“Duchess, please, a moment! Won’t you please join us in the parlor? Now, you’re probably all wondering why I’ve called you here. It’s my duty to inform you that there’s been a MURDER (cue lightening crack)…. a murder most foul! What’s more one of you is the killer! Like it or not we’re going to sit here and brainstorm who’s guilty and why, and if they don’t have a viable alibi then I’ll have no problem taking them away!”
This is the scenario played out in Ruse: The Murder Mystery Card Game. Players take on the roles of different characters in a Victorian Steampunk setting, and then toss out accusations and offer up alibis to try and force someone else into a corner to admit their crime.
At the start of the game each person will take one of the character cards to represent themselves in the game. The choice is inconsequential, there are no bonuses or unique abilities tied to any of them, it’s just a personal choice. I picked the Inventor cause she reminded me of a female Dr. Horrible.
The deck is structured like a standard 52 card playing deck with cards 2-10 and J-A in 4 suits. The suits are changed out with Crystal and Lamp suits to represent the alibis, Gun and Gear suits for accusations. The accusations are actually broken down a bit further with cards representing Methods, Motives and Opportunities. Well explain why that is…. now.
In order to pin a crime on someone, you can’t just go throwing around wild accusations, but rather build up a case. Therefore for one person to lose and be found guilty they must have a Method, Motive and Accusation of the same suit played against them. To build that case you simply play one of the cards in your hand against one of the other suspects at the table. When you find those cards being played against you however, you do have some recourse in the form of alibis that you can use to debunk the accusations against you.
In order to refute an accusation card that’s been played against you you have the ability to play alibi cards that can cancel them out. The suits are different but the value will need to be the same. So for instance you can discard the Gun or Gear 6 card by playing the Crystal or Lamp 6 card on it, at which time the accusation gets discarded. If you don’t have the cards needed to play the alibi then you can (once per game) hide evidence and just outright discard one of the accusation cards.
Play rotates around the table with accusations being made and alibis offered up until one person ends up with a suited method, motive and opportunity in front of them and no alibi to get them out of it. They’re then found guilty and the other players win. It’s an interesting end condition, instead of one person winning and everyone else losing it’s the opposite way around!
One of the aspects about the game that we really enjoyed has no influence on the scoring at all, and that’s the storytelling. When making an accusation against one of the other players, or providing an alibi for yourself, in addition to playing the card you’re also supposed to vocalize it when a little story. Getting into the Victorian Steampunk world only helps. “I say good sir, it’s quite clear that you are the murderer, for you have long envied her and her high social station and would love nothing more to knock her down a peg or two!” (While playing the “Jealous of Noble Title” card.) The more you flourish your hands or raise your voice the better the effect.
If that sounds like something you’ve seen before, it’s an element of the card game Gloom, which also pushes the idea of an evolving story to great effect. As a final move, when a murder is uncovered and a suspect found guilty, they must use the cards played against to them to tell the story of their crime. Call it a penalty for losing.
I didn’t have many issues with the game but did notice there was a tendency to sort of gang up on one player once they had a card or two played on them. It’s not easy to have the right alibi card so once you started getting those cards in front of you it seemed a little too easy to tilt and lose quick. We counteracted that by not letting the same player get cards played against them twice in a row, which helped to spread things around more. Didn’t ruin the experience mind you, just worth noting.
The artwork on the cards is fantastic and definitely helps get you thinking about how the story of the murder will play out. The second the game was over we grabbed up all the cards to deal them out and play again. And again. And one more time. With a simple to understand ruleset and a focus on storytelling, Ruse would be a great fit with non-gaming significant others or even your parents. Perfect amount of strategy to keep “luck” based wins at bay but not so much to scare off non-gamers.