While this review was inspired by Mystery Express, I’m really going to be talking about six different deduction games which are somewhat similar. There may well be others that I failed to include, but these are all of the ones I can recall playing. It’s my hope that this review might determine which of these deduction games are for you and maybe even introduce you to a few you haven’t tried yet.
The six games are : Black Vienna, Clue, Code 777, Mystery Express, Mystery of the Abbey, Sleuth. I think I’ll start by giving a brief rundown of the games and then get into the comparisons.
BLACK VIENNA : You’re trying to determine 3 criminals out of 27. Three are randomly set aside and hidden. The others are dealt out to the other players. There are also 36 investigation cards, each with a different set of three people listed on them. Three will be flipped up and as they are used, they’re replaced. On a turn, a player chooses one of the three cards and puts it in front of another player. That player then places 0-3 markers on that card, showing how many of the three are in his hand. He then takes the next turn. Players may also choose to take an investigation card from in front of another player which has no markers on it and place it in front of someone else as their investigation. The winner is the first who correctly guesses the 3 criminals. Personal Thoughts : I like the logic puzzle of often not getting a specific answer (for example, a player is asked a question and places one marker on the card thus only telling others that he has exactly one of the three cards listed, but not stating which one). This game can also be played online in a leisurely way, and that’s nice. The only problem I see with the game is how the turn order works. If most of the players feel they know which cards a certain player has, they’ll stop asking him questions which means he won’t get to ask any questions in return and is left working with the Q&A of the other players.
CLUE : Which 3 cards are missing? There are three categories and one will be missing from each. On your turn, you roll the dice and walk around the board. If you enter a room, you may make a Suggestion as to which three are missing. The first player to your left must show you one card to disprove your suggestion. If they can’t, the next player must, and so on. Eventually you can go for the win by making an Accusation and seeing if you were right. Personal Thoughts : Rolling a die to move around is just bad. Too many turns are wasted with no Suggestions being made. Some players will get to ask more questions than others just because they rolled higher. And the Suggestion itself has problems. The room suggested must be the one you’re in, which really restricts you and forces you to waste time moving around. The weapon you suggest is marked by a piece in the room. Why? No purpose except for the eye candy. Worst of all, if you suggest a suspect that’s being played, they get sucked up and brought to that room. How does that make any sense? And now we have to waste more time as they try to get to a room to make a Suggestion. Let’s say I’m playing Mr. Green and everyone’s concluded that he did it but they don’t know the other facts yet. He’ll get pulled into every Suggestion! Mr. Green might as well give up any hope of walking around the mansion.
CODE 777 : There are 28 tiles. Each player gets three. The gimmick here is that you know what the other three people have and you’re trying to deduce what YOU have. There are 23 question cards and on a player’s turn he answers that question based on what he sees of the other three players. The thing is, if I’m one of those players and I listen to that answer, can I make a deduction as to what I have based on what I know the other two players have? This is another one where the notetaking can be a bit challenging. Personal Thoughts : This one is uniquely interesting in that everyone is looking for a different answer and that all of the other players already know what YOUR answer is. Also, it’s a little harder for someone to cheat in this one and not get caught immediately, but it’s not impossible.
MYSTERY EXPRESS : You want to figure out the missing card in 5 different categories. One of the categories (time) is handled totally separately than how everything else is done. The other 4 categories have two cards for each option, so determining the missing card is a bit trickier. After pulling out the answer secretly, most of the cards are dealt out to the players but a few are placed in three special spots (Two passengers and a conductor). How you go about getting your clues is up to you, but your options are : Choose a card from a passenger deck and add to your cards, Ask other players to show you a card they have from a specific category, Make the other players show everyone one card, Make everyone pass one card to the left, Swipe a card from another player, or Trade a card with another player. You might also get to trade a card from your hand with the conductor’s cards. It should be noted that the clue cards all show their category on the back and that many actions force you to temporarily set the card aside so that you’re not going to have someone flashing the exact same card at you over and over during a turn. The time cards are done differently. There are three copies of each time and you want to figure out the one card missing. You get three chances to gather information during the game where you’ll essentially see every card but at a different rate of speed. You have to figure out which card you aren’t seeing three copies of. Players all have a special ability which basically makes them better at narrowing down the clues for one category. It is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that one player will not totally solve the crime by the time the game ends. The winner will be the one who figures out the most. Personal Thoughts : The moving clue cards alarm me considerably. That can really kill the deductive element. However, with the card backs visible and cards being forced aside during a turn, it does seem like this may be manageable. Time will tell. Speaking of which, there are already people freaking out about memorizing the time cards. Yeah, that’s pretty daunting with 23 cards flying past your eyes... so daunting that you’d be insane to even try it. So what’s the answer? Remember that you’ll be looking through them all three times. Maybe you can just keep narrowing down the options? Just for example, what if you counted only the 4 o’clock cards the first time through and ignored the rest. Did you count 8 or 9 of them? If 8, you’re very close and the next pass you can focus a bit more specifically on those cards. If 9, you can totally rule them out and focus on others. This is only one idea and certainly not the only one, but I think it illustrates that logic, not memory, will triumph when trying to determine the time of the crime.
MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY : You’re trying to determine one thing, who the murderer is out of 24 suspects. However, you arrive at that answer through five different facts about them of which there aren’t the same number of possibilities. For example, there are three possible Orders but only two types of facial hair. One of the 24 suspect cards is randomly hidden away, a few (3 or 5) are set aside to be drawn when a player chooses a certain room to do so, and all of the other cards are dealt out to the players. You move around the monastery (no dice) and you interact with the room you’re in and the players in the room. You may ask another player in the same a question which can take any form you like. He will either refuse to answer or answer honestly and then be allowed to ask you a question which you must answer honestly. The rooms offer various bonuses to move, extra turns, etc, and ways to take a random card from another player and keep it. There’s also one room which allows you to ask a direct question ("Show me a hooded monk") and a specific opposing player must do so if he can. Every four turns, Mass is held which resets all players to the start space and has them hand a certain number of cards to the player on their left. Victory in the game does not hinge on being the first to know which monk did it. During the game, a player may choose to make public revelations (The murderer has a beard). Being right at the end of the game gives positive points while being wrong subtracts so it’s entirely possible that one player might reveal many of the important facts first while another player determines who the final culprit is and the one who revealed the facts could win. Personal Thoughts : Playing musical chairs with the suspect cards just kills this one for me. They really can move a lot. Some of the event cards call upon the players to do something silly (like all of the players sing a song) which rarely goes over well with everyone at the table.
SLEUTH : You’re trying to deduce which jewelry card out of 27 has been removed before the game. All remaining cards are dealt to the players evenly with the remainder shown face up to all. Each piece of jewelry has three aspects to use to narrow it down. There’s also a deck of questioning cards. Each player will have a hand of four and replace as they use them. A player will use a card to ask a question of another player, get an answer, and then draw to fill his hand back. Depending on the question card used, the answer will take the form of either a verbal answer ("I have two cards like that") or the player will secretly hand a card to the asking player to answer his question. Personal Thoughts : While I enjoy the purity of the deduction element here, I’m not especially keen on the questioning cards. You might very well be dying to know something about the Diamonds another player has but if you don’t have any cards that allow you to ask anything about diamonds, then too bad. Also, this has proven to be the hardest deduction game to use the notepads with. Trying to come up with a good system that’ll actually fit on the pad is not an easy task.
What are you trying to figure out? CLUE, MYSTERY EXPRESS, and BLACK VIENNA ask you to deduce multiple missing cards, each with a single quality each. CODE 777, MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY, and SLEUTH ask you to seek an answer with that answer having multiple aspects. I’m not sure I prefer one over the other, but those with the multiple aspects can be harder to devise a notetaking system for so they might be considered a bit trickier.
Who wins? BLACK VIENNA and CLUE will have one clear winner. MYSTERY EXPRESS and MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY will have a clear winner, but they have point-based systems. In MYSTERY EXPRESS’s case, the better detective will win. In MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY’s case, the better detective will PROBABLY win. SLEUTH and CODE 777 will have a clear winner, but they have a scoring system that encourages multiple plays to determine an ultimate winner.
Luck vs Deduction. There’s always a bit of luck when you get your first chunk of private information. BLACK VIENNA ’s, SLEUTH’s, and CODE 777’s luck lie in the questions a player is allowed to ask on his turn. CLUE’s luck is in the die rolls to get to where you want to ask your questions. MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY’s luck comes from the various event (and other) cards which can alter play or cause the transfer of suspect cards. MYSTERY EXPRESS doesn’t really have much of a luck element beyond the initial hand.
How do you get your information? CLUE just has you asking publicly and allowing the other players to gain information just from hearing your question and seeing if there’s an answer or not. BLACK VIENNA and SLEUTH are similar, but you have less control over what you can ask. CODE 777 is odd in that the GAME asks the questions, but the answer usually benefits everyone except the person being asked. MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY combines the basic clue gathering of CLUE with the cards actually moving into different players’ hands. MYSTERY EXPRESS is an especially odd bird in that there are various ways to get your information, but no real problem with you focusing on the method(s) that works best for you.
Number of players : CODE 777 only goes up to 4. MYSTERY EXPRESS goes up to 5. SLEUTH goes up to 7. The rest go up to 6.
Length of Game : CLUE is the fastest at 45 minutes. CODE 777, BLACK VIENNA , and SLEUTH say 60. MYSTERY EXPRESS is at 75. MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY is at 60-90. Granted the time on most game boxes is rarely close to reality, but that’s what the publishers tell us.
Can a player cheat (accidentally or intentionally)? Yeah, that can always happen with these games and is usually their major pitfall, especially when playing with the family. One player can give an incorrect answer that could mess everyone up for the rest of the game. With BLACK VIENNA , it will very likely be clear who cheated when the game’s over as most of the questioning information will be visible on the table. With SLEUTH or CLUE, it’s trickier to figure out who cheated... or who just didn’t keep good notes. With MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY it’ll be nearly impossible to determine since the suspect cards will be making their merry way from player to player during the game. CODE 777 could possibly have a cheater, but might be found out by the other players as some will KNOW what the correct answer should be. MYSTERY EXPRESS is especially interesting here in that you can’t cheat. Any clue requests are based on the category, not the specific clue. The categories are on the backs of the cards. If you have to show a Suspect, everybody knows if you have one or not.
Conclusion : I’ll never play MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY again. I’d maybe play CLUE with non-gamers or kids. I’m hesitant to play SLEUTH because the notetaking can be such a pain. I’m always up for CODE 777 and BLACK VIENNA . And MYSTERY EXPRESS? It’s too early to know how I’ll feel about it in the long term, but it really does look like it could become my deduction game of choice. Of the other games mentioned, only MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY and CLUE have much in the way of flavor. The others are a bit more dry and I’m okay with that, but that doesn’t help get other players to the table. MYSTERY EXPRESS certainly has flavor. But does it sacrifice deductive skill? Those moving cards... again, only more experience will show if they’re going to cause much trouble, but having visible card backs and the discard piles does make it look like the deduction is still doable.
Edit : Took out my abbreviations and wrote out the game names.
- Last edited Sat Aug 20, 2011 3:34 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sat Mar 27, 2010 2:50 am
Comparative reviews, especially of more than just a couple games, are sadly rare. Your perspective having played all six of these similar games is unique and important. Thank you for sharing.