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The Sirens of Suspense




Erik Arneson lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and editor, Elizabeth. His first book, a collection of 26 short stories and six true-crime essays titled THE THROES OF CRIME, is available now. He hosts the Title 18:Word Crimes podcast. His comic book FORTUNE is available from Comixology, Indy Planet, and NoiseTrade.

Find Erik on Facebook and Twitter!


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In addition to writing crime fiction, I play board games. A lot of board games. Most of us are familiar with the board game Clue (first published in 1949), but crime-themed games have come a long way over the past seven decades.

Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite crime-themed games. All of the games included here can be found easily at online stores.


Ca$h ’n Gun$ (4 to 8 players, about 30 minutes per game)

Clearly inspired by the film Reservoir Dogs, this game puts players inside an abandoned warehouse to split the loot after a successful heist. The goal is simple: collect the most money -- and survive -- through eight rounds.

At the start of the game, each player receives three bullet cards and five “click” (blank) cards. One card will be used and discarded each round.

The rounds begin by revealing the loot; each player then secretly chooses whether or not to load their gun with a real bullet that round. Next, everyone simultaneously points their gun at another player. Every player then has the option of dropping out of the round -- which might be wise because anyone who takes three wounds during the course of the game is eliminated.

All players still active in the round resolve their gunshots, and wounded players are knocked out of the round. The final step is for the remaining players (if any!) to split the loot.

Do that eight times, then count the loot to determine the winner.


Mr. Jack (2 players, about 30 minutes per game)

In this strategic showdown, one player assumes the identity of notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper while the other is an investigator trying to identify Jack from among eight suspects. The game board is a map of London, featuring houses, lanterns, manholes, and police blockades.

At the start of the game, Jack draws a card that assigns him one of the suspects. All eight are represented by wooden tokens placed on the board.

Each round, Jack and the investigator take turns moving the suspects around London. Each suspect has a special ability to manipulate something on the board; for example, closing a manhole cover, lighting a lantern, or ordering a police blockade to move to a new location. At the end of each round, Jack must announce whether he’s visible (i.e., adjacent to another character, on a lantern space, or in line with Watson’s special lantern) or invisible.

Jack wins by moving his character off the board, while the investigator wins by identifying Jack. (Jack also wins if the investigator makes an incorrect accusation.)

Two other versions of the game are available: Mr. Jack in New York, which changes the setting to Manhattan and adds new twists, and Mr. Jack Pocket, a portable card-based edition.


Letters from Whitechapel (2 to 6 players, about 1 to 2 hours per game)

Like Mr. Jack, Letters from Whitechapel is based on the premise of capturing Jack the Ripper. But the similarities end there.

Played on a larger and more detailed map of 1888 London, Letters from Whitechapel finds one player (Jack) trying to escape from one to five opponents (detectives), who are working together to capture him.

Letters from Whitechapel takes place over the course of four nights. On nights one, two, and four, Jack kills one victim per night. On night three, he kills two. The murder locations are known to the detectives, but Jack himself never appears on the board. Instead, he records his movements on a pad that’s kept secret from the police as he attempts to make it back to his hideout each night.

As the detectives close in on Jack by asking questions about the route he’s taking, it becomes a tense cat-and-mouse chase through the streets of London. Those who have played Scotland Yard (published in 1983) will recognize that Letters from Whitechapel is basically an advanced -- and much more thematic -- version of that classic game.


Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (1 to 8 players, about 1.5 to 2 hours per game)

This is the only game on this list that can be played solo. It also isn’t really a board game -- it’s more of a mental challenge. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective comes with a map of London and 10 cases that should be played in chronological order; each has its own full casebook and a one-page newspaper that ties into the game and includes clues to be discovered as the game progresses.

To solve a case, players visit locations on the map (the buildings are numbered, and any building can be visited at any time) and read a paragraph of text. When enough evidence has been gathered -- a decision left to the players -- it’s time to turn to the back of the book and answer a series of questions about the crime. The score is determined by comparing the players’ answers to Sherlock Holmes’ answers (found in the back of each casebook).

Hours upon hours of fun await anyone who dives into Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.


Codenames (4 to 8 players, about 15 minutes per game)

I admit the theme is a bit thin on this word / party game -- players are supposedly secret agents -- but it doesn’t matter. Codenames is by far my favorite new party game of the past five years. (It also won numerous awards and is currently the #20 ranked game of all time at BoardGameGeek.com.)

The rules are simple: a five-by-five grid of cards is laid out on the table; each card contains a single word. One player on each team gets to look at a secret map showing which cards represent their agents and which card represents the assassin. These players give single-word clues -- and a number -- to their teammates, trying to get them to guess the words on the cards representing their own agents.

The best clues allow teammates to guess multiple words at once. Saying “metal, three,” for example, might lead your team to guess “iron,” “steel,” and “pipe.” Inevitably, however, there will be complications. Despite the variety of cards, every game seems to wind up with tough combinations like “pin” and “needle” -- and, very often, “pin” is a word for one team while “needle” is for the other.

But beware: Guessing a card that belongs to the other team advances them toward a victory; guessing the card that represents the assassin results in an immediate loss.

Codenames provides as much opportunity for wordplay, creativity, and laughter as any game I’ve ever played. It earns my highest recommendation.


Honorable Mentions

Other fantastic crime-themed games include Android (murder and conspiracy set in a dystopian future), Deception: Murder in Hong Kong (players are investigators solving a murder -- but one of them is the killer), Mystery Express (a murder takes place on the Orient Express), Mystery of the Abbey (a monk has been murdered in medieval France), and P.I. (a challenging deduction game set in the 1950s).





WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BOARD GAME? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE THROES OF CRIME (US entrants only, please.)




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