24 May 2020
One of you… is a murderer
Agatha Christie has long been hailed as the “Queen of Crime,” and her two most famous creations – the sharp-minded spinster Miss Marple and suave Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot – have become some of the most enduring characters in all of detective fiction. Her stories have been endlessly adapted for TV and film, and more than 130 years since her birth she remains one of the most popular mystery authors ever to put pen to paper. Now a new game offers fans the chance to step into a murder mystery of their own. But Agatha Christie: Death on the Cards feels like a bit of a busted flush.
Its premise is faithful enough to its source material. Players become suspects in a murder investigation, aiming to deduce which of their number is the killer. Even if you’re not the culprit, though, you won’t be entirely clean. Before the game begins, each player draws three cards from a deck containing a variety of shameful secrets. You might be concealing the fact that you’ve faked your own death, or that you’re a problem gambler, or a kleptomaniac, or that you’ve written a steamy account of your passionate affair with the prime minister.
It’s a typical Christie-style setup: a murky morass of dark deeds and deceptions where everyone has things they’d rather the rest of the world didn’t know about. But one player will draw the “You’re the Murderer” card. If they manage to conceal their identity for the duration of the game, they win. If not, they’ll be hauled off by the police.
To unmask the killer, you’ll play cards representing detectives from Poirot and Marple to less well-remembered characters like Tommy and Tuppence Beresford and Harley Quin (no, not that Harley Quinn). Each comes with special abilities forcing players to reveal some of their secret cards, but you’ll need to collect them in sets to activate them. The result is that you’ll try to trade cards with others around the table, accumulating the ones you need to unmask the murderer.
The problem is, it often becomes clear very quickly who that is. It’s in the killer’s interest to frustrate the investigation, and to run through cards to deplete the deck and end the game as quickly as possible. It leads to a frustrating situation where everyone knows who committed the crime, but they’re able to evade and impede your efforts to nail them down. It’s as if the villain in one of the original novels, rather than cleverly covering their tracks, preferred to walk around covered in blood, clutching a dripping dagger and wearing a bright pink T-shirt saying: IT WAS ME! – and still somehow evaded justice.
Death on the Cards does come with some charming 1930s-style illustrations, but beyond that there’s not much to be said for it, and its two-player mode is a strange inclusion which completely eliminates any mystery about the suspect’s identity. If you’re looking for some mysterious family or party games, there are plenty of others you’d be better off spending your money on.
PLAY IT? NO
The most appealing thing about Death on the Cards is its licence, but get it to the table and there’s little that captures the essence of a thrilling whodunnit. It moves from random guesswork to frustrating later stages where you know the killer’s identity, but might not be able to do anything about it.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED… THE RESISTANCE
Death on the Cards is also all about ﬁguring out who the sneaky villain at the table is. But honestly, plenty of other games do a better job with the premise.
Designer: Tomas Rawlings
Time: 45- 75 minutes
What’s in the box?
◗ 18 secret cards
◗ 25 detective cards
◗ 22 event cards
◗ 4 devious cards
◗ 10 Not so Fast! cards
◗ 1 Murderer Escapes! Card
◗ Rules booklet
This review originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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