The Cluedology. ♟ tabletop deduction beyond Clue(do).
I am somewhat torn about Clue (or Cluedo, if you're in UK). I really love the theme of a classic whodunit mystery in a big mansion and the deduction mechanic is both simple and fun. Where it breaks down for me is the roll-and-move. I don't even mind the luck element (after all, rolling dice is fun!), but it slows down the game way too much. It feels like it was added just because rolling dice and moving pawns is what board games were about at the time. All it adds to the game is frustration and wasted turns. I mean, I will still play it, but I think there has to be a better way - so, I decided to do a deep dive and see what else is out there.
Researching 4000(ish) deductions! #
Clue is far from the only board game using a deduction mechanic. In fact, BoardGameGeek's deduction category has almost four thousand entries! While there doesn't seem to be any clear cut "clue-killer" out there (or at least the boardgame community cannot agree on one), there must be at least a few really good games in that huge lot.
So, I went to check out some of the other deduction games out there. First, I looked through games mentioned in any "better clue" recommendations topics around the web. Then I went through that giant list and cherry picked some games that looked interesting. My "research" consisted mostly of taking quick notes from video reviews and play sessions, occasionally reading through the rules and opinions on the game.
Originally, I was on a lookout for games that can play well with just 2 players (often it is just me and my wife playing, she also has a soft spot for Clue's theme and mechanics), make deduction fun and have a similar theme. I want mansions, mid-century, memorable characters & murder (or at least crime)! Basically a game that lets me feel like Agatha Christie-esque detective.
The notes from this endeavour are here. It's a pretty long list, so it's hidden behind a click.
Ghost Chase - don't remember how I stumbled upon this hidden movement game, but I love it! It has simple rules and beautiful art style (I am always a sucker for cross sections of buildings). The theme of chasing a ghost in the castle is also up my alley. If you are looking for a hidden movement game that is less fiddly than Fury of Dracula / more family friendly - this is it!
Sherlock 13 - pretty good game in 13 cards. It's just asking for cards, but this time it's symbols (kinda like guess who). Good because of that, but I miss the board and being only 13 cards makes it more about the mechanics than the atmosphere.
Small Detectives - meh, a little too mechanical and the art direction is not my cup of tea. Moving around in a way to block others (and yourself) from getting clues is a clever idea.
Mr. Jack - really good example of Who's-Who. Deduction kinda like NOIR - by seeing what has moved where and trying to guess the identity of the bad guy. There are more games in the line, so worth checking out what they change/ Not the classic murder mansion theme, but Sherlock and Jack the ripper are a good follow up.
Codenames: Duet - Everyone seems to love Codenames - I checked the Duet version because the base doesn't play 2. I mean, it looks like a fun party game, but it's just Pyramid gameshow style word guessing. Not really what I am looking for as a clue replacement.
13 Clues - it's OK, no board movement, just asking for info and guessing, so that's a minus. It has the sub categories/traits like Sherlock 13 (also colors!) to narrow down the search. Everyone else can see your cards, but you can't see yours - not sure how I feel about that mechanic. It works well, but I prefer the clue model of everyone trying to solve the same crime.
Stop! Thief! - app instead of a funky electronic device from the 70s, Automatic hidden movement game - meh - other games seem to do it bit better. The idea of pay to send police is kinda Sam&Max freelance detectives, and can be used instead of player elimination, but I think it will only work if you have an actual AI telling you if you guessed it.
Clue Master Detective - feels like house rules for clue, NEED to investigate it more to see what it really changes. Right now it seems just more of the same.
Watson & Holmes - making map out of cards is fun, carriage tokens bidding for getting to a place first is also good (adding a token economy is something to consider in "fixing" clue). Sounds promising, but you can only play each case once, because when you know the answer, the game is done. The theme is not the same as clue (sherlock again), and, while it plays with 2, it is designed with more players in mind.
Witness - Chinese telephone game for 4 players only :( Blake&Mortimer theme is nice, but not really a deduction game - isn't it? Not my cup of tea.
Chronicles of Crime - app driven game. Usually I am not a fan of those, but this one actually looks fun. Are the components even needed? Could have been just an app or even a video game and I don't think we would have lost anything. Feels more like a nice detective point&click adventure or even a CYOA game. Not much to do with clue, but might be fun solo game.
