Methodologie: The Murder on the Links
- Designer: Justin Waggle
- Publisher: Gray Wolf Games
- Players: 3-6
- Age: 14+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by publisher
The Murder on the Links is one of the earlier Hercule Poirot stories from the imaginative mind of Agatha Christie. Without spoiling the mystery itself – “An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course. But why is the dead man wearing his son’s overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse.”
The game Methodologie is based on this story. You will use your “little grey cells” to gather evidence, eliminate suspects, and ultimately level an accusation. While the game is based on the story and it uses the characters, locations and objects from the story – the details will change each game to allow you to solve a unique case each time you play.
There are 3 sets of “facts” in the game: Characters, Locations and Objects. Each has its own board, and each has its set of 18 cards which match the spaces on the respective board. Cards have a value in the upper right corner as well as a rank within the type (seen in the lower right). Each deck is shuffled separately, and each player is given a starting hand comprised of three cards from each of the three decks. Also, depending on player count, you may have to reveal (and automatically eliminate) some of the cards.
Players in the game are represented by an icon (mustache, handcuffs, bowler hat, magnifying glass, footprints, or a key) – and they get a set of 15 target tokens with their icon on it. These tokens are white on one side and colored on the other. At the start of the game, all tokens are white side up.
The game itself is played in 2 phases: Investigation and Accusation.
In the investigation phase; there are a number of rounds where players present evidence. To do this, they select cards simultaneously and place them facedown on the table. When all have chosen, all cards are revealed. For 3 players, it is 3 cards per round; for 4 players, it is 2 cards per round. If possible, you should keep one card of each type in your hand.
For each of the card types, whichever player played the highest ranked card gets to conduct an interrogation. The order is always the same: characters, locations, objects. And, it is easy to remember the order when you realize they are in alphabetical order. The interrogator asks all players to raise their hand if they have at least one card in their hand that is in the same set (suit) as the card which caused the interrogation. The players must answer truthfully. Then, the interrogator points at each of the players who raised their hand and asks them to declare the identity of the card they have from that set. The players do NOT have to answer truthfully here.
After getting all the responses, the interrogator may do a background check by pointing their finger (menacingly) at one of the player who named a card in the interrogation and says “J’Accuse”. The suspect must then reveal the card of the suit of the interrogation. If he does not have the card he named (i.e. he lied), his revealed card is eliminated. It is placed facedown on the board. If the card is correct, the interrogator must then choose a card from their own hand to eliminate.
Proceed in the same way for the other two card types. When this is complete; all of the played cards as well as any cards eliminated by the background checks are placed face down on their matching spaces on their board(s). Players now draw cards to replace the ones they presented as evidence. Players draw one card at a time, going clockwise from the player who played the highest ranked card. Players can freely choose from any of the three decks to draw a new card. When all players have drawn the same number of cards as they played, another round is started. Note that cards lost to background checks are never replaced. The player who lost a card from that challenge will be down a card for the rest of the game.
Continue doing this until all players have 3 or fewer cards left in hand after placing them facedown on the table. In this occurrence, the facedown cards are not revealed, and the game immediately moves into the Accusation phase. Additionally, at this time, players must continue to play cards facedown until they have no more than 1 card of each type in their hand.
In the Accusation phase, you will have at most 3 cards: 1 character, 1 location and 1 object. However, you could have less if you lost cards in background checks. In this phase, each player will make one accusation for each fact for each opponent. Essentially, you’re trying to identify the cards that the other players have in their hand. Place your target tokens with the icon matching the opponent on the chosen cards.
Once all the tokens are placed, identify which space has the majority of accusation tokens on it for a particular opponent. If there is a tie, the higher ranking space is the accusation. If the opponent actually has the card the majority have thought him to have, the card is revealed and eliminated by placing it face up in front of the opponent. Do this for all the players on all three boards. The rules are frustratingly vague on what order, if any, should be followed for this stage.
After this is done, players score points for what is left in their hand. You score the point value of each card left in the hand as well as any bonus points based on card combinations. Then, flip over all the correctly placed target tokens; players will score one point per correctly placed token. The player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.
