Dale Yu: Re-Review of Detective: Season One (Spoiler Free)

Detective: Season One

  • Designers: Ignacy Trzewiczek, Merry Nowak-Trzewiczek Weronika Spyra
  • Publisher: Portal Games
  • Players: 1-5
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 90-120 mins per case, 3 cases in box
  • Played with review copy provided by Portal Games

TL;DR from the box – “Detective: Season One is a fully cooperative, deeply immersive, board game in which 1 to 5 players take on the roles of investigators trying to solve a crime. It consists of 3 stand-alone cases that can be played in around 90 minutes each. Each of the cases challenges players with different settings and case styles”.  The game is a descendant of the original Detective game from 2018.

  • Blood, Ink, and Tears moves the action to Great Britain, where players visit an old mansion and discover family secrets from the past that lead them to clues behind the mysterious death of the family patron. Fans of Agatha Christie’s novels will find themselves at home in this rather funny case!
  • Solid Alibi throws players in the middle of a bloody conflict between gangs and criminals in the Italian district. Players have to not only solve the crime and discover who killed Robert Parkson, but also witness growing tension in the district and find out who to trust in the spiral of violence and mutual accusations!
  • Natural Causes takes players to a university campus in the U.S. Professor Calvin Higgs is found dead in his lab at the Biology Institute of Virginia University. Players need to find out whether his death is from natural causes, or perhaps there’s someone in his surroundings responsible for this horrible crime. But what could be the motive?

In each story, the game board is placed on the table and the specific deck of cards for the chosen case is placed next to the board.  Each case has 24 cards – one cover card and 23 cards pertaining to the case.  The team will get a pool of Skill tokens to use during the case.  To finish the setup, refer to the specific page in the rules meant for the case you want to play.  Each player gets a Character tile, which have some roleplaying tips on one side, but functionally they are all the same.  Then log into the website built specifically for the game to start the game.  Read the introductory part of the story and get the first few Leads that you may choose to follow.

In order to understand how the game works, you must understand the three big concepts: Time, Clues, Locations.

TIME: Each case has a certain number of hours in which you need to solve the case. There is a time track on the board.  You spend time moving between locations as well as resolving certain cards.  The catch with the cards is that you’ll not know how long it takes to resolve a card until you’ve done the resolving!

CLUES: Clues will be found on Case cards and in the online database.  Both types of clues are identified with a number.

LOCATIONS: The gameboard shows the different locations where you can work on Leads. Move the team car to the new location and then spend an hour to travel between the spots.

The team works together here, discussing the information at hand and deciding what to do next. There are no individual turns here – players make a single decision for the team. There are 5 possible action options:

1] Follow a Lead – Draw Lead cards when specifically instructed; be sure to only read the front of a card.  Move the car icon and the timer if necessary.  Read the card aloud and follow any direct actions as written on the card.  You must follow the instructions on the card in top to bottom order.  Also, you you must finish the current Lead card before moving onto another card.  The card may lead you to access the website to read a particular lead.   You may also be given the option to Dig Deeper (more on this later).  Finally, if the card offers you Further Leads, write those possibilities down on some note paper as you may choose to follow these leads later.  Some Leads may require you to spend Skill tokens.  When you are done with the card, lay it to the right of the board to remind you that you can always read the front of the card.

2] Dig Deeper – As mentioned above, some Lead cards give you the option to Dig Deeper.  You may need to spend a Skill token to do this.  When you Dig Deeper, you flip over the current lead card and read more.  When you are done with the card, place it to the left of the board to remind you that you can access both sides of the card.

3] Browse the Database – If you are instructed to access the computer with NAME@, FILE@, QUESTIONING@, OTHER@ – log into your computer and read the things that you are asked to look at.  You may want to note this down on your note sheet in case you want to go back and read it again.  You should not try to guess at links, only look at them when you are instructed to find a specific file.

