My wife found this little game on sale for $5, and couldn't resist picking it up for me. She loves Clue, but I despise the roll and move aspect of the game. Although I don't mind the deduction aspect of the game -- it is, after all, the whole point! -- rolling the die and moving the pawn destroys the experience for me.
Flashback: A one! ARGH! I've been in this freaking hallway for 3 turns now!
Enter Clue the Card Game: Mystery at Sea. I now know that this is an updated version of an older Clue card game. Having not yet played the original, I can't say which I think is better. I can only compare Mystery at Sea to the board game I know and loathe. And frankly, I can see no reason why you would not like Mystery at Sea better than the board game.
First, let me tell you something about the components. The bits that come in the box are delightful. Now, if you are a fan of all things big, this game won't be for you. The box is tiny, with zero wasted internal space. The cards are as tall as standard playing cards, but not quite as wide.
The game comes with a little board depicting the board the murder takes place on, which is exactly the right size to slide snugly into the box. You also get little tokens for all the suspects.
Board and tokens
The only place where smallness hurts, however, is the detective notes sheets. They are miniscule. Imagine having to mark all of your investigative deductions on a sheet the size of a playing card. All I can say is, you better keep your pencil sharp, because you need to be able to make tiny marks to play this game!
Tiny Detective Notes
Aside from the suspect sheets, all of the components are of excellent quality. The suspect, weapon and location cards have beautiful artwork. The Action cards -- more on those in a bit -- are plain and functional.
All of the cards are made of nice card stock. The board and suspect tokens, although small, are also nicely done. There are advantages to mass-market games -- they can afford to include good components at a reasonable price.
In short the components are excellent, especially considering the cover price of $10. However, none of that means a thing if the game doesn't play well. So how does it play? The murderer, weapon and location are determined the same way as in standard Clue -- separate out the cards of each type, shuffle them up, then randomly pick one of each. In this version, the selected cards are placed face down under the stern of the boat. Then the remaining Clue cards are shuffled back together and dealt out to all the players. The suspect tokens are also randomly assigned to rooms on the boat.
Here I must to go into a rant concerning my one big gripe with Mystery at Sea. It is this: Mr. Boddy is not necessarily the victim! What were the designers thinking? His name is Boddy! Of course his is the dead body! Suffice it to say that at my game table, Mr. Boddy will always be the victim in Mystery at Sea. Using the rules as written, you randomly select one of the suspect tokens to be the victim, and set that one aside along with its matching suspect card.
With that little rant out of my system, I can continue. This game features another set of cards, the Action deck. I guess just letting everyone make a suggestion each turn would have made things too easy. Instead, every player starts the game with one action card. On your turn you draw another, and then choose which of the two to play. It probably sounds like a less than ideal way of doing things. As it turns out, though, the action cards work out pretty well. For one thing, they are all helpful. There are no "waste a turn en route to the next room" actions. Instead, you have cards that allow you to make a suggestion ("I think it was Mrs. White in the Dining Room with the Rope"), ones that let you randomly look at one card in another player's hand, and ones that specify certain types of cards another player must show you. For example, you might draw an action that allows you to see all of another player's male suspect cards. Unlike with suggestions, if that player has no male suspect cards, the next player doesn't have to show you hers.
One interesting thing Mystery at Sea add to the Clue formula is groupings for suspects, locations and weapons. Suspects are categorized as male or female, weapons as coiled or blunt, and locations by where they are located on the boat. This allows for Action cards of the type I mentioned above.
Although the action cards do work pretty well, I'm not sure why they were included. Why not just have each player pick a token, and each turn move your token to an adjacent room and make a suggestion involving that room? I intend to try this eventually.
In any event, the core of the game still feels very much like standard Clue -- other players reveal cards to you, you make arcane little marks on you paper, and you try to deduce from this limited information who committed the crime. If you love the way this formula works in standard Clue, you'll love it here as well. The elimination of roll and move improves the game, but doesn't make it into something shockingly different from what you've been playing since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.
On final analysis, while I hate standard Clue, I consider Mystery at Sea a worthwhile game. For what it is, Mystery at Sea is pretty impressive. If mystery games are up your alley, you should definitely give it a try.