This game employs an interesting idea of card elimination, where you gradually learn things about the hands of other people, and you are required to remember a lot of information in the first phase. You may be able to infer certain pieces of information based on what suits are claimed in the interrogations. You may be able to learn some concrete facts when a background check goes awry – as the accused player will have to show that he has the card he said he has… and then once proven, that card then goes back in his hand. Now, does that player use it as evidence for the next round? Or does he hold onto it and discard it face down just prior to the accusation phase? Or does he keep it, trying to fool everyone else into believing that he tossed the card, and then keeping it to score max points?
Of course, as you learn about the other player’s hands, they will continue to add more cards to their hand between rounds. Thus, you are never quite sure what they hold – and then at the final round, they may further discard cards to further confuse you.
The scoring system of the game requires you to approach the game differently than a lot of other deduction games. Here, it is maybe not as important to be the best deducer. Sure, each correct guess scores you a point, and in a 4p game, that could yield you 9 victory points. However, some of the Character cards are worth 9 points on their own, and the best locations are worth 6. So, in the end, the bulk of the points are scored by your cards, and possibly the bonus scores given when you have the right combination of cards at the end. Thus, for me, this is more about obscuring my own hand rather than guessing what other people have. There is also a priority in not having your hand size reduced from background checks. Each time you lose a background check, you lose a card in your hand size, and this might cause you to be less flexible at the end – or even to have fewer than 3 cards at the end! Given the higher point value of these cards, this would clearly not be a good situation to be in.
The sub-subtitle on the box is “A social deduction card game” – and I guess there is a little bit of bluffing and lying – but not to the degree of Werewolf or other such activities. Don’t be scared away from the game because of that. You could probably play the whole game only telling the truth – and there is definitely some risk involved each time that you try to mislead in the background check. At the final stage of the game, you can also try to play your opponents by erroneously claiming that one of them has the card that you actually have in your own hand! It can be extremely damaging to your score if you have your character eliminated. (All of the bonuses are dependent on having a particular character card in hand).
The rules are fairly simple though I felt they could have been clearer in a few places. It was not entirely clear to me what happens in a failed background check, though an online search provided the answer from the designer. Also, in the Accusation phase, the rules tell you the order of the boards to place accusations on, but now how the actual chip placement happens. In this case, timing might be important as people could easily decide to jump on the bandwagon of the player they felt to be the best deducer. In our group, if I wasn’t sure of my own deductions, I would definitely just throw my chip on whatever card James Nathan had chosen. Thus, the order of placing chips would be important. Though, again, what if he’s trying to specifically lead me the wrong way in order to protect his own hand? Having no structure to the timing of chip placement is a frustrating grey zone.
The artwork in the game is great. You really get the feeling of the 1920s that the story is set in. The illustrations are fabulous, and the cards are well designed. All the information is easily seen on the cards, and the bonus criteria are easily seen on both the cards as well as the boards.
Overall, it’s a medium weight game, and it is a nice thought provoking challenge for 20 to 30 minutes. For me, that is the right length of time for Methodologie – I don’t think I’d want to be playing this sort of game for longer. Especially because much of the game seems to come down to final phase – the first phase often just feels like a prolonged setup for that last showdown. It’s easy enough that even non-gamers should be able to pick it up; and this would also be a nice gift for a mystery novel lover that you know. I think that my own game group wished there was more “game” to be had in Methodologie.
Oh, by the way, If you want to read the story which is the basis for this game – it’s available as part of the Gutenberg Project – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58866/58866-h/58866-h.htm
I’ll copy the first chapter (of 28) here, just in case you want to see if you like it. (copied here per the license included with this eBook online at http://www.gutenberg.org.)
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE MURDER ON THE LINKS ***
A Fellow Traveller
I believe that a well-known anecdote exists to the effect that a young writer, determined to make the commencement of his story forcible and original enough to catch and rivet the attention of the most blasé of editors, penned the following sentence:
“ ‘Hell!’ said the Duchess.”
