actually wanted to ask, and that our note-taking skills had much to be desired meant that 2 hours into our game, the best detectives amongst us still had 12 of the 36 possible gem cards marked as options for which was missing.

The youngest player finally threw in the towel, made a wrong guess, and basically left the game, although she still had to answer questions about her gem cards occasionally. My brother-in-law followed suit soon after, again guessing wrong. My one sister-in-law was still having a blast and was encouraging everyone else to hang in there, but the rest of them were dying for the game to be over, reduced to nervous giggles, giddiness, and lots of sighing. It was almost 1:00 am, and 2 of them still had a long drive ahead of them that night.

Finally, my father-in-law saved the day by making his own guess, after narrowing down the field to about 10 possible gems. He went to the box with the “stolen” card, peeked at the back of the card, and announced that he had guessed right. And so it happened that the person who was probably the least enamored of the game ended up as the victor. The rest of us sank back in our chairs, heaving sighs of relief, and tried to gather up enough energy to walk away from the table.

The general consensus in our discussion afterwards was that this would actually be a pretty fun game if played with 3 or 4 people, where a Search card query could actually turn up a significant number of cards. I’m proud of my relatives for sticking with the game until the end (or near the end) with pretty good attitudes. They’d even be willing to try again if we teamed up into 3 groups of detectives. In fact, my high-school teaching sister-in-law may even buy this game herself.

Even though the experience was long and arduous, we made memories that we probably won’t forget, and that’s worth something in and of itself.
 
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David Bush
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Thanks for the report! It reminds me of a similar experience with my relatives one Easter. The rules in my edition say that 7 players is a maximum not a minimum. Meticulous record keeping, and a system for recording partial conclusions, both seem to be essential for success at this game. I find the sheets that came with the game are too small for more than 5 players.
 
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Mike Kozlowski
United States
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Michigan
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I, uh, guess I had a lot of geekgold?
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Re: When the Box Doesnt Have a Clue
Yeah, recording all information (who has what, who doesn't have what, how much of what who has) is absolutely critical to doing anything meaningful.

I played the game many, many times with four people, and it was great and tense, a real deductive brain-burner.

I played it one time with six people, and it exceeded my ability to make accurate records (particularly because two people had the same initial, and I forgot to use an alternate initial for one of them once); the problem is that once you find you have an inaccurate record in one place, you have no idea how much of your deductive logic is compromised, so you're basically done and might as well make a random guess.
 
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art cohen
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This game seems to get exponentially harder as you add more people. Three people could play in fifteen minutes sometimes. I would think that four or five people could finish a game in a half-hour if they were experienced, but I find that most time estimates need to be (at least) doubled when most people are playing any game for the first time.
 
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Isley
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mkozlows wrote:
(particularly because two people had the same initial, and I forgot to use an alternate initial for one of them once)


I did this the first two turns of my first game...just long enough to no remember who had told me what...that sucked (and boy did I feel dumb!
 
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