SdJ Re-Reviews #5: Scotland Yard

  • Designers:  Manfred Burggraf, Dorothy Garrels, Wolf Hörmann, Fritz Ifland, Werner Scheerer & Werner Schlegel
  • Publisher:  Ravensburger, Milton Bradley
  • Players:  3 – 6
  • Ages:  10 and Up
  • Time:  45 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 5


Scotland Yard: An Instant Bestseller

Scotland Yard’s 1983 win marked several firsts for the Spiel des Jahres.  The game was the first SdJ winner – and indeed one of the first games ever – to have elements of cooperative and asymmetric play.  Every game on the jury’s shortlist that year was by a German designer, and Scotland Yard’s designers were the first all-German team to win the award.  Dorothy Garrels was the first female designer to win.

Scotland Yard was created by a team of six: Manfred Burggraf, Dorothy Garrels, Wolf Hörmann, Fritz Ifland, Werner Scheerer, and Werner Schlegel.  According to the SdJ retrospective, Schlegel assembled the team and served as its editorial director.  Unfortunately, information discussing the other designers’ roles has not, to my knowledge, been published.  None of the six are credited on BGG with ever designing another game.

The team, using the working title “Manhattan,” took nine months to develop a prototype.  In theming Scotland Yard, the designers asked themselves what type of games they liked to play as children, and decided to make a game based on “cops and robbers.”

Scotland Yard was released in by Ravensburger in 1983, a year that marked the publisher’s 100th anniversary.  The game quickly achieved wide acclaim.  It was a favorite at the 1983 Nuremberg toy fair, and the magazine spielbox named it the most popular game of the year. The millionth copy of Scotland Yard was produced on March 28, 1985, less than two years after the game’s initial release.

In awarding Scotland Yard the 1983 SdJ, the jury cited the intense gameplay for both Mr. X and the detective team.  They praised the game’s cooperative play, and they lauded the fact that both children and adults could enjoy the game.  Scotland Yard was Ravensburger’s third win in the SdJ’s five-year history.

The early-to-mid 1980s is seemingly when the SdJ catapulted to household prominence in Germany, and the enormous success of Scotland Yard and its predecessor, Sagaland, doubtlessly contributed to the award’s meteoric rise.  Whereas the SdJ logo didn’t appear on Focus’s box until the 1995 Kosmos edition, it was prominently featured on the boxes of both Sagaland and Scotland Yard, and those games were staples of German households in the 1980s.

Ravensburger has released several slightly modified maps over the years.  Most differences between versions reflect minor changes to the artwork, but nonetheless these changes are hotly debated.  Milton Bradley released a U.S. edition in 1985 with a heavy advertising campaign, including this memorable commercial.  They made small changes to the Ravensburger map, most notably by renumbering spaces.  This change is likely to account for the fact that Milton Bradley omits space 108, whereas Ravensburger omits space 200.  There is BGG speculation as to why space 108 is missing.

Scotland Yard has had several spinoffs, including N.Y. Chase (which took the game to NYC), Mr. X (a sequel to Scotland Yard spanning the European continent), and Scotland Yard Junior (designed by Michael Schacht, who won the 2007 SdJ for Zooloretto).

Michael Schacht is now a credited designer of Scotland Yard.  He started his work re-doing parts of Scotland Yard Swiss Edition, then had a larger role in developing Scotland Yard Master, which introduces six new game elements, four of which are digital.  Ravensburger then asked him to streamline the latest edition of Scotland Yard itself: he made it playable with two players, balanced some of the multiplayer issues, and simplified the game’s start.

When Ravensburger celebrated the game’s 20th anniversary in 2003, they announced that more than four million copies had been sold.  The game is still in print, so that number has doubtlessly climbed even higher in the last decade.  Elements of the game’s design can be seen in many titles popular today.

The Gameplay: The Detectives versus Mr. X

One player is “Mr. X,” and the other players are the detectives.  The game proceeds over up to 22 rounds.  If Mr. X makes it through round 22 without being caught, he wins.  If the detectives ever catch Mr. X, they win.

There will always be five detective pawns in the game, and if there are less than five detectives, a player may need to control more than one pawn.  At the start of the game each detective draws one of 18 starting location cards for each of their pawns.  They then put their pawns on the appropriate numbered spaces. Mr. X also draws a starting location card, but he does not reveal the location to the detectives.  The locations on the cards are distant enough to ensure that Mr. X will not be caught in the first round of play.

The detectives are each given 22 tickets per pawn: 10 taxi tickets, 8 bus tickets, and 4 underground tickets.  Mr. X is given 4 taxi tickets, 3 bus tickets, and 3 underground tickets.  Mr. X is also given 5 “black fare” tickets and 2 double move tickets.

