Top 10 Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games

Some of my favorite games have been when we solved a mystery together!  There are quite a number of cooperative detective games now available.  These automatically include a deduction element, but they all have slightly different flavors of deduction.  In the end, most, if not all, of these games are “play once, and you’ve solved the mystery”, so they are very much “one and done” games—which almost gives them more tension, as you want to do the best you can because you know you can only play it once! 

Here’s our Top 10  Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games. We also rate how well each game follows Saunders’ Law: “Does this cooperative game have a viable solo mode?”, as well as expansions, complexity, and number of cases per game.

Number 10: Unlock! Sherlock Holmes-The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Unlock! Heroic Adventures, Space Cowboys, 2018 — front cover

Solo Mode? Yes, you can play this solo
Expansions? N/A
Complexity? Easyish
Cases Per Box?  1 (the other 2 aren’t strictly detective games)

This detective story is one of the Unlock! games from the Heroic Adventures box (3 games in one box).  Strictly speaking, this is more of an Escape Room game with puzzles in a Sherlock Holmes universe than a straight-up detective story, but it did a pretty good job of capturing the atmosphere of a detective story.   There’s no dilly-dallying, because Unlock! games are timed, and usually you find yourself reaching for Hints to move the game along.  (The Hint system is quite good and will help you if you get stuck).  If you prefer your detective games to be ponderous, the Unlock! Sherlock Holmes is probably not for you. It also requires an app.

Number 9: The Sherlock Files

The Sherlock Files: Elementary Entries, Indie Boards & Cards, 2019 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)
Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions?  Volume II- Curious Capers, Volume III- Puzzling Plots
Complexity? Easyish
Cases Per Box? 3

The Sherlock Files is a detective game in cards.  The first installment comes with 3 cases (Last Call, Tomb of the Idol, and Death of the Fourth of July).  If you can get past the fact that we are Sherlock Holmes in modern times (with jets flying around), then this is a nice little mystery.  Cards come out, the games are pretty quick (about an hour), but you can take as long as you wish to explore the cards that come out.  It’s not super deep, but it is fun.

Number 8: Exit: Dead Man on the Orient Express
EXIT: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express, KOSMOS, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes (probably better with more)
Expansions? No
Complexity: Medium to Hard
Cases Per Box? 1

This is an EXIT-style escape room game in an 1940s Agatha Christie Poirot-esque universe: It’s a murder mystery on a train!  The game is quite difficult and has many elements of exploration and deduction, but it sometimes feels a little too much like an Escape Room game (with wonky puzzles). Sometimes, these puzzles take you out of the detective parts of the game. The art is great, the game is challenging, and there’s no “timer” (so you can be an ponderous as you need).  I had fun playing this solo, but I think more brains would have helped because this one was quite hard.  Luckily, there is a good hint system to help you if you get stuck.

Number 7: Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost
Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost, dV Giochi, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansion?  No. But there are more games in the series (Bloody Red Roses and Nightmare in the Mirror)
Complexity? Medium
Cases Per Box? 1

So, this is a tiny little card game of 60-80 cards.  It’s just a card game.  What makes it unique is that you actually set-up cards to show the “scene”: cards stand erect in the box (by being propped up by the edges of the box) and form a “crime scene” for you to investigate.  As the game progresses, you will replace cards in the scene with “newer” cards as the scene unfolds.  The game is weird and unique as you try to guess what cards are important and what cards aren’t: you have to throw away cards to play for other cards: this unique mechanism represents your time and you bypassing things that may or may not be relevant.  It’s not a pure deduction game per se, but you definitely feel like a detective trying to figure out what happened. 

Number 6: Decktective: Bloody Red Roses

Decktective - Bloody-red roses Second Edition

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansion?  No. But there are more games in the series (The Gaze of the Ghost and Nightmare in the Mirror)
Complexity? Medium
Cases Per Box? 1

Like Number 7 on our list (The Gaze of the Ghost), this is yet another game in the Decktective series.  This was the first game in the series and opened the door to this unique but very small way to play detective games.   They are so easy to play: you buy a small deck of cards (not too much investment), but there’s literally a scene of the crime and a interesting story underneath.

Number 5: Scooby-Doo: Escape From the Haunted Mansion
Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion – A Coded Chronicles Game, The OP, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions? Not at this time (but the Shining will be another game in the Coded Chronicles series)
Complexity? Easyish
Cases Per Box? 1

This maybe the easiest detective game on this list: it is more of a mass market game, and it is marketed towards families.  It’s also has the feel of an Escape Room style game.  But you know what?  This game stands uniqely as a silly (Shaggy “eats” things to interact with them), fun, but still thinky detective game where Scooby and the gang explore a haunted mansion to solve a mystery! 

