Law & Order: The Game sounds like another spinoff, but it isn’t—it’s a new board game from Cardinal. In the game, like the television show it is based off of, you must solve a murder by collecting details and making an arrest.
The components are of fairly high quality—a pack of cards (some small and squarish, others larger than a standard playing card), some pawns and a die, a “detective’s notepad,” and a board. The board is a standard roll-and-move rectangle with places for the various decks of cards.
Game play is started by having everyone choose a different Location (such as Office Closet or Central Park). Each player is then assigned a “Scales of Justice” card with the actual details of the murder—you can’t look at it! Then, players are given a pawn, and one extra pawn is placed as a “suspect” in the middle of the board.
Players then roll the dice and move their pawn. (Oddly, youngest player goes first.) You take some sort of action depending on what space you land on; usually, it’s drawing a specific type of card. For instance, if you land on a Weapon space, you would draw the top card on the Weapon deck. There’s also a “Draw any card” space.
Then there are two special spaces. The 27th Precinct card allows you to choose any one type of card and go through the discards and choose the one you want—so if someone draws the card you want, you can get it this way. And there’s a “move suspect” space; we’ll get to that in a moment.
When you draw the cards, you can only have one card of each type for each suspect—so if you have that the Gardner used Pruning Shears, and you draw that the Gardner used a Garden Shovel, you must choose either one of them and discard the other.
You are given a “detective’s notepad,” a ripaway sheet that lists all of the reasonable possibilities. This way you don’t need to worry about whether the Business Partner is lugging around a Surgical Hammer.
At times, the players move the “Suspect” pawn. You may place the pawn on any of the three decks or back on the original spot. If the suspect pawn is on a deck, no player may draw from that particular deck.
On your turn, if you decide, you may attempt an arrest. Choose a suspect and the three pieces of evidence you’ve gathered. The person on your left looks at your Scales of Justice card and confirms whether you have the correct suspect. If you do, that player then checks your three evidence cards. If they all match, you win; if not, play continues. (You are not told which of the three are incorrect.)
This may sound a lot like Clue. That’s because the game is very similar to clue. But there are a few twists that do, indeed make it different. For one thing, in case you didn’t pick up on it, each player is given a different Scales of Justice card…which means all players are trying to solve a different murder. Though there’s no direct competition, players can hoard the evidence cards from one another, though eventually to win one player or another will have to give it up. The suspect, as well, can foil a player’s ability to progress, and this can be used somewhat strategically.
Alas, all these differences don’t add up to much. There are only a limited number of Scales of Justice cards, and while they do provide some variety, any one who memorizes the cards can easily cross off several entries before the game begins, making experienced players have an advantage. While the roll-and-move mechanic is largely a randomizing factor and not a deciding one, it’s a somewhat artificial way to mix things up and seems like a waste of time. There’s only a small amount of deduction involved; the rest of it is simply “arresting” someone, seeing if you’re right, and continuing. And, finally, there’s largely no connection with the television series aside from the typeface and a few references; there are no characters in the game at all.
Bottom line? While it’s not a bad game, there isn’t much to it. It does have a low price—I only paid $12 for my copy, and it comes in a sturdy and attractive tin case and fairly good if minimal components—I could get the same thing with any number of better games, such as Citadels. It’s not even a good recommendation as a party game or to a fan of the show since it doesn’t really reflect the show and is too convoluted for a party game. But it certainly isn’t a bad game; it’s just nothing really new.
This is an excellent review. I appreciate your taking the time to review a game most of the Geeks here would ignore. Of course, there's a reason for that - after all, your review makes it clear that the game is quite ignore-able. However, as a fan of deduction games, I wanted to know if I could ignore it or not.
Looks like I can.