Dale Yu: Review of Detective Rummy

Detective Rummy

  • Designers: Mike Fitzgerald and Ralph H Anderson
  • Publisher: Wizkids
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 60-120 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by publisher

From the Publisher: Detective Rummy is a rummy-style card game with a storytelling element revealed in a series of seven different cases. Players take the roles of detectives vying to solve the cases and gain fame.  The story begins at the legendary Rummy Detective Agency, and each case takes you to various locations to solve a crime, including the diner with the best doughnuts in town, the cozy “Quarter to 3 Bar”, a ritzy fashion emporium, the circus, the most elite jazz nightclub in town, and more.

The cases in Detective Rummy can be played in two different ways: Campaign Mode and Case Mode. In Campaign Mode, you play all seven cases in order. In Case Mode, you can play cases 2 to 6 as standalone Detective Rummy games one at a time. Since new “Game Changer” cards are discovered in each case in different orders (if at all) each time you play, cases will never resolve the same way twice. You can play both the campaign mode or the individual cases as many times as you like.

The rules suggest starting with the Campaign Mode, and so far, that is the only way that we’ve played the game. In this mode, you start with the first case and work your way through all 7 Cases – this can be done all in 1 sitting, or you can break it up over multiple sessions.  Each case consists of a single Hand made up of 6 Rounds.  There is a casebook which gives some basic info on each case, and once you have decided which Case you’re playing, the casebook will also outline any specific setup rules for your particular game – such as Location cards, which cards to use, Assignment tiles, etc.

pop quiz – which icon = deduction?

At the start of the first case, each player chooses a Detective and takes the corresponding Detective Board.  Each has a unique base skill, shown beneath the Detective’s name – and the matching skill tile is placed on the board at the start of the game.  There is a Round Tracker tile which also has the Danger Level track on it (from 0-3).  This goes near the Start Player.  Each player is dealt a hand of 10 Evidence cards, and each player can discard up to 3 cards and redraw the same number from the deck.  All discarded cards are placed faceup in the discard pile.

At the start of each Round, the start player checks if there is anything that causes him to advance the Danger Level (Game Changer cards, etc).  Then, if there is Danger, he rolls a number of Skill dice equal to the current Danger level.  For each Skill type rolled, detectives must turn over the matching skill token on their board unless they have a Bulletproof vest to block it.  The Round marker is advanced and then the Detectives each get a turn.

A detective’s turn has 3 parts: 1] Return a Bulletproof Vest if they have one, 2] Flip all unready items on their board to the ready side, 3] Choose to Recuperate or do Detective Work.    If you Recuperate, you activate your Bulletproof vest, heal all Wounded skill tiles, and draw 4 cards.  If you do Detective Work, you have a bunch of steps to follow.

  • Visit a Location (optional) – discard any Evidence card from your hand without effect and then follow the instructions on the Location of your choice. If there is a Game Changer card at the location, you must take it, see whether it is a secret or to be read aloud to all players, and apply its effects as directed.  You can only take 1 Game Changer card per turn.
  • Perform Actions – you can do these in any order, and some you can do multiple times
    • Heal a Wound (1x) – discard a card and ready one of your flipped Skill tokens
    • Investigate Circumstantial Evidence (1x) Discard 3 or more Circumstantial Evidence cards that show the same skill, then ready the matching skill and place a Detective token on the suspect with that skill.  If the cards match your base skill, choose any skill you don’t already have, ready it, place a Detective token on the suspect with that skill and also heal all wounds.
    • Investigate Fingerprints (1x) – Choose a Fingerprint card for which you have the skills ready, and then resolve the text on the card (there are multiple types of fingerprint cards, each with their own ability)
    • Use an Item – use the bulletproof vest, magnifying glass, gun or fingerprint kit if you have it and it is readied.
    • Check Assignment tiles – if you ever fulfill the condition printed on an Assignment tile, place one of your detective tokens on it.  Multiple tokens can be placed per player, and multiple detectives can place on the same Assignment. 
  • Reassess – Discard cards from your hand; circumstantial evidence cards can only be discarded if you have a skill shown on the card; Fingerprint cards can only be discarded if you have ALL the skills shown on it
  • Bonus for Empty Hand – If your hand is empty, place a Detective token on a Suspect whose skill matches one of your Ready Skills, also draw two cards
  • Draw 2 cards.  This is in addition to the two cards that you would have drawn if your hand was empty.

When all players have had a chance to take their turn, the Round ends.  Repeat this process for the 6 rounds of the game.  At the end of the 6th round, the Hand (and Case) are over.  There is a small conclusion to be read in the casebook, and then there is final scoring.

1] For each suspect, the player(s) with the most Detective tokens at each suspect scores 1 Fame for each of their tokens on that suspect

2] The suspect(s) with the most total detective tokens on it is guilty (unless they have an alibi).  Each Detective scores one Fame for each of their tokens on a Guilty suspect

3] Each Assignment tile is reviewed, and any detective who has enough tokens on it to trigger scoring does so

4] Check anything else (usually Game Changer cards) that give Fame points.

Mark your scores down, and in the Campaign mode, move onto the next case.  The winner of the campaign is the player with the most total points over all 7 cases.  In Case mode, the player with the most points at the end of the hand wins.

