The lord of Manor House has been murdered! The staff are all suspects. The police have been called in to deduce which employee committed the crime. Familiar premise? Well, here it's the set up for a small tuck-box card game, Foul Play, from www.foulplaygame.co.uk and After Dark Mystery Events, designed by Ben and Lee Cooper-Muir, which offers two ways to play.
The 'Good Cop' variant starts by generating the hidden identity of the murderer using three sets of five cards in a manner akin to the clues in 𝘖𝘶𝘵𝘧𝘰𝘹𝘦𝘥! (Gamewright). Two to five competing rozzers play or discard a card each turn, resolving Actions that reveal, steal, and trade cards with others and the 'Crime Scene' - a 3x3 grid of face down cards which accounts for a fair chunk of those in play - before drawing a new card from the 'Evidence Locker', aka deck.
The objective is to identify the one guilty suspect from eight, which relies on seeing all three Evidence cards - or fewer and guessing - before having a dramatic denouement. As cards are taken at random from players' hands and only six Crime Scene cards exist, it could be that crucial Evidence remains elusive for quite a while. Some Actions reduce hand size and players are eliminated if they lose their 'Case File', aka hand, meaning the case could 'go cold'; while thematic, there's potential frustration on the cards here.
Foul Play, when played as Good Cops, comes down to playing one of the