I first want to apologize for anyone who reads this review and wants to run out and immediately buy Witness. It will not hit North American stores until 2015. You’ll have to bide your time before jumping into this unique mystery game.
Did you ever read Two-Minute Mysteries when you were a kid? They were usually only a couple pages long, long enough for the details of of a crime or crime scene to be explained. By the end of the story you had enough information to solve the mystery, but you had to dissect the clues you had been given to find what was important and what was a red herring. Witness is a little like that.
It is set in the world of Blake and Mortimer, a crime solving, adventure duo from Belgium. Blake and Mortimer appeared in Tintin magazine starting in the 1940’s and share the ligne claire (or clear line) art style.
The finished version of Witness will contain hundreds of mysteries with varying difficulty. You’ll be able to choose how diabolical a crime you want to solve. It requires four detectives to play and takes about 15 minutes to play.
At the start of a round of Witness the players will decide on a case they will try to solve. The scenario is read out of the case book, setting the scene for the crime. Each player represents one of the characters from the Blake and Mortimer series. They have an individual book of cases with information only they have access to. Each player gets to read the additional information on the case in their own booklet.
Then four rounds of whispers occur. Based on a randomly chosen whisper key players are able to share information with another detective. Each round of whispers involves telling someone all the information you’ve heard or listening to someone else’s report and trying to remember everything. When you’re receiving information you can ask for it to be repeated, but no other clarification questions. It becomes a game of broken telephone as players try to recall all the details they’ve read and been told about the case. Only after four rounds of information swapping are players allowed to take notes.
Finally players will go to the questions booklet. There will be three questions about the case that they have to answer without any discussion. Hopefully by this time the information has passed around the table and players will be able to identify the culprits. Depending on how well you answer the questions you will receive a score, varying between putting the criminals behind bars to having to they the case again.
In a world or worker placement and area control games, Witness stands out. You need to have four people to play it and the whisper mechanic is certainly unique. This is a game about deduction, memory and communication. I have noticed a trend in this direction in gaming. Dixit, Hanabi and Concept all deal with the way we share ideas. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on a completed version and recruiting some trusted allies to take on some of the more difficult mysteries. Witness will not be for everyone and it might take some convincing to get it to the table with hardcore gamers, but for the 15 minute commitment it’s well worth it for the experience.
I got a chance to play this a while back and not sure exactly how I feel about it. I didn’t really like the “telephone” aspect of the game, but certainly was fun to try and work out the solutions. Something I might enjoy the more I play.