My thoughts on the game

When I first heard of the game, I was excited to see if this was an evolution of the Mystery Rummy series (also designed by Mr. Fitzgerald).  There are definitely some similarities here, but Detective Rummy is definitely its own thing.  Thus far we have only played the Campaign – but seeing as the other mode is simply playing the case of your choice (from the same set) – I think it’s easy enough to extrapolate how that would go.

A guilty name if I’ve ever read one

Over the course of each case, you will play cards to accuse suspects of the crime, and somewhat like real life, the person with the most accusations will be the guilty party at the end of the day.  Scoring is really an area control game – have the most on each suspect to score points, and everyone scores points for the guilty parties.  The assignment tiles give you different ways to score in each game (chosen somewhat randomly) as well as on some of the Game Breaker cards – this helps keep the cases feeling different, even when you play the same case multiple times in a row.

What we’ve seen so far is that players can concentrate on a specific target – often usually with whatever their base skill is – because this is a skill they have active from the first turn; and then the game just becomes a race to see who can put the most tokens on their target to get the double score (for having the most as well as for being on the guilty party).  Sure, the cards played often determine where you end up being able to play; but there are plenty of ways (the fingerprint cards, or the bonus for an empty hand) that give you the choice to play to any of your active skills – and it makes the most sense to pick the same target all game in the way that the score is calculated.  This strategy tends not to change with the case because it’s not like you have to deduce who the actual guilty party is, you just have to accuse them the most.

To start off, let me just tell you that even if you’re a Mystery Rummy veteran, your first game might be played in a bit of a fog.  It took us a few rounds in the first case to figure out what we were doing.  The initial two or three rounds were pretty slow, but then once we grokked what to do, the last three rounds went lightning fast.  And, then in the next case, most of the turns were also similarly fast.

In rummy terms, a turn is quick. You can visit a location if you want.  Then make a meld (3 or more) to gain a skill and/or place a token.  Skills are important, because then if you want to play a fingerprint card, it relies upon the skills you have active on your board.  You start with 10 cards, and generally only play one meld per turn.  You will always draw 2 cards; but if your hand is empty, you can draw 4.  So – once you have figured out the plan, your turn can often be setup well ahead of time, and when it’s your turn, you just say, i’m doing this this this and this, here are the cards, end of turn.  What took 3-4 minutes each in the first ever round turns into 30 seconds by your second game.  Later hands also take less time as you often manage to empty out your hand at the end of a turn meaning you have only 4 cards in your hand to start the next one – you often don’t have to think too hard about how you’re going to use just 4 cards.  At the latter speed, the game works fine; at the former speed, it is honestly kind of excruciating.  Luckily, this learning period only lasts a few rounds of your first game – but I think it’s fair to say this as a warning so that you don’t bail to early on a game or get too frustrated.

For me, I had a hard time with the rules – but this could be a “me” problem.  I know that I do not do well with multiple rulebooks.  Here, only the setup is in a different place, as each of the cases have a unique setup in the casebook – but flipping back and forth between the books somehow made it harder for me to understand until I saw the game in actual play.  There are also a few places where the rules use two different terms for the same thing, and this causes confusion.  Finally, in the first few rounds, some graphic design decisions (such as putting only the term for a skill and not the icon under the detective’s names) made the game more challenging than it needed to be – especially for the first case!   To wit, the suspects in the later cases all have individual tiles with their skill icon easily seen.  In the first case, you only use the Detective mats, and in that first game, when you aren’t quite familiar with the terms nor the icons that go with them, you are only given the word easily visible, yet the rest of the game components require you to refer to the icon.

That aside, once you play the first case or two, the rules are pretty easily digested.  In each case, you still have to deal with the unique Game Breaker cards that help sort of tell the story of the case.  They will be in different places each time you play, and the order in which they come up in essentially is random.  The powers on those cards can definitely swing the game, so even if you’re familiar with a case, the way that it plays out will differ each time.  Sure, there is possibly a mild advantage for someone who has played a case before as they might remember what sorts of things will happen at some point in the case; but I don’t think this is a game-breaking advantage.  Or, if you’d rather not be surprised, you could always read out the possible effects before playing so that everyone knows what is coming, but not the location nor order of those things.

The cases we’ve played so far have been interesting enough, and the Game Changer cards definitely live up to their name – the resolution of some of the cards definitely changes the game, sometimes in ways that I have found exasperating and frustrating!  There is a fair amount of boardgaming overhead here on what is otherwise a simple game (despite what the rules read might tell you…) – and once you get into the flow of it, you’ll likely realize how simple the game underlying it all really is.  There isn’t as much “rummy” as you might expect, as the card turnover is pretty low.

For me, I think I prefer the lower overhead of the original Mystery Rummy games, but this is likely just a matter of taste.  Others may prefer having a number of cases all together in a single box as well as the opportunity to play a campaign style game.

One final note, it appears that the original release of the game had a few typos which caused some issues.  In the US release version that I was given, there was an errata pack included in the box that should fix those issues.  We did not find any other errors once those cards were replaced (and one sticker placed on a card).  So long as you are getting one of the US retail versions, I think you should not need to worry anything about the misprints/typos that were brought up with the original release.

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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