27th PASSENGER - A Hunt on Rails
published by PURPLE GAMES designed by Christos Giannakoulas & Manolis Zachariadis illustrated by Manolis Frangidis
Purple Games began in Greece in Thessaloniki just a year ago. It was formed by fellow games lovers Maria–Olga Raimondo and Evi Tsirogiannidou. At SPIEL
in Essen Germany they had a very busy stand demonstrating and selling two games that seemed very popular to the attendees. The first of these games,
27th Passenger, was excellently funded on Kickstarter making around $9000 of the $6000 required.
27th Passenger is an excellently produced game with quality components, super artwork and a well written rulesbook;
it is exactly how a game should be presented. Looking at the components first we find a double-sided board which is
used depending on the number of players, of which there can be 3-6 aged 10 and up. The board represents the route the
train is taking and the stations it stops at. At each stop passengers get OFF the train (but none get ON), a wooden token
represents the train on the board, just a note but there are wooden train tokens available and although one wouldn't make
any difference to the gameplay it would have looked better
Each player has a Deduction Sheet (shades of Cluedo or Clue) on which they mark off the clues as they detect them. The
game is basically an updated version of the famous detection game except it is set on a train (a la Agatha Christie) instead
of an old house.
From the Passenger cards each player has a random card dealt to them secretly - this is their Identity and it is this that the
other players are trying to discover. Each Passenger/character has three statistics, Looks, Voice and Scent to which there
are three definitions, such as Deep, Shrill or Soft for Voice, Perfumed, Neutral or Foul for Scent and Formal, Eccentric &
Casual for Looks. These are used for ID purposes; once you know all three you can identify the player's character, then you
can set out to assassinate them - for that is the true nature of the game - assassinate or be assassinated - Last Man Standing.
The players each have 6 Action cards of which 2 are one-shot-then-discarded and 4 are usable each Round. Players secretly
select one Action at the start of each Round but unlike other games they don't all declare simultaneously, instead they go by
the number on the card (1, 2, 3 or 4) with the lowest card being the first Action that takes place. Obviously there are going
to be times when players select the same number, especially as to begin with there are three cards with the number 1 (two
of these are the one-shot cards previously mentioned). When this occurs the players reveal their Initiative cards and the higher
value of these takes their Action first.
Each Round an Event card is revealed that counts for everyone throughout the Round. This can be helpful or a hinderance and
seems only to be in the game because without it the paper thin veneer is even less inviting of entertainment.
Then something confusing happens, (at least it is confusing in my opinion as I cannot fathom why anyone should take this action)
the winning player, that is the player with the highest Initiative may if they wish swap their Initiative card with one of the other
players who had played the same Action number. I have played the game several times and have not yet found out why you would
not want to keep the highest Initiative card. It is true that; going first in an Action may not always be a good thing as the player going
last can possibly change their tactics, but only if they have guessed what the other players intended doing and they have chosen the
correct card to play. It is no use deciding that because Player A has gone after Player B for the first two Rounds that Player A will do
the same thing again. Other players will also have noted this and they may get their attack in against Player A (who is still going first)
before you do, thus if no-one has gone after you the card you have played has almost been wasted - not quite because obviously this
occurred during play testing and there is a reward of a Disguise card in this situation, but it is all a bit hit and miss, bluff and guess.
Personally I think the way the Initiative cards are used doesn't work as well as it could. They are dealt out at the beginning and that's it,
unless a swap is made, and swaps can only be made amongst players who used them in a tied Action, so it is fair to say that Initiative
cards can stay where they are dealt for any length of time. It could be better (in fact it is because we tried it and it worked) if the Initiative
cards were shuffled and re-dealt each Round.
The idea of the game is to eliminate all of the other players before the train reaches its destination. The stack/draw pile of passenger
cards are passengers getting off the train and if possible you need to eliminate them from your search by checking the cards before
they leave the game. Everytime you look at a Passenger card you mark off the Passengers name on your crib sheet thus eliminating
them from your search for the other players. This is the way the designers see the game being played by families and why the age for
playing is 10+. Personally I don't know many 10 year olds that wouldn't get bored with this game before the first couple of Rounds are
over. That may sound harsh but in truth The 27th Passenger is a retro game and not because it is based in the 1920s. It is virtually Cluedo
without the dice but it does offer a little more than Cluedo, although sometimes the roll of a die is just what some games need to liven
them up. The main reason we aren't so keen on it though is because players get eliminated from the game and have to sit and watch while
play continues around them. Not only do they get knocked out but there is generally nothing they can do about it. This is not a dig at
this game particularly, we just really do not find games where players can be knocked out socially enjoyable. (One exception to this is
Lunch Money and that is only because the knocked out player can still, and is encouraged to, voice their opinion as to who should do
what to whom, how, and with what).
Yes there are defence cards, you start with a couple (the one-offs can be used to defend yourself if you have foreseen the attack and
chosen the correct card as you Action) and you can get others if you can collect Disguise cards. Maybe if you began with some Disguise
cards as well it would give players more choice each Round, or even if you could play a Protection card and an Action card and only
use/discard the Protection card if it was required. Let me give you an example of a few Rounds of our last game. Val went first. Her
Action was to Investigate Richard. As it was the first Round he hadn't prepared a defence and so he had to give Val knowledge of his
character. In this case Val had chosen Scent - she gave Richard the 3 Scent cards from the Features deck and he handed her back the
one that related to him.
