Who Killed Detective?

I'm so bored of this review, and I'm writing the first alt-text.

It’s no secret that I was mixed on Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. Here’s my alibi. Sure, you could pin some slight motive for revenge on me. It was wordy in a way I found personally offensive. The interconnected cases were thick like a ball of old cheese. And sure, not every function of its app was what you’d call obvious. But kill? Who, me? C’mon, officer. It was a fling. I haven’t even thought about Detective in two years. I’m back together with the wife and everything.

You wanna know who I think killed Detective? I’ll tell you.

I am very rarely bored by board games. So take this as high condemnation.

Familiar, but only as a shadow.

Let me put this into a metaphor you might understand. If Detective was one of those dangerous ladies that hangs around noir-ish types, then Detective’s offshoot, thrillingly entitled Season One, was that same person after a serious meth habit. Washed up, bags under the eyes, needle tracks all over. None of that glitz. Same person, except with pieces missing.


I could do the whole song and dance. I could tell you about how Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game: Season One functions. About the card system, how every action consumes some portion of time, how certain leads can be investigated more deeply. About the Antares Database, the app that spits out personnel files and forces you to take the end-game quiz. How that same quiz, through the wording of its questions, sometimes slips in extra clues by accident. Ha ha, we’d say, laughing about the limitations of the medium.

We could do that. Sit through the explanation, share some laughs. But why bother? Season One isn’t that same board game that left home with high hopes of starring on the big screen. It’s the version that makes bewildering decisions and turns up face-down in the river. It’s the one that offers three stand-alone cases, none of which take advantage of the “become a detective” shtick of the original. Leads still take time to chase, but there’s no end of the work day, no overtime to clock, no debating with your partners whether you should drive out of town to collect evidence in the field, no checking to see if there’s anybody else at the lab you can talk with so you don’t have to circle back. Everything that made Detective feel like “being a detective” instead of reading a few cards and seeing if you stumbled onto the right clues — it’s all gone. Like gray skies covering up the blue, you know?

Same goes for Detective’s personality. It was rough around the edges, the type that didn’t get along with everybody, but there was appeal there. Now Detective isn’t anybody anymore. Characters are portraits of characters, little placards you can put on your desk, but without any of the powers that once made them interesting. Season One is too far gone to notice. Every so often you’ll want a skill token to squeeze something extra out of a lead. The more players you have, the fewer skill tokens you get. Why? Probably because Detective once gave a unique power to each character. More characters means easier detecting, so now you don’t get as many skill tokens. But without the character powers, what’s the reason? More minds means more ideas? Depends who you’re playing with. Sit through a round with my pal Geoff, and your brain will be so flat you’ll wish you’d played solo.

Maybe the cases are better? Let’s not kid ourselves. The first one is alright. Standard fare, even though you barely log into the Antares Database. The second one doesn’t use locations or skill tokens or anything. The third is back to normal, like you took a vacation to some Agatha Christie-themed dinner party and now you’re back in Baltimore. Or wherever this game takes place. Point is, the cases are filled with typos and weird turns of phrase that might be translation errors or just bad writing, but either way they’re disconnected, and sometimes it feels like you’re taking random stabs at a solution instead of doing any real detecting. What’s it called, that thing you detectives do? Right, intuitin’. There’s none of them.

Bad is better than boring.

The format is unchanged from the original. And in some cases, pared back.

Who killed Detective? I hate to say it, but the culprit was neglect. The whole package smells of it. The typos, the sloppy writing, the app you only use a few times, the characters that don’t do anything, the case that drops the mask and pretends you’re in a country murder house, the disappearance of all its old tricks. Add up the details and you’ll see Detective wasn’t killed. It was starved. For all of a minute, it was loved and cherished and got the attention it deserved. And then minds wandered. Old flames burnt through the wick. Lifestyles shifted. And there’s no surviving on momentum alone, so it crawled into a hole and shriveled up.

Oh well. Like I said, it had been a couple of years anyway. Doubt it’ll go missed.


(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on November 30, 2020, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Jesús Couto Fandiño

    Pity. Well, I also have the expansion by Rob Daviau to play yet – small problem with the stupid virus thing …

    But I really enjoyed Detective, the original, even if it had enormous flaws; the two main ones being a somewhat inelegant style of writing paired with the mechanical nature giving you stupid things like taking 3 cups of bad coffee one after another because hey, I’m interviewing people in the station, and that some of the cases could leave you very much in the dark (we took a wrong path in one case and spent the whole evaluation wondering what all questions were about somebody we never met)

    But it was fun as a group activity. The flaws were hidden by having a heated discussion with the team, looking at the board we were writing all the clues, sharing our theories, making jokes, and even the occasional screaming at the unfairness of the quiz 😛

    For what it looks like, you think this one cant be papered over with that or doesnt provide you with enough material to get there…

    • I agree, Jesús. The original may not have been perfect, but it was easy to overlook its problems. For what it’s worth, Season One manages to be less verbose with the “you walk up the stairs and chat with the records secretary” stuff, which grew especially wearying when it happened multiple times in sequence. But the streamlined writing also seems like it was written by someone who was less interested in actually depicting a detective’s career. So, yes, it’s harder to look past the game’s flaws this time around.

  2. Do you think these problems are inherent to the idea of adding mechanics to the Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective concept, or is it simply a problem of execution in this case?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: