A Review of Suspects

Suspects is a cooperative detective game for 1-6 players by designer Guillaume Montiage. The game comes with three detective cases. Each case is a “one-and-done” affair: once you have seen a case and its solution, you can’t really come back to it again (as you know the solution).

The good news is that you can pass this to a friend and they can play the game after you are done: you don’t “destroy” anything as you solve cases.

Unboxing

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We can’t show TOO much in an unboxing, because seeing too much can spoil the mysteries!

The rulebook is quite lovely and easy to read:

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front of the rulebook

It’s clear from the front page that each of the three mysteries has its own unique set of components from the box!

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middle of the rulebook

The rulebook is only 4 pages but does a pretty good job of explaining how everything works.

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Under the rulebook are all the components for the three different cases.

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Each case has a large card which gives the introduction, plus a deck of cards for the game and a solution in a little brown envelope. Sometimes (like the first case), you also get a few extra large cards.

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Overall, this is a card game and you will be “exploring” the mystery by going through this deck: not in order, you will be choosing which card to see (they are all numbered).

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The components are nice and the cards are easy to read. I never noticed the font choice or anything being too small to read, which is a good sign they made the right choices from a font and font size persepective: This is especially important in a game like this, where there will be a lot of reading.

Solo Play

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Suspects supports solo play well (congratulations on following Saunders’ Law!)  The game is all about looking and cards and exploring the scenes and talking to people: everyone simply participates, there is no need for scaling for a number of players.  All players simply decide to move forward as a group. Thus, solo play works fine and great … it’s a group of one.

The game is pretty easy to set-up and get going: you set aside some paper and pencil for notes (like all good detective gams), and set aside a LOT of space for the cards: you will need all the cards in front of you by game end!

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Each game starts the same way: reading the introduction and seeing what the goal is: the bottom right of the introduction placard shows the goals (“Who is the Killer”, “Why?”, etc).

Suspects has an interesting mechanism that the “sooner you solve the mystery, the better your score”.  After the first 30 cards have come out (representing your progress in the investigation), you make your first guess.  After 45 cards, you can revise your guesses if you think you made a mistake, and finally one last chance for revision after all the cards come out.

The most important thing is to get the solution correct, then the next most important thing is quickness. Suspects is very clear that you will have to follow the chain of evidence so that your solution makes sense in the framework: each story should have a logical and provable solution.

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By the time you are all done and see all cards, your table looks a little bloated!

In my first solo play, I was able to solve the first mystery, but it wasn’t optimal. It was clever that my point total represented “how easy” it was to convict the perpetrator: a pure 25 (5 questions at maximal 5 each) meant a slam dunk and maximum sentence for the culprit! A lesser solution means they still go to jail, but not for as long, or not at all! Luckily, I did well enough to send the culprit to jain, if not for the maximum sentence.

Cooperative Play

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As a group, the cooperative ensemble of 2-6 players is playing Claire Harper: a detective in the style and era of Agatha Christie.  This mechanism makes it easy to scale: you just make decisions as a group before you move on.  Strictly speaking, I suspect you could play with as many people as you wanted, but it would probably be too hard to build consensus with too many players.  Besides, it would be too hard to put 26 people around the table anyways.  But you could!

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The cooperative play was a little silly and fun, as each player brought a different perspective and approach to the mystery!  Some of my friends insisted on a whiteboard to show the timeline! See above!

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Some of my friends insisted on taking notes. See above.

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In the end, even though there were periods of disagreement about what to do next, it seemed to represent a distilling of ideas!    We all had to agree (or at least not disagree) about what to do next.  There’s two sides of this coin: we either “did the least abhorrent thing” to move forward (which is not necessarily the most productive way to the solution) or we were able to “whittle down to the most important pieces” (arguably the most important way to the solution).  In all fairness, we had moments of both as we moved forward through the mystery as a group.

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Interestingly, these two sides of this cooperative coin represent the worst and the best parts of cooperation!  The “least offensive path” and “best resolution path”.  There are people who hate cooperative games because all they see is the “death by committee syndrome”, i.e., the “least offensive path” which causes non-optimal solutions.  Forewarned is forearmed: if you know there are two sides of this coin, you can aspire to the “best resolution path” by trying to eschew the “least offensive path”.

Looking back on our cooperative game of Suspects, I really do feel like we saw both sides of this coin very clearly.  In a lot of cooperative games, these two perspectives aren’t as apparent, but for some reason, Suspects strongly illustrated this dichotomy.

Gameplay

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This game is all about exploring the mystery! And the mystery is all within the cards. Without too much of a spoiler, the first thing to come out in Mystery 1 is a map of the location and a family tree: see below. These placards give you card numbers to look at, and that gives you places to go in your investigation.

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To be clear, you DO NOT just start at the top of the Mystery Deck and go through the deck card after card! You choose how to look through the deck and conduct your investigation. And you can only look at cards if they are “available” (either through witness interrogation or exploring locations). For example, you can explore the Library by looking at card 31 (because it appears on the map above), or talk to Jane by looking at card 15 (because 15 is next to her family tree entry).

Art and Theme

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I really like the art in this game. It definitely reinforces the “Agatha Christie theme” of the game. Your group is playing as the investigator Claire Harper from the era of Agatha Christie. It would have been very easy to skimp on the art, but I am glad they got a good artist (Emile Denis) who really upped the game quality!

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The word choice on the cards, the art, and the theme all seem to make this feel like an Agatha Christie mystery.

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Clever Mechanism

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One of the more interesting mechanisms in the game was “following the little arrows” to see if things matched up. For example, if you want to see if a fingerprint was Claire Harper’s, there is a little green arrow on the fingerprint, and a little green line on Claire Harper. If they “match up” (are the same color and same height on the card when next to each other), you can deduce that the fingerprint is Claire’s! See above for the picture match-up.

This mechanism works really well for trying to “match” characters to clues, especially as the game progresses: you may discover a new match-up that blows the case open or obscures the case! It’s a very simple but thematic mechanism.

Fidelity

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There was one problem I had with Suspects: there were several points in the game where I “knew” what was going on, but I couldn’t follow up on it! There was no symbol/card to push forward on that idea, but “later in the mystery”, the same thing came to light! (I can’t say too much without giving away something). I felt like I wasn’t awarded for having an insight … I couldn’t follow up until I got “lucky” later.

This issue might be a product of the writing and/or game-tree, but I think the card mechanism might be artificially “constraining” the game a little. The constraint causes a “loss in fidelity” in mystery solving.

As cool as the “explore a mystery in cards” mechanism is, it is a simpler way to pursue a mystery, so it has limitations. Other games, like Detective: City of Angels or Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective are a little more free-form in their exploration: their mystery is in the larger storybook, not in the fewer cards. Perhaps the fact that there are only a “number of cards” limits the exploration? Or perhaps, since a storybook can be as long or as short as it wants, it doesn’t feel the constraints of cards?

We really like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and Detective: City of Angels (as they both made our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games), but they both can suffer from complexity issues. Suspects, with its “the mystery is the cards” is a much simpler way to explore a mystery, but the mystery seems to suffer a bit of fidelty loss because of that simpler mechanism.

Conclusion

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We really liked Suspects a lot! This would easily make our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games! The mystery exploration mechanism was easy to understand and navigate: the mystery is in the cards! Our only minor quibble is that this simple card mechanism can limit the fidelity of the mystery solving a little, but in general Suspects was easy-to-play, fun, and interesting! The cases were challenging and felt like Agatha Christie mysteries.

If you want to spend 90 minutes in an Agatha Christie world, you can read one of her books, watch a PBS adaptation, or interactively play game of Suspects!

We look forward to more mysteries in the Claire Harper universe!

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