A murder has taken place in Crime Hotel (well, obviously it would - what were the owners thinking of when they named their hotel?): it's up to the three or four investigators to deduce the exact location of it in what is billed as 'a trick taking game for smart detectives', designed by Susumu Kawasaki and published by Happy Baobab, with ritzy neo-noir art by Christopher Matt and Ian Parovel. As well as each players' pieces, the squat box contains a light fabric 'board' which was probably the only way to fit a comparatively large play area inside: there were problems with the board being disturbed until all players took much better care around it.
To start each of the three rounds, 27 micro cards in three suits are shuffled and six dealt to every player, who also collect their five meeples and ID badge; one of the left over cards is tucked under a corner of the board. When a player leads a card, others must follow suit (actually a floor of the three-storey eponymous edifice) or, if they can't, may play any card. When all are done, those who played the highest and lowest cards place a meeple on the main board to guess where the murder took place; while the one or two in between get assistance from the smaller Police Station board. Powers here include being able to later share a guessing space with another player; move a meeple you've already placed; look at others' cards; or go for bonus points if, that is, you score any normal points.
After five 'tricks', remaining cards are revealed, slowly building up the suspense as to the final fatal location. Scoring is simple: 2 points if you guessed the correct floor (row); 5 for the correct room end-digit (column); 10 points for the exact room. Bonus points can be gained if you've placed on those spaces in the Police Station. After three hands, final scores are tallied and a winner determined.
Aside from the clear rules, the big positive of Crime Hotel, for me, was in the placing of guessing meeples: the score returns are appropriate to the odds; and there are a couple of tipping points when you switch from rows to columns and columns to rooms. However, while each round has its own mini-arc, there is nothing spanning the game as a whole: Round 3 is the same as Round 1, but with points on the scoresheet. Reading into others' play and placement is very much a thing as well, something I'm noticing a lot of in games from Asia.
Unfortunately, you may not get much opportunity to make many guesses, which is one of a number of mostly minor niggles that do, unfortunately, add up. With a hand of just six cards, too often - especially in a four player game - a player could not place a meeple on the main board to make a guess, they were just stuck in the middle with you. You're not going to be competitive or have much fun if, over the course of 15 turns, you only make one or two guesses, while others make many more.
While there are only two unseen cards in a four-player game, eight are not used with three players, making those games more guesswork than deduction. Disappointingly, there is no setup adjustment, nor can you use assistance to investigate the hidden cards, which seems an overlooked option. The fiddliness of placing meeples for player order was quickly ignored and cards resolved after all were played; similarly, the first player token was not needed.
I would take some issue with the description of Crime Hotel being a 'trick-taking' game: sure, it has leading and suits, but no tricks are actually taken; it feels more like a bidding system, similar to that in Festival of a Thousand Cats (TMG), reviewed recently on Board's Eye View. Lastly - and very pettily I might add - one of the haiku on the box is 5-6-5: perhaps that syllable got lost in translation; which is something that might be said for aspects of the game overall.
Despite issues at both player counts, Crime Hotel is a viable place to visit, so long as you are OK with its potential flaws... if you see them as such. As a family vacation, there is fun to be found finagling the fatal room, but I don't think savoy gamers will put up with the lack of control for very long.
(Review by David Fox)