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Mystery! Motive for Murder» Forums » Reviews

Subject: [Review]A Short Game High On Charm rss

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Seth Brown
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OVERVIEW
Mystery! Motive for Murder is an Edward Gorey illustrated game, with all the charming Victorian illustrations from the man who brought you the Gashlycrumb Tinies (A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil devoured by bears...) Also you are placing tiles to form a nexus of relationships that establish motive in an attempt to declare one of your suspects the prime suspect.

COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
22 large thick suspect tiles, 40 smallish cards of reasonable quality, 120+ cardboard tokens for reationships/motive numbers/&c, 30 wooden interview cubes 6 each in 5 colors.

GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
This is a modular game with 3 training scenarios, an advanced scenario, and what I will call the "main game" rules, which is the ones I will explain here. As setup, each player is dealt 3 tiles and 3 cards. A suspect tile is placed in the center of the table with a dead body token on it to represent the victim.

On your turn, you must choose one of three options:

1) Play a tile -- You may either play a tile from your hand, or draw the top tile from the deck and immediately play it. The played tile must be edge to edge with either the victim tile or one of the four tiles bordering the victim tile. If the arrows on any side line up with the arrows on the tile that borders that side, a relationship arrow of the appropriate value is played pointing towards the victim (or towards the card bordering the victim). Once you have played the tile, place on of your cubes on it to mark it as yours.

2) Play a card -- You may either play a card from your hand, or draw the top card of the deck and immediately play it. Cards have various effects, including but not limited to granting extra actions, awarding bonus points, and placing markers on suspects to increase or reduce their motive value.

3) Draw a card and a tile -- Draw one card *and* one tile, but play nothing.

Once all players have had a turn, a scoring round occurs where the motive for each suspect is calculated. First-order (victim-bordering) suspects have motive equal to the red (angry) numbers pointing towards the victim. (blue/happy relationships with the victim provide no motive.) Other suspects have motive only if there is a red-blue or blue-red chain from them to the victim, e.g. a red 4 pointing from Gertrude to Percy, and a blue 5 pointing from Percy to the victim. In that case, the motive is the sum of the two numbers. Suspects may have additional bonuses or penalties to their motive placed by cards.

Whoever has a cube on the prime suspect tile (with the highest motive) receives a few points (increases each round), with yet fewer points awarded to the second-highest suspect and a single point for whoever owns the first-order tile between the prime suspect and the victim.

At the end of the round, players choose turn order for the next round from last place VP to first. At the end of 3 rounds, the case is closed, and a new case is started on a fresh board. After 3 cases, highest score wins.



GOOD POINTS

*Edward Gorey Illustrations! I think the only other game I've played with Edward Gorey *style* illustrations was Gloom, but this game has actual illustrations by the actual Edward Gorey. The illustrations are lovely, although admittedly I may be biased because I am a huge Gorey fan. (I can recommend both volumes of Amphigorey, a collection of his work, but at the very least the Gashlycrumb Tinies is a classic you can glance at online and should be enjoyed by everyone. If you're unfamiliar, click the link!)

*Fast and easy to learn and play.
Although you might want to start with the training scenarios if you're teaching yourself the game from the rulebook, I had no difficulty in starting various groups of new players on the full game and explaining it fairly quickly. Each player only gets a single action per round (exception for the 2p game), with just 3 rounds per case, and 3 cases per game. This means that even the 5p game plays quite swiftly.

*A cleverly implemented attention to theme. Sure, the Edward Gorey illustrations are fantastic. But what makes this game really charming is the interwoven relationships between the characters, and how the mechanics back that up. Relationship arrows come off each side of the suspect tiles and connect to each other, with blue signifying positive feelings, red signifying negative, and the number signifying intensity. So a suspect's downward arrow "Father" may be a Blue 3 towards his offspring, while a suspect with a downwards arrow of "Caught stealing by" may be a Red 4, indicating negative feelings. Further intricacies include hearts on relationships of love, conditional relationships, and the popular "Marriage of Convenience" which is a 1 intensity for either color.

The clever part comes in with how these arrows line up. Because while each tile only has 4 sides and 1 arrow per side, there are two spots on each side where said arrow could be, and they've arranged it such that any arrows that line up produce a sensible nexus of relationships. For example, "Father of" and "Mother of" are both blue downward arrows on a side where other characters might have upwards arrows of "Daughter of" (blue) or "Never acknowledged by" (red), but would not interact with upwards arrows like "Disguise seen through by" or "Mysterious neighbor of"

The result is a nexus of sensible relationships where one starts to build a story about these people, as you see that the suspect Horace was partners in crime with Agnes (who in turn was being blackmailed by him), while Agnes dislikes her boyfriend Jasper for refusing to move on, while Jasper loves her obsessively. The tiles tell this story, setting up a spiderweb of believable relationships between the various quirky Victorian characters.

*Percy the Perpetual Bachelor. Admittedly this tile is just another example of the theme, but it makes me smile every time. This is a perfect nod to the era, and his rightwards relationship "The love that dare not speak its name" connects only with men instead of women.

*Modular game is modular. In addition to the 3 training scenarios, the main game, and the advanced game, there are also soltaire rules. So while this review focuses on the main game, there are numerous other ways you could play it.



