Cluedo (or Clue if you’re familiar with it’s non-UK brethren) was another one of those games that I played a fair bit when I was younger but I can probably count on one hand the amount of times that I actually played it properly. Most of the time it degenerated into a solitary story telling exercise as I moved the pawns around the board, making up a tale of murder and depravity in my head as the other players got bored and went outside to play football or something. I don’t think I’ve had a game of Cluedo since I was about 10, but I must admit to being a recently converted fan of the terrible/brilliant movie that it inspired – deduction games never really floated my boat, but as regular readers know, I’m always willing to try anything.
Mystery Express is the latest release by Days of Wonder, though it’s not their first game where the objective is to solve the puzzle – that honour goes to Mystery Of The Abbey, a game that is still well loved despite its age and (in my opinion) slightly dry theme. Call me strange, but having gone to Catholic school, monks scare the hell out of me. Thankfully though, Mystery Express is a bit more to my liking, being set upon that most luxurious of locations… The Orient Express! Naturally, we need a mystery as well, so what better than a murder?
Between three and five players choose from a selection of characters, each with their own special ability (stealing an extra hour of in-game time, for example), aiming to solve the murder as early as possible. There are five aspects to work out: quite simply Who, What, Where, Why and When. Each of these areas has a stack of cards with a pair for each possible option; in the Location pile, there are two Dining Car cards, for example – the only difference is the Time deck, of which there are three of each. One card is removed from each shuffled set, and the players need to use their powers of deduction to work out what these hidden cards are.
This is done by combining the different decks into one giant pile (Time cards are put to the side, and are revealed to all players during the game), shuffling them up and dealing seven cards to each player. If you happen to be lucky enough to hold two of the same, you get to secretly eliminate them from your investigation. The rest of the cards get shared out between the Conductor and Passengers area of the board and the game begins.
Now, one of the great things about the game is that you don’t need to get everything right in order to win the game – you just need to get more right than everyone else to claim victory. As the train rattles across Europe (the journey to each city represents one turn), players get to spend the time in various cars on the Express – each one costing them a certain amount of hours, but possibly giving them the opportunity to check out cards from other people, new passengers and the wandering Conductor. As each part of the journey moves on, more and more possibilities can be eliminated until eventually you reach Budapest – the penultimate stop on the journey. Here you are allowed to send a telegram – an opportunity for you put down the elements that you’re completely sure of that will be used in the case of there being a tie at the end. Things become a little clearer in that last section of the journey, so it’s very possible for players to have worked out a similar amount of bits of the mystery, so this telegram concept is a brilliant idea – if you’re totally convinced that something is true, put it down… you may well snatch victory from the jaws of equality!
Mystery Express is a very entertaining game. The whole need to be sneaky isn’t something that comes naturally to me (I’m a very open player and often find it tricky to keep things close to my chest) but I found the game a total joy to play. Thematically it really evokes the classic tales by Agatha Christie, and – as always – the presentation is second-to-none. Days of Wonder releases never fail to impress with their components, and Mystery Express is one of their most beautiful games. Everything from the board to the cards look great, and it’s all printed on good quality cardstock. The plastic player pieces are incredibly detailed, although I reckon they missed a trick not including an actual train whistle…
So, would I recommend getting yourself a copy? Definitely. There aren’t that many deduction games out there to start with, let alone ones that play well. I must admit that I found it more enjoyable with more people (the five-player game I had was brilliant – three-player was still fun, but it really does feel like the more the merrier). If you fancy something that’s a little different, I’d really encourage you to get on board. And I’m really sorry, because that’s an awful pun.
Mystery Express was designed by Antoine Bauza and Serge Laget. It was released in 2010 by Days of Wonder and can be played by three, four or five players taking between 60 and 90 minutes. It’s available here in the UK for around £35.