Shivers - more of an RPG, but the storybook looks awesome! Not released yet and limited replayability (scenarios), so not great for a game that would hit the table often (I will skip other scenario driven games for that reason - they are cool, but not what I am looking for here). Simple system, and some clever non-rpg mechanics (like finding details in artwork) gives it some potential for fkr gaming.
Suspicion - everyone is a jewel thief - so the theme is is kinda there. It has an awesome mid century art direction. A who's-who game (like Mr.Jack), where only you know which character you are. A bit too easy to figure out - needs house rules?
Clue: Great Museum Caper - hidden movement, seems a bit too fiddly for its own good? There are definitely better hidden movement games. Skip.
Scotland Yard - classic hidden movement game. I think other games do it better, because here the map and components feel too fiddly.
Outfoxed - I was not sure of this one because of the animal theme, but it turns out to be a pretty good family deduction game. Love the plastic bit to find out traits of the criminal(?). I am glad they haven't gone with an app. Can be 3d printed, or even made with cardboard. Eliminating suspects based on traits - kinda guess who - is a fun addition. Whodunit. A little too simple for my liking, but a mine of ideas!
Deadline - coop whodunit - cases like the Sherlock Holmes detective games with a book of paragraphs, but NOIR theme. Hot tips are matches :D Collect symbols on cards, feels a bit kinda meh and fiddly.
13 Dead End Dive- reverse whodunit, good toy factor and theme. That's pretty much it - good kids game, but not really the same thing as Clue.
Destination X - 1vs many, educational game about globe-trotting criminal (kinda like Carmen Sandiego) - doesn't feel like much of a game, more like a geography test. Has some merits, but Carmen did it better.
Arkham Noir - solitare card game, so not much like Clue, but Cthulhu theme made me check it out. Symbol matching puzzle game. Sounds complex, but a good solo puzzle game with some emergent narratives.
Phantom Society - the theme is up my alley - big mansion + ghosts! However the game itself is fiddly with its bits and closing eyes. The gameplay is like NOIR, but Noir does it better and is not relying on collecting points. I think I own this from some old math-trade.
3 Secrets - 15min 20 question style parlour game. Next.)
Mystery Abbey - For many this is the better clue. For me, the theme of Clue is much more fun. Each monk has traits - which seems to be a mechanic in many of the better ranked games. No dice rolls (kinda sad) and different rooms have different "powers" - that's cool! You can ask creative questions and for a response they get to ask you a question. The open ended questions make it feel more like an investigation. Not a fan of the turn limit and hunting for point. Overall, yep - feels like a more gamey version of clue, but monks are not as fun as mid-century murder mansions! However, awesome candidate for a retheme!!!
Mystery Mansion - Theme is cool, even if I don't care for the 3D board. Matching card pics to stuff on the board is a fun mechanic. Feels more like an adventure game than a deduction game.
Electronic Talking Mystery Mansion - a reimagining of the game above. Feels somewhat lesser, the doll furniture are not as fun as spotting stuff in pictures.
Mystery Express - the theme is good (I am ok with swapping a mansion for a train), but the game feels a bit too fiddly - definitely fiddlier than its predecessor - mystery abbey.
Cross Clues - not really a deduction game, more of a word game.
Vampire Radar - small hidden movement game. Very simple game about hunting a monster. Some tactical deduction. Easy to make own version.
Automata Noir - a retheme of NOIR: Deductive Mystery Game for Penny Arcade's Automata comic. I thought I already wrote about NOIR, but doesn't seems so. Good mini game of hidden movement - not a replacement for Clue, but a good compliment.
Murder She Wrote - surprisingly decent vintage deduction game with an actual killer at large (player goes and kills NPCs around the board). The end game seems a bit meh, but the mechanic for hiding the kills is quite good. Also, it needs at least 4 (well, maybe 3) players to play and has a bit of social deduction mixed in.
Murder Blood Mansion - awesome art direction in this card game... I wish it also came with an awesome board in the same style. Not much in the style of clue, sadly.
