Tabletop Tuesday: ‘Mystery Express’
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Play Time: 60-90 minutes
Genre: Deduction, bluff
Review: As I start writing I remembered that this is the third Days of Wonder game I’ve reviewed in a row. Not intentional, but I like their games. Something different next time. Promise.
Have you played Cluedo (or Clue to some)? The gist of the well known classic is this thus: there are three decks of cards representing weapons, locations and suspects. One card from each deck is removed and hidden from view. The players must try and see as many cards as possible to find the killer, location and murder weapon through process of elimination. Luck and speed play a bigger role in the game, but it’s a good starting point for younger players. Mystery Express is basically Cluedo on Expert Mode.
The basic goal is the same – there are multiple decks and you have to deduce which card has been removed. Mystery Express steps it up a little by introducing two more decks giving us Suspect, MO, Location, Time and Motive. It then steps things up a LOT by putting two of every card in the decks. So maybe you’ve seen the card that indicates the victim was pushed off the train…but have you seen it twice? And if you have, was it the same card twice or the two different cards? This is where the game gets tricky.
Rather than relying the dice to move around the board to make your deductions you are given time as a resource to spend on investigation techniques. The murder has taken place on a train with the players taking on the roles of amateur investigators trying to get to the bottom of things before the train reaches it’s final destination. Between each stop across Europe the players have a number of hours to spend going to different carriages, each offering a different way of looking at cards being held by other players. For example one carriage allows you to swap card types of your choice with two other players, while one requires each person to pass a card of a chosen types to their neighbour. One even allows you to search another players ‘luggage’ (deck) if you can guess which hand they’re hiding the suitcase token in.
The trickiest part of the game is keeping track of the cards you have seen as they tend to get moved around a lot. There’s other spanners in the works to make things trickier. The conductor is a non-player character who moves around the train and holds three cards that players can trade for their own, and two passengers enter the train at different points of the journey bringing previously unseen cards that become high priority. A dark tunnel between two stops allows a sneak peek at neighbouring players hands, and each player character has a special ability. The deck of Time cards act by their own rules, being randomly revealed to players in different ways requiring quick memorisation.
By the end of the journey players are unlikely to have uncovered all the details of the crime, so it comes down to who has the most right guesses with a tie-breaker being determined by answers noted in the second-to-last stop on telegrams. The game has a nice pacing to it and will challenge your memory and deductive powers more than most detective themed games doing the rounds. It has some reliance on luck with what cards you get dealt at the beginning of the game and what other players choose to reveal to you (intentional or otherwise). You’d have to be a savant to keep full track of where the cards are going so eventually you’ll have to rely on guesswork.
The set is up to the Days of Wonder standard, with a highly decorated board featuring the train and journey mapped out in bright detail with colourful figures throughout. Little busts nicely represent the characters and each player gets their own ticket booklet to keep their notes in. There aren’t a lot of elements needed to play the game but the designers have taken to time to make everything thematic and at a high quality.
If there’s one complain to the game it’s the lack of character given to the murder victim. All the characters might as well be playing a Murder Dinner Party as far as players are concerned. Cluedo‘s ‘Mister Body’ may not be a well fleshed out character but at least he has a name. A little bit of back story would have gone a long way to adding some colour. Needless to say this game will not be to every gamer’s taste but it could break up the strategy and deck builders on the shelf, or can make for a casual dinner party/game night.