“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.”
Some games are very straight forward in their theme and mechanics. You know what it is you want to accomplish and the various methods by which you can do it. However there are some games out there that build a mystery with their game play. They shroud your goals in mystery and theme and part of the game is deducing a puzzle. I love these types of games. They are usually dripping with theme and putting the clues together to come to a verdict can be immensely satisfying. Mystery games are often cooperative, with all players working together to solve the case or defeat the game. It can be amazing to share ideas back and forth and see the ways that other player’s minds work.
Witness is a bit of a game of broken telephone. It is designed specifically for four players. Each one takes on the role of one of the main characters from the classic comic book series, Blake and Mortimer. The rounds are played with the passing of information. The game starts with with a scene being read to all the players, it could be everything from a murder scene to a state banquet with a spy hidden among the attendees to a jewel theft. Once the introduction has ben read to everyone, players find the case in their own private book and read some information that is specific to your character. You know this, but no one else does. Then begins four rounds of ‘whispers’ where players will be telling the specific information they’ve gathered. The problem is that the knowledge base continues to grow and the information is shared and you have to rely no you own memory and that of your fellow detectives to feel good about the case. Each of the mysteries are divided into easy, medium, and hard categories, but believe me, the easy can be pretty tough right off the bat when you’re getting the hang of the game.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Consulting Detective puts you right into the world of the great detective. The cases can be played solo or with a team. Each of the ten mysteries start off with an introduction giving you a sense of the crime and major participants of the case. From there it’s up to you to follow leads, visiting the various locations around London and talking to the members of law enforcement and the criminal underbelly that may lead you to your goal, or on a wild goose chase. Consulting Detective sprinkles in clues through it’s narrative and it takes a keen ear and a sharp mind to be able to piece together the scraps of the crime and figure out what really happened. You even must delve into the local papers in an effort to find clues. Once the detectives feel as if they have a good grip on what happened in the case they can turn to the back of the book for a set of questions. They will earn points on how few moves it took them to get to that point and how well they were able to answer them.
The murder that took place in Mysterium is so clouded in questions, not even the ghost can remember all the details. One player is the ghost of a house servant, killed about thirty years ago in the very mansion they now haunt. The rest of the players are some of the world’s top psychics, brought together to communicate with the ghost, solve their murder and help them pass on to the next world. The psychics will each have to identify a suspect, a location, and an object that may have been elements to the crime. Only once each psychic has solved their own elements to the crime will the ghost remember the true details and be able to communicate that with the team. The only problem? The ghost can only communicate through hazy visions to help indicate which element goes with which psychic. The ghost has to give these Dixit-like abstract art cards to the players and hope that they are able to interpret what they are trying to say. It can be challenging and tough to be the ghost, who is unable to verbally communicate at all, but it’s oh so satisfying when a clue is correctly deciphered. Just to make it a little tougher, Mysterium is a race against time. You only have seen hours (rounds) to solve the murder or you’ll have to wait another year.
There hasn’t been a game in recent memory that has challenged the player’s logic and puzzle solving as much as T.I.M.E. Stories. Each episode of the game plunks the Time Agents in a new era with vague details of a situation they have to solve. The game unfolds in front of you and more details present themselves, but you will have to apply all of your brain power to solve the mission. When you run out of time, you restart the mission at the same point you did in the beginning. Everything is reset, but you’ve gained some valuable knowledge to apply to your future attempts. It’s Groundhog Day with a dash of Choose Your Own Adventure. T.I.M.E. Stories really immerses you into the situation you’re facing and because it’s designed to have multiple expansions or episodes, each one will represent a new mystery.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the 1983 Spiel des Jahres winner. There have been a lot of hidden movement games like Fury of Dracula and Letters From Whitechapel that offer more complex game play, but somehow the simplicity, and let’s face it, the nostalgia of Scotland Yard make it an all time favourite for me. Mr X is loose on the streets of London and it’s up to the nation’s top security agency to bring him to justice. London is divided up into over one hundred different districts accessible by taxi, bus and metro. By moving around the board invisibly, Mr X will look to evade capture. The detectives won’t know exactly where he is, but will know how he’s moving around the city, narrowing his possible locations. Every once in a while Mr X must show his location on the board and the net can start to close in around him. I love being on either side of the table for this game. As Mr X it’s a nail-biting challenge to avoid the authorities and as the detectives it’s a ton of fun to put yourself in the shoes of the criminal and ask yourself ‘what would I do in this situation?’
Honorable Mentions: Clue, Letters From Whitechapel, Tragedy Looper, Mystery of the Abby, Inkognito, 221b Baker Street, Spy Fall.