Out of the Dimly-Lit Past
While there’s a part of me that marvels at how it’s been two years since I reviewed Noir as part of the Minigame Library, and ponders at how much I have changed and grown and aged over the past 24 months, mostly I think of that part of me as an unoriginal nitwit. We’re reminiscing now? Thinking about how I was once a fresh-faced 26 year-old? No time for that — there are murders to solve. Poor Irma is too busy being dead to pine over her lost youth, so why should I mope over mine?
Since I hate repeating myself about as much as I hate having a glass eyeball — no, I will not pop it out of my socket for your amusement, mother — I’m not going to cover everything about how the new Black Box Edition of Noir plays. Since it comes packed with six full games, all using the same decks of suspects and evidence as their main components, doing so would be a little like reviewing a regular pack of playing cards and trying to explain five different ways to play poker.
Instead, here’s a rough sketch. The main two-player game, Killer vs. Inspector, is an asymmetrical battle of deduction and wits. On the one side you have your killer, hidden somewhere in the game’s grid of 25 suspects. He’s able to shift the game’s columns and rows to move himself and the other suspects around, occasionally striking out to bump off a victim. If he can kill a certain number of innocents, he wins.
However, the killer’s rampage is challenged by a do-gooder, also hidden among the rabble. If this inspector can figure out who the killer is, he can move in and apprehend him.
The trick is that both players are trying to deduce the other’s identity, though to very different ends. While the inspector is free to accuse anybody, he can only point the finger at adjacent suspects. Same with the killer, except he’s pointing a gun and pulling the trigger. So every time someone dies or gets questioned, your opponent knows a little extra about which character you’re hiding as, and can take steps to either move in for the kill/collar or do their best to keep away.
Making matters ever so slightly more complicated, the killer can change his identity to disappear back into the crowd — and while this was a little too powerful for my tastes in the original game, now the inspector has an extra ability to even the odds, canvassing his suspects by playing an evidence card to the board, a move that forces the killer to announce if he’s adjacent to the suspect who’s just been declared innocent.
As I concluded two years ago, this is a tight, tense little game that works because it’s simple.
This pattern continues with the Black Box Edition, which is at its best when it’s keeping things simple. Returning from the original Minigame Library version are modes like Hitman vs. Sleuth and Master Thief vs. Chief of Police. The first one tasks the killer with the assassination of a pre-determined cast of characters while the second is a non-violent affair where the thief tries to rob the whole city blind. Both of these riff on the original formula in minor ways, and while I was never drawn to them like I was to the original mode, they both made for pleasant diversions.
I wasn’t as big a fan of the original Spy Tag, however, which took a perfectly solid two-player game and upped the player count to four, mostly resulting in a longer wait between turns. The Black Box Edition continues this trend, using its doubled size to permit up to nine people to play at the same time, though wading through so many turns discards the heart-pounding personal conflict of the other modes in lieu of a longer, duller game.
The two new modes, FBI vs. Mafia and Heist, accomplish more of the same, adding special roles and tokens but not offering as much in the gameplay department. For example, Heist pits a team of casino-robbing thieves against a chief of security and his uniformed guards, handing out special abilities that let the thieves do cool stuff like crack safes from extra far away, knock out guards, or swap identities. At first, this mode is as exciting as ever — until the chief of security realizes he can protect the last two safes by simply surrounding them with his guards, leaving very little for the thieves to do but butt up against the chief’s entrenched defenses. By and large, the simplicity of Noir’s two-player modes allowed enough room to breathe and adapt one’s approach, while the more complex modes feel hemmed in by their additional rules and components.
For owners of the original game, whether the new Black Box Edition is worth the price depends on whether you’re fine simply updating the rules with the new actions, and whether the new modes hold any interest.
The thing is, I don’t play Noir for those modes. I play for the basic game of Killer vs. Inspector, which is as good as ever — better even, featuring a more observant inspector and double the cards, meaning two games can be played side by side. When played in that mode, Noir is tense, personal, and often paranoia-inducing as you scan the grid of characters and wonder where the hell your opponent is hiding. It’s a good filler game for two. As for the rest, well… I need them about as much as I need a second glass eye.