One of the best ways to introduce a friend to new games is through a classic game your friend already likes. This is a simple way to introduce modern mechanics and showcase some of the incredible new games out there waiting to be played while staying close to your friend’s comfort zone. Today we are looking at the roll-and-move murder mystery deduction game Clue (or Cluedo, if you prefer) and offering five alternatives that take elements of what Clue does well and refine them.
Stay close to the classic with Mystery of the Abbey
If you’re looking for a transition game which will best-match the feel of playing a game of Clue, look no further than Mystery of the Abbey. As in Clue, players are gathered together immediately following a murder and are tasked with finding out who is responsible for the act. As in Clue, you are given cards which will remove some of the potential murderers from consideration. As in Clue, players move about the expansive building where the murder occurred, slowly acquiring more information from their fellow players in an effort to be the first to lock down the particulars of the crime. Mystery of the Abbey is a game begging to be a gateway entry for Clue fans primarily because it so clearly was designed as a new-and-improved take on the classic game.
The changes to the format are small, but effective. The luck of roll-and-move is replaced by a set pace at which every player moves about the Abbey. Instead of finding clues in pursuit of three pieces of information, players are hunting merely for one culprit — but the 24 possible killers differ based along five different traits. In Abbey, finding the killer first is important, but it’s not the only way to score points. Players who first correctly identify one of the five traits of the killer (Hooded or unhooded; fat or thin; bearded or clean-shaven; the monk’s order; the monk’s rank) also receive points, and if you successfully lead the investigation on enough fronts you can win even without being the first to unmask the killer.
If the goal in designing Mystery of the Abbey was to improve on a classic, it was a goal well-met and any fan of Clue is likely to love the time they spend poking around the stone walls of the Abbey.
Investigate Who, Where and How with Mysterium
Maybe you’re looking for something not-quite as similar, or you’d rather not do away with the three-elements-of-the-crime approach. If so, pick up a copy of Mysterium, a brilliant co-operative game where one player takes the role of the murder victim’s ghost, while the others are a team of psychic investigators who have come to the mansion to solve the crime. Working together the ghost attempts to guide each investigator to their own combination of who, where and how, before ultimately angling to get the team to successfully deduce which of those combinations is the actual solution to the crime. How, exactly? By giving each investigator visions in their sleep, handing each player one or more cards which depict fantastical scenes ranging from adorable to abominable.
The investigators are free to work together to interpret these dreams, but the ghost herself must remain absolutely silent, only able to communicate “Yes” or “No” to each investigator’s attempt when all players have guessed at which suspect, room or weapon the ghost’s dreams have directed them towards. The helplessness of the ghost — forced to sit silent as an investigator successfully interprets his dream, only for his neighbor to talk him out of it and onto the wrong location — is guaranteed to lead to comedy every single game.
Set the stage for an investigation with Kill Dr. Lucky
Any old-sucker can show up to a mansion after a murder has happened and figure out who dunnit. That’s child’s play. If you really want to have a good time, try being the guy who makes games like Clue possible in the first place. In Kill Dr. Lucky players aren’t out to avenge a mansion’s owner — they’re out to end him. As in Clue the players navigate a mansion’s many rooms each with the same goal in mind, to get alone with the titular host and put an end to his good fortune once and for all. In order to attempt a kill a player must place herself alone with the Doctor when no other players can see, then successfully avoid her opponents throwing failure cards down to thwart the attempt.
The game uses a masterful application of push-your-luck in this failure mechanic. Every player gets a chance to thwart a murder attempt, but the option passes around the table once and only once. If you’re the first player with a chance to sabotage it will often suit you well to pass on the opportunity and let your opponents spend their cards instead. Of course, if one too many players gets greedy and opts against paying his share you may find the Doctor’s luck was not as long-lasting as you’d have hoped. Kill Dr. Lucky is easy to teach and yet ripe with opportunity for intelligent plays, making it an ideal game to show a new gamer a good time.
Battle with your deductive skills in Antidote
Set in a research lab where a dangerous airborne virus has been accidentally unleashed, Antidote takes the deduction of Clue and reduces it down into a cards-only experience. Each player is dealt a hand which features a mix of numbered-antidote cards and broken vials, each depicting one of the many diseases the lab was working on. At the start of the round, one of these broken vials is removed from the game secretly, meaning if you hold a vial you know that can’t be the virus in question and any antidotes of that color are safe to discard. By sharing information with other players, and paying careful attention to the antidote cards they discard, you will slowly narrow the possible threat to a single virus and — if you’re lucky — get your hands on one of the precious antidotes that match it.
The mechanics of Antidote are simple to teach and you can get playing in just a few minutes, but the room for strategy within those simple rules is immense. The moment where everyone must reveal their final card, the antidote they drink, always brings tension and laughter as there’s never enough antidote to go around. What’s more, the game comes with multiple expansion options included. With Lab Romances your fate in the game becomes tied to another player, sometimes for better and others for worse. Clinical Trials and Placebos offer new ways to gain information or deny others, adding additional wrinkles to the fascinating deduction puzzle of the base game. Throw in players adjusting their strategies to counter what others have done in prior rounds and you get a game where no two rounds play out the same way.
Enjoy the full investigative experience with Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
When I launched this site, the first review I posted was for Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and for a simple reason — it is a brilliantly fun game. Although it represents the furthest variation mechanically from Clue on this list, for someone who loves the murder-mystery game due to an affinity for the genre, Consulting Detective is as good as it gets. The entire game takes place with players taking turns following a lead in the current mystery, then reading one or more paragraphs of text that lead turns up. Working together as a unit players chase after clues and attempt (usually quite poorly) to piece together just what happened and how someone came to wind up a corpse, then at the end Holmes comes in and explains how it was all rather easy to figure out if you just thought about it for a minute.
Consulting Detective provides a unique experience that takes that satisfaction of piecing together a mystery and delivers it in a deeper, more-satisfying way. While it won’t be for everyone, as some may be put off by the high amounts of reading and the lack of gaming staples like a board or dice, for the right group it is an absolutely exhilarating introduction to gaming which will have everyone around the table reveling at breakthroughs and laughing at hilarious failures.