Strangely enough, this tale of mine opens in much the same fashion. Only the lady who gave utterance to the exclamation was not a Duchess!
It was a day in early June. I had been transacting some business in Paris and was returning by the morning service to London where I was still sharing rooms with my old friend, the Belgian ex-detective, Hercule Poirot.
The Calais express was singularly empty—in fact, my own compartment held only one other traveller. I had made a somewhat hurried departure from the hotel and was busy assuring myself that I had duly collected all my traps when the train started. Up till then I had hardly noticed my companion, but I was now violently recalled to the fact of her existence. Jumping up from her seat, she let down the window and stuck her head out, withdrawing it a moment later with the brief and forcible ejaculation “Hell!”
Now I am old-fashioned. A woman, I consider, should be womanly. I have no patience with the modern neurotic girl who jazzes from morning to night, smokes like a chimney, and uses language which would make a Billingsgate fishwoman blush!
I looked up now, frowning slightly, into a pretty, impudent face, surmounted by a rakish little red hat. A thick cluster of black curls hid each ear. I judged that she was little more than seventeen, but her face was covered with powder, and her lips were quite impossibly scarlet.
Nothing abashed, she returned my glance, and executed an expressive grimace.
“Dear me, we’ve shocked the kind gentleman!” she observed to an imaginary audience. “I apologize for my language! Most unladylike, and all that, but Oh, Lord, there’s reason enough for it! Do you know I’ve lost my only sister?”
“Really?” I said politely. “How unfortunate.”
“He disapproves!” remarked the lady. “He disapproves utterly—of me, and my sister—which last is unfair, because he hasn’t seen her!”
I opened my mouth, but she forestalled me.
“Say no more! Nobody loves me! I shall go into the garden and eat worms! Boohoo! I am crushed!”
She buried herself behind a large comic French paper. In a minute or two I saw her eyes stealthily peeping at me over the top. In spite of myself I could not help smiling, and in a minute she had tossed the paper aside, and had burst into a merry peal of laughter.
“I knew you weren’t such a mutt as you looked,” she cried.
Her laughter was so infectious that I could not help joining in, though I hardly cared for the word “mutt.” The girl was certainly all that I most disliked, but that was no reason why I should make myself ridiculous by my attitude. I prepared to unbend. After all, she was decidedly pretty. …
“There! Now we’re friends!” declared the minx. “Say you’re sorry about my sister—”
“I am desolated!”
“That’s a good boy!”
“Let me finish. I was going to add that, although I am desolated, I can manage to put up with her absence very well.” I made a little bow.
But this most unaccountable of damsels frowned and shook her head.
“Cut it out. I prefer the ‘dignified disapproval’ stunt. Oh, your face! ‘Not one of us,’ it said. And you were right there—though, mind you, it’s pretty hard to tell nowadays. It’s not every one who can distinguish between a demi and a duchess. There now, I believe I’ve shocked you again! You’ve been dug out of the backwoods, you have. Not that I mind that. We could do with a few more of your sort. I just hate a fellow who gets fresh. It makes me mad.”
She shook her head vigorously.
“What are you like when you’re mad?” I inquired with a smile.
“A regular little devil! Don’t care what I say, or what I do, either! I nearly did a chap in once. Yes, really. He’d have deserved it too. Italian blood I’ve got. I shall get into trouble one of these days.”
“Well,” I begged, “don’t get mad with me.”
“I shan’t. I like you—did the first moment I set eyes on you. But you looked so disapproving that I never thought we should make friends.”
“Well, we have. Tell me something about yourself.”
“I’m an actress. No—not the kind you’re thinking of, lunching at the Savoy covered with jewellery, and with their photograph in every paper saying how much they love Madame So and So’s face cream. I’ve been on the boards since I was a kid of six—tumbling.”
“I beg your pardon,” I said puzzled.
“Haven’t you seen child acrobats?”
“Oh, I understand.”
