Breaking and entering into the expanding space of small box murder mystery puzzles, Lucky Duck and partner-in-crime Aurora have produced the Crime Zoom series, of which we've played The Bird of Ill Omen and His Last Card, both designed by Stéphane Anquetil. One-shot games have become quite the thing in the board game hobby since the EXIT (Kosmos) series and its nuclear predecessor, Risk Legacy (Hasbro); at least with Crime Zoom, the game can be reset and passed on, which is precisely what Lucky Duck recommends you do.
But what do you get for your modest investment? Inside the box is a fairly thick rulebook and a deck of about 60 cards. Estimated play time is an hour and while 1-4 players is the suggested range, as usual with this type of cooperative setup, the less the cards are divvied up, the richer the experience; we played with two and were both constantly engaged.
It's important that you understand what's going on in a one-shot game and, without giving anything away, the rules do a good job of preparing you for what you'll find on the cards. Unlike similar games played against the clock, the timer here is also the scoring system: the more cards you use, the less you will score. As such, it's important before beginning that players decide whether or not they're going to aim for a high score.
When you're ready to begin, a grid of cards is formed to show a 2D crime scene: 3x3 for Bird of Ill Omen; 5x3 for His Last Card. Each card may be flipped for further investigation and the story begins to unfold. One clue will lead to another and several leads might overlap, and it is up to you to decide when you think you have solved the who, what, where, when and why.
Depending on how exhaustively the players investigate, at some point they choose to return to the rulebook and read out the key questions, deciding which card (or cards) is the answer to each. As well as points for correct answers, bonus points can be gained for unused cards.
The Crime Zoom games are an entertaining way to spend an hour... or less or more, depending on competence, confidence, and debate. The recommended age of 14+ is for once accurate, as the themes are mature, even beyond the already murderous central premise (these are not genteel Poirot cases). We went through almost all the cards in both games, exploring every lead, which led to our table looking like an obsessed detective's murder board; we did not, personally, feel incentivised by the extra points on offer for leaving stones unturned.
Being more akin to Lucky Duck's other deductive detective game, Chronicles of Crime, Crime Zoom feels quite gritty in comparison to the similarly presented Decktective (dV Giochi). This is partly a result of the darkly realistic artwork by Christopher Matt, Goliat Gashi, Julien Long, Leejun 35 and Ceciilart, for while both deal with murder most foul, the whimsical nature of the latter is more family-friendly while several of Crime Zoom's plot points went over my 11 year old son's head and/or led to a 'teachable moment' *ahem*. Veterans of police procedurals might well guess the tropes ahead of time and would benefit from playing 'competitively'. So, why not set aside an hour and get ready for a mysterious knock at the office door leading you down dark alleyways of investigation...
(Review by David Fox)