Dale Yu: Review of Rear Window

Rear Window

  • Designer: Prospero Hall
  • Publisher: Funko
  • Players: 3-5
  • Age: 13+
  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Funko

rear window

Rear Window is a classic Hitchcock film – and if you’ve never seen it, pause here, go and stream it and come back.  If you don’t have time for that – here is the synopsis borrowed from the Wikipedia page on the movie:

Recuperating from a broken leg, professional photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. His rear window looks out onto a courtyard and other apartments. During an intense heat wave, he watches his neighbors, who keep their windows open to stay cool. They are a lonely woman whom Jeff nicknames ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’, a newlywed couple, a pianist, a pretty dancer nicknamed ‘Miss Torso’, a middle-aged couple whose small dog likes digging in the flower garden, and Lars Thorwald, a traveling costume jewelry salesman with a bedridden wife.  Jeff is visited regularly by his socialite girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, and a nurse named Stella. One night after an argument with Lisa, Jeff is alone in his apartment and hears a woman scream, “Don’t!” and the sound of breaking glass. Later that night, during a thunderstorm, he observes Thorwald making repeated late-night trips carrying a suitcase. The next morning, Jeff notices that Thorwald’s wife is gone, and sees him cleaning a large knife and handsaw. Thorwald also has moving men haul away a large trunk. Jeff becomes convinced that Thorwald has murdered his wife, and shares this with Lisa and Stella, who believe him when they observe Thorwald acting suspiciously. Jeff calls his friend Tom Doyle, a New York City Police detective, and asks him to investigate Thorwald. Doyle finds nothing suspicious—apparently, Mrs. Thorwald is upstate.

Soon after, the neighbor’s dog is found dead. The distraught owner yells and everyone runs to their windows except Thorwald, who sits quietly in his dark apartment. Certain that Thorwald killed the dog, Jeff telephones him to lure him away so that Stella and Lisa can investigate. He believes Thorwald buried something in the flower bed and killed the dog because it was digging there. When Thorwald leaves, Lisa and Stella dig up the flowers but find nothing.

rear window poster

Much to Jeff’s amazement and admiration, Lisa climbs up the fire escape to Thorwald’s apartment and clambers in through an open window. Jeff and Stella get distracted when they see Miss Lonelyhearts take out some pills and write a note, realizing she is going to attempt suicide. They call the police but before they can report it Miss Lonelyhearts stops, opening the window to listen to the pianist’s music. Thorwald returns and confronts Lisa, and Jeff realizes that Thorwald is going to kill her. He calls the police and reports an assault in progress. The police arrive and arrest Lisa when Thorwald indicates that she broke in to his apartment. Jeff sees Lisa coyly pointing to her finger with Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring on it. Thorwald sees this also and, realizing that she is signaling someone, spots Jeff across the courtyard.

Jeff phones Doyle and leaves an urgent message while Stella goes to bail Lisa out of jail. When his phone rings, Jeff assumes it is Doyle, and blurts out that the suspect has left. When no one answers, he realizes that it was Thorwald calling. Thorwald enters Jeff’s dark apartment and Jeff sets off a series of camera flashbulbs to temporarily blind him. Thorwald pushes Jeff out the window and Jeff, hanging on, yells for help. Police enter the apartment, Jeff falls, and officers on the ground break his fall. Thorwald confesses to the police that he murdered his wife.

A few days later, Jeff rests in his wheelchair, now with casts on both legs, and watches the neighbors again. The couple whose dog was killed have a new puppy, the newlyweds are having their first argument, Miss Torso’s true love comes back from the war, Miss Lonelyhearts starts seeing the pianist and Thorwald’s apartment is being refurbished. Lisa is with Jeff, reading a book titled Beyond the High Himalayas. After seeing that he is sleeping, she happily opens a fashion magazine.

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In this semi-cooperative game, rather than replay the events of the movie (which would make for a crummy deduction game as you would already know the crime committed), one player takes the role of director Alfred Hitchcock — the “Master of Suspense” — and communicates via building windows clues and signs for the other players without ever uttering a word, ideally giving them enough to go on that they can figure out who the murderer is — or whether a murder even took place.

The players split up so that the Director sits on one side of the table and the Watchers (all other players) sit on the other.  The Watchers choose any 12 attributes and place all the tiles for those attributes on the table.  A new stack is made consisting of one of each of the 12 attributes, and a single Murder tile is added to this.  These 13 tiles are shuffled and handed to the Director.  From this point onward, the Director does not speak during the rest of the game.

The Director hides information behind his screen.  He takes the stack of tiles and chooses 4 at random; these are placed face up on the four Attribute spots on the Solution board.  The Murder tile might come up – if it does, the Director should not make any indication of this to the Watchers!  The unused attributes are then placed in the Trunk Box to keep them hidden.  Then, the Director chooses any 4 residents to live in each of the apartments; again, placing the unused residents in the Trunk box.  At all times, the solution board and the Trunk box should remain hidden from the Watchers!   The Director draws 8 window cards and the game begins.

Before I go any further, I should note that there are two different modes in the game (and only the Director knows which version is being played!).  If there is NOT a murder token on the solution board, then the game is a full cooperative game, and the Director’s goal is to get the Watchers to correctly identify all 8 pieces of information (the residents which live in each apartment and the attribute associated with that resident) during the four days of the game.  If there is a murder token, then the game is semi-cooperative – with both the Director and the Watchers having different win conditions, while there is still a situation where all players lose together.

