Jimmy just patrolled the 92nd Street, when he heard the gunfire. It was coming out of a window on the third floor of an apartment building across from the Scarlet florist. Jimmy opened door of his shiny Cadillac and automatically took his devoted partner. His gray hat landed exactly before Jimmy started to sprint across the street to building with house number 38. He flung open front door and began to jut old chipped stairs by two. Residents of a block of flats, mainly of older age, were peeking out of their apartments. Jimmy almost did not notice them and burst into the apartment, from which came that noise a little while ago. A cold autumn wind wafted him. He stood in front of open window. Jimmy did not hesitate and began chasing the offender.
Quite possibly a similar story can be created, when you play Ace Detective. The moment you sit in the chair, you become a screenwriter with ability to create and play your own noir movie. As you may guess, this is a narrative game, in which you will be using cards to create exciting stories together with other players. During the game, you convict suspects.
The game seems more than promising at first. It is worth noting, because it is renowned author Richard Launius (Arkham Horror), who gave it so typical dark atmosphere. Moreover, the entire game is enriched with pictures of the famous Black Mask magazine. Whole other graphic work was token care by a pair of illustrators: Carlos Romanos and Julia Semionov. Life for this promising-looking project breath in by people on Kickstarter. Production and publishing was subsequently taken care by 8th Summit company. On paper, it looks tempting, that no, but did they manage to give it at least a trace of playability? And does even this genre needs to add some boardgaming mechanism?
I will answer it right away: No and no. However, author partially tried to do this. Honestly Ace Detective got nearer to being more game itself, where strategy and bluffing tactics are justified. However, perhaps fortunately, you will forget this during game, because you will be devoured by the story and atmosphere of that era. And know, that all it takes to give in to atmosphere of the game, is very little. You just need to look at the content.
Just looking at the box will operate a little bit of dark film into your head. Black and shiny box hides even more interesting spectacle. First will take you around the rules, which want to look faded and contain narrative text.
There are also two boards, one is played as a trace counter and thereby defines progress of the game. Second board is actually only a help, telling you how many points which action costs and how story is evaluated.
Boardgamers will be very pleased by presence of a hexahedron dice. Yes, there is dice in a narrative game, although it is just an ordinary piece, but it´s very nice to discover it here.
Finally comes the turn of the entire core of this game: cards. there are seven card types. Five cards of detectives to determine who, will be the main hero of the story; 12 suspects: these people will be heroes of the story and players will place their tokens and traces to them, trying to prove them guilty; 16 cards of crimes, which are actually scenarios; 79 story cards, which are accompanied by illustrations and short atmospheric text. But there are also very important cards of proofs: only these give players opportunity to move the plot forward, due to the fact, that player must place their token on one of the tracks. Then we have cards of a smaller size – story cards giving players different options and also cards for scoring quality of your storytelling.
At the end, there are tokens: first player token, one indicating progress through the game, points for storytelling, which are some kind of currency and eventually tokens of player colors. Some of them have printed numbers from -2 to + 2 and it is they, who will determine, which suspect is guilty and which player has won.
Game contains two options for playing. We will describe the simpler narrative, in which players are not scored. First, a player selects one of the 16 available scenarios. It contains not only the accompanying narrative text, but also recommended suspects.There are only four for each game. After suspects are selected, detectives must be assigned to this case. Each detective has described his behavior and background and this is way for game putting some barriers. It must be said, however, they are free enough and efficient. Main character is in fact thanks to this a living person and not a mere puppet of players, as he might be. Replayability is huge, because every time you can select another suspects, detective and scenarios.
Game begins with him dealing number of story cards, one telling card and one evidence. Players alternate in their turns and gradually uncover story with help of cards, played next to each other into a row. Their playing is resolved in an interesting and elegant way.
Each card is wearing (in addition to illustrations and text) also four icons. One of them is larger, than the other three. Now this one symbolizes so-called card type, more precisely type of story. So for example, you have a card with a weapon, which means danger, so player putting the card down should insert action, corresponding to image and text on the card. Lovers of good storytelling will also appreciate presence of the other cards representing feelings and atmosphere, so even if the players are not very good at description of the surrounding events, cards will indirectly and slightly pushes them, which greatly helps entire tone of the game. Three remaining smaller icons on the card symbolize, what symbol can follow in the story line. Thus, authors have cleverly guaranteed correct sequence and logic going on in their story.
For the story to unfold somewhere and for players to have a goal, there are evidence cards. These are almost identical to stories, with only one exception: their playing is worth a certain number of points. (These points are received at the end of each turn with their number depending on the variant of the game. In easier version, all players get the same amount, while in the harder one, players decide based on quality of storytelling of acting player). The reason, why evidence cards are worth points, is obvious. After their playing, player can place any token on one of the four suspects. And this really pushes the story forward. This is the time, when it usually comes to roll the dice to determine, to whom player should place his token. He can then choose value of the token, so there is some ability to influence the game outcome. Once a player secretly places his token on one of the cards, this suspect triggers an effect. This may significantly entangle the whole game. At the same time, due to this new trail, game moves closer to the end, as investigators discovered new evidence.
Cards of evidence are not the only interaction with the game. Next in line are story cards, that after proper placement allow for example to move clue tokens or look at one token. And even scenarios and detective cards start their effect, when one of players uses appropriate type of card. At the end of the turn, player can buy cards for his points, as well as ability to once again move clue tokens. The game then ends by catching the bad guy. This is the suspect, who has largest point total of clues on his card and winner of the game is player, who has placed most tokens on this convicted suspect.
Players are therefore forced not only to pay attention to the beauty of the story itself, but also (as well as true detectives) have to notice everything happening around. And thanks to this, only the really keenest can win. And this is just the main problem for the whole game. All cleverly devised mechanisms fall down with the heat of battle and players are actually ignoring, what is happening around. All hope for bluffing is then gone so quickly, that you even did not manage to adjust your hat to keep it steady from sudden gust of wind. And when you find players, who actually give attention to all the possibilities of what can happen, they are not so well in storytelling and playing is pretty hard with them.
Just as I wrote at the beginning, this genre is not in need of combining with some strategic or other elements. There is simply no space for them, you are either telling stories or play to win. I simply can not manage both.
But when you look at the sub-mechanisms of this game, you will find, that it is actually an excellent piece. Unfortunately excellent will always be only one half of the game and its not about period of time, but playing style as such. You can not simply add apples and pears together, although both fruit are good.
So while playing Ace Detective, its best to focus on narrative part, that is simply perfect. This is mainly due to theme and illustrations. In addition, a clever system of icons helps the game to keep a logical structure and thanks to this, once the end is near, the whole story escalates. Theme itself makes for almost thrilling storyline in approximate length of an hour and a half, which in narrative game usually is as a very long time and therefore multiplayer games are playable pretty badly. The ideal number is three players for us.
As it is with narrative games, most important is experience of all the players together. And if you know a good storyteller, this game will reward you with an amazing, almost flawless experience.
Ace Detective is a game, in which you tell a story in shape of crime noir movie. The game will grab you with its topic so hard, that you do not need to be an dectective freak to enjoy the game. The narrative part of the game looks great and is totally immersive. But unfortunately, you will not notice many other great gameplay elements, allowing for competitive play. Overall, it is a nice achievement and live in water for almost dead in the river: narrating board games.