Slowly, after being out for what felt like an eternity, you open your eyes to discover something shocking: you’re dead. As your ghostly form floats up out of your physical body, you notice it’s surrounded by a motley crew studying your corpse. Once you see the esoteric tools they’re using, you come to realize they’re detectives—paranormal detectives, trying to solve the mystery around your death.
Paranormal Detectives is a party style deduction game for two to six players. In the game, one player assumes the role of the ghost while the other players take on the role of detectives looking to answer the questions surrounding the ghost’s death. Of course communicating both with and as a ghost is challenging, so players will have to find clever ways to gain the pertinent information by using their paranormal tools and psychic super powers. The first detective to uncover the 5 key elements in the story of the ghost’s death wins the game. If any of the detectives solve the mystery, the ghost wins too.
Ghost – Clay and Pottery Wheel Ready
The player acting as the ghost for the game begins by secretly reading their Story Card. This card explains the story of their death and highlights the 5 key elements the detectives are trying to solve—the who, where, why, how, and weapon. On the Story Card, there are also 3 pieces of information the ghost shares with the detectives: their apparent sex, visible wounds on their body, and a brief description of their physical appearance.
Paranormal Detectives contains 28 Story Cards, but there is also a free companion app that features additional stories in English and French.
Detectives, Equip Your Ghost Hunting Tools
Each detective player begins the game with a hand of Interaction Cards based on the number of players (more players, fewer cards; fewer players, more cards in each hand). These Interaction Cards describe how the ghost will communicate with a detective.
The Séance – Paranormal Detectives’ Gameplay
In Paranormal Detectives, only detectives get turns; the ghost player doesn’t get their own turn because they are always involved in every detective’s turn.
Asking A Question
On a detective’s turn, they must play an Interaction Card from their hand and then ask the ghost player any question aloud for all other detectives to hear. The question can simply relate to 1 of the 5 key elements—who killed you?— or it can be more creative—how did you feel at the time of your death? The only restriction is that the detective must not ask a binary “yes” or “no” question. The played Interaction Card describes the way in which the ghost must communicate the answer to the detective’s question.
After the ghost responds, all detective players may take notes on their Investigation Sheet and the Interaction Card is removed from the game. Each detective character has their own set of Interaction Cards depending on their paranormal area of expertise. For example, some players might have the Tarot Cards Interaction Card while another might have the Ghost Meter one.
There is only 1 Interaction Card in Paranormal Detectives (Ghost Touch) that gives an answer only to the detective who asked the question. For the other questions and Interaction Cards, all the detectives see or hear the ghost’s response.
After posing their question, the detective player may attempt to guess all 5 elements of the ghost’s death. To do this, they announce out loud their answers to each question—who, where, why, how, and weapon. If they’re correct they win the game with the ghost. If they don’t get it, the ghost secretly writes a number from 0 to 4 on the detective’s Investigation Sheet. This number represents how many answers were guessed correctly, but it doesn’t tell which. The other detectives are also not told the number so the detective’s progress, if any, remains a mystery to them.
The ghost then notes this number on their own Investigation Sheet, indicating the guessing detective. This helps track who guessed and when in the game, as well as how many times they did because each detective is only allowed 2 guesses.
The ghost, even dead, is as generous as they are selfish; they want you to bring justice to their death so they may rest in peace. As such, they have 3 of their own Interaction Cards that they may use to communicate a hint to the detectives after an attempt to solve is made. They play 1 of their Interaction Cards and give their hint, removing the card from the game after it’s used.
Play then moves to the next detective’s turn.
Blow Out The Candles – End of the Game
A game of Paranormal Detectives can end in 1 of 2 ways:
- a detective solves all 5 elements of the ghost’s death. In this instance, the detective who solved correctly wins with the ghost player.
- all detectives run out of Interaction Cards and each detective has unsuccessfully made both their attempts to solve. Here the ghost loses and the detective who guessed the most elements correctly wins. In a tie, the detective who guessed those elements first wins.
Paranormal Detectives: Competitively or Cooperatively?