Number 4: Chronicles of Crime
Final Box Art

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions?  Yes.  Quite a few, Noir adds a Noir version of the game, you can buy some expansions in the app, and Welcome To Redview adds an “Archie Comics” module.  Currently, there’s 3 new expansions that just came off Kickstarter called The Millenium Series.
Complexity?  Easy to Hard, depends on the case!
Cases Per Box? 1 Tutorial, 5 Scenarios (and you can actually buy more on the app!)

Chronicles of Crime made my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2018!  This game requires an app on your phone: you scan cards in the game, and things change as time goes by.  You may visit a location and see nothing, and come back later to find a pivotal clue!  All your interactions are done by scanning cards and locations (and people/helpers) as you try to solve a mystery!

There’s a quite a bit on content: it’s only major flaws is that this requires a phone and app and sometimes just one player can “hog” the phone (Of course, this is just Alpha Player Syndrome) .  Great game, great detective stories await!

Number 3: Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Irregulars

Solo Mode? Yes to start, but requires multiple people for Adventure 2.  Really should be played with 4 players
Expansions?  No
Complexity? Easy to Medium
Cases Per Box? 4

I am surprised how much I liked this game!  See Part I and Part II of my review!  Players each take a graphic novel for one of 4 characters (one of the 4 Baker Street Irregulars), and players read their books simultaneously, playing through one of four adventures in the game.   The game is a little light-weight, but my friends and I particularly enjoyed it.   It fostered cooperation more than most detective games, and it played very well over the Internet (see my Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online).  This may be my favorite game experience of 2020!

Number 2: Detective: City of Angels
Cover for Detective: City of Angels. Art by Vincent Dutrait.

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions?  Yes. Smoke and Mirrors and Bullets Over Hollywood.
Complexity?  Medium
Cases Per Box?  8

The game went over on my gaming circles like gang busters! It took the top spot in the Top 10 Cooperative Game of 2019,  it made the Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively, and the Top 10 Storytelling/Storybook games!  Players play as hard-boiled detectives in the Noir era of detectives.  Players can “shake things up” when they question people to get more info, with the risk of alienating them in the future!  Although the game isn’t cooperative by default, it’s the way me and my friends prefer to play this.  There’s plenty of game in the first box (8 or 9) and too more expansions which add about 5 more cases each.  There’s enough of a rules framework to make it easy to get around and try stuff, but there’s still a mystery that needs to be solved!   This is a longer, ponderous, game (usually 2-3 hours), but we enjoy the heck out of it.  Even though we can take the time to “think” as much as we want, it’s still not too heavy; yet the cases are still interesting and challenging.

Number 1: Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases, Space Cowboys, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes.  You can solve the mystery by yourself! No changes
Expansions? Yes, there is Sherlock Holmes: Jack The Ripper and West End Adventures, Sherlock Holmes: Carlton House and Queen’s Park, and Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars
Complexity? Hard
Cases Per Box? 10

Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective is the grand-daddy of all the cooperative detective games.  What makes it great is that the world is fairly open-ended: you can explore the world at your own discretion and frankly there’s not “a lot of rules” behind the game.  Players work together to try to solve the mystery presented to them (with Sherlock Holmes himself having the insufferable perfect solution you compare against), exploring the city as they wish and reading entries from the storybook.  The storybook presents the characters and locations, and you simply explore this world trying to solve this mystery.  The mystery is definitely NOT spoon fed to you!!!  For example, the game comes with 10 newspapers, and each newspaper has 20-50 articles that may or may nor be relevant!  Even worse (?), you may may to look at earlier newspapers to find information you need!!!  It’s very much like an interactive mystery, with text of the storybook and the newspapers being your primary mechanism to discover the world.  (There’s also a map and address book).

Some of my friend HATE that Holmes is so smug with “the perfect solution”! They hate him so much they hate the game!    If you ignore Holmes and just concentrate on the mystery itself (using Holmes solution as simply a metric), then there’s nothing closer to a real interactive detective story!  This is probably the hardest of all the Detective games on this list, but if you invest the effort, you will be rewarded with a deep, interactive mystery.   

Although I think I like the framework that Detective: City of Angels sets-up to make the mystery easier to grapple with, there’s something about the open world of Consulting Detective that’s just a pure detective story … and that’s why it’s number 1 on this list.

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