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Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game (Saturday Review)
Posted On 18 May 2019
Release Date: 2018
Designer: Przemysław Rymer, Ignacy Trzewiczek, Jakub Łapot
Length: 120-300 minutes
Artist: Aga Jakimiec, Ewa Kostorz, Rafał Szyma
Publisher: Portal Games
Complexity: 2.5 / 5
The rain is relentless, pouring down in heavy sheets, making the city outside your office window appear like it is behind net curtains. The James River appears to be bubbling, but you haven’t noticed any of it. You have spent the last few hours staring at your computer, checking various databases and cross-referencing intel. You drank at least six coffees, yet you’re no further. Welcome to Detective by Portal Games where you’re an officer in the recently created special unit of Antares. Your task is to solve curious cold cases, following up leads and doing other detective work, all against a mercilessly ticking clock.
The game is for 1-5 players working together on the five cases that come in the base game, each lasting around 2-3 hours, but this can vary a lot depending on how much time you spend discussing your options. However, you can easily stop the game at any point. Simply take a photo of the game state, or note down your current location, day and hour in the game, then put all your active tokens in a bag, and put the bag and case deck back in the box. That way you can easily resume when you like. If you can leave the game set up, then even better.
Chances are you will want to take a break, even if you have the whole evening to focus on playing. I found that my brain filled up with too much information after about an hour and a half and I needed to take a break to assimilate everything and process it in the back of my mind. Saying that, when you do resume the game, you will probably have to go over your notes again, because the information won’t be quite as present in your head as you’d like.
You’re well advised to take notes throughout the game. You will need them. As you follow more leads and interview people, look through case files, get forensics reports and generally gather more information, you start to build a picture of the case. At first, clues don’t connect up and it’s not clear what to look at next. You feel like you’re stabbing in the dark a little, and your notes are vital if you want to make connections and make more confident decisions about what leads to follow up next.
You will make bad decisions and waste time talking to people or requesting analyses, but you will also make progress and slowly you grow into your new role of being an Antares detective. Yet, time is always against you. As you get towards the end of the working day, you have to decide if you want to work overtime to follow up another lead, but then you have to accept that you get more stressed – and there is only so much stress you can handle before you are forced to finish the case and write up your final report. At the same time there are also only so many days, so balancing overtime and stress is critical.
There will also be distractions that lure you away from your detective work, and you never know if these will result in some useful clues that lead you to new discoveries. A lot of the time your real-life personality will come through and you will feel social pressures and want to follow real-life social norms when you make your decisions. Yet, at the same time, you will have your favourite film or TV series in the back of your mind when you play good cop, bad cop and push your suspect that little bit further – or ruin someone’s day by questioning them about a relatively sensitive matter.
Even though Detective is basically a mix of cards and the online database, as well as a bit of Wikipedia research, plus a location board, wooden and cardboard tokens, and you spend a lot of time reading descriptions, everything does magically come to life. You have your laptop on one side, someone else in your team looks after the note-taking and together you discuss what to do next, all of which turns your front room into an incident room and your coffee table into an office desk. If you have a white or flip board handy, plus some blu tac and a printer to print out notes, mugshots, etc., you have a complete, professional setup.
You could argue that the game is nothing more than a modern choose-your-own-adventure, but there is much more to it. Not only do you have a lot more options in Detective than you would ever have in any choose-your-own-adventure game, but the choices you make are based on the connections you deduce from the information you gather, as well as your gut instinct and your newly discovered detective nose.
Many people have said that the writing in Detective is a bit repetitive, but once you are further into your case, you simply skip the first couple of paragraphs on clue cards and just focus on the information that feels relevant. At the same time, you have to be careful not to skip too much, because there are sometimes small clues in the descriptions that may seem to have no relevance at the time, but become important later in the case – or might even be important in a subsequent case.
Other than that, the overall presentation of the game and artwork are beautiful. All the components are of high quality, especially the custom wooden tokens. The custom printed baggies labelled as evidence bags, make the game feel very special and atmospheric. It’s overall a really well-produced game.
The rulebook is laid out really well and there is a Watch It Played video which I strongly recommend you watch, because it means you can start playing very quickly, without the need to read anything. I only once had to refer back to the rulebook during play, proving how easy it is to learn the game – at least from Rodney‘s video.
Portal Games have done a really great job with Detective, and the awards they have won for the game speak for themselves. You get a lot of gameplay time for your money, and it has gripped my wife and me pretty much immediately. We can’t wait to play the next case and we even plan to get the expansion, Detective: L.A. Crimes, when we’re done with the five cases that come in the base game.
So if you’re enthralled by crime dramas on TV and fancy yourself as a police detective, then Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is for you.