As I suggested in a previous post, we really are in a Golden Age of board games just now, and it pains me to see so many people sticking to old-fashioned, creaky games when there are so many elegant, gorgeous, or otherwise wonderful games available.
Today, I am going to look at another venerable – if dusty – ‘classic’, Cluedo, or Clue to our american readers. Of course, being a Parker game, you may also recognise one of the many reskinned editions published to cash in on specific fandoms. There have been editions paying homage from everything from The Simpsons to Alfred Hitchcock, and D&D to Scooby Doo. That last one actually makes sense, come to think of it.
At its core, Cluedo is a deduction game whereby players must work out what character committed a murder in which room, using which weapon. I feel that this game holds up far better to modern scrutiny than Monopoly does. For one thing – and this does depend on the edition you get – the components are usually pretty good. The board is attractive and functional, the pieces feel good in your hand and the cards, although a little thin, are well designed and of decent quality. This contrasts with Monopoly‘s boring board, awful paper money (as an aside, try playing Monopoly with poker chips; this makes the tactile experience of play so much more satisfying) and cheap, plastic real estate.
In terms of gameplay, the rules are simple and can be played with children, but they do have some wiggle room to allow a fun experience for adults too. There’s not a lot of depth to the deduction and it can be rather formulaic, held back only by the limitations of the roll and move system by which you travel between rooms. Generally, with a few decent players around the table, everyone will start to draw their conclusions at around the same time (except for the poor sod who has fallen victim to the tedious roll and move system) and crafty players will try to introduce a little subterfuge in order to elicit a false accusation, eliminating their opponents from the game.
The saving grace of this game is the interaction it promotes between players as they share clues and throw out accusations. It’s a decent game to play with a group of like-minded friends over a few beers. As with most board games, the social experience is key to the enjoyment of this game – I mean, come on, we’re not video gamers!
Despite the fun that can be had with this creaky classic, there are a number of fun, slightly deeper alternatives available to the discerning modern gamer.
Fantasy Flight’s Letters from Whitechapel is a deduction game set in London, 1888. One player takes on the role of Jack the Ripper, moving through London, recording his own movements on a pad of paper. Meanwhile, five other players will control the police pawns who are frantically searching for the killer.
The gameplay is quite simple. Jack chooses a hideout and then commits one murder per night for four nights. Each time, he will place tokens – one real and several decoys – at his potential murder sites and must then make his way back to his hideout without encountering the police. Movement is as simple as Jack noting the numbers of the spaces he moves through and moving a marker along a time track to show that a move has been made. All of Jack’s moves are hidden, whilst the police officers move visibly on the board. After each move, police may seek clues, forcing Jack to place a marker on any spaces he has passed through that are adjacent to an officer. An officer may also attempt an arrest move if he believes Jack to be nearby. If he is right, the police win. The police also win if Jack runs out of moves (usually around 15) before getting home. Jack may only win if he makes it home every night without getting caught.
The game does a good job of building tension during the chase, and is far more dynamic in its deduction that Cluedo. The fact that the police are facing off against a thinking, adaptable human rather than merely trying to solve a static puzzle keeps the game fresh and interesting. Do they focus on trying to intercept Jack and make an arrest, or try to deduce the locale of his hideout, blocking him from getting home before he runs out of moves? It is also a very different game depending on which role you take.
The Resistance is another deduction game, but with much looser structure and rules. The game is essentially a social card game in which players are secretly dealt role cards, establishing themselves as either a loyal member of the resistance or a dirty, dirty spy. The spies are aware of who the other spies are, but the loyalists have no idea who has what role. Hilarity ensues.
The gameplay boils down to a number of votes. There is a lot of voting in this game. The leader (this is rotated around the table) chooses a team of players to complete a mission for the resistance. Ideally, assuming he is loyal, he will pick only loyalists. The players get to vote on each team, either approving the group or forcing the leader to choose again. This allows players the chance to reject a team that has potential spies on it and is really the most important phase of the game. The approved team will then be issued success and failure cards to be played in secret to determine the outcome of the mission. Most missions require the spies to play only a single failure card to sabotage a mission.
The Resistance is a game of social deduction, where players are free to say or ask anything of other players, but those players are, of course, free to ignore them or lie. With only five rounds (first team to score three missions wins), the game can get very tense once accusations start flying and people star to disagree over who to trust.
There are a number of other fantastic deduction games available, but these really are two of the highlights. If you know of another alternative, please share it in the comments below!