Wednesday 28 June 2017

Review - Cluedo Super Sleuth

Designed by Anthony E. Pratt
Published by Waddingtons
For 2 to 6 players, aged 10 to adult

Cluedo Super Sleuth

"The rules of an intriguing and interesting game, must inevitably seem to be slightly boring..."

And so begins the rules book for Cluedo Super Sleuth. It's an... unusual... gambit, but let's ignore the growing sense of dread and press on.

I have to admit, while I try my best not to be, I am (probably like most "gamers") a bit of a gaming snob. I snort through my nose when someone suggests playing Monopoly. I do a little disapproving "tut" when someone says they enjoy Trivial Pursuit. And when someone finds out I like board games, and excitedly explain how they like board games too because they sometimes play scrabble or Risk, well... there's a wry smile reserved for those people.

You see, I'm a sophisticated gamer, which entitles me to look down on "mainstream" games. I've played hundreds of games, with rich thematic designs and complex strategies. I don't have time for Snap.

Parcheesi? Snakes and Ladders?

"Oh dear, you don't still play those games, do you?"

Yup, I'm an asshole.

I'm an asshole because I have no right to look down on anybody else's gaming choices. Board games are an inclusive hobby, running the gamut from roll-and-move kids games to complex war games that take days to play. And whether you like word games or dungeon crawlers, trivia games or Chess, it doesn't matter. You like games. Games are about having fun, and interacting with people you care about. Nobody has the right to tell someone else they're having fun in the wrong way. Nobody has the right to belittle people who just want to enjoy time with their friends and family.

So yeah, I'm an asshole.

I'm also a hypocrite, because I play almost all of the games previously mentioned (not Risk, though; I'm not a troglodyte). None of them are my first choice, but I have a young daughter who loves playing games with me whenever she gets the chance. If she says she wants to play Monopoly, how can I refuse? There is nothing more important to me than spending time with my family, even if it means I have to endure Top Trumps.

Man, don't get me started on Top Trumps.

But this is all besides the point. The point is, while I may be a snob, and I may have a little derisive laugh about someone playing Trivial Pursuit: Super Special Star Wars Edition with All the Characters from That New One That I Never Bothered to Watch, there's a reason those games are so popular. There's a reason why so many people want to play them.

Take Cluedo (or Clue, if you prefer) as an example. Cluedo has an interesting and instantly appealing "whodunnit?" theme, simple rules that even very young children can get to grips with, and mechanisms that ensure everybody at the table is always involved. There's really no down time, and if people are on their "A" game, turns fly by and the whole game wraps up quite neatly within half an hour or so. As far as game design goes, it's a masterclass.

While Cluedo has gone through many different iterations over the years, in most cases the rules have remained largely unchanged. Regardless of the artwork and the location, the time period and the playing pieces, beneath the hood, it's always the same core system of deduction and logic, driven by cards depicting suspects, murder weapons, and locations.

The reason?

Because that system works.

Cluedo may not be my particular cup of poison-laced tea, but I can't deny that as a game, it does everything that a game is supposed to do. Cluedo has stood the test of time, and will continue to stand the test of time. It doesn't give a fig about my snorty laughs.

The problem comes when some clever Dick (not a private dick) messes with the tried and test formula, adding whistles, bells, and in the case of Cluedo Super Sleuth, lashings and lashings of bloody awfulness.

Artwork from the box cover for Cluedo Super Sleuth, from 1995.

Yeah, 1995's Cluedo Super Sleuth is an odd duck, combining absolutely beautiful components with a game that is (perhaps inevitably) slightly boring. I mean, all of the stuff you know and maybe even love about Cluedo is right there in the box. Classic characters, such as Miss Scarlett Johansson and Mr Pink, run around a stately home, attempting to piece together a murder by determining a murderer, a murder weapon, and a location while casually glossing over the possibility they may be the killer. They ascertain valuable information by moving from room to room and asking the sorts of questions (here called "suggestions") that Columbo would be proud of, while completely ignoring the fact the easiest way to figure out the murder location and murder weapon is taking a quick glance at Doctor Black's gaping blunt trauma head wound as he bleeds out on the pool table.

So far, so Cluedo.

Suspect, murder weapon, scene of the crime... The classic clues from Cluedo Super Sleuth.

The first sign that this version is going to shake up the status quo is the lovely selection of pewter characters. They're a bit of a pain in play, as they aren't colour-coded; but there's no denying they are a very handsome addition, and the main reason I picked up the game in my local charity shop despite my general dislike for Cluedo.

Various characters move around the manor house in Cluedo Super Sleuth, attempting to solve the crime.

The second sign that something is awry is the inclusion of three new characters to the game: A detective (a very lovely, characterful piece), a dog (you can make anything better by putting a dog in it... except a kebab), and a butler (I have my suspicions). These are non-player characters who wander around the house and generally become a nuisance. More on those guys later.

And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "This doesn't sound so bad really." I'd be inclined to agree if the changes stopped there, but another rummage around the box reveals a wedge of board tiles instead of the traditional mounted board, some plastic magnifying glasses, some plastic crosses, and decks of event cards and item cards.

So, what's that all about?

Glad you asked. (Actually, I'm not; and I know you didn't.)

It's obviously all slightly boring...

The Cluedo Super Sleuth rules book. Slightly boring.