“I’m American born, but I’ve spent most of my life in England. We got a new show now—”
“My sister and I. Sort of song and dance, and a bit of patter, and a dash of the old business thrown in. It’s quite a new idea, and it hits them every time. There’s to be money in it—”
My new acquaintance leaned forward, and discoursed volubly, a great many of her terms being quite unintelligible to me. Yet I found myself evincing an increasing interest in her. She seemed such a curious mixture of child and woman. Though perfectly worldly-wise, and able, as she expressed it, to take care of herself, there was yet something curiously ingenuous in her single-minded attitude towards life, and her whole-hearted determination to “make good.” This glimpse of a world unknown to me was not without its charm, and I enjoyed seeing her vivid little face light up as she talked.
We passed through Amiens. The name awakened many memories. My companion seemed to have an intuitive knowledge of what was in my mind.
“Thinking of the War?”
“You were through it, I suppose?”
“Pretty well. I was wounded once, and after the Somme they invalided me out altogether. I had a half fledged Army job for a bit. I’m a sort of private secretary now to an M. P.”
“My! That’s brainy!”
“No, it isn’t. There’s really awfully little to do. Usually a couple of hours every day sees me through. It’s dull work too. In fact, I don’t know what I should do if I hadn’t got something to fall back upon.”
“Don’t say you collect bugs!”
“No. I share rooms with a very interesting man. He’s a Belgian—an ex-detective. He’s set up as a private detective in London, and he’s doing extraordinarily well. He’s really a very marvellous little man. Time and again he has proved to be right where the official police have failed.”
My companion listened with widening eyes.
“Isn’t that interesting, now? I just adore crime. I go to all the mysteries on the movies. And when there’s a murder on I just devour the papers.”
“Do you remember the Styles Case?” I asked.
“Let me see, was that the old lady who was poisoned? Somewhere down in Essex?”
“That was Poirot’s first big case. Undoubtedly, but for him, the murderer would have escaped scot-free. It was a most wonderful bit of detective work.”
Warming to my subject, I ran over the heads of the affair, working up to the triumphant and unexpected dénouement. The girl listened spellbound. In fact, we were so absorbed that the train drew into Calais station before we realized it.
“My goodness gracious me!” cried my companion. “Where’s my powder-puff?”
She proceeded to bedaub her face liberally, and then applied a stick of lip salve to her lips, observing the effect in a small pocket glass, and betraying not the faintest sign of self-consciousness.
“I say,” I hesitated. “I dare say it’s cheek on my part, but why do all that sort of thing?”
The girl paused in her operations, and stared at me with undisguised surprise.
“It isn’t as though you weren’t so pretty that you can afford to do without it,” I said stammeringly.
“My dear boy! I’ve got to do it. All the girls do. Think I want to look like a little frump up from the country?” She took one last look in the mirror, smiled approval, and put it and her vanity-box away in her bag. “That’s better. Keeping up appearances is a bit of a fag, I grant, but if a girl respects herself it’s up to her not to let herself get slack.”
To this essentially moral sentiment, I had no reply. A point of view makes a great difference.
I secured a couple of porters, and we alighted on the platform. My companion held out her hand.
“Good-bye, and I’ll mind my language better in future.”
“Oh, but surely you’ll let me look after you on the boat?”
“Mayn’t be on the boat. I’ve got to see whether that sister of mine got aboard after all anywhere. But thanks all the same.”
“Oh, but we’re going to meet again, surely? I—” I hesitated. “I want to meet your sister.”
We both laughed.
“That’s real nice of you. I’ll tell her what you say. But I don’t fancy we’ll meet again. You’ve been very good to me on the journey, especially after I cheeked you as I did. But what your face expressed first thing is quite true. I’m not your kind. And that brings trouble—I know that well enough. …”
Her face changed. For the moment all the light-hearted gaiety died out of it. It looked angry—revengeful. …
“So good-bye,” she finished, in a lighter tone.
“Aren’t you even going to tell me your name?” I cried, as she turned away.
She looked over her shoulder. A dimple appeared in each cheek. She was like a lovely picture by Greuze.
“Cinderella,” she said, and laughed.
But little did I think when and how I should see Cinderella again.
— End chapter 1 —