Over the last year, I’ve played a bunch of one-shot or “escape room” mystery games: the Cold Case series from ThinkFun, the Unsolved Case Files series from Pressman, EXIT: The Game (so many!) from Kosmos, you name it. So, I’m always down for more of these games.
When I met with Hachette Board Games / Studio H at GAMA Expo in March, I was given a free introductory case in their upcoming escape room series, Suspects.
Suspects: The MacGuffin Affair is a one-hour mystery that can be played solo or with others. My wife and I gave this a spin and spent 55 minutes going through this case and really enjoyed it.
Murder on the Orient…err, Edinburgh Express?
Games in the Suspects series feature our heroine, 24-year-old Claire Harper. In The MacGuffin Affair, we meet Claire—an Oxford graduate, daughter of Oxford’s professor of criminology—as she travels with her father on a train from London to Edinburgh.
Just as lunch is wrapping up in the dining car, the train enters a tunnel. When the train exits the tunnel, a traveler named Mr. MacGuffin is lying in a pool of his own blood.
Using a deck of 32 cards, a broad overview of the situation, and their wits, players will have to choose which suspects to interrogate and which clues to follow in order to accurately guess the answers to 3 questions in order to win the game. Guess those answers correctly by using the fewest of those 32 cards as possible, and scores will be higher. Guess incorrectly and you’ll lose outright. There’s pressure to get the right answer in the first third to two-thirds of the deck to score well.
The format for Suspects landed very well for me and my fellow investigator. First, Suspects: The MacGuffin Affair really does take less than an hour. For the best and the brightest, it might take just 30 minutes. Clues are laid out well. The instruction manual has a decent setup to the case, and you are off and running quickly.
The mix of activities in the deck are interesting, and very easy to follow. There’s a minor set collection element for the best clues. Some clues are simply dead ends, and I liked that. (In this way, The MacGuffin Affair reminded me of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books; some avenues are strictly better than others.)
Suspects is a slick production, and the best part about the deduction elements is that everything made sense with the conclusion. We got things right, and we deduced clues correctly because the case made logical sense. The inspiration from novels by authors such as Agatha Christie are printed on the back of the game box, so it was great to see this in the gameplay.
Now, Let’s Do the Entrée
As an appetizer, Suspects: The MacGuffin Affair was interesting and sets the table nicely for a full-blown game series. This might be one of the best, if not THE best, resettable one-shot crime puzzle games I have played in terms of accessibility for broad audiences. For example, I would absolutely give this free introductory case to my non-gamer family members and they would love it.
I don’t know if I would call Claire, the character embodied by the players, “interesting” just yet, so hopefully Claire is given a bit more to do in future games. As is, some of the flavor text on the cards falls flat. (And this might be intentional, to ensure we get on with the reason you are playing in the first place: to investigate a murder.)
The text in the instruction manual was a little tiny for my taste (“12-point fonts!” was my wife’s response here). The visual clues on cards were mostly skipped in The MacGuffin Affair; we deduced most of our answers by reading text on cards, but not picking out visual cues that appear on those cards. There’s lots of opportunity to spice this up, so I’m excited to see where designer Guillaume Montiage and Studio H go with the rest of the Suspects series.
Sign me up for the full meal!