4] Take the Portrait – If you are instructed to gain a specific portrait, pull out the picture and you can now use it to organize your thoughts

5] Specific Actions for Cards and the Casebook –

You will use these actions as they make sense, and you will spend time as indicated on the cards and based on the movement of the team car.  When the timer reaches the 5 hours left space, the game asks players to Recap the Story and have a final brainstorming session to best use the limited time left.  When the timer moves to the final space, the case ends and the team logs into the computer to file their final report.  There will be a series of questions that need to be answered, and your final score is determined by the team’s answers to the questions. The computer will tabulate the scores and tell you if your team was successful enough to complete the case and therefore win the game!

My thoughts on the game

This new take on the Detective series is nice because it splits the story up into three discrete and easily playable cases.  Finding 90 minutes to fit in a case works for my group.  This game is much more free-form than a lot of other escape room / puzzle games that I’ve played – due in part to the use of the computer website for additional data.  It’s actually quite surprising how much story can be fit into just 23 double sided cards.

What is even more astonishing is that you will surely not have enough time to even read all 23 cards.  According to the designers, they estimate that the usual number of drawn cards is about a dozen – only half!  So, your team’s experience through a case could be vastly different from another team’s as you might have taken totally different paths to gain your information.

Like a real life detective story, there is no final “You Win” card – instead, there are various bits of information that you have to collect and then synthesize together to get to the solution. This open framework really causes the team to discuss all the information they have to try to make connections between the facts.

If this sounds interesting to you, there is a free print-and-play mini case to let you see how it works.

http://portalgames.pl/en/suburbia/    Even for people who own the game, it’s a really good way to learn how the game works so that you don’t make any procedural mistakes on the three real cases in the box!  Since you only get one shot at playing each – you really should understand how the rules work!  Anyways, it gives you another case to solve, so why not start with it?!

We chose to play this initial scenario as a way to familiarize ourself with the system, and because we thought that since this was being given away for free (you don’t even need to buy the game, you can scan the QR from the back of the box) – maybe it would be a bit easier and serve as a nice introductory game to learn the mechanics without using up our one chance at the three finished cases provided in the box.

So, my wife was gracious enough to print, cut and sleeve the 24 cards – which prevented any spoilers – are we sat down to play.  It plays just like the real cases, you still need a computer nearby to access the computer database.  As far as we could tell, this was a full on case.

The suggestion in the rules about taking notes?  That’s not a suggestion IMHO – that’s a must.  It’s frankly unbelievable the amount of information that you might want to remember.  Sure, you can always go back and look at the cards that you’ve already seen, but there’s so much stuff in the case that you will have a hard time even remembering what you need to.  Write it all down so that you can make the connections on your own.

There is a bit of an art with the timing.  You lose an hour each time you travel between locations, and while it doesn’t seem like a lot, I think you really might want to try to organize your investigations to minimize travel.  We might be completely off-base with this strategy though – it’s hard to tell only having one case under out belt, but that’s what we think for now…

The amount of detail in the story here is impressive.  In our case, the characters were referring to historical events, and when we Googled them, the dates/times/locations match up to reality.  Sure, this didn’t necessarily have to jive, but it does add a certain depth to the story that makes it richer and more believable.  Also, the quantity of information you can get is at times almost overwhelming.  But, I think this is a good representation of real detective work.  A detective isn’t going to learn just the facts; there’s gonna be a memory dump worth of things, and you have to sift through all the information to figure out which facts are useful, which facts are true, and which are un-necessary.  The same holds true here – you will end up reading A LOT of stuff, so be prepared for that.

We played with 4 players, and this felt right.  The facts are there in front of you, but it helps to have more people around to discuss what to do with those facts and how to build a coherent story from the facts in front of you.  We spent a few minutes between cards at times  going over the bits of information and throwing out theories about how those facts would fit into the different possible frameworks we had constructed for the crime.  This may not be the sort of game for everyone, but I enjoyed that exercise.

