Foul Play: The Manor House Murder review

I grew up in a large family, and thankfully, board games and card games kept us busy and out of our parents’ hair almost every summer growing up. There was another large family, with kids about our age, that my mom loved visiting during the summer time. The family lived on a sheep farm, and so there was lots of area to play and explore, which gave my mom and her friend time for a good cup of coffee and a chance to visit.

But the weather did not always cooperate. On those rainy south Louisiana afternoons, stuck inside that big house, what were two large groups of kids going to do to stay occupied? Luckily for my mom, her friend had a well-worn copy of Clue around (or Cluedo, if you are from Europe). Our family never owned this game, so the only chance I ever got to play was at their house. We would play back-to-back-to-back games of Clue until the rain stopped and the sweltering sun reappeared. This was the 80s, and Clue was unlike any other board game I had played with its combination of movement and deduction.

The heart of Clue was the logic puzzle, trying to piece together the whodunit by narrowing down the clues. Recently, the folks at After Dark, a murder mystery event company in the UK, came up with a Clue like mechanic distilled down to a handy dandy card pack. After Dark runs a very successful set of murder mystery events, all interactive and themed, all over the United Kingdom. But what do the owners do when a world wide pandemic sets in, making interactive private events untenable? Invent a card game instead!

Foul Play: The Manor House Murder, is a “Murder Mystery Card Game” by After Dark Games. They are running a Kickstarter for their latest card game, Foul Play: Once Upon A Crime, right now.

PRODUCTION:

The Manor House Murder comes in two parts, all using the same 52 card deck. The production is pretty simple, one pack of standard playing cards with the rules to the two games printed right on four cards. The other 52 cards have different colored backs with the Foul Play logo, and different types of cards on the front side: evidence, suspects, red herrings and action cards.

The cards and box are pretty standard finish, nothing extravagant, about what you would expect from a $10 card game. Note that after a few plays, the edges of the cards did get a little white showing, and the box looked like it had aged a bit, too. This is a deck you may want to sleeve and put in a separate tuck box.

GAMEPLAY:

All of the mystery card games come with two versions built right in the box.

In Good Cop, players compete to deduce which of the suspects in the deck committed the crime. There are 15 evidence cards — things like the killer had grey hair or smoked or stabbed someone — and three are chosen at random and shuffled into the rest of the deck. A nine by nine “crime scene” is laid out with random cards from the deck, and an “evidence locker” is made with the rest of the deck. Players draw a hand of cards, and then take turns using one of two actions, either to play card for its action and draw a new card, or discard a card to grab a new one from the evidence locker. Whichever player can grab the suspect in their hand and confidently announce the suspect and the three key pieces of evidence that proves their guilt wins the game.

In Bad Cop, players get more cards to start in their hand, but this time, they are trying to blame a suspect for a crime that they may or may not have committed, by having a suspect in their hand and three evidence cards that match the suspect’s traits. First to do it without being “blocked” wins the game.

BUT IS IT ANY FUN?

Foul Play has a cool premise, the promise of a Clue type deduction game with actions that plays in well under an hour and is super portable. The action cards are the heart of the game — players can look at each other’s hands, steal evidence from one another, switch cards with the crime scene (grabbing suspects and key evidence along the way), or trade cards with another player. The turns are very quick as players rush to grab the important evidence cards from the crime scene or out of the evidence locker, or, as happens for the majority of the game, from each other.

This is a very light take that game. As soon as you grab a key piece of evidence, you can be sure that players will start playing “Foul Play” and “Fair Play” and “Interrogate” cards to try and steal that card from you. Block cards are also key, as you always need one in hand to stop another player from taking their turn as Poirot in front of the crowd of people in front of the fireplace, laying out why the cook was the culprit.

The problem for us was that the Bad Cop version stalls out too easy as players turn in cards to the crime scene face down, and players struggle to match a suspect with the known cards. As one of the players said, this version of the game needs to either get away from the take that element and make it all about exploring the mansion for clues, or lean even more heavily into the take that blocking. As we played, it felt like a little bit of both with not enough of either to ramp up the fun.

We enjoyed the Good Cop version more than the Bad Cop version, because this version feels so much more like a logic or deduction game from our youth (minus the time wasting performing the unnecessary walking around the board, of course). The game is very light, and you should have no problem getting anyone in your family to pick up the rules (since essentially it is either play a card for its action or discard to get another card). But for us, it felt a little too underdeveloped and a little too light. The game stalled out for us in every game we played, where there was not much going on until the board state changed or players grabbed a few “steal the card” cards to shake up the doldrums.

It is a pity, actually, because underneath the hood of this game there is definitely something that is a worthwhile concept. I really like the idea of playing action cards to try and sniff out what crime was committed and by who, sort of a non-argumentative version of Deception: Murder In Hong Kong. With a little bit more time in the old mechanic shop — for me, mainly giving more incentive and opportunities to dive into the crime scene would be a good start — there is the making of a good family night game.

That’s why I am intrigued by the new Kickstarter. In the new version, we still have the familiar two game modes of Good Cop and Bad Cop, but has eight new suspects and new action cards. The first is “Gone Cold” which forces someone to discard their entire hand and replace it with the evidence locker. That’s a pretty standard card for take that card games that does not usually go over very well with hobby gamers. The second is Crime Scene Investigator, where you can turn over two cards from the crime scene, which seems a little more helpful especially in the Bad Cop version. The investigator card will definitely give players the chance to unclog the crime scene, but I can still see a scenario where it is mostly Red Herrings getting dumped there.

CONCLUSION:

Foul Play is a quick playing, easy to teach card game that will appeal to fans of Clue / Mystery of the Abbey style deduction games in a small package. For us, it was a little bit undercooked, but I will keep my eye out on the company and the game. With a few more cards added to the deck, and a little bit more streamlining and playtesting, there might be a game in there that would interest the Gumbo krewe, even if it was a little suspect on arrival this time.

Until then, I think we will keep breaking out Deception or even a game like Cockroach Poker, where bluffing and deducing what each player has is absolutely king.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @ Board Game Gumbo

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