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Subject: Ten Things to Like - And Five Things to Dislike - About Sleuth rss

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Trent Hamm
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Sleuth is a wonderful deduction card game designed by the classic designer Sid Sackson for three to seven players, recently reprinted in a beautiful edition by Gryphon Games. Imagine, if you will, the classic board game Clue in card form, without the unnecessary "roll and move tokens around the board" aspect, leaving just the deduction part, and you're pretty close to what Sleuth is. At the start of the game, a single card is removed from a deck of "gem" cards (this is the gem you're trying to deduce), then the rest of the "gem" cards are handed out to each player. A gem card depicts a specific gem setting with three characteristics - color, arrangement, and gem type - so an example might be a red solitaire diamond. Each player also gets a sheet of paper where they can record the information they have, such as marking down the gems they have in their hand. Each player also gets four "search" cards, which enable them to make guesses about the content of other players' hands, which thus provides more clues about what may or may not be the hidden gem. Pure deduction, with just a bit of gamesmanship, makes Sleuth a wonderful little game.



Ten Things to Like About Sleuth

1. It keeps what's good about Clue and eliminates the bad
Of the ultra-mainstream games that one might find in almost every department store, Clue is probably my favorite, but there are still big flaws with it. For example, much of the game is structured around a largely pointless "roll-and-move" exercise on the board which just adds needless luck to the game by simply giving more clues to the player who has more luck with the dice. Sleuth does away with that entirely, leaving you with just the clues.

2. There's almost no downtime
That is, there's almost no downtime if you're playing attentively. On your turn, you have to play one of your search cards, of course, but if you're paying attention, you'll get some useful information on everyone's turn. Every search card played by anyone offers info to the attentive gamer, and that means you can't afford to take your eyes or your mind off of the game.

3. It's easy to teach
The rules to Sleuth are so simple that the game can be taught in five minutes. If someone has played Clue before, you can teach them Sleuth in about one minute. Even a poor teacher can explain this game clearly to almost anyone.

4. It rewards skill, but not backbreakingly so
A skillful player at Sleuth can find more ways to get information than less-skilled players. That being said, a less-skilled player can overcome that advantage with some well-timed search cards and some strong observation of what's going on. Skill is strongly rewarded here, but it's not impossible for a less-skilled player to defeat a more skilled player.

5. The "search" cards offer subtle play
The search cards really reward subtle play at this game. At any given moment, each player has four search cards face up in front of them. Some search cards depict one feature on the card (such as "red" or "diamond"), meaning you can play it to ask a player how many cards they have with that trait, and others have two features on them (such as "red solitaire"), meaning you can play it to force a player to give you all cards they have that match both traits. The play of such cards offers a lot of clues, but it can also give other players redundant and confusing information, so subtle play of the cards is really rewarded.

6. It works well for any player number
I've found that the game doesn't really play much longer with three players than it does with seven, or vice versa. The game length is about the same, at least among attentive players. Among new players, a game of seven would take somewhat longer than a game with three or four, but not obscenely so. The game mechanics work well for almost any player number, and since it works with any number from three to seven, it's pretty flexible.

7. The game has no excess mechanisms
Many games feel like a giant mash-up of different game mechanisms. Sometimes it works - other times, the interacting pieces don't really mesh that well. Sleuth is a game where there's nothing excessive. Everything in the game has a clear role and purpose in the game, one that makes complete sense with everything else going on. As I said earlier, it feels like Clue with the excess mechanisms removed.

8. The cards have clear iconography and text
There is absolutely no doubt as to the meaning of any of the materials in the game. The art, game text, and rules combine to make a game with no confusion or wiggle room in the components. Rules lawyers won't be able to make much headway with Sleuth.

9. It rewards logical play
If you can develop a system for recording all of the information given to you in Sleuth in such a way that you understand it and can use it, you're going to be well-served at Sleuth. In fact, the note-taking can become something of a "metagame," because the information you're given in Sleuth is varied and the nature actually changes during the game (as cards pass from player to player).

10. It's portable
As always, size is a concern, and Sleuth comes in a small box that doesn't take up much room on a gaming shelf or in a backpack. One feature I really look for in games is the amount of gaming fun per cubic inch of box, and Sleuth ranks quite high when it comes to that metric.