Super Sleuth starts with the players positioned on the patio of the main entrance tile. They have no clue cards to start making deductions (except in two- or three-player games, when they start with two clues each), and no idea what the rest of the house looks like. I assume they are all suffering from amnesia. On your turn, you roll a dice and move that number of spaces in orthogonal directions. You aren't allowed to pass over a character piece without the player's permission, and you can't  finish a move on the same space as any other piece. If you leave a room by one of the doors, you get to draw a new tile and place it so that you can continue moving.

This is where it gets interesting.

(I'm lying.)

Each new room has spaces marked on it for adding items (white crosses) and clues (magnifying glasses). These break the game.

An arrangement of colourful board tiles from Cluedo Super Sleuth.

If you land next to an item, you get to draw an item card and add it to your hand. The items range in usefulness from a refreshing cup of tea that lets you roll two dice for movement for one turn only to the hypnotist's crystal pendant, which lets you make multiple suggestions each turn forever. If you're lucky, you may find a poker to smash someone's hypnotist's pendant; if you're unlucky, you may find a lovely sausage for the dog.

And yes, I'm now talking about luck in a Cluedo game.

Plastic crosses, used for showing the locations of items in Cluedo Super Sleuth.

If you land next to a clue, you get to draw a clue card and add it to your hand. For the first part of the game, this is the main way you're going to rule out certain clues from your investigation. In fact, if you're sensible, it's the only way you're going to rule out clues. Remember, not all of the clues are in play at the start of the game, and they only gradually come into play as the game continues and the players reveal new rooms. This gloriously baffling mechanism is in a game where, lest we forget, the key to successfully finding out who, where, and what is making suggestions and then finding out if another player has cards from that suggestion, thereby allowing you to rule out cards from your lines of inquiry.

But how can you possibly glean reliable information from the other players before all the cards are in play?

For example, I could suggest Professor Plum was the murderer, and another player could say they don't have the Professor Plum card; but then in the very next turn, that same player could draw a new clue, which is actually Professor Plum. So why bother asking? All my line of questioning has done is confuse me, and put the other player at a slight advantage.

Small plastic magnifying glasses, used to show the location of clues in Cluedo Super Sleuth.

There is very little point making suggestions to other players before all the clue cards are in play, because you're making deductions on incomplete and unreliable information. What that means is, for the first part of the game, the traditional rules of Cluedo don't apply. Instead, there's this odd race where players charge from room to room, trying to grab as many clues as possible. Grabbing the clues early obviously puts you at a massive advantage, because the more you have, the more you can cross off as possible solutions without even having to make a single suggestion to the other players.

A game of methodical movement and careful deduction devolves into some kind of Benny Hill sketch, where players position themselves in doorways to stop rivals from entering unexplored rooms or else activate stupid items like the stink bomb that allows them to drive players out of the room they're in, or the detective's handbook that allows them to automatically draw a free clue card just because.

An arrangement of item cards from Cluedo Super Sleuth.

I suppose I should also mention that as you move around, you may roll a red spot on the dice, which lets you draw an event card. These events occur immediately, and usually activate the non-player characters, moving them into different locations where they stand around gormlessly and prevent you from efficiently getting on with the job at hand. And yes, that's pretty much the entire reason the non-player characters exist. Sometimes you may not be able to move because they're in your way; other times you may get moved somewhere you didn't want to go because an event has decided you really need to go to speak with the butler for some reason.

An arrangement of event cards from Cluedo Super Sleuth.

It's all slightly boring, and a criminal (ha!) waste of introducing a detective and a butler to the classic Cluedo setup. I mean, seriously; doesn't that combination of characters instantly inspire a thousand fun ideas? Why aren't any of them in the box?

The butler from Cluedo Super Sleuth. I think he did it.

Ultimately, the stuff added to Super Sleuth is dumb, random nonsense that does nothing to improve or elevate the Cluedo experience. The first part of the game is a maddening experience, and it feels completely tacked on. It's like a pre-game. It's like you turned up to a birthday party half an hour early by mistake and ended up having to help setting up the tables. Indeed, once you've visited every room of the manor house, and all of the clue cards are in play, the game settles into a more familiar pattern. There are still annoying events to deal with, and some players have even more annoying items to use, but generally you're going to be moving into rooms with other players, making suggestions, and gradually forming an accusation. When you think you know the correct combination of suspect, weapon, and location, it's off to the main entrance, where you can make a phone call, announce your accusation, and bring the whole sorry mess of a game to its uninspiring, anticlimactic, but never too soon conclusion.

Calling it slightly boring is an understatement. If you like Cluedo, this game adds just about enough to make you stop. If you hate Cluedo, this game adds just about enough to make your life marginally worse.

Honestly, I fail to see what this game design was attempting. I just don't see how anybody thought it was a good idea to take a classic design and then add randomness, uncertainty, "take that" elements, and a longer playing time.

Ms. Scarlet from Cluedo Super Sleuth.

What else can I say?

Is there anything positive I can say?

Surely, there must be some silver lining? There must be something I can append to the review so I don't have to sign off on such a negative tone.

Well, maybe this...

After playing Super Sleuth, I don't hate the traditional game of Cluedo quite as much as I used to.

Cluedo Super Sleuth is no longer in production. I picked up my copy in a charity shop. Other versions of Cluedo are still widely available in stores and online.

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