In each of the four days, the game is played in 3 phases:

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A] The Window Phase – here, the Director plays his hand of 8 Window cards to try to communicate the Resident and the Attribute associated with each of the apartments.  The cards can be played face up, or face down (because that card might not convey the information the Director wants the Watchers to know).  The windows can be filled in any order and at any speed which the Director desires.  The Director can discard a Cut Token to discard any number of Window cards and draw the same number.  Remember that the Director cannot speak, so the cards are the only information he can impart upon the Watchers.

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B] The Deduction Phase – The Watchers now discuss the information seen in the 8 Window cards.  As each day has its own board, they can also review the information that they saw on previous Days.  As a group, the Watchers put Resident tokens and Attribute tokens in the 8 spaces (found in the area between the buildings).  Each particular tile can only be placed once each day.  During this phase, the Watchers can also use one of their 4 special Watcher Placard special abilities.  Each of these can only be used once a game; so be sure that you are choosing the right time to use each!  If this is Day 4, and they Watchers believe that a Murder has happened – this is the only day where the would place the Murder attribute token in the suspected apartment.

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C] Scoring Phase – The Director reviews the guesses of the Watchers, and then he places a wooden cube on the number of correct answers found on that Day’s board.  No indication is given as to which answers are right or wrong; the Watchers only know how many of their 8 guesses are correct.

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After 4 Days, the game is resolved.  Again, remember that the game is different whether Murder is on the solution board or not…

If there was NOT a murder; the game is cooperative, and all players win if the Watchers have guessed all 8 attributes correctly.

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If there was a murder, the game is not cooperative

  • The Director wins if the Watchers guess 6 or 7 attributes correctly but do NOT guess the Murder attribute
  • The Watchers win if they have 7 or 8 attributes correct and MUST have correctly guessed the Murder attribute
  • Everyone loses if the Watchers guess fewer than 6 attributes correctly
  • The rules do not address the condition where the Watchers guess exactly 6 attributes correctly including the Murder attribute.  In this case, I guess the Funko game developers lose.

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My thoughts on the game

So we’ve played the game a few times, and we’ve had a pretty fun time with it.  I have personally enjoyed being a Watcher more than being the Director; but I think this is because I’m not very good at sitting around not saying things!

The window cards are well done with a combination of direct color clues and grey anonymous clues that you can maybe use more for the actions shown on them.  The deck of cards is fairly large though, and this has led to a couple of games where we had problems adequately communicating because the director never got a pink person card throughout the entire game – even using the re-draw tokens!  However, as you’re only able to flip 2 cards down each round (obscuring colors you don’t want to be seen usually) – there has to be a balance because if you got too many color cards you didn’t need, you couldn’t hide them all!

Due to the cards, we found the game has the right amount of challenge for us – as long as we include at least 2 of the more complex motive tiles (the tiles which require you to identify another character as the target of the action).  This requires the team to identify a few more pieces of information; it also makes it harder to interpret which answers are correct or not at the end of each round (since you have to have both pieces of information correct for that tile to be considered correct).

There is a lot of detail on the cards, and I have found that it is quite easy to give misleading or incorrect signals – due to so many different things being shown on the cards repetitively – understandably so as there is a fixed list of things you’re trying to communicate.  In one game, I was trying to simply tell the team that the Blue guy was the character in the apartment, but all of the cards had animals on them (which my brain conveniently ignored) – and they were convinced that I was trying to also say that Blue was a pet lover… which sadly was not the case.

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Thus far, we have only played in larger groups (4-5 players) – though I get the sense that the game would work great with just 2 people too.  Sure, you wouldn’t have as many eyes to see things and to bounce ideas off of – but I think it would still work great.

The one thing that I haven’t been too keen about is the occasional semi-cooperative game.  Whenever the Murder tile is drawn, the game switches modes; and only one player is aware of the change!  Our group has really liked the cooperative puzzle solving of the majority of the games, and the spectre of this possibility makes you look at all of the cards even closer; which can be frustrating (to both sides) as sometimes the cards just don’t show the things that you want – or maybe they show too much.  For me, I’d like the Director to maybe have a bit more control over the cards for the semi-coop version to work well.   Our group has actually toyed with the idea of just pulling the Murder tile out of the possibilities – but we haven’t done this quite yet.

The art design for the game is really well done, and as I mentioned earlier, I think the cards are the centerpiece to the game.  The game is a bit of a table hog once you lay out the Director screen and then make room for the four daily boards – it fit fine on our 10ft table; it might be a stretch on a regular folding card table.  The rules are fairly decent, though we think there is a game end condition not met by either win criteria in the semi-coop version.  The only other thing, which is unfortunately becoming a Funko trademark, is that there is a FAQ at the end of the rules (which is super nice) that has answers which give things that I feel should be stated in the rules themselves, not in a FAQ which might be ignored on first blush.  But, if you read the rules from cover to cover, you should get all the info you need.

Rear Window is a delightful cooperative game which really does evoke the theme of the movie.  The Watchers can try to piece together the stories of what is happening in the four apartments across the street; trying to make sense of the information the Director allows them to see.  I’m personally not a fan of the semi-coop portion; but knowing that this is an option for the game keeps everyone guessing, and makes the game a bit more challenging.  It certainly generates a lot of conversation amongst the Watchers!   The level of complexity is suitable for casual gamers, though it might help to have at least one gamer at the table to make sure things run smoothly.  Definitely a game I would recommend for a fun movie themed night!

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Steph H
  • I like it. Dale Y, John P (as full co-op), Dan B.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

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.
This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Rear Window

  1. Michael says:

    Great review but there were a couple things.
    The director does have a device that allows him to redraw cars giving you a lot of control over the cards on how to use them it’s a cool little research management that our players have very much enjoyed as a director.

    I don’t think the six player thing is a big deal it feels very clear that it’s just a minor typo and it’s supposed to be six and under not under six most games would never place just under six that’s just bad writing

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