In the next Round Val chose Initiative again. Not expecting another attack Richard chose Investigate also (the previous round he had
chosen to look at the Passengers getting off the train - as had I. Fran had Investigated Val. So Round 2 begins and Val investigates
Richard again, this time for Voice and marked off his Voice type on her sheet. She is now 2/3rds of the way to identifying Richard.
He now has no choice but to go either for Disguise cards or to play a Defence card next Round, thus he is basically eliminated from
playing because the choices have been made for him by Vals two investigations. Of course he may select to do another Action but if
he did (which he actually did as he felt he was being manipulated) and so he fell to Vals third Investigation and now Val knew who he
was. Of course if we hadn't left them to it one or both of us could have been going for the unprotected Val or even Richard as he was
constantly having to deal with Val, but this may be fun for a short term but after a game or so it gets beyond amusing and becomes no
fun. You can only play Cat & Mouse so many times before you don't want to play it anymore. Take Tic Tac Toe (Noughts & Crosses)
for example, as a kid I played it until the tactic was learned and then it became impossible to lose and always ended in a draw. Now I
don't play it anymore.
Round Four and Val can now try and Assassinate Richard if she wants to. Okay there is now a chance that Val can assassinate Richard
but there is also a chance that Val might have made a mistake and that the character she has identified is an innocent. Actually there isn't
any chance of the latter because she has already identified Richard's character through his statistics - no two passengers are the same. So
Val plays Assassination on Richard, he shows everyone his character card that we know matches Vals prediction and Richard is now out
of the game - awkward !
The sad thing is that there is a beautifully designed mechanism that eliminates the assassin player if they choose the wrong passenger and
kill an innocent, but there is really no need for experienced gamers to ever make the wrong guess, unless they are bored with playing and
use the "Get Out or Die" action (that's a reference to the old boardgame Colditz which had a card that allowed bored players to make a run
for it). When you first read through the rules you are thinking that there is a good game in here, but as you begin to play you realise the good
part is very well hidden. Everything about the production is excellent but I seriously cannot see any 10+ year old giving up their PS3, XBox
or handheld console in place of this, it simply will not/does not (we played with 2 of our grandchildren) hold their attention. It may be because
our grandchildren have grown up with their parents - our children - who have brought them up in a games-playing environment where they
uickly had to learn to be thoughtful, crafty and inciteful when playing boardgames - that they took little time in deciding for themselves that
he best thing that could happen to them in this game was to be assassinated, and thus they offered no resistance to being quickly eliminated so
they could go off and play or do something else. That's a sad but true indictment on 27th Passenger as an interest holding entertainment.
In the same vein, if you play it as a family - mum, dad and two kids for example - neither mum nor dad are going to want to knock the youngsters
out of the game first, even in games playing families like ours we wanted the kids to be part of the fun and telling them to sit and watch has never
been an ideal situation for any youngster. In fact it is games that knock you out that is forcing youngsters to play more online games than board
games. This can leave the new problem where the two kids are left and the parents are both eliminated, not an ideal situation, especially if the
parents were trying to introduce their kids to boardgaming.
Off the top of my head I am imagining several ways this game can be revised using the components and rules that come with it, but with a few
tweaks and adds, One of these ideas is to give Players 2-3 Disguise cards at the start as this would eliminate early assassination. Another idea is
or the players to have more than one Passenger but only one of these is their true identity, the others are innocent henchmen. Henchmen may be
killed but they count as collateral damage (they work for the Player's character and know the risks) so they don't count as innocent but they may
injure the assassin (say by making them lose a Dusguise or other card). Of course these ideas need some work but they do begin to make the game
a little more thought-inducing. The actual game is meant to be about Deduction but it is really only about process of elimination.
This is not a game for gamers or families. It may be fun for 20-30 year olds with some Tsipouro or Ouzo and perhaps a few beers but it isn't what
I would regard as a family game. The authors reckon a game lasts about 45 minutes which means that the first player eliminated, after about 5-10
minutes tops, has 30+ minutes of free drinking time. I really want to say something positive about 27th Passenger because it is obvious a lot of time,
money and more importantly, love, has gone into bringing it to the table, but I honestly feel that this was an ill-advised venture. Thankfully because
of Kickstarter it will not have lost the company any money but whether its sales will continue past this I have my doubts. It does look good, will sit
nicely and be eye-candy on any games store shelf, and because of its nearness to Murder on the Orient Express and Cluedo it could easily make it on
the holiday market, especially as a Christmas present bought by someone seeking a gift for a fan of either Christie's tales or Waddington's games.
It doesn't have the player interaction or comedy aspect of a family game like Kill Dr Lucky or Catan, nor the strategies of games like Dominion or
Village, all of which can take about the same 45-60 minutes to play. In our opinion it requires the type of players who like the guess and bluff style
of olde tyme pub games (Crown & Anchor for instance) which to me makes it the quintessential classic beer and pretzels game.