The regular game for three to six players is mostly competitive: the detective players work to be the first to solve the ghost’s death and win the game. The ghost player, however, wins only if a player correctly uncovers the truth. If no player achieves this by the end of the game, the ghost loses. As you can imagine, the game cannot be played competitively with just two so the rulebook includes a cooperative version which plays mostly the same; both players win or lose together. The cooperative variant is necessary to play with two, but it can also be used in a three to six player game instead of the standard competitive version. While the cooperative version works well enough, it feels like the game was meant to be played competitively—in this way it is more challenging and fun.
At first, I put off playing my copy of Paranormal Detectives because I didn’t think I could persuade my friends to play what I initially thought was just a competitive version of Mysterium. When I finally did play the game, I was shocked by how much fun it was; my friends, too, were surprised by Paranormal Detectives. Meeple Mountain Associate Editor Kathleen Hartin was especially concerned by the openness of the 5 elements. She worried that without options to choose from, she’d never be able to guess correctly. In the end, she won. This just goes to show that while the concept may seem overwhelming to some, it works! The openness of the elements is countered by the freedom the ghost has when communicating with the detectives.
On the surface, this game might seem like a Mysterium imitation with some complicated bits added, but it isn’t. Paranormal Detectives is all at once challenging, strategic, and silly. As a detective, you are playing a deduction game, trying to be the first to solve the ghost’s death, but you’re also looking to ask the right questions that will give you the answers you need while trying to not help the other detectives. As the ghost, every answer you give, no matter the Interaction Card played, has to be carefully thought out and the many interpretations of your answer have to be considered.
With a game that can be quite difficult, it amazes me that I can laugh so much every time I play. Paranormal Detectives has this lightness about it; competing detective players can giggle together when the ghost mimes out an unintelligible answer or the ghost can laugh at themselves when they realize their rope arrangement has more than one interpretation. Is that a black cat or fire? A pistol or a banana? Paranormal Detectives is just good fun!
I still can’t decide which role I prefer: the ghost or a detective. For me, when all roles are equally appealing, that’s the sign of a well-designed game. I like how tricky and difficult it is to be a detective trying to interpret the ghost’s answers, but I also like how clever you have to be as the ghost. I can even appreciate the level of frustration I sometimes feel as the ghost player when a detective plays their Ghost Touch Interaction Card and asks, Why did you die?, and I have to draw an image on their back to represent “Survival”. This must be how ghosts feel when we ignore the cupboards they leave open.
While I truly love this game, I still have some complaints. The dry-erase markers are a little too wide and I wish the ghost player had their own shield like the detectives. There were times when I couldn’t poker face my way through the cooperative game and I needed to use the box lid to cover my face. The Story Cards can also only be used once, but thankfully the app has 28 more stories—and even tracks which were played—so I can’t imagine any group running out of content.
Speaking of death, many of the Story Cards reference violence, drugs, and sex. The designers did a good job of addressing this and other potential challenges that could exclude players. Cards with more explicit content have a “Parental Advisory” on them and the rulebook recommends an adult act as the ghost when playing with younger gamers.
Also, there are 2 Interaction Cards in Paranormal Detectives that require players to touch: the first, Ghost Touch, is included in every character set while the other, Quill Pen, is only in some of them. The rulebook warns players of this type of interaction and offers an alternative for players who are not comfortable with these cards.
Paranormal Detectives is a fun, deduction party game that is surprisingly strategic. Whether you play as the ghost or a detective, you will find yourself engaged and interacting with the other players in goofy ways. I’m disappointed I didn’t make an effort to get this to my gaming table when I first got my copy. Don’t be like me and dismiss this game; check out Paranormal Detectives sooner rather than later.
Thematic Music For Playing Paranormal Detectives
Since the initial concept for Paranormal Detectives was conceived at a game jam event called “Games Laboratory” in Poland, I thought it was only fitting to highlight some Polish composers famous for their work in horror TV and film.
Penderecki’s work can be heard in The Exorcist, The Shining, and Shutter Island.
Korzeniowski also composed the scores for A Single Man and W.E.
Kilar composed The Ninth Gate and The Pianist soundtracks.