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Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game Review

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game Review

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game Review

Welcome to our review of Portal Games, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. This game is for 1-4 players and relies on expert deduction and excellent sleuthing skills to solve the five interrelated cases. Each case takes between 2-3 hours to complete. This game is suitable for 14 year old and up due to the subject matter of the cases. To avoid spoilers, we’ll be covering only the general features of the game and nothing story specific.

If you are a fan of games like Clue or mystery novels, this might be a game for you. This game is similar to Clue in that you are solving a mystery, however it is immensely more involved and will have you playing police detective before you know it!

If you want more of an overview of how the game plays, check back next week for our game overview where we will go into detail on how to play this fascinating game.

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

Game components 

This game has several physical components to it, and each is important to the overall story. There is a game board; however, this only tracks your team’s location, what day of the investigation it is, and what time it is. Each case is time-limited, and every lead you follow advances the current time of the day. There are approximately 35 lead cards per case that you do not look at until you decide to pursue a lead. 

Role Cards and Tokens

The game also consists of role cards and physical tokens. The role cards in our opinion are a bit superficial. Other than granting each player a unique ability, they only serve to determine what tokens you need to add to your pool per case. Each role offers the team additional types of tokens per case. These tokens allow you to “Dig Deeper” on investigation cards if you haven’t already spent the token type previously. 

There are also Advantage Tokens and Stress Tokens in the game, which we’ll review later in the article.

all components for Detective
These are all the items you need to play Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

The overall quality of these components is pretty high. We like the size of the Lead cards as they are physically larger than traditional playing cards, which gives them the “real estate” to develop the story and its background. Constructed of standard board game punchboard, the tokens and the designs are pretty standard. The tokens themselves are not used much in the game, so they are suitable for what they are. Constructed of the same punchboard material, the role cards are a bit more visually interesting. While they have a character name and their role on the team, they never really come into play in the game. The only reason they exist is to give the team a unique ability such as “Writing a Report” and provide specific skill tokens. The roles feel like a bit of a missed opportunity in a game as immersive as this. 

The Antares Database

Besides the tokens, board, and investigation cards, the game also uses the internet—specifically, the http://www.antaresdatabase.com website. In the game, you work for Antares – a fictional group akin to the CIA. This website is where you will go when you discover evidence or conduct interviews with suspects and witnesses. The website is laid out well. You will need to create an account on the site as the game tracks your progress in each case. The website lets you log fingerprints and other evidence you find. You can also read files you uncover and transcripts of the interviews. The website adds to the feeling that you are playing detective. The transcripts also detail the stress level of the interviewees and this is particularly useful to determine if a person is lying to you… and sometimes they do… Additionally, the website tracks people you either meet or hear about in the game allowing you to create a relationship map and is particularly useful when you reach the latter half of the campaign. Finally, the website is where you will submit your final report at the end of each case. We feel that there has been a lot of care and attention went into building out the website. 

Game Setup

The game is pretty easy to set up. If you are starting a new copy of the game, you must begin with Case 1 as each case builds on the previous cases. Detective: A Modern Crime Board game is a Campaign game. The story starts in Case 1 and continues to Case 5, with the story coming to a climax.

To set up, we took the first case’s investigation cards, the board with the car, calendar, and clock meeples and placed them on the board. Then set up our Antares Database Account and chose Case 1. We chose our roles and pulled together our token pool. Then we grabbed the casebook and read the introduction to Case 1, and we were on our way!

Game Play

game board for Detective
Picture of the game board

In, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, the main goal of each case is to solve it before time runs out and you have to write your final report. Each case has approximately 35 lead cards; however, given the time constraints, you will not read all the cards or follow all the leads. The key to the game is to try and discern which leads are important and which are not and not get bogged down on the unimportant red herrings of the case.

When you begin the case, you will read its introduction and add the correct amount of Advantage and Stress tokens to the pool and the skill tokens based on the roles you chose. The casebook will tell you how many “days” you have to solve the case before submitting your final report. Then it will list 3 – 4 initial leads you can follow.