I say, Holmes - card game with Sherlock theme. Feels fiddly, and is more mechanics than theme. I am getting tired of browsing all those games - I removed so many from the list already, because they don't fit my criteria - why am I not removing this? Sherlock theme, I guess. Next.
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Game - paragraph-ish game kinda like sherlock holmes consulting detective, where you have to follow casebooks. Better solo game than clue replacement.
Truths Too Terrible - card game with cthulhu noir theme, but the theme is very thin. Shame. It is just mechanical card counting. The deduction is not interesting - just look at cards with some words.
Scooby-Doo Fright at the Fun Park - a simple roll-and-move deduction game for kids. It uses similar plastic "decoder" to Outfoxed. The latter is still a better game, but hey - there's another example of a decoder I can rip off ;) Also, as a fan of Scooby Doo it is a shame there is no good deduction game for that IP.
Scooby-Doo Mystery Mine Board Game - another plastic decoder, but this time as a part of mouse trap/fireball island type game. Awesome toy factor, but still kids only game. However, I do like that the "clues" you get just give you some small aspect that you need to figure out (a clue of lipstick will make you look who of the suspects wears a lipstick on their portrait). I quite like that "I-spy" element on the artwork (also seen in mystery mansion).
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Mystery at Hogwarts Game - it's basically Clue, but the board can be changed and there is also a ghost wondering about (you roll 2 dice, move yourself the total OR spend one on moving yourself, spend another on moving the ghost). Rolling a 1 makes you draw a special card (secret passage, one time special abilities, etc.) This is Clue with some extras, and I don't mind the theme - but it is not quite there my perfect Clue yet... but it is pretty close. Good ideas, but kinda poor execution.
Clue FX - Clue without roll and move, and a gimmick electronic voice. I like the idea of each suspect being an envelope with one clue each and players not being the suspects. Also, plays 2 and has new minis. If I find it in a thrift store, I will pick it up. It has some good ideas, that could be used in my "dream Clue!"
Also checked through various version of Clue/do on bgg, but there isn't much info on most of them, and it seems pretty much all of them are just re-themes without any rule changes.
I checked bunch of other games, either before I started making notes and they didn't leave a lasting impression OR when taking notes I just had nothing good to say about them (usually because they missed the mark by a lot). There are also some games that have very little info, so I will want to find some more info about them in the future.
---END OF NOTES---
Types of boardgame deduction #
BoardGameGeek clumps together different kinds of deduction mechanics together. So, while I was on a lookout for a game where players race to figure out some information randomized by the game by using a process of elimination, during that search I also run into a bunch of games that don't do that, but still scratch that deduction itch. The different kinds of deduction games can be organized into couple sub-categories.
This is the classic Clue model: the game generates a mystery for the players to solve. This is usually done by randomly removing card(s) from the game. Players then find a way to check the remaining cards and eliminate them from their list of suspects, eventually finding what was removed. I like that the the game generates the mystery itself, so all the players are in the same boat trying to figure stuff out. Makes you feel very much like a detective.
Who's who #
This is type of game like Mr.Jack or Knizia's Little Italy: player(s) secretly own game pieces (usually by being dealt a card that they keep secret), but the pieces itself are in plain view and anyone can use/move them. It adds an element of bluffing, and definitely uses deduction, but not as strongly as the Whodunit. The "anyone can move any piece" aspect often gives me some ludonarrative dissonance (only few games managed to avoid it)
Hidden Movement #
In games like Fury of Dracula and Scotland Yard one player is the bad guy and the other players are trying to catch him. This asymmetrical type of play is fun, but not that great with 2. Also, quite often those games are more concerned with manoeuvring (to catch the bad guy player), and the deduction aspect takes a second stage. An outlier in this category is Black Sonata which uses a card automata in place of the "bad guy" player to provide a solitaire hidden movement experience.
Social Deduction #
I haven't really dug into social deduction games (like Werewolf, Coup or Secret Hitler), but I thought I should include them for sake of completion. In those games one or players act against the group in secret, while the other players try to find who among them is the traitor. I enjoy them, but I seldom have large enough group to play those (even more true in the time of COVID). The problem with those games is similar to the Hidden Movement - the traitor players do not play the game of deduction.