BAD POINTS

*Although well-executed, the "solve a murder" theme may not work for some. While the theme is presented as "Find out who did it", there's no actual right answer, and people are just playing tiles, cards, and tokens, to attempt to pin the murder on one of them. Admittedly, Mystery handles the issue better than some other games, both because the motive points come mainly from the strongly established relationships between the characters, and because the "Prime Suspect" is sent to jail at the end of the case, without technically declaring that they were in fact the murderer, just that the motive all pointed that direction. But the fact remains that when many people hear "Detective", they expect a game of deduction like Clue, Sherlock, Mr. Jack, Whitechapel, &c., and may be disappointed to find that simply isn't a mechanic in this game.

*The game is both random and "swingy", minimizing the utility of strategy. If I were to list in order the three most important things determining how many points you will score in a round, they would be:
1) What cards/tiles you drew
2) What turn order you ended up with
3) Your strategy

The primary determination of victory will likely be the tiles and cards you happen to draw. The prime suspect gets the most points, and except in rare cases, that will mean a suspect tile two away from the dead body, connected by a blue and a red relationship. So once the four tiles directly adjacent to the body are played, whoever has the highest number of the right color in the right place on a tile in hand can play it to connect appropriately and be the early favorite for Prime Suspect. That's the biggest way to score points in this game, with the other few coming from cards.

Turn order also matters a lot, since it's sometimes a disadvantage to have to place the first tile of the game (since everyone can connect through you -- although at least an intermediary point is then awarded), sometimes a disadvantage to place late in later rounds after the good spots are taken, and often an advantage to play after others so you can play a card to mess up their suspect and they can't return the favor. Turn order is chosen by players with fewest VP, so having a good round may make it likely that you can't do what you want the following round, leading to a game with fluctuating leaders.

Strategy, sadly, feels like it matters less than either of the aforementioned. You can still try to draw up at the right time, cleverly select your turn order, get a tile where it has 2 chances to be the right path to the body, &c. But if you were ahead so got stuck going first, and especially if you didn't draw the right tiles and cards, all the strategy in the world won't help you. And that can lead to a feeling of frustration.



CONCLUSION

I enjoy this game, but it's definitely not for everyone. Mystery is a light, theme-filled game that should be played with people who chat while they game. I played this at my regular game night, and we had a few people laughing at the webs of relationships being formed (and one agonizing over his missed chance to play a certain tile in hand that would have resulted in a perfect and hilarious story), while we also had a serious gamer who felt like the game was too random.

While I realize it's so often a cop-out to say "good with the right crowd", this is a game I'd likely bring out for amusement value because the theme will make people smile, but is not a game I'd play many times in a row because once people stop talking about how delightful the relationships are, the randomness can wear. This is a game I will likely keep in my collection and enjoy sharing the experience with new people who haven't played it before, but don't expect it to be a game that the same group asks to replay regularly.

IS IT FOR YOU?

If you've read this far, you probably have already figured out the answer to that question. If you're someone who appreciates appreciate a light game with a really charming theme, you should absolutely give this one a try. This goes double if you enjoy vintage illustrations (especially the master Edward Gorey), and/or Victoriana in general, and/or a story of tangled relationships being built up by tile placement. Charm out the wazoo.

Conversely, if you are a serious business gamer who has no time for light-hearted story-telling fripperies that are too high in luck-of-the-draw, and too low in your ability to change your fate, you probably shan't purchase this game because you lack sufficient... Motive.

*Review copy provided by publisher
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Chris Funk
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I put the deduction aspect more in the realm of how it is done in Android. It's not about who done it, but more about who can you find that had the most reason to have done it. Hence, motive.
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Seth Brown
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FunkyBlue wrote:
I put the deduction aspect more in the realm of how it is done in Android. It's not about who done it, but more about who can you find that had the most reason to have done it. Hence, motive.

Indeed, I've made the same comparison myself. And as noted, I like it better than Android for the way the motive feels a bit more organic to the characters, and how it doesn't claim you found THE murderer, just the prime suspect.
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Eric Martin
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This is a great game. Sure, I love deductive games, but this one gives the player(s) the opportunity to re-create the nail-biting denouement of a great classic detective story. You know, the scene where the detective lays bare each character's motive to everyone else in the room and then surprises everyone (the reader/viewer especially) by revealing the secret motive that tips the scales squarely in the direction of the true culprit. That makes this game a unique experience, and certainly a very satisfying one. I understand the disappointment of those who don't like this game because it's not the deduction game they might have been expecting, but if one doesn't allow the disappointment to bias their evaluation of the game, and is willing to enjoy the game for what it is - a game about relationships and motives - it can be a very enjoyable experience. I've only played the solo game, so I don't know how the multi-player game works except from what I've read in the rules, but I enjoy using the tiles and cards to tell a new story each time about WHO did it and WHY they did it.
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Seth Brown
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emart40x wrote:
That makes this game a unique experience, and certainly a very satisfying one. I understand the disappointment of those who don't like this game because it's not the deduction game they might have been expecting, but if one doesn't allow the disappointment to bias their evaluation of the game, and is willing to enjoy the game for what it is - a game about relationships and motives - it can be a very enjoyable experience.

I think that's really the key here. People going in demanding a strategic game of deduction are just dooming themselves to disappointment. But people who can enjoy exploring and laughing about a tangled web of nested relationships as it is slowly revealed, will likely have fun with this one.
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Cheryl Leon
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I just purchased it and so far enjoy it. There is a little bit of Storytelling but not as crazy as Gloom can yet. Sometimes putting the characters together makes it really funny especially if you add a little snippet of backgrounds that has nothing to do with the game. Gameplay itself I found to be very simple and it was reminiscent of the grizzled which is a really good game. But simple and easy to play. And I think it's great to have games like this mixed in with games like Scythe in my collection.
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