Board Game Review

Poor Police Work (Awkward Guests Review)

This review can also be sniffed out at Zatu here!

The whole saga of a “whodunnit” is an escapade in itself, never mind the crime. Find the clues, locate the evidence, rule out the red herrings… Then start pointing fingers! What makes a good detective is determined by how many fingers get pointed. Too many and you’re probably going to be sacked. Awkward Guests by Megacorpin Games is a game centred around finding out whodunnit, with the victim always being the same. It’s for 2-8 players and includes 30 cases, however the developers have said they’re be releasing more cases periodically to download, too!

How To Play

Awkward Guests is a deduction game where players trade clue cards in order to share hints as to the answer of whodunnit. In order to find out who, they need to know the culprit, the motive, and the weapon for the murder. The location of the murder is always the same and never changes.

In the game, there are six potential culprits, each with three possible motives. There are also a possible 20 weapons! The murderer could be anyone, there motive is personal, and how they did it is contextual. How these facts are identified are through the clue cards which players will share, trade, and acquire from a deck.

Preparing the Game

Awkward Guests has a unique set up system where 70 out of 243 cards are used in each case. These are weighted in the direction to evidence whodunnit. To kick off, players choose an investigation based on the difficulty level they one. Obviously, the more difficult you choose the harder it will be to gain the evidence to support ideas. They’re all solvable, but the number of red herrings varies. Once you’ve chosen a case, you acquire the 70 associated cards and shuffle them. These are numbered so everyone can still play, even if they set up!

Finally, each player gets a screen to hide their evidence gathered, a gathering sheet document to keep their findings, six clue cards, and a player token. A lot of this is done through symbols and their own scrawlings. Initials for culprits, ticks to show whether a motive is ruled out or not, and to show which weapon (or weapon categories) can be ruled out. Once a player is set up, they use their clue cards to log what they already know. The clue cards come with different values, one through three. One is lower quality, whereas three is higher quality – often ruling out a whole potential line of enquiry!

Phases

The game is then run in phases: inquiry, offer, exchange, solution, and discard. Inquiry, offer and exchange are done in a player’s turn, and solution and discard are done during a round’s end. During the inquiry phase, players can ask about two of any culprits or rooms. Every clue is associated to one or the other, and will always point the player in some direction. Arrow tokens are provided to remind players what was asked about.

When asked about something, non-main players choose cards associated to those rooms they want to offer. This is the start of the offer phase. They do not have to offer any clues they don’t want to, but they always get clues in return if they do. The values of the clues paid must match or exceed the bought clues. In example, if the offer is five in value, across any number of cards, the payment must be five or greater. The number of clues in any exchange is irrelevant, the value is what matters. The exchange phase is where players finally swap cards. Players can pay for as many clues from players as they wish, but must buy all on offer from that player.

The solution phase occurs when all players have had the chance to inquire and exchange. This ends a round. This is when players place their player tokens in the centre to determine whether they are going to accuse and solve the case. Should you wish to take a shot, you make your claim, check the case solution in the book, and either celebrate or sulk. If a player chooses to guess and is wrong, they are eliminated. It is incredibly important to gather evidence to support an inquiry, as you have to nail three out of three! After this, the discard phase begins and players discard down to three cards. The cards discarded are placed at the bottom of the player deck, and more cards are drawn for each player until they have six cards again. Then begins a new round starting with the next player. This continues until a players cracks the case, or until all players are out!

How It Feels to Play

Awkward Guests is a ridiculously good game. There’s the outset for this. Usually I struggle to engage with some deduction games. They often include holes in play, issues with repetition, and a lack of player influence. Cluedo is my worst nightmare! And yet, Awkward Guests has many of its elements and uses them excellently. Every element of this game makes me smile, and I never feel like I can’t go at my own pace. No new cards? I’ll draw some more at the end of the round anyway! I’ll admit, the concept is bonkers. You’re all police investigators but you won’t share clues.. it seems shady. But that’s not for me to say, as during the moment I was desperate to win. And if that meant hiding evidence, so be it!