A lead may say, “Check out the crime scene #103 – Fieldwork” or “Inquire about evidence – #105 – Richmond PD” (These are made up and not from the actual game.) If you decide you want to go to the crime scene, you would first have to travel there, if your car meeple was on another location, which takes 1 hour and you advance the time tracker by an hour. Then you take the #103 card from the Lead deck. The card will have a number of hours listed at the top. For instance, if #103 said 3 hours, you’d then advance the time tracker by an additional 3 hours. Not knowing how long a lead will take is what makes this game so hard. If you go past 4 pm on any day, you start to incur stress and must spend one stress token per hour. If you run out of stress tokens, you must immediately file your final report in the Antares Database, whether you are ready to or not. 

Our strategy is to try to end each day as close to 4 pm as possible. On the last day, we take as much stress as possible to get to the end of the case. This way, we don’t prematurely end the case before the final day. It really is a balancing act to make sure we get as much information without ending the case early.

Lead Cards

Each Lead card will provide you with more of the story of the case. For instance, Crime Scene – #103 might tell you what you find at the crime scene. Often the cards have an A and B side to them. At the bottom of the A-side, the card will either tell you to turn it over or ask you to spend an additional skill token to do so. Managing your skill tokens is an integral part of the game. As you read the lead card, you will need to decide then and there if you want to spend the token to flip the card. If you choose not to flip the card, you will not be able to look at the backside of the card for the rest of the Campaign. 

Our advice is if you can spend a token, do so. The majority of the backside of cards provide additional relevant information, allow you to add tokens to the pool, or provide you with evidence to log into the database.

Evidence Collection

The evidence is essential. It helps you keep organized with the amount of information for the case. At the same time, it tells the system that you found evidence, and this tracks your progress in a case and ultimately your final score. The more evidence you collect, the more positive the outcome. 

Antares database
The Antares Database during Case 1

Evidence comes in one of three types, Fingerprint codes, DNA codes, and Material codes. When you find a fingerprint on a lead card, you add the code into the database. The system will detect a match with the evidence you just entered with other evidence you gathered earlier in any case. Entering content in the database is how a fingerprint in Case 1 may ultimately match a fingerprint found in Case 4, for example. The same goes for the DNA and the Material codes. Even though each case is separate to solve, there is an overarching mystery that continues from case to case, and ultimately this is what you’ll be unraveling. 

Without getting into the specifics, the story starts with a cold case with many twists and turns and becomes a race against time to solve the final mystery. We liked how it made you feel that you were actually solving the case. The writing was entertaining, and it never felt like the game was dragging on.

Overall Impressions

Overall Detective: A Modern Crime Board game is a phenomenal game, and it takes board gaming to the next level. The story is solid both on a case level and on a campaign level. We particularly liked it when we drew the orange lead cards with evidence for the larger campaign story. When you get those, the card tells you to place them with the appropriate case, and you get to read them first when you start that case. 

What we Love

The other elegant thing about the game is that although it is fictional, the events surrounding it are not. The cold case starts in World War II; for example, in the text of the cards and online files, you may come across a wifi-like symbol with underlined words. These wifi symbols denote that you can look up this information and give you more context around the true-life history of the game.

There are also some definite surprises along the way, which I won’t spoil here, but let’s say they require you to look differently at the evidence.All of this provides a sense of real excitement. There were more than a few “Aha” moments in the overall Campaign. 

The use of technology was also appropriate in this game, given its more modern setting. Portames also created Vienna Connection which we reviewed earlier this year, and they appropriately used technology less there than here.

What could be better

Our only complaint about this otherwise excellent game is that the use of Roles and the associated skill tokens feel a bit underutilized. Other than determining your token pool and unique ability, don’t contribute to the game. This underutilization was also our primary concern in Vienna Connection. Our suggestion would be to do away with the roles altogether. Or create a way in Antares to say which roles you are playing and then incorporate those characters into the interviews or even the final report. That way, the player’s chosen character is right in the action.

Other than this minor complaint, this is an excellent game! The entire Campaign takes between 10 and 15 hours to play, and it’s a game where you can get everyone involved. We usually play a two-player game, and one of us handles the Antares Database and the other the Lead Cards, which works out well. This game is perfect for couples as much as larger groups.

If you think you would enjoy this game, we have it in our store, and it’s available today! This game is so much fun and we highly recommend it.