Book ’em, Danno – A Review of Chronicles of Crime

Chronicles of Crime

Designer: David Cicurel
Publisher: Lucky Duck Games (2018)
Players: 1-4
Playing Time: 60-90 mins
Age: 14+
Genres: Murder Mystery, Deduction
Primary Mechanics: Cooperative, Storytelling

Available at Amazon.com

While shopping online for a historical wargame on the Napoleonic battle of Ligny in 1815, the retailer’s website auto-recommended Chronicles of Crime for me. Well, their algorithms are pretty spot on, but I like to conduct a little research before purchasing any item. I read the comments and opinions at Boardgame Geek and reviews on Dice Towers for Chronicles of Crime. Being quite intrigued by the game and all the positive hype it received I promptly added it to my shopping cart. The review that follows is my thoughts after playing a few games.

WHAT IS CHRONICLES OF CRIME?
Chronicles of Crime (CoC) is a game for 1 to 4 players who take on the roles of investigators trying to solve a string of murders and disappearances that are all connected. The game follows very traditional investigative concepts, but it has a modern twist through the use of a mobile device to interact with all the characters in the game. The investigations that are included in the base game are challenging and this is no walk in the park.

RULES SUMMARY:
The game itself doesn’t really have any rules in the classic sense of the word; no thick rule book, just a couple of pages that serve more as a reference than anything else. The required app allows players to interact and question potential suspects as well as consult with professionals at Scotland Yard. The game board is a reimaged link analysis; the old classic corkboard with images, pins, linked together with string to show connections. The app keeps track of time and provides all the narrative text for you and your group to read.

The only rules that the app does not implement exclusively are:

  • Players (up to 4) choose one of the four character role cards (see comments below)
  • Possible clues need to be physically scanned by the app to determine if they are really a clue before being placed on the game board

It’s worth mentioning that the rulebook included in the box can be ignored completely. It’s recommended that new players play through the introductory investigation which teaches them all the rules needed to play, navigate London, and conduct their investigation. The rulebook itself is a handy reference should you need it.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE APP?
Using apps in games is becoming more commonplace these days. The app works great but does feel a little limiting. During our last two games, we had wished we could follow a suspect to see where they go (to rule them in or out), but the mechanics of the app did not allow for such activities. Game breaker? Not at all, but it will require players to think within the “box” when it comes to how they mentally and digitally process game information.

One of the cool features of the app is the ability to search in specific locations for clues. Once you switch the app in the search mode you can pan around the location to look for potential clues. You even have the ability to zoom in to look for more nuanced clues as well. There is an optional pair of virtual reality glasses that you can purchase. I don’t own them so I won’t comment on their usefulness. What I will say is they will not work with tablets.

There are no audio narrations within the app which would make the play experience that much better. The app’s in-game clock keeps accurate time, recognizes time spent by the players within the game. The longer it takes for you to find the clues, learn who did what and why the more pressure you receive from Scotland Yard to provide a suspect to your boss. Taking too much time will also affect your “end score”. This adds a moderate level of increasing tension as the game plays out.

COMPONENT QUALITY:
Physical components (cards and board) – The cards are thick, durable, and hold up well (even after spilling beer on them [yes, I know, a crime in itself] ) to repeated use. The oversized location cards and specialist cards are of the same thickness and durability as the other cards. The artwork on the “people” cards is generic. Let me explain; the cards are unnamed so that a male murder victim in one investigation could be a key witness in another without having to add more physical components to the game. The “clue” cards are also very generalized. For example, if you see a bottle at the location you have just searched, you would take the bottle clue card and scan it into the app. The app then tells you the significance, if any, attributed to the bottle in this particular case. The clue board is a thick bi-fold board that is well laid out and practical.

I would like to point out that the box insert is nicely laid out. Everything has its place and there is room for expansion. I would assume this is a result of the Kickstarter, but great planning on the part of Lucky Duck Games.

Digital app – I enjoy the app, but it is not without its issues in my humble opinion. Aside from the following two specific issues I have with the app, it is fantastic and the interface is easy to use.

  • My first issue is that after scanning in a clue card and getting any pertinent details, the app then gives you a graphic to place the card on the board. This was helpful in the tutorial case, but it’s absolutely unnecessary beyond the tutorial especially if you have lots of potential clues to scan (time waster).
  • My second and bigger issue is that the more I play, the more I realize that there are many grammatical errors in the game text. As freelance editor and proofreader, things like this jump out at me all the time. They were very noticeable to me in CoC.

THOUGHTS ON OUR GAMES:
We have now played through the first two of the three included investigations and have yet to 100% solve either of them. Each time we play, we have a lot of fun trying to connect the dots, but these scenarios are hard. The app really helps to speed up the processing of clues and conversations with witnesses and possible suspects. But as I mentioned above, there are some aspects of the app we’d like to see changed.

We have played the first investigation twice now. We’re pretty sure who the culprit is, but for some reason, we were unable to locate our suspect the second time around. You need to talk to certain people at key moments within the game to reveal clues and locate people of interest to be questioned or certain clue trails will not be revealed. We obviously missed that in our second try.

In the second investigation, we totally screwed up! We failed to find a very obscure clue that was well hidden early on. This failure led to a situation that began to quickly spiral out of control to a point where we were incapable of identifying a suspect; though we have our hunch.

As we replay these investigations and all future one as well, we’re going to take copious notes to ensure we don’t miss anything. At this point, we can only get better since we’re failing miserably.

I guess I should mention that we did deviate slightly from the rule of each player choosing one of the specialists to play during the game. We treated the specialists as resources that we could contact at Scotland Yard when we needed their expertise. Playing them as a “character” in the game didn’t serve any in-game purpose or have any effect on the game aside from getting their expert opinion. I think the way we played it gave us a more traditional “let’s check with the expert” kind of feel to the game.

REPLAYABILITY:
Once you have solved a particular crime, there is no point to go back and play it again. Unless you just want to try to increase your final score for that specific investigation. Or like us, you want to ensure you have identified the correct suspect. CoC is no different from any other crime-based deduction or who-done-it game on the market. Once you know the ending, why play it again? That being said, CoC is very expandable with new downloadable content you can purchase through the app. There are also several additional physical expansions you can purchase to give you even more cases to solve.

WHAT DID I LIKE?
Clever use of the app to learn the game
Generic cards allowing for re-use in multiple cases
Access to specialists at Scotland Yard
Expandable through DLCs and expansions
3 challenging cases included with the base game

WHAT DID I NOT LIKE?
Grammatical errors in the narrative text
Lack of replayability of specific cases
Inefficient use of player time within the game (see component quality above)

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I have enjoyed playing the game. It’s very challenging, but that is in no way a bad thing. When it comes to investigative games, I prefer a challenging experience. CoC is challenging, but not impossible. If you enjoy investigative games and do not mind a digital interface, you may really enjoy this game. If you’re looking for a game that will include easy to solve cases that can be used a filler between other games, CoC is not the game for you! On the other hand, if you want a challenging experience that is not too time-consuming, CoC may just be the game for you.

~ Modoc

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