Mr. X moves first by writing down in his logbook where he moved and placing one of his tickets over what he wrote down.  Depending on what type of ticket is played (taxi, bus, or underground), Mr. X may move from his current location to designated other locations.  Taxi routes move one space but can reach any space in London.  Bus routes are more scattered but permit faster movement.  Underground routes are the least common but permit the fastest travel.  To use a bus or underground ticket, Mr. X must be on a space that has a depot for that type of route.  Mr. X may also do “double moves” twice per game (by cashing in one of his 2 double move tickets) and/or use one of 5 “black fare” tickets, which allow him to conceal from the other players what type of ticket he used.  (The black tickets also allow Mr. X to use water routes, which are never available to the players.)


The detectives move along the same routes as Mr. X, but their moves are visible to Mr. X because of their pawns being on the board.  Unlike Mr. X, detectives must be strategic in what tickets they use, as they only have a limited number of each ticket type per pawn.  The tickets, when used, are turned over to Mr. X for his use, giving him a growing supply.  If a detective’s pawn runs out of taxi tickets, the pawn could conceivably be “stuck” on the board if he is not on a bus or underground space.  Other than when “stuck,” a detective must move if he or she is able.

This process is repeated in rounds, with Mr. X moving and then the detectives moving.  Mr. X must reveal his location five times during the game: after his 3rd, 8th, 13th, 18th, and 24th moves, even if he uses a double move ticket.

If at any point a detective moves onto the same space as Mr. X, the detectives win.  If all players have used their tickets without catching Mr. X, he wins.

Does it stand the test of time?  My thoughts on the game…

Scotland Yard is my favorite SdJ winner of the 1980s.  The game is easy to learn, fast paced, and intense.  Every turn is exciting.  The rules explanation typically takes less than two minutes, and gameplay rarely goes longer than an hour. The game can be played by both kids and adults, and I’ve found it to be popular with both crowds.

I don’t know which side wins more often, but I’ve always found it more challenging to be a detective than Mr. X.  I think most players prefer to be Mr. X, but because of the puzzle-solving aspect, I prefer to be a detective. I like the chase, or to use a different expression, I find being the hunter more enjoyable than being the hunted.  Of course, being Mr. X is a blast as well: you get the joy of listening to the detectives’ debate, which can be either tense or comical (and sometimes both).

That said, this game isn’t for everyone.  If you’re not a fan of the pursuit-evasion problem, this isn’t for you.  Additionally, even though this isn’t a true cooperative game, it can suffer from one problem common in co-ops: the alpha gamer.

About a year ago I tried Letters from Whitechapel, which is basically a more robust version of Scotland Yard.  I liked Whitechapel quite a bit, but I didn’t think it was as refined as Scotland Yard: it seemed to add complexity without adding much excitement.  Nonetheless, Whitechapel did cause me to notice one flaw in Scotland Yard that I had previously overlooked: the need for a second copy of the map.  Detectives can see where on the board Mr. X is focusing, whereas that isn’t possible in Whitechapel because Jack is given a small version of the map.  I’ve since read about a clever solution on BGG: give Mr. X mirrored sunglasses.

Would Scotland Yard win the SdJ today?  I believe it would probably get a nomination, and perhaps even a win.  Many games have imitated Scotland Yard over the years, but in my opinion, none have done the central mechanic as well.  Scotland Yard’s design is outstanding, even by modern standards, and the game continues to be popular despite being more than three decades old.  The game has everything the modern jury looks for: a family friendly weight, clearly-written rules, excellent presentation, and originality.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Y:  This is one the first Euro-games that I can remember playing – though at the time, I didn’t even know it was a Euro! as I was given the MB version.  Growing up with my brother, we played this all the time as a 2-player, and  I absolutely love it in that setting.  It is a perfect 2-player game (imho), and it can still be handicapped by changing the number of detectives in the game.  I think it falls apart a bit in the multiplayer setting as the detectives either end up not working together optimally or someone ends up just quarterbacking the entire situation.  I still have my beloved MB Scotland Yard as well as a number of the German versions and followups.  It’s still a game I turn to when looking for a good 2p game.  I’ll probably still be willing to play with more than 2, but I’ll likely try to be Mr. X – otherwise, it’s hard for me to avoid trying to quarterback the detectives.