Our case took around 1hr 40 minutes, but we had to read the rules and get situated first, and this was our first game of Detective: Season 1, so there was a little bit of rules referencing as we got started.  Our group also spent a lot of time at a couple of junctures to try to develop the story.  As I mentioned earlier, I felt that this was very much like real detective work – I enjoyed the sifting through large amounts of data to try to figure out what was important.  Our group was able to come up with the full story as we answered all the questions correct at the end.  Our score was not perfect though as we did end up spending a bit of overtime as some of our investigations too a little longer than expected.  The story made sense and there weren’t any huge leaps of logical faith that sometimes plague other investigative games (Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, I’m looking squarely at you here…)

For me, this was a good experience.  Maybe a little longer time-wise than I expected, but some of that was due to learning the rules and some of that was due to the fact that my group really spent a lot of time talking over the facts and theories.  Not everyone in my group loved it (or even liked it), but I can say that I’m still looking forward to trying out the three cases in the box.

I planned to report back later in the winter after we get the opportunity to play more, and well, that time is now… My local group played the first case together and then, due to the virus numbers picking up, I played the next one by myself, and then played the third with a friend over the Internet (We each had a copy of the game).  In all cases, the game worked really well.   In fact, my least favorite method of playing was the truly solo game.

The way that the different cases each have a unique setting and story makes it interesting.  Sure, all the cases involve someone dying – but the geographic setting varies as does the mechanics.   I don’t consider this a spoiler – as it’s right in the rules – but Blood, Ink and Tears takes place in an English Manor, and you don’t move between locations… also, you know ahead of time that all cards in this case only take an hour.

I also liked the way that the cases all were shorter – all three were solved in under 2 hours each (well, the one I did solo…. based on my final score… using the word “solved” is maybe pushing it!).

I am still a big fan of the Antares website, and I also think that it very much helped make sure that the game was a success.  When you start each game, it leads you to a specific FILE to read in the database.  On at least one occasion, the starting FILE lets you know that there are a few typos on the cards, and by letting you know, it prevents you from getting stuck or from relying upon erroneous information.  Sure, i could nitpick and complain about the cards not being right – but, there is SO MUCH information here, that I’m just glad that Portal is able to make sure that the players have the right info to play with.

So, going back to the playing – I really liked having other people to talk through the story with.  As you read the cards (and the info on the Antares website) – there is a lot of information to process, and probably just like real life, there is plenty of unrelated information for you to weed through as well as red herrings to lead you astray.  It’s nice to have one or more people to talk through the case with to make your theories.  Also, it’s good to have a sounding board to let you know when your own ideas are just dumb, and they can show you were you’ve gone off track.

Overall, the cases in the box were a great experience, and a total of about 5 and a half hours well spent.  I am looking forward to seeing more cases in the future.   The rules suggest that you can re-play a case (and the Antares website can reset your account for that case), but like most mystery games, I’m not sure that I would ever really do that – after all, unless I failed the case miserably, I wouldn’t be able to un-remember the facts of the case, etc.  But – the option is always there.

Finally, I should note that I was also given a copy of the Game Designer Journal, written by Ignacy himself, and I actually maybe enjoyed this book as much as the three cases!  In this slim book, Ignacy goes over the development of the cases as well as some of the important decision points in the case.  It explains what they were trying to get at with some of the cards, and it is a fascinating insight into how they constructed the cases and how they try to get the gamer to the right endpoint.  But… beware, the whole book is a spoiler-fest!  I would definitely not look at this book until you are done with the cases.  Reading through this book definitely helped me see the things that I missed, validated some of my assumptions, and made me laugh at times when I saw how wrong I was at times in making my conclusions…

This is a great game, and one that I think can even be played well online.  The cost honestly isn’t that high, and I have already recommended the game to multiple groups to play remotely (with each person having their own set of cards).  The font on the cards is honestly too small IMHO to put on camera and have people try to read over Zoom…  It would be a great idea for a gift as well!

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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