Mystery! Motive for Murder

Design by Bruce Glassco
Published by Mayfair Games
1 – 5 Players, 30 – 90 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser


A murder has been committed at the stately mansion, and there appears to be a host of characters who have a motive for doing the dastardly deed.  The murder was sensational and the police are under considerable pressure to solve the crime.  The detective who solves the case and makes the arrest will have his reputation soar and perhaps even earn a coveted promotion.

Murder: Motive for Murder casts players in the roles of these detectives attempting to solve the case by finding the person who had the greatest motive to commit the murder.  It is a strange little game that has some very unusual mechanisms that, unfortunately, just don’t seem to mesh smoothly into an entertaining experience.

At the heart of the game are a collection of “suspect” tiles, each of which depicts a character, his or her name, and four relationship or motives (“caught spying by”, “generous lover of”, “mother of”, etc.) listed along the sides of the tile.  Most sides also depicts a value ranging from 1 – 6, as well as a color (red – hate and/or blue – love).  Each player receives three tiles and one is dealt face-up to the table; this is the victim.

A turn is quite simple:  play a tile to the table, aligning it with a previously placed tile, and place your marker upon it.  No tile can be placed further than two spaces away from the victim.

mystery-components2When a tile is placed, each arrow pointing towards the body creates a relationship.  If the newly placed tile is immediately next to the victim and the arrow is red, this means he disliked the victim and thus had a motive for murder.  A marker of the appropriate color and value is placed on the tile, pointing towards the victim.  For example, if Horace the dishonest Butler is next to the victim and has the incentive of “wants to rob” (red value 4) pointing to the victim, a red “4” counter is placed.  Horace now has a motive of value 4.  Ultimately, the suspect with the greatest motive will be the perpetrator.

Matters get more complicated when a tile is placed that is not next to the victim.  Intervening characters must have a relationship with the victim (either love or hate), and the newly placed character must have an inverse relationship.  In the words of the rulebook:  “The indirect subject must either hate an intermediary that loved the victim or love an intermediary that hated the victim.”  Confused?  Yep, so was just about everyone with whom I played.  Just about each tile played caused confusion that had to be talked through to determine the motive points that the new suspect would receive.  If the conditions described above are met, the motive of the new suspect is determined by adding the arrow values of the new suspect and the intermediate suspect.  As I said: confusing.  Sometimes there’s even more calculations to be made, but that just gets even more confusing.

After placing a tile and determining the motive value to place, the player draws a replacement tile and his turn ends.  Play continues in this fashion until twelve tiles have been placed, which is the maximum that can be placed in observance of the “not further than two spaces away” rule.

mystery-components1In the basic game, this takes approximately 15 minutes or less.  Each player tallies the motive points for the suspects on which he has placed his marker and these points are recorded.  The rules call for a number of rounds equal to the number of players to be played, with the start player rotating.  This does help the mitigate the unfairness that occurs when laying tiles as some players each round get the advantage of playing tiles that provide more relationships, thus earning more motive and more points.   Unfortunately, playing multiple rounds is just more of the same, and that “same” is not very fun.

There is more to the game system, however.  There are five scenarios, with each adding various features, including a second victim, motive cards that serve as quasi-event cards and often alter scoring, detective cards that give the players a unique special power, etc.  These do add some twists to the game and perhaps a few choices, but at its core it still uses the same mechanisms and confusing motive mathematics.

First the positive:  Mystery! Motive for Murder has a fun story-line and sometimes amusing motives and relationship combinations.  The concept is interesting and the game plays quickly.  Beyond that, however, I cannot say much positive.

I tend not to enjoy games that require regular step-by-step mathematical calculations throughout the game.  This is necessary here.  No doubt it gets easier with repeated playing, but probably only for the player who is the one who has played the game multiple times.  Newcomers will undoubtedly be confused and remain in that state.  A game bogs down and the fun is drained quickly when one has to constantly explain and determine motivation points.

Further, there really aren’t many (if any) tough choices to make.  Usually it is simply a matter of playing the tile that will give you the most points.  The motive cards add a few more choices, but even then there is nothing taxing.  There is certainly little if any strategy, as it seems it is best to play for maximum points each turn.

The biggest condemnation, however, is that the game simply isn’t much fun.  It lacks excitement, drama and tension.  It lacks touch choices and strategy.  The small amount of humor and potential role-playing that is present is not enough to save the game.  One would expect that with such an intriguing title and setting, there would be some deduction or problem-solving involved.  There is neither, as players are simply trying to place tiles to earn the most points.  That is disappointing.  For me, this is a mystery best left uninvestigated.


4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
2 (Neutral):
1 (Not for me):  Greg S.

About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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