Foul Play - murder mystery card game - flier


Those of you who have been hanging on my every blog will remember that two years ago I braved a country house murder mystery evening in Morecambe, run by the creators of the crime festival Morecambe and Vice. Not only braved, but solved the murder. Well, with a little help.

Murder mystery events have been burgeoning. You can now find murder mystery events across the world from Japan to New Jersey – parties, dinners, hen nights, weekends, corporate team building away-days… or at least you could until something really lethal struck and locked us down in our homes.

So After Dark, the company behind my Morecambe escapade, decided it was time for us to solve vicious crimes in the comfort of our own armchairs, with nothing more than a specially printed pack of cards.

The game is called Foul Play. Undaunted, I ordered a pack and set out, handcuffs at the ready, to see if it lived up to its name.

Foul Play – Murder Mystery card game

Mystery games are, of course, not new. The success story must be Cluedo, the board game that was so popular it was made into a movie.

I myself was never a great Cluedo fan in my board-gaming days. Instead, I have fond memories of Spy Ring in which little plastic figures tried to break into foreign embassies to steal secrets, wearing radio antenna sticking out of their hats.

However, board games tend to be a faff to set up. They work better with three or more players, and they evoke painful memories of Christmas afternoons and arguments over the Monopoly set.

Having said that, creating a new game can be surprisingly difficult. I know, I tried it once. You soon come to realise how well-planned the best games are.

Tracking down the guilty

To be successful, a new game must be enjoyable to play. The rules must be easy to follow. (No-one wants to spend three hours working out what you do). And it should look good.

At first glance, Foul Play certainly passes test #3. The pack that arrived in the post with admirable speed has a professional appearance. It’s about the same size as a conventional pack of cards, solid and pleasant to handle.

Foul Play murder mystery on cards - the suspect cards

The purpose, natch, is to solve a murder. The Lord of the Manor has been killed and the servants are lead suspects.

You conduct the investigation in a game-play that resembles rummy – in that you collect cards you need and discard others – with an extra element of guile and guesswork needed to track down the perpetrator.

Four cards have been reserved for the rules (more of them later). The rest are divided into sets. Some cards provide evidence, others show the suspects, while yet others allow you to take actions, such as interrogating another player to see what cards they hold, to block their actions or to steal a card of theirs.

Finding the evidence

The gameplay was good. It moved fast and kept its interest. You win by laying down the suspect you want to charge and invoking three pieces of evidence to prove their guilt.

However, rivals have opportunities to block you or even steal your cards. You lose if the evidence doesn’t match up, or if you run out of cards before you can solve the crime.

And the game is designed to ensure that the criminal varies each time it’s played.

The rules rule…

Every new game has to solve the problem of how to get the rules across without fuss. At first sight, putting the rules onto four of the cards seemed an elegant solution. There’s no rule book to lose and the cards make the rules appear encouragingly few.

However, After Dark, in their generosity, have created two games in one. These are called “Good Cop” and “Bad Cop”. While similar, the games follow slightly different rules. The issue is that new players are immediately faced with a choice – before they know what the choice is between.

I have to admit that my heart sank when I realised that I might have to read two sets of rules before I even started. In the event, I went for “Good Cop”, but then had to work out which of the cards related to which game and which related to both.

This made the whole affair seem unnecessarily complicated, added to which there’s even a third game which you can play remotely over the Internet! I could imagine some people being put off from the very start.

I like the idea of having different games, but I feel that this could have been handled more elegantly. For example, they could have made “Good Cop” the primary game, with the other two as free bonuses.

A keeper

Once over that hurdle, though, the game actually proved easy to get to grips with. In fact, the game is easier to play than Cluedo and just as much fun. I played against my wife – who promptly cheated – but I won.

Now, in my opinion, it’s a major plus for a game if you can cheat in it. It shows flexibility and adds extra interest. And it showed me that my wife is a Bad Cop at heart, something I’ve long suspected but not been able to prove.

Cheating aside, I suspect we’ll be frequently bringing this game out of the Harris Detective Agency games cupboard. With the pandemic meaning more of us have to find amusement indoors, this gem of a murder mystery could be a life-saver. And one that I hope will long survive lockdown.

Handcuffs at the ready.

Read more

Foul Play – home page

Crime writer turned detective – murder mystery review

After Dark Murder Mystery Events