Michael W.:  Like Dale, this is a game I got very early, before “Euro” was a category. I still have my copy (I think it even has the SdJ logo on it, even though it’s a MB edition). TO me, it was just another game I couldn’t get anyone to play, but the few times I could rope a victim in, it was always a blast. It’s one of the few “pre-Catan” games that I would excitedly play today. Also like Dale (geez, I hate agreeing with him so much!), I think it’s best with 2 and gets a bit weaker with each additional player. For me, it’s a case of the first idea was the best, with Fury of Dracula, Letters from Whitechapel and any other similar games falling short of the elegance and fun of this truly original game.

Larry:  Scotland Yard was wildly ahead of its time.  I agree with Chris’ assessment that it’s the best SdJ winner of the 80’s, although I’ve actually had more fun with Teuber’s Barbarossa.

Since I’m an old fart, I was an adult when the game first appeared in American game stores.  Like the others, I wasn’t really aware that it had a different origin than other games available at the time (in spite of the label on the cover proclaiming it to be “Europe’s Award Winning Game!”)  I had quite a bit of fun with it when it first came out, although most of my games were with multiple detectives.  It didn’t get a huge amount of play with my group at the time, but we all liked and admired it.

As for how the game would fare if it were released today, that requires that you postulate a world in which Scotland Yard didn’t appear 32 years ago, as several other games have built on its innovations.  But in that alternate reality, I think it would be a strong contender for the SdJ.  As Chris says, it checks all the boxes for an SdJ winner and the game continues to hold up very well today.  Considering the time of its creation, it really is one of the most impressive of all the SdJ winners.

Just as aside, after Chris mentioned that all the games on the short list were by German designers, I checked out the nominated games that year.  And I have to say that it might be the most nondescript collection of non-winners in the history of the award.  The only game of the group I’ve even heard of is Reinhold Wittig’s Riombo, and I know next to nothing about that one.  Back then, there was usually a future winner or an import from the U.S. or Britain in the nominees, or just a fairly well known game, but there was nothing like that this time.  Maybe someone who was actively gaming in Germany at the time can correct me on this, but based on my knowledge of these games, I’d have to say that Scotland Yard must have been a slam dunk winner.  Not that it detracts from the game at all; I just find it interesting.

Mark Jackson: Though I played this a lot back in the day – I actually owned a Ravensburger copy, thanks to the review in Games magazine – it was one of the games I sold/traded away a few years ago. Like others have said, it’s an innovative design (which has informed a number of games since, including the Bio-Terrorist variant for Pandemic and Fury of Dracula). I just didn’t enjoy it enough to justify hanging on to it. Note: I’m not a huge fan of deduction games, so I may not be the best judge of Scotland Yard.

Joe Huber (2 plays): I’m – of a very different mind from many here on this game.  It’s not my favorite SdJ winner from the 80s, for one; we’ll get to that later.  And I don’t think it’s actually “wildly ahead of its time” as Larry suggests; it’s a somewhat more sophisticated Stop Thief, but without the cool gadget, and with a cooperative element.  It’s not a bad game – but even as someone who enjoys a number of deduction games, I’d rather play Clue.  Or for something in this line of deduction game, Clue: The Great Museum Caper.  All-versus-one games have a tendency to be most interesting for the one, and Scotland Yard is no exception.

Patrick Brennan: A good 2 player cat and mouse game. The detective is attempting to keep the ever broadening branches of possible moves in their head, moving their detectives to close off as many possibilities as possible, encouraging the thief towards a likely location where the detectives can strike quickly after the next location revelation. The thief is simply trying to move so as to keep as many movement possibilities alive as possible, and, towards mid-game when the net is closing, arrange it so there’s a quick and fast escape to the other side of the board where the detectives have too little time to draw another net close. Good fun.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  •  I love it! Chris W., Dale Y., Erik A., Michael W.
  •  I like it.  Larry, Joe H., Patrick B.
  •  Neutral. Mark J.
  •  Not for me…
This entry was posted in SdJ Re-Review. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to SdJ Re-Reviews #5: Scotland Yard

  1. Id like to point out, that the other titles up for nomination were very weak, even by 80s standards. It was argubly the worst list for a game of the year ever, save Scotland Yard.

    Im always surprised that people playing it 1:1, because the discussions (or even quarterbacking) is information that Mr X normally could use. Without it, he doesnt stand a chance against the full number of detectives!

  2. Great review.

  3. jeffinberlin says:

    This was the first German game I was ever introduced to in Germany aback in 1990. I think just about every family here has a copy, and all the kids in my board game clubs know and enjoy the game. I’ve also developed large-scale versions to play with our youth group in downtown Berlin using all the different public transportation options (Elevated trains, subways, trams, buses–but with walking instead of using taxis!) and that has been a lot of fun as well.

  4. Pingback: Hunt or be hunted: Hidden movement games | Cardboard Empire

Leave a Reply