My gaming group is pretty mixed in our skill set and often includes children. Therefore, cooperative games get to the table often. On a whim several months ago, we pulled out the board game Detective. Although we had played Sherlock several times, we were never very successful. Sherlock just has far more skills than our party does, and we often wound up frustrated that, although we solved the case, it was more trial and error than actual skill. However, we liked the case-solving aspect and hoped that Detective would prove more our speed.
Detective is appealing right from the start. The game components are attractive and well made, the instructions are clear (if wordy–we like that, but others may not) and the app component is well integrated. There are not many game pieces. The “game board” is very small and the markers are simple. This makes set up simple.
The premise for Detective is that you are trying to solve cases (I will not discuss specifics to avoid spoilers). There are cards to look through and leads to follow, with each lead granting you access to a new card in the case deck or further information from the app database. You will often have to make choices about whether to seek more information or to follow one lead versus another.
Players are given a set amount of in-game days to solve each case, with workdays lasting from 8 am-4 pm. You can take stress tokens to work overtime to a limit set based on the case, and each character has unique abilities that can help you solve the cases. Different tasks take varying amounts of in-game time, including “travelling” to other locations around the city, but you can always check your Antares database (the app) for free, or you can look things up online, like maps of relevant areas. Since our group likes information, we found ourselves going down rabbit holes of information about related information several times, which added to the enjoyment for us, but you certainly don’t need to for success. Gaining certain cards in one case can help you discover relevant information about future cases to make those subsequent cases easier to solve. The instructions also recommend making a mind map and taking clear notes to keep for future cases and you can use real life information to help you solve the cases.
When all of your time has passed, you are given a series of multiple-choice questions on the app to grant points based on how many stress tokens were used and correct answers. The game then determines your points for the case and whether you were successful. There are five cases and each one takes an average of 3-4 hours real time to complete.
Time and resource management are extremely important in Detective. The instructions warn that you need to be careful, and you will never quite know all the information you need to complete the case because of lack of time. Logical jumps and critical thinking skills, therefore, become a necessary part of succeeding. In a way that Sherlock never quite delivered on, we found ourselves thinking like detectives, at least our version of detectives, right from the beginning.
Our group also learned that taking good notes was not just a recommendation, but also a necessity. There is so much information to remember! The cases blend in interesting ways, with each case drawing on information from previous cases.
One marker of a successful game for me is whether I ruminate about the game when I am not sitting at the table playing it, mainly because I like strategy heavy games that make me think. Although I initially looked at Detective and assumed it would be a light game, it was not. I found myself not just thinking about the game but also talking about it with members of my gaming group when we were not actively playing. Recently, we drove through the area where the game is set and were all very excited to see the places we had “been” in game. The immersion of Detective makes it a highly successful game. As we played, excitement levels stayed consistently high and boredom levels stayed very low. Phones were not brought out to do something during a lag while one player had nothing to do, but rather to seek more information about the case itself.
As a cooperative game, I felt that the game was generally a success. Our gaming group, like most, has a variety of skill sets. Certain people bring certain things to the table that others absolutely cannot, and there is not a huge amount of overlap. That made this an easy game to cooperate for us. A group in which one player was considerably less skilled would require some management to avoid an alpha player deciding to run the game solo, which I have found to be a consistent flaw in most cooperative games we have played. The only other complaint that I have is the ending of each case. After the high level of excitement and intrigue, answering multiple choice quiz questions seemed kind of a letdown. One of our players guesses well on quizzes with a high degree of accuracy, and we guessed correctly on a surprisingly large number of questions, granting us success and a higher score than we felt we deserved. This did not detract from the excitement of the game overall but is a consideration for others.
Without question, I would recommend Detective to other players who like games that make you think and contemplate. The children in our group quickly grew bored and moved on to other tasks, but the adults in our group went out and purchased L.A. Detective immediately after finishing the original game.