Tabletop mystery-solving games have a fine pedigree. The modern era was ushered in by the exquisite Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (1982)–heck, even 1975’s roll-and-move 221B Baker Street wasn’t horrible. Obviously a huge chunk of the genre mines the well-explored veins of Victorian gaslight in part due to the ongoing popularity of Deerstalker Dude, and in part due to the fact that royalties do not need to be paid. Recently, the Chronicles of Crime and Detective franchises, have been doing well–particularly City of Angels, with its LA Noire-ish vibe.
Publishers dV Giochi have now waded into this territory with a new series called Decktective, similar in size and scope to their well-executed Deckscape one-off escape-room games. The first one to make it over from Europe in English is called Bloody-red roses.
A quick once-over of the box raised some worrisome flags with some wonky-sounding English and, for those like me raised on a diet of Masterpiece Theatre and British TV in general, a very odd choice of names for two of the protagonists: suspect “duke Edward York” and mysteriously-dead “count Ferdinand Tudor”. William Niebling is credited inside the box with the English adaptation, and he seems to have a shaky grasp of English noble nomenclature and/or history–or was he intentionally trying to tie their names to the War of the Roses? In which case the victim should have been named Lancaster and not Tudor. Or did he just pick names that he thought sounded the most English? Harumph harumph.
Well, in for a penny in for a pound as they say. I sat down with my mother, also an avid Anglophile and mystery fan, and we opened the box. There was the usual DO NOT SHUFFLE THIS DECK warning on the top card which I was used to from all the Escape Room games–but along with the cards there was also a little baggy with fancy red paperclips inside. Were we going to be tracking hit points à la Betrayal? Hmmm…
The first couple of cards as usual set the scene, telling us we were a group of detectives called to a mansion to investigate a mysterious death. Then we had our first surprise: we were to take the next five cards and construct a 3-D model of the crime scene, using the box lid and back to hold the cards in place!
The result was a charming little two-sided diorama of the mansion, its surrounding moat, and the bridge over the moat complete with guard beagle. We took several minutes to peruse the details of the scene, and I am not ashamed to say I spotted yet ignored a couple of what turned out to be key pieces of evidence.
This piece of stagecraft alone made me want to forgive the errors on the box. (I also want to say that the English on the cards in the box was fine.) But the best part was yet to come.
I was curious to see how Decktective would gamify the mystery-solving process. The Sherlock Files, another recent card-driven mystery game, uses what it called the “Q-System”: on their turn players had to choose either to play (and therefore share) an evidence card from their hand or discard a card face-down out of the game. Since it’s not always clear which cards are useful information, especially at first, there are interesting decisions all the way through.
Decktective modifies this approach–for the better, in my opinion. Players still have the choice to play/share a card face-up or discard a card face-down out of play into what is called the Archives. However, each card has a numerical rating representing the number of cards that must be Archived before it can be played. You might have what you think is a really important piece of evidence but you can’t play it yet, so you want to try and convince your teammates to Archive more cards–but they may be in the same boat.
The other difference is that Plot Twists turn up in the deck as players replenish their hands and are revealed immediately. They provide “mandatory clues” which may be crucial or red herrings.
At a certain point the final Clue card will be drawn and players will have to decide what happened. This is where the red paper clips come in. There are five multiple-choice Question cards. Once players decide their collective answer to each question they mark it/them with the paper clips without peeking at the back of the cards. Once all questions have been answered you flip the cards over and voilà! Instant verification and full explanation, with points attached.
Obviously I can’t discuss the solution. My mother and I came up with what we thought was a fool-proof set of answers but we were almost totally wrong. And every single clue for the correct answers was there if we could have but seen it. To me this is the mark of an excellently-written mystery.
So overall if the rest of the Decktective series is as well-executed as Blood-red roses then I have no trouble recommending it. Designers Martino Chiachierra and Silvano Sorrentino deserve applause for their creativity and execution (no pun intended there). Like almost all mystery/escape-room type games it’s a one-and-done affair, but no components are destroyed and the cards are all numbered so you can reset and resell it, which on top of the low sticker price makes it excellent value for your money.
Thanks to dV Giochi for supplying a copy of Decktective: Bloody-red roses for this review.
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