MYSTERY!: MOTIVE for MURDER
This MAYFAIR GAMES publication is a really unusual game of detection. It is unlike CLUE (CLUEDO in the "real" world), JACK the RIPPER, 221b BAKER STREET or any other detective game I have encountered. Designed by Bruce Glassco of "Betrayal at House on the Hill fame, this is for 1-5 players aged 10+, though my personal thoughts are that you'd need a fairly competent and intelligent ten-year old to play it.
There are lots of components; cards, tiles, wooden cubes etc and two Rules sheets, one of which appears to have been published back to front - the front page opens from the left. This 4-page section is what you use for your first game but you still need to have read the rules in the main 12-page booklet first; well most of them; you are supposed to play the five scenarios in order as each adds one or more new ingredients to the pot.
Unlike the other detective games you do not actually have to find the killer (or killers) but just enough motive that someone may be the perpetrator. Motive is derived not from the means to kill or the use of any weapon but the actual wanting to kill, the reason for wanting the person dead. Motive is shown by Red and Blue arrow tiles that form a trail from the person you wish to put the blame on and the dead body in the centre of the board.
The characters are straight out of the 1920'-1940's and would all be at home in a Charlie Chan or Agatha Christie plot. Anyone of them could be the victim, as the card is just randomly flipped over and a "Dead Body" token laid onto it. The game board is then built up around that card. It is a clever and neat idea, quite unique I believe, but it would have been, in my opinion, that much nicer for the players if the rules booklet had contained better information and more straightforward situation examples.
As this is a 1-5 player game I decided to review it from the one player perspective to make a change from the multi-player game. My main reasons being that usually I am disappointed in the play of a well appointed board game that purports to be for 2-4 or more players and yet is never really favourable for two players and so when I was given the opportunity to play through this alone three or four times I thought to myself "why not review it as a solo play game?" and thus here we are.
Okay so to play the Solitaire Game you have to turn to Page 8 of the larger rules book - you'll know which one I mean because the smaller rules booklet only has 4 pages. The solitaire rules take up just over one page but are spread over two to include the "Harder Version" and the Credits Box for the game itself. Now although it doesn't actually mention it in the solo rules you should read the main rules before attempting to play; the difficulty being that there really aren't any main rules specified as all the rules needed are learnt as you play through the five Mystery Cases, which of course you don't wish to do on your own; plus they are not set up for solitaire play.
So I began to read the Solitaire game and setup and play accordingly. To begin with you have to use the specified 22 Suspect tiles that are then shuffled and divided into two stacks, one of ten which you will use and one of twelve that are put aside as a reserve stack from which you may draw and play if the necessary card, a Destitute or an Obsessed card (pay attention as these cards have a different action in multi-player games).
The first thing you have to know about the solitaire game is that you are not trying to catch or identify the murderer you are only trying to point the finger at one of the suspects; this is because you, yourself, are actually the murderer. You are trying to throw the Police off of your scent and give them a prime suspect or two to think about. The game mechanic is against you far more than it is in the multi-player game especially when it comes to the playing of suspect cards. In the regular game you have to play a suspect tile from your hand and place it adjacent to any tile already on the board, thus the choices of where you play are a fair few but in the solo game your choices are limited by the second tile you play. If it is played clockwise next to the first tile played then from then on all tiles you play must be adjacent clockwise. There are no well written examples in the rules and thus although they intimate where and how to play the tiles you are never actually totally sure. It seems that the first four tiles you lay have to be adjacent to the Dead Body tile in the table's centre, thus they will be placed in one of the four major compass points. If you play one East of the Dead Body tile then the next has to be played to the South if you have decided to play clockwise or North if your decision is anti-clockwise. Subsequent cards have to be played in the direction chosen and adjacent to a previously played card, which when you have only ten randomly drawn cards, maybe a few more, to play out, makes it almost impossible to position them where they would do the best for you.
There appears to be a minor printing error on the SCORING card where it says "they have a path of Red/Blue (shown as arrows) or Red/Blue (also shown as arrows). The rules have this, probably correctly as "Remember only Red+Blue or Blue+Red". I would go with the Rules in this case even though most games say that the cards/tiles over-rule the rule book. There is another slightly confusing (at least to me) rule in the Solo play: Under "Play" section 4 it says "After all positions around the victim have been filled, place a Marker on the first suspect played." There is no mention of a "Marker" in the setup and no sign of any Marker in the main example on page 3 which shows 7 cards laid out around the Dead Body. In the same Solo rules it also says to move the Marker but doesn't explain why or again what Marker. I placed one of the coloured cubes on the Tile but still do not understand its relevance. Luckily the Solo game can still be played and enjoyed with or without a Marker as long as you remember which way you have to place the next Tile each turn.
It is the positioning of these tiles that determine who will be a suspect. Each tile has one or more numbered arrows on it, either Red (Hate) or Blue (Love), or sometimes Red and Blue in which case you have to choose the colour. If two arrows meet when you place tile you put a Motive marker of the same value and colour as on the tile you placed. This creates a relationship between the tiles. You need to create relationships, either Direct between the touching tiles or Indirect when the Dead Body (Victim) is linked through either love and/or hate; as long as you can create a logical link then you only count the values of the arrows not the colours. This is somewhat easier to do in the multi-player game because you haven't got the Clockwise/Counterclockwise restrictions but then you are playing against other people so that sort of makes the difficulty level, plus there are the different scenarios to add to the perplexity.
As I said at the beginning this review is about the solo version and as yet I haven't managed to defeat the game mechanic. I have been close but then I failed at the last hurdle. If you cannot refill your Card deck to three or if you cannot refill you Tile deck to three then the game is over and you lose. Seeing as you only have 5 cards (and a possible one or two from the supply stash) and 10 tiles (and a possible one or two from the supply stash) it is a lot easier to lose than win.
It took me a while to get to grips with the Red and Green Arrows both counting towards a suspects Motive if they were positionally in the right places, in fact even after playing several times it still confuses me at times and I find I am having to check and re-check more than should be necessary. The scoring is also different for the solo game, mainly because it is not a series of Cases but just the one. You are trying to overload suspects with Motive values, which is why I find it really difficult because of the Tile placing rules when you are playing on your own. To set the Police on the wrong trail you need One suspect to have at least 20 Motive, and that means a lot of Indirect Relationships because it is impossible to get this amount with only Direct Relationships. There are other ways of winning, of course, though I find them just as difficult if not more so: Two suspects with at least 15 Motive each or Three Suspects with at least 10 Motive each. If you do manage to win against all odds then there is a fun Award for you based on the total number of Motive points on the board. You could be plain Lucky, a Cad, a Rotter, a Plotter (which you have to be anyway), an Arch Villain or an Evil Mastermind.
However, I still find that it's quite an enjoyable solo challenge although I suppose there must be a formula to win by, I just have yet to find it. Just in case you are quicker than I to find the solution there is also a Harder Version for Solo play where certain cards that help you are removed and others that hinder you further are introduced; guess it'll be a fair while before they come into play for me then.