Dealing with Murder: Fatal Error is a card game about gathering evidence, sifting the important pieces out of the noise, and trying to establish motive, ability, and method before your opponent. Unlike a game like Clue, where the solution is randomly determined before each game, Dealing with Murder is built around one case and one solution, and therefore can only be played once. With its low price point, this isn't too much of an issue.
The contents are pretty simple: each player gets a crime file with background information, and room to take notes (though we chose just to use paper). There is a shared playing mat with more background information, and a place for the card piles.
I think the mat might have been better as a smaller board, perhaps folded in half, which could be laid in front of the players or passed around, and the card piles just on the table. Since there is only a draw pile and a discard pile, there really isn't need for help keeping them straight.
There is a deck of cards with a few types of cards. Most of the cards are Interrogation cards with snippets of interviews. Evidence cards are like exhibits at a trial; they might be a letter, or laboratory results of items found at the scene. Subpoena cards allow you to draw extra cards and increase your hand limit, or look at your opponent's cards. Early in the game, it may make sense to draw extra cards and increase your hand limit. Later in the game, seeing what your opponent has been keeping from you might be more valuable. Cards that are discarded are available to be read by your opponent, so the really juicy information is likely in the players' hands.
Cards seem to fit into a few main streams of plot and possibilities, and you have to weigh which of the streams seems more likely. There are a few connecting pieces of information, and they form a basis for one theory proving stronger than another. The trick is to watch out for misdirection, while trying to keep the good information for yourself, and through your opponent off the track.
The components are nothing special, though the idea is interesting. Having to sort through and weigh all of the evidence made me feel a bit like a detective. We are fans of True Crime audiobooks and murder mysteries, and we enjoy shows such as Forensic Files, so this game gave us a chance to put our skills into practice. If someone didn't have that interest, the game itself would likely not be well-received.
The presentation is mildy corny, and though the player mat shows a photo with pink lines and a mouse cord around a neck to demonstrate strangulation, that's pretty much as graphic as the game gets. I wouldn't suggest it for young or sensitive players, but the average adult is unlikely to be bothered by the content. Part of the plot is out-of-wedlock intimacy, so I wouldn't play it with anyone who might be uncomfortable with that, or with whom you don't want to have to explain the definition of mistress.
The gameplay was rather solemn and quiet. It was a lot of reading of text-heavy cards, with some note-taking. Although the game may have been intended as an alternative to a murder-mystery party with costumes and food, this game was at the other end of the spectrum in terms of socialness. The instructions suggest that if you don't have a solution by the time you go through the deck once, the players may team up to solve the case. You may want to consider playing the game collaboratively to begin with; discussing ideas with each other would make for a more interactive game. As written, we barely needed to say a word to each other for the approximately half hour that it took us to play the game. I was able to see Sam's cards near the end of the game thanks to a Subpoena card. That eliminated the effect of having him withhold evidence from me. Other than the minimal push to race to solve the case before my opponent, I might as well have been reading the deck of cards in turn, and trying to solve the case by myself. Had we been playing collaboratively, we could have argued our theories to each other, like detectives working on a case.
The box gives a range of 2 to 6 players, though I was happy to play it with 2, and would be concerned there would be too much downtime with lots of players. Everyone would be quietly reading the cards, and there's nothing to do in the meantime. There's no discussion and minimal interaction, so it wouldn't be like a party where everyone is dressed up and acting a part. Perhaps the best way to play would be two teams of two, allowing for competition, but also collaboration. It wouldn't add too much time, because each team could read a card at the same time.
The rules were pretty straight forward, it didn't take much time to set up, and we could talk a bit about our process when we got done. Had there been more discussion or collaboration during the game, it would have been even better. I enjoyed the concept, and would be interested in a more advanced version, perhaps with more evidence to weigh, rather than the bulk of the information coming from interviews. All in all, it was a relatively short game for a relatively small price, and I was satisfied with my purchase.