Swapsies

The inquiry and exchange phases of the game are an essential part of the pace setting, and also the progression. You’ll no doubt spend a lot of time listening to everyone else’s inquiries with wonder. Why the kitchen? Why the shed? What happened there? These are then followed by the question of “What do I not know?” You’ll also no doubt inquire about them later on. No issue… But managing who you exchange with and remembering when you did so is essential. If you gave someone some info on the living room, you don’t want that back. But it happens!

In the same way, if you’ve got some juicy intel about the murder weapon, it may be more beneficial to just keep it in hand. No one can ever remove it, and it’s not going anywhere. The problem then is, what is everyone else hiding? The investigation may quickly spin from you being the investigator to being the investigated. Or worse, holding dead information that no one actually needs!

There’s a beauty to offering few cards with meaty value. It always puts the investigation equivalent of money bags in players’ eyes and makes them cash out a lot of cards for the exchange. Any card of value three is always worth a check, they’ll more often than not give you a clear line of investigation. Of course, the clues always overlap and you may be reassuring yourself more than breaking new ground. Which is fine! But late game, it’s the ones and twos you’ll be craving for the vast quantity of information they’ll provide. Particularly when tracing people’s movements to specific places and weapons.

Scaling the Game

Awkward Guests is a game with a difficulty setting. You can set it so you’ll either be hunting a petty criminal or a mastermind. The harder it is, the less clear the clues and the path forward. The easier it is the more clarity you’ll get… But that’s not to say beginner difficulty is a walk in the park! There’s still a good few red herrings hovering about to keep you on your toes! The number of clues is always the same, it’s just their correlation and links that differs.

When chasing the mastermind in very hard difficulties, you see the real depth in how things can become complicated. The wrong doer will no doubt do everything they can to stop you catching them, but what’s more is that you may be chasing more than one culprit. They may have an accomplice. These situations really test your deduction skills and your ability to find the links between the what’s and the whys. You’ll still have the other clues to guide you, and there will always be a direct line to the truth. However, whether you’ll find it or not is another matter!

There are some things to note when finding the murderer. Just because someone is a suspect, it doesn’t mean they’re not to be trusted. If you can rule out a culprit, and they make a claim, chances are they’re telling the truth. And that’s hard to separate when playing game after game. You’ve got to be truly objective and not take anything at face value without some sort of evidence basis. Whether that’s clue cards or the question of why would the innocent lie, that objectivity will drive you further.

Building Evidence

The tracking sheet for Awkward Guests is excellent. It allows for lots of space to write on, clear check lists to help track, and lots of room to write other notes on. Coupled with the player screen, it makes for a fool proof system. The screen itself is caked in hints and suggestions of how to track your clues, and even gives some examples. These mean that there’s no chance a new player will ask a damning question, or risk giving clues away by asking things. It’s an excellent addition and a considerate one at that, and even without needing it, it was good for prompts.

Once an exchange is done, players are expected to make their notes appropriately. You’ll need to make some time for this and it can be easiest to do so by having a system in place. Explaining how notes are meant to be taken doesn’t marry up with how a player works best. I found it easiest to use initials and arrows. My partner used symbols, and another player used what I can only describe as hieroglyphs. But it worked for them, and they cracked a good number of cases with it, too! But it takes time, so being in a rush to inquire won’t help, and to be honest it’ll make people less inclined to exchange cards with you at all! You may be in competition, but you need each other’s resources to help find the guilty party.

Catching the Eye

Awkward Guests has a truly 1920s feel in its theme. Everything is coloured sepia. Almost like it was shot on an old school box camera. And with that, the actual content of the cards and board are wonderfully themed too. The culprits match their motives wonderfully in their art styles. They all look distinctly different too, with their caricature-esque illustrations clearly emphasising their “redeeming” qualities. These are not the sort of folk you’d want to ask the time, let alone invite to a stately manor. It’s a solidly consistent theme executed wonderfully!

In a Nutshell

For someone who does do most deduction all that well, I am a huge fan of Awkward Guests. It has wonderful theme, solid gameplay, and a player controlled pace that enables them to choose their own progression. No two cases are the same, and you’re always desperate to figure out who the real criminal mastermind was! If you’re looking for a whodunnit game that runs like a real investigation, this is the game for you.