My wife fantasizes that after she retires as a teacher, she will volunteer as a Criminal Minds type of investigator. She loves watching police procedurals, but the ones where the profilers have to get in the minds of the perpetrators to solve the crimes are the ones that really get her brain juices flowing.
I’d rather watch Brooklyn Nine Nine.
That being said — I grew up watching police procedurals, and love when we get a game to review that gives my wife and me a chance to try out our “detective skills”, such that they may be. I cannot think of a more appropriate title to cover than a game that dV Giochi sent us recently, DECKTECTIVE: BLOODY-RED ROSES.
Blood, trearchary, class envy, love, and indifference all in one game?
Captain, Charles and I will be happy to take on that assignment.
I pledge at the outset that I will do my best to provide you with a spoiler-free review. When it comes to the game mechanics or the story itself, never fear, as we will just be talking about the highest of high level overviews. We should probably start out talking about what the DECKTECTIVE system is and what it isn’t.
DECKTECTIVE is a series of small box games, similar in scope to the EXIT or UNLOCK type of games. Some call them escape-room-in-a-box, but the genre is so much more wide open than that. dV Giochi bills the one that they sent to us as a “pocket mystery game”, and that’s a compact and fair description.
Imagine a No Thanks! size box with a ton of cards in it that will lay out a mystery for you to solve. The game will take you about an hour to play, and can be played with different play counts. Due to COVID-19, we were limited to playing as a two player, and the game seems to scale up from there with ease and can even be played as a solo. (Check out my buddy Eric Buscemi’s (from The Cardboard Hoard and Punchboard Media) solo review here.)
What it isn’t, is a full size game with timers, lots of pieces to fiddle around, or super engaging long puzzles. We found this series to be something you would carry around in in your gamebag, and could pull out with family or friends who aren’t even necessarily gamers.
This particular version of DECKTECTIVE (“Bloody-red roses), was designed by Martino Chiacchiera and Silvano Sorrentino with art by Alberto Besi. Our thanks to the folks at dV Giochi for providing us a review copy.
What is the DECKTECTIVE system? In this particular case, the game comes with about 50 cards (#nospoilers) that are numbered for ease of play. Players will open up the box, and the first few cards will tell them exactly what they need to do without having to read any rule book at all. The goal of the game will be detailed, including how players will be scored at the end of the game.
Right out of the box, something magical happens, as players will build out a small mansion right inside the box using the first set of cards that they are allowed to peek. (Don’t worry, dear reader, this is not a spoiler at all because the 3D crime scene as it appears once it is built is pictured right on the back of the box.) The mystery crime scene is so simple yet so impressive! It really amps up the immersion level as soon as it is built, because instantly players will start poring over the crime scene itself looking for clues. Right away, this feels like a different entry in the mystery room / puzzle game genre.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF GAMEPLAY:
Sticking with the back-of-the-box no-spoilers, players learn that a member of royalty is found lifeless next to the Tudor mansion in England. The goals are clear — players must root around the mansion and interview potential suspects to discover clues and maybe, just maybe, figure out if this was a “tragic accident or a brutal crime.”
With the crime scene set up, it is time to dive some more into the game mechanics. Next up, the players will use an ingenious system of playing cards to further their investigation. This is where it gets a bit tricky to describe, so I will just leave the surprises for you to discover. Well, okay, one little hint — players will have cards in their hand that will naturally give the other players clues as to what may have caused the crime to take place, and who might be responsible. Knowing what cards to play and when to play them was an unexpected surprise as a game mechanic, but it felt very thematic and created a lot of tension.
Once the end game goals are reached, it is time to compare notes with the handy dandy end game system. Yes, I am being deliberately vague again here, best for you to discover how the game will score your deductions and assumptions on your own. Suffice it to say that the end game is tidy, easy to use, and dare I say meaningful.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
Having our own Criminal Minds inspired two player game night turned out to be a pleasant way to spend a Tuesday evening, and we had a lovely date night! We ordered some fajitas from Chuy’s, turned off the television, opened up a nice bottle of Spanish wine, and spent the next hour talking, scheming, trading hints, and trying to turn educated guesses into solid deductions.
Unfortunately, our end game was not as successful as Eric Buscemi’s was when he played, but then again, he’s much smarter than us. (And wasn’t his uncle a cop?) What we did do well was in immersing ourselves, if only for an hour, in the lives of these interesting British noble types. We found the story to be intriguing, with a couple of minor little twists that kept us on our toes.
Based just on our ability, I think many gamers would find this to be easier than some of the Unlock series, but for us, it was just the right difficulty. The downside to these games is that you can only really play them once, because you figure out all the puzzles along the way especially when it comes to scoring time. On the other hand, for the price of one movie ticket, we had a solid hour of debating and discussions, all in the comfort of our home.
We both agreed — this system is a cool take on the whole genre, and a system that fits our playstyles and desires to a ‘T’. The DECKTECTIVE system is right in that Goldilocks zone — not too tough as to be frustrating but not easy either, giving us just enough of a challenge for a week night, work night, date night type of game. In other words, the mystery and the solution made sense, without any annoying issues with dead ends that somehow missed the developer’s nose, and that’s a plus in my book, because so many of these type of games have one or two little mistakes like that which can really dampen the spirits.
Simply put, the DECKTECTIVE system is one that we would love to play again. My understanding from dV Giochi is that this is the first in the series, and the 2021 version DECKTECTIVE: Nightmare In The Mirror reminds me of a story straight out of one of my beloved Three Investigator novels, so I will definitely be checking that out soon.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
–BJ at Board Game Gumbo