Five Things to Disike About Sleuth

1. It's a serious brain-burner
Some people simply do not play games to burn their brain cells. Sleuth, at its core, is pretty much just an interactive logic puzzle, one that rewards careful deduction and analysis of the information you're given. Some people thrive on that. Others do not. If that doesn't sound appealing to you, you're going to hate Sleuth. If it does sound appealing, you're probably going to love Sleuth, as mentioned above. I think it's just a bit too much of a brain-burner to directly categorize it as a filler, though it is a fairly quick game and comes in a small box.

2. The note sheets are a bit dodgy
Every time I've played this game, I've found the note sheets inadequate. I do realize that they can't be any bigger without making the box substantially bigger, but I usually find myself grabbing a second sheet upon which to take notes while playing the game. At the same time, you'll find that if you play this very much, you're going to be running through a lot of paper. Some might suggest a whiteboard, but you'd have to have a large whiteboard for adequate notetaking, at least for the way I take notes with this game.

3. A single simple player mistake can completely undermine the game
Other players must answer carefully and honestly for this game to work. If you ask a player for all of their "red solitaire" cards and they miss one when they hand them over to you, the game falls apart. If someone asks you how many yellow cards you have and you say "3" when you actually have four, the game falls apart. It's almost impossible to fix such a mistake once a turn or two has passed, as cards move around and people make logic choices based on the information given.

4. The cards in the 2012 Gryphon edition are easily chipped
A really unscrupulous player could be observant of the card backs to get additional information about what other players are holding. With many games, it's not a big deal, but this entire game revolves around getting a bit more info than other players out of what can be observed. The solution, of course, is to sleeve the cards, but sleeved cards no longer fit in the box insert. For now, I'm playing it unsleeved, but before long, I'll probably sleeve this game and ditch the insert.

5. Player elimination can be devastating
Players can eliminate themselves in this game with an incorrect guess. If they do so, they can sit around for many, many turns, unable to actually play but still required to stick around to fulfill search cards, which makes for a boring time unless the person is really involved with the game. I've tried a variant where an eliminated player just reveals his or her hand to everyone, but that doesn't work at all, as the next player almost always immediately wins the game at that point.

Who Would Like This Game?
Sleuth is a game that will attract people who think in an ordered fashion and enjoy such thinking. That's just the nature of the game.

People who will like this game include:

People who enjoy thinking and logic games such as Sudoku - If you've enjoyed solving sudoku puzzles, particularly the really difficult ones, you're going to find joy in Sleuth. Many of the same mental and note-taking skills found in hard sudoku puzzles apply with Sleuth.

People who like Clue - This game is a lot like Clue, just without the dice rolling and moving tokens around the board and perhaps with a bit more logic. I've found that Clue players tend to enjoy this game as a bit more logical and a bit less dice-oriented alternative (and one I consider superior).

A Video Review
You can also check out my video review of Sleuth, where you can see the components in action.

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Richard Morris
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You could almost scratch out the "sleuth" and replace it with Black Vienna, and have a true review. That also avoids the boring bit of clue, awards attentive players, and gets really messed up if a player accidentally makes a mistake. It is OOP, and has been for ages, but there is a nice PnP version on the game page.
 
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Mike Dierlam
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Question. I've been watching some reviews of this game and it seems your rule explanation is differing in one area. When someone asks a two part question (like the number of Diamond-Clusters), do you actually pass the cards to that player for them to keep, or just show them to the other player that asked the question? Your video has cards changing-hands, whereas others just show the cards.

I would imagine that passing the cards off to another person would make the game substantially more difficult.
 
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Randall Bart
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TheAKountant wrote:
Your video has cards changing-hands, whereas others just show the cards.


Cards never change hands in Sleuth. This video is about a Sleuth variant I have never seen before.
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Mike Dierlam
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Barticus88 wrote:
TheAKountant wrote:
Your video has cards changing-hands, whereas others just show the cards.


Cards never change hands in Sleuth. This video is about a Sleuth variant I have never seen before.


Thanks. This game already seems like a brain-burner, so cards changing hands did seem odd.
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AW
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Quote:
5. Player elimination can be devastating


In case anyone stumbles across this, I've been playing with a couple variants that eliminate player elimination.

1) If available, have a non-player secretly check the potential solution. If the guess is incorrect, the guessing player loses 3 turns.

2) If a non-player isn't available to help, the guessing player announces the gem guess publicly. All other players secretly drop a chip into a hat (blue if they do not HOLD the guessed gem; red if they do). If the guess is incorrect, the guessing player loses 3 turns.

Another option is to remove one search card from the guessing player's set. Or maybe better would be to give all other players a fifth search card. (Skipping 2-3 turns is a must, though.)
 
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