Digital detective duty done delightfully
Board games have implemented digital components within their gameplay for some time now, admittedly with varying degrees of success. Most often, unfortunately, they feel forced, gimmicky or the app proves to be more hassle than it’s worth. Then along comes Chronicles of Crime and shows everyone how it should be done.
If you ever wanted to be in an episode of Law & Order or CSI, Chronicles of Crime captures that feeling, effortlessly mixing investigation, puzzle-solving and dynamic gameplay. It uses simple components – a crime board, character, location and clue cards, and, of course, the app – relying on the individual stories to carry the complexities and challenges of the game.
Players work together to investigate murders by examining bodies, looking at crime scenes, talking to witnesses and consulting professionals: doctor, scientist, hacker and criminologist. Witnesses, as you would expect, can give you more information about the victim’s background, but they can also lie, withhold information or even start running away as you approach them.
None of this information is written on the cards themselves, but contained within the app. Players activate it by scanning a QR code on the relevant card. This works brilliantly. It allows the game to reuse the same character cards in different scenarios as all the relevant information to the current crime mystery is stored in the app. This expands the replayability of the game, relying on the addition of new digital content rather than players buying physical components. It is, of course, inevitable that expansions will add more cards or locations to the game. However, as there is plenty of physical content already, some new extra expansions could focus on digital content only, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy.
What is gameplay-relevant is that the app allows players to investigate the case in a more natural way. You can question a witness initially and then come back to talk to them later in the case, armed with more information, and get a completely different response or catch them in a lie. Witnesses will travel between locations or be available during specific times of the day. It may be a small element, but it adds a lot of realism and considerations to the game.
The in-game clock serves as a time pressure element for the players: the quicker you solve the case, the more points you get. However, the clock also links directly to the stories, triggering certain events at specific times.
Through the app, players can also investigate the crime scenes. Upon reaching a new location, a player is prompted to investigate a 360-degree image of the environment, picking up clues and unusual characteristics of the scene. These then translate into clue cards, each of which can be scanned for additional information – you can then ask your consulting doctor, hacker and others to give you more details.
All of this may sound gimmicky and important questions rightly need to be addressed: why does this game need a physical element if it is so app-heavy? Why not just make it a digital game? The answer is simple: it would not be as much fun.
While there is a lot of scanning and reading of the app, the player interaction is critical. You want to be discussing where to go investigate next, whether a witness was trustworthy, the primary suspect and what that weird clue means. Having the key players and clues of the mystery laid out in front of you helps to piece the puzzle together immensely. You may not have the strings connecting the pins of the photographs, but you have the second-best visual after that.
The app adds dimensions to the game. It allows characters to behave realistically and have their own lives within the world. On a mechanical level, it also makes Chronicles of Crime effortless to play. The scanning works perfectly, and next steps are clearly indicated.
Chronicles of Crime manages to deliver a tense, puzzle-solving-filled experience that thoroughly tests your deduction skills. The blending of physical components and digital media has been achieved with perfection, setting an exemplary example for future puzzle and detective games to come.
Chronicles of Crime is a detective game that uses simple physical and digital components, combining them together brilliantly to give players one of the best investigative experiences to date.
Designer: David Cicurel
Artist: Matijos Gebreselassie, Mateusz Komada, Katarzyna Kosobucka
Time: 60-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the December 2018 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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