Break the Code
- Designer: Ryohei Kurahashi
- Publisher: Iello
- Players: 2 – 4
- Ages: 10 and up
- Time: 15 Minutes
- Times Played: > 15 (between this version and the Japanese original)
- Web link: https://iellousa.com/products/break-the-code
Break the Code is a new skin on a older Japanese deduction game called Tagiron. Tagiron had been on my want list for awhile now, but between some relative scarcity as well as a bit of stalling on my part, I had never quite gotten around to getting a copy. I was not even aware that there was going to be a re-release of it until I was contacted by the great folks at IELLO.
IELLO has been finding small format gems from Japan for a few years now, with some of my favorite recent fillers being included: Welcome to the Dungeon and Rent a Hero.
Break the Code is in a slightly larger box, but it still provides a much larger experience than what the box size might suggest. In general, players in the game are trying to be the quickest to deduce the identities of some hidden cards. Interestingly, the game plays a little differently in 2 player mode versus multi player mode (3-4P).
The game revolves around 20 number tiles – 2 sets (one white, one black) from 0 to 9. Well, both of the 5s are green, and the rest of the set is either black or white. Each player is dealt a hand of these tiles (changes based on player count.) There is also a set of 21 Question cards which are used in the game. Finally, each player gets a deduction sheet on which to write down their thoughts and suppositions.
In a two player game, each player is dealt a hand of 5 number tiles, and they are kept hidden throughout the whole game behind a player screen. (The ten unused tiles are simply out of the game.) These tiles in your hand are organized from lowest to highest, and if you have a pair, the black tile is placed before the white tile. There are slots on your player screen labeled A to E, and the tiles are matched to those letters. So, if you were dealt 5 (Green), 7 (white), 2 (black), 4 (black), 4(white) – they would be organized:
A = 2(black)
B = 4(black)
C = 4(white)
D = 5(green)
E = 7(white)
In the center of the table, a tableau of 6 face up Question cards is made. The rest of the Question cards are a face down deck near this tableau. The goal in the 2 player game is to the the first to correctly identify all five of the opponent’s tiles.
On a turn, the active player has two choices – ask a question OR make a guess. To ask a question, you choose one of the six face up cards on the table and ask the question to your opponent. The questions all help you gain some sort of information about the tiles that he has. Your opponent has to answer truthfully, and once answered, you can make any notes you want on your sheet, and then your turn is over. The question card is discarded – though we have made a house rule of putting the card in front of the opponent so that it can easily be referenced – and a new Question card is dealt to refill the tableau. If you choose to make a guess, you simply read off, from A to E, the number and color of the tiles you think are in the five positions behind your opponent’s screen. If you are completely correct, you win the game! If you are incorrect, the opponent simply tells you that you are wrong, and your turn is over.
The game continues until one player has correctly guessed their opponent’s tiles. If this is the start player, the second player gets a chance to tie by correctly guessing the first player’s tiles. If the second player is the one to guess correct, that player automatically wins..
The multi-player game is a little different. Each player is dealt their own hand of tiles (5 in 3p, 4 in 4p), and then a separate hand (5 in 3p, 4 in 4p) is dealt to the center of the table. The goal here is to be the first to correctly guess the identity of the tiles face down on the table.
The tiles in your hand are again organized in a low to high fashion, with black cards in pairs coming first. There are also six Question cards on the table. You still have two options on your turn – to ask a Question or make a guess. The Question cards work a bit differently now – when you ask a question, EVERYONE (including yourself) gives the answer to the question. If you make a guess, you write your answer down on your worksheet, and then you pick up the tiles in the center and see if you are correct. If you are right, you will be one of the winners of the game – though anyone else who can also correctly identify all the tiles this round can tie you. If you are wrong, you are disqualified from winning the game, but you still must take part in the game giving answers to all questions asked subsequently.
My thoughts on the game
I have played this maybe a dozen times total now over the years, and I must say that I really like this game as a 2p duel – much more so than the multiplayer game. This puts me at opposition with fellow OG writer, Chris Wray….
There are a number of different layers to the strategy that comes at the two player count. First, there is the direct level – you can look at the six choices amongst the question cards and ask a question trying to gain a specific piece of knowledge. Second, you can ask a question mostly to remove it from the supply – if there is a question that would give away too much information about your own hand, you can simply pose it to your opponent, and he won’t have a chance to turn it against you. Third, and this is something i’ve rarely used but think I should do more often, you can try to throw off your opponent by making a guess using tiles from your own hand! Sure, you’re guaranteed to be wrong, but you can really befuddle your opponent if he then makes faulty assumptions based on your planned erroneous guess… This gambit only works because the full set of tiles is never in play in a 2 player game…
Some of the subtleties noted above are lost in the multiplayer version – mostly because all players must answer all questions. Therefore, there is no way for you to not give away information that you are trying to hide. Additionally, you can’t try to mislead with a faulty guess – no one ever knows your guess as you’re on your own to check the result of your secret guess.
Like all deduction games, Break the Code is a little fragile. The game relies upon 100% accurate answers to the Question cards. A single bad answer will throw off all the logical assumptions made thereafter. It has only happened rarely in my plays of this game, and we often leave the used Question cards up on the table to go over the answers with other players to be sure.
There is also a bit of capriciousness that comes from the random deal of tiles. I have seen a multiplayer game be solved in only three questions due to an extremely lucky initial deal and questions that inexplicably dovetailed with that hidden knowledge. That being said, many of our games are solved in the 6-9 question range. (I personally find that this might lend to a last player advantage because they get the maximal amount of information before they might have to make a guess at the tiles.)
Regardless, the game is so short -usually ten to twenty minutes – that I really don’t mind a possible lucky layout or a possible player order preference. I really like getting a chance to solve the puzzle in each game, and even if I don’t win the game, I often try to talk the players into going an extra round of questions just to see if I can get the answer on my own.
The current incarnation comes in a fairly small box, though I have further miniaturized it with a folding laminated answer sheet and two dry erase pens. It now fits in a small photo box along with the components for Jump Drive and Welcome to the Dungeon. There is a lot of game in this small box, which also comes at a pleasingly low price. https://iellousa.com/collections/all-our-games/products/break-the-code
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers:
Chris Wray: just read his review again! https://opinionatedgamers.com/2020/04/26/break-the-code-game-review-by-chris-wray/
Dan Blum (1 play): I have Tagiron but have only managed to get it to the table once. I thought it was quite good and certainly plan to play it again, but I have so many deduction games… I don’t think I will ever prefer it to Code 777 but it’s certainly nice as a shorter alternative.
Jonathan F. (4 plays) – I have really enjoyed the small box and large-ish game. I feel it gives me more choices than Code 777 in terms of questions to ask to get at the one piece of info I need to crack the case. The iello version is certainly a larger box, but I am not sure if that goes to nicer bits/usability or air.
Lorna: one of my favorites Japan I really like it for it’s portability (at least Tagiron) and because it is a playable deduction game with 2.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Jonathan F., Dale Y (2p), Lorna
- I like it. Dan Blum, Dale Y (3-4p), James Nathan
- Not for me…
Thanks for the review. I thought in a 3 player game the person answering the question doesn’t have to answer? Might still allow some of the 2 player tactics mentioned above.
Sorry meant the person asking the question.