Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 21 July 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Decktective

Game: Decktective: Bloody-Red Roses & Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost

Publisher: dV Giochi

Designer:  Martino Chiacchiera, Silvano Sorrentino

Year: 2019 & 2020
Decktective is a series of murder mystery style games from publisher dVGiochi. Much like their Deckscape series, which is a series of escape room games, Decktective aims to do a lot with a small deck of cards. The main gimmick here is that each game of Decktective involved you assembling a 3-D crime scene of of the first few card you encounter as you work your way through the deck - the scene is likely to contain clues that will help you solve the mystery. We've decided not to include photos of the 3D scenes, to avoid spoilers in this review.
We've played the first and second game from the series and definitely had mixed experiences which well share in this combined review covering both titles.
Much like the Deckscape series of games Decktective needs no explanation before you sit down to play. The first 3-4 cards do a fantastic job of tutorialising how to play and setting up the game rules as you go. Regardless of the game you play you'll start by setting up a 3D map by placing the lid backwards onto the bottom of the box, so that you have an open box with 2 layers of wall. You then can slide cards into the gap between those walls and then place another card at the bottom of the box for the floor. This 3D terrain allows you to survey your surroundings and do some sleuthing outside of the clue cards given to you by the game. Certain events during the game may cause the terrain to change, so a good memory and keen mind will reveal extra hints.

The majority of the gameplay follows a simple pattern. Each player has a hand of clue cards and on their turn will play one, then draw one. Clues can be played face up or face down, but you can only play clues face up if the number on them is equal or less than the number of face down clues on the table. Your job then is to work out which clues are important and which are either irrelevant, or already apparent due to other factors. You cannot discuss the contents of your clues to other players, though you are allowed to tell them the title if you need some help deciding.

As you go through the decks events will occur, these may change the map or cause you to lose access to testimony of certain characters or items. Eventually you'll reach the bottom of the deck, at this point you will be able to discuss discarded clues from memory (no looking at them!) before solving the questions on the following 5 cards. Each question card presents a multiple choice question which is answered by placing a clip over the card. The clip ends up pointing to your answer on one side of the card and the number of points earned for that answer on the reverse. After answering all of these you will get your final score which tells you how great (or not) your detective skills are.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Decktective certainly presents a unique twist on the murder mystery genre, there's no need for cross referencing information out of the game, reading in game newspapers or cumbersome apps. All you need is a deck of cards and a handful of clips. This certainly gives it a very apparent selling point of being portable. It's a great game to shove into your bag if you are going away for a few days, just in case the weather turns on you, and if it doesn't then at least you weren't lugging around a huge box! To help with this, the rules are extremely simple and taught in a fantastically easy way, making this a game you can play with anyone.

The key though is playing with people who are really going to get into the theme of the game, which is perhaps where we fell short. Fi isn't exactly a fan of story based games as is, and this seems double true for murder mysteries, where she tends to tune out as soon as the answer isn't obvious. For Bloody-red Roses this was not a problem as the clues really led you by the nose to find, at least close to, the right answer. But for The Gaze of the Ghost genuine sleuthing is required, keeping a careful eye on some of the changes occurring, and, importantly, having someone to discuss theories with. To this end, while the game works fine with two players, I would probably recommend playing it with 3-4 to really get that discussion going.

Decktective has a fantastic gimmick, but these early games are yet to make best use of it. The 3D terrain is used adequately in Bloody-red Rose, but certainly sparingly, enough to give you a couple of bonus clues for looking carefully. The Gaze of the Ghost went heavier into this theme, with the scene changing numerous times throughout the night. The addition of a timeline on the clue cards helped you piece things together and gave the feel of an evolving mystery you stumbled into, rather than a crime scene. I'm certain that as the series goes on we'll see more weird and wonderful changes - you'd be surprised what these people can do with a deck of 60 cards!

Overall Decktective presents a solid medium through which to tell a murder mystery in a fantastically portable and friendly package. This makes it great for introducing to a mix of gaming experience since the story matters far more than the game mechanics themselves. Detective games will never be best at two, but we had a good time with Bloody-red Roses, and a slightly frustrating time with The Gaze of the Ghost. Not frustrating enough to put me off the series though and I'm certainly looking forward to see what comes out in the future.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Murder Mystery games are 100% not my genre. I've been known to go to sleep instead of get involved in a murder mystery party. However, the Deckscape games are a series of escape rooms that have always impressed me with what they do with a simple deck of cards and I was ready to be impressed by Decktective.
We played Bloody-Red Roses first and it was a brilliant introduction for me. The mystery felt pretty obvious and we were very easily led to the correct story with no red herrings along the way. To many that might seem disappointing, but for me, I do like to be able to solve the puzzle and we went into the game knowing nothing and came out having solved it. At the other end of the spectrum was Gaze of the Ghost - I think we probably scored 20 or 30% at the end of that game because we simply couldn't figure out what was going on. We had a few theories but they all fell apart upon further discussion. 
Overall I enjoyed Bloody-Red Roses a lot more due to the difficulty aspect, but I did find that Gaze of Ghost made the most out of this series' gimmick. It's great that these are such small-box, portable and re-useable experiences, but they also try to do something eye-catching with the 3D scene. Gaze of the Ghost made far more use out of this, giving you more visual and spatial clues and developing the scene over the course of the timeline of the game. With that said, neither seemed to be truly maximising the 3D scene and could've delivered the same with a series of flat pictures - some more use of the 3D aspect would be nice to see in future games in this series.
The other way in which the mechanisms shine here is in how the cooperative system works. Each player has agency, making their own critical decisions about what information should be public and what information might be a red herring or not relevant to the story. Then, at the end of the game you really need to pool your shared knowledge, making it a really strong cooperative experience. Its slightly strange that you are then allowed to share information about the cards you threw away, but it works.
Overall, I'd definitely recommend Bloody-Red Roses for a lighter gaming audience who perhaps haven't taken on too many escape room or murder mystery games before. It'll be too easy for most, but it delivers a fun experience. I can't really recommend  Gaze of the Ghost, but I do hope that the designers develop on this system, using the mechanisms in stronger ways like Gaze of the Ghost did, but just stringing the story together with a bit more logic.
You Might Like...
  • Everyone has a part to play in this cooperative game - you each learn different things along the way which you can share at the end.
  • You can play Decktective while sitting on your sofa (we did!), so long as you have a coffee table or stool to lay cards out on.
You Might Not Like...
  • We found Bloody-Red Roses too easy and The Gaze of the Ghost too hard.
  • Bloody-Red Roses makes very little use out of the 3D scenery.
  • The Gaze of the Ghost involved huge leaps of logic, that didn't feel like much fun at all.

The Verdict
5.5/10 If you played and enjoyed the Sherlock series, then this is a better implementation of a very similar system. For us, these two games made a pairing where one was too easy and the other too hard, but the system works pretty nicely, so hopefully another game in this series will hit the sweet spot for us in terms of difficulty. If they can do that and make great use of the 3D element, like in The Gaze of the Ghost, it'll probably be our favourite murder mystery style game.

Both Decktective titles were kindly provided as review copyies by dV Giochi.

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