The world is full of mysteries. One of my favorite feelings from watching Following, the earliest of the Christopher Nolan movies, was the sense that all of it could have happened to me. I’ve been that guy watching people walk around in a grocery store wondering what their lives are really like. Wondering if they had any secrets. Curious about the lives they lead behind closed doors.
Maybe that’s why so many of us like police procedurals. Someone recently turned me on to Life on Mars, the BBC time traveling detective procedural show, and it was as good as recommended. (Don’t spoil Season Two for me — I haven’t seen it yet!) There’s something about diving into a cereal bowl full of clues, and spooning out just the right one to connect the dots and solve the mystery. And there’s something about the slow drip-drip-drip of episodic television (or a good escape room / mystery game) that keeps the participant in suspense.
And maybe that’s why I get excited every time a new Decktective game comes in the mail. The folks at dV Giochi are putting out about one a year, and when they sent us a review copy of Nightmare in the Mirror, their latest version, and I had a little weekend trip with my wife, brother, and his wife, I knew I had the perfect wine-and-a-game combo for our getaway.
Decktective: Nightmare in the Mirror is a 2021 release from dV Giochi out in retail right now. It is designed by Martino Chiacchiera and Silvano Sorrentino with art by Alberto Besi. It’s of course in the Dectective line, which we have reviewed earlier this year, where players team up in about an hour to solve a mystery using a deck of clue cards. That sounds like a lot of other games — but the brass ring here is that the system uses an ingenious 3D set up with some of the cards and the box that creates a room or an area for you to explore and inspect.
As before, I pledge right here to provide you with a completely spoiler-free review, which is not an easy task. There’s so much I want to discuss about what happens in the game, but as Rodney Smith says, I will leave that part for you to discover on your own.
First, let’s touch upon the components. I love games like this — you get an hour’s worth of fun and intrigue in a package that fits into the palm of your hand. The box comes with a big load of cards that are sequenced numerically. The art work is perfect for the genre, and really sets the mood, and the entire system can be reset at the end for easy passing around to family and friends.
The gameplay is easy to describe, too. Players get a hand of cards, each with various clues. Are they leading you to the killer / thief / criminal mastermind? Or is the clue in your hand a red herring, a dead end, a busted lead? There’s only one way to find out. Players will play cards to move the story forward and show other players the clues that are being found. Or, players can discard the cards which allows them to play cards that are … well … let’s say deeper into the story.
Knowing which cards to keep versus which cards to discuss is both the fun and the challenge of the game.
Once a certain number of cards are played, it’s time to gather up the clues and have a discussion amongst all the players. The game has a cool mechanic that tests your working theories on who did what to whom in the game. Get enough answers right, and you’ll be recognized by the game for your prowess. As always, I’m talking in circles a bit here, just because I don’t want to leak out too much information for those that play a Decktective game for the first time.
If you are into the destruction games from other companies, the ones where you get lots of doo dads and strings and have to use scissors to figure out your next clue, well, that’s not the series of games. Decktective is all about the cards and the artwork and the 3D location that you slowly build as you wind your way down the halls of your deck. I do enjoy the tactile nature of those other games, but in a dimly lit condo late at night, sharing a nice Spanish bottle of Tempranillo, I just want to relax and do more discussion and debate about the importance of the clues rather than use my hands to line up a bunch of symbols.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
Let me set the stage a bit. My brother and I have debated — okay argued — with each other since we were in kindergarten. Our wives are both great story tellers, and the four of us love hanging out. They are not into euro games, or anything longer than an hour, so bringing a game like Decktective was a perfect fit for this weekend’s relaxing activities.
We set out the deck, and the first couple of cards set both the mood of the game, the backstory behind the “crime”, and gave instructions on how the game was played. That made it super easy. I did not have to worry about remembering the rules or boring them with a long rules teach. We were immediately playing the game upon opening the box, which I could tell was a big plus for my family.
After that, the chase was on. All four of us frantically scanned our cards, looking for some kind of hint that one or the other was more important to the larger arc of the story. It took a few cards, but the rest of them opened up as they followed my lead of talking about the evidence in front of us. After ignoring the 3D set piece early on, they all became interested in what the little diorama had to offer in terms of explaining some of the clues we had in our hands and on the table.
In this story, what seems like a simple kidnapping gets a lot more complicated once all of the players are introduced. There are lots of twists and double twists and fun reveals that are fun to explore. As in other Decktective games, all of the components are important, and each of the players *should* be able to contribute something to the end game.
By the back half of our experience, which lasted right at an hour, there was plenty of debate and laughter as we offered and rejected tons of different ideas about what happened in the story. We hit the end point, and made our guesses, and sure we got a few wrong, but all in all, I could tell that they were captivated by how a small deck of cards could tell a story every bit as engrossing as a detective movie.
I can heartily recommend the DECKTECTIVE system, and I honestly enjoyed Nightmare In The Mirror even more than Bloody-red roses. I am looking forward to more entries in the future.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!