What if Sherlock had Google?
So, yesterday I made the grand statement that a game technically not yet released replaced one of my favourite games of all time. Yes, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game (or just Detective) has replaced T.I.M.E. Stories for me.
It’s important to note though that the two games cannot be any more different. If there was a game with similar DNA, it would be Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective or even a little Legacy of Dragonholt. If you didn’t like T.I.M.E. Stories for any reason, never fear – those experiences and issues will not cross.
So what is Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game? It is basically exactly as advertised. There are a series of mysteries to be solved, and you and the other players work together to determine the truth.
Players take the role of Investigators for the Antares National Investigation Agency. Antares is the most high-tech investigation agency in the world and operates under the jurisdiction of the F.B.I.
Think of yourself as a member of any high-level investigation team on TV, such as Criminal Minds or The Blacklist. You select an investigator to play, each of which has special skills and abilities.
All you know going into the game is there are five cases you will have to solve, and there is a metaplot for a campaign. That’s it. You could look through all of the components in the box, but it won’t really help you – the only way forward now is to play.
This all probably sounds really vague, but that really is what you do. There is no preset path to take. The game creates an intentionally vague starter setting with some information, and as a group, the players decide what to investigate and where to travel.
There is a lot of rules to take in up front though. Once you begin to play, the options become fairly simple and intuitive. But that’s once you start playing. Learning a game where you can’t be given exact examples or clarifications can be a bit confusing and off-putting.
There are two really great things to help with this in Detective though. First, there is a great rules explanation from Rodney Smith and Watch It Played.
Don’t be put off by the almost 20-minute length. A lot of the video is trying to give examples of the game without giving any story away. The video also includes a guide for the Antares Database that I will go into shortly.
The second really big help are tips through the manual from the playtesters. Mostly just general tips, they are sound bits of advice that you should keep in mind when playing.
It might not sound like much, but a lot of people will go in without any real idea of what sort of game they are playing. Notes on taking breaks and general feel advice is great for first time players.
So gameplay begins with an introduction from the casebook, giving you starting leads and case conditions. These conditions are things like the amount of time you can spend on the case and special rules.
The leads are a large part of the game though. When you investigate a lead, you search the case deck for the appropriately numbered card and read it.
These lead cards give you most of the background information in the game. It is with this information you begin to gather information on the world and the people you are dealing with. Information can be text, it can be images or diagrams, it can be handwritten letters – the possibilities are amazing.
The other thing with leads is these cards can sometimes be investigated further if you have the right skills at your disposal. It’s hard not to just turn the card over and see if it’s worth spending the resources, but it’s great that the game puts you into such a position. It may be something that opens up a whole new area to investigate, it could be nothing. But those skills are finite resources, so it’s also risk/reward.
A really cool thing with the cards is sometimes you will unlock the ability to put a card into another case deck, meaning some areas can be locked or unlocked in the future.
But surely you don’t just walk around and read cards describing your actions. After all, Antares is the most high-tech investigation agency in the world! So where do you get the other information from?
Welcome to the Antares Information Database.
Instead of having a card for everything, there are many entries in the online database. This is a pretty obvious use of the database, and it does it well.
But it also handles clues and evidence for you. This was a great way of letting the online database know what paths you had taken without having to enter every card examined!
The other great aspect of this is the database also keeps your score for the case. When you are ready to finish, either by consensus or time has run out, you enter what is called the cases final report.
The game looks at the evidence you collected and it’s relevance, then gives you a base score. You are then asked a series of questions with multiple choice answers about the case, and about the metaplot.
You may be tempted to guess an answer, but I strongly recommend against it. For my practice game I was tempted, but one or two of the questions I am not sure if they actually happened in the game. If you get an answer wrong, your case score will go down. If you honestly answer “I don’t know”, no points are awarded or subtracted.
“Practice Game?” I hear you ask?
That’s right. We get to do the first game again as a practice. I got a minor rule wrong and a major setup was skipped limiting our investigation options, but we can play again with no real foul.
That’s because when you have answered everything, you are given a case score giving you an indication of how well you did or didn’t do. On the first game, we really flubbed the case, but I only know this becuase of because of our score.
Detective gives you the option to restart a case before showing you the actual solution. This is something that is hard to do in Sherlock Holmes for example, but because Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is essentially an app-driven game, fairly easy to accomplish. Once you see the solution, your score and everything is locked, so you can’t game the system too much, but it makes for a great experience.
I wish I could talk more about the case, but that would lead to specifics that will spoil parts of the game.
I can talk a little bit about one more aspect though that makes Detective stand out from other similar games.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game has ties to actual historic events. There are many parts of the game you don’t just use the Antares Database, but you search Wikipedia and Google events to verify times and dates of testimony given. This game is the most fun, educational, investigation heavy game I have ever played.
Alpal and I had a great time playing the first case, rule mistakes and all. We didn’t have enough puppy breaks – we played for about 2.5 – 3 hours straight. I think the case went for close to four hours total.
One of the greatest thing about Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is I am confident I have at least 20 hours game before me, and that’s assuming I can get the cases first time from here on in.
During this time, I can choose when to play the next case when I am ready. Five cases later, I will be looking at solving some metaplot game, ending the campaign probably adding even more time to play. Without ending the fifth game, I don’t know this for sure, but the entire experience is here in one the one box.
This is where Portal Games have blown T.I.M.E. Stories out of the water. Three years after release, I am still waiting for the metaplot component of T.I.M.E. Stories. Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game has everything here, ready to go, and for a much lower cost than the initial outlay of T.I.M.E. Stories.
I am confident that Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game will be a success. When this happens, I have no doubt a second campaign will be released, and I feel it will be a stand-alone expansion. It may be in a year, it may be in three years. The main thing with this structure is I am not left hanging a ridiculous amount of time to continue the story.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game won’t be for everyone. If you get the chance to play the game do it – it’s the only way you will know for sure. If you play someone else’s copy, just don’t read the case endings and you can enjoy it fully once purchased.
For people that may not have a chance to try a case before buying, I am thinking of doing a solo run on video of Case 1. It would be spoiler heavy, but I would not show the actual case solution. You would see all of the mechanics and how the game is played in detail. If this is something you would like to see, let me know in the comments or on the Facebook page!
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game will definitely be a game I will be trying to play every 2-3 weeks. It may not work out that way, and I may not finish the campaign before PAX, but this is a game that definitely deserves all of the hype. A full review will be coming in the next couple of months, but at the moment Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is all but guaranteed a spot on my top 10 games of the year.
Until next time,