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Crimes in History: H H Holmes' Murder Castle

Implausible as it sounds, this is a game that, as the title suggests, is based on real events. Apparently, to coincide with the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, Herman Webster Mudgett, operating under the assumed name of Dr Henry Howard Holmes, built a hotel rigged with deliberate death traps and torture chambers. When it was discovered that Holmes had murdered at least 27 victims, and possibly as many as 200, the building earned the macabre sobriquet Murder Castle.

Blueprint Game Concepts game isn't, however, another Bloody Inn (Pearl Games) where you are polishing off the guests. Instead, the players in Crimes of History: H H Holmes' Murder Castle are former colleagues and acquaintances of Holmes who are collecting evidence of his crimes (insurance fraud as well as murder) in order to bring him to justice. You need to fill up the evidence spaces on your individual player board and then return to the pharmacy location (starting tile) ahead of the other players in order to win.

There are five types of evidence to collect (ie: five different colours of cube) and, in the basic game, you need to have collected four of each. This isn't as much as it sounds because players start off with two thirds of the evidence they need already on their boards. On your turn, you pick one of six action tiles. Every player will get to take the top action on the tile but you will have the option of additionally taking the second action on the lower half. For example, if you take the Explore the Castle tile, you will be able to explore (turn over and attach to a doorway) two new room tiles and every other player will draw one. As room tiles are added and the (randomised) layout of Murder Castle is revealed, evidence cubes are placed out - taken from a World's Fair Ferris Wheel that rotates, giving players some agency over the evidence that appears.

Assembling Murder Castle in this way, you'll find that rooms get closed off (there are no connecting doorways or a tile turns out to be a brick wall), so movement that seems straightforward at the outset becomes more complicated as the game progresses and the maze-like structure of the hotel is assembled.

Among the action tile options is the opportunity to draw Event cards. These introduce special effects. Most can be saved so that you can use them when the time is right, but - watch out - because some are designed to negate the effects of other players' cards.

Designers Brandt Hoffman and Seth Cooper haven't forgotten the eponymous H H Holmes. He remains a character in the game, using secret passages to move seamlessly between locations. Each round, a card is drawn that lists several locations where Holmes might be. If more than one is in play (ie: has already been drawn and added to the modular board) then the active player chooses which one Holmes appears at. Holmes' presence at a location bars most actions there, and if a player character is at the location to which Holmes moves then the player suffers a strike. The player has to drop evidence - initially just one cube but with the number increasing on subsequent strikes. This then becomes a 'take that' mechanic as players try to slow their rivals in an exciting race to be first to deliver a complete set of evidence.

The standard game takes 2-6 players but an inbuilt expansion adds additional tiles and components introducing a solo mode and the option to play as Holmes and, if desired, taking the player count up to seven. The art by Holly Carden is evocative: more gothic than gory. And, commendably, Crimes of History: H H Holmes' Murder Castle comes with both minis and standees. It's great to have the plastic minis but the standees are very welcome substitutes until you get around to painting them. We'd like to see more publishers of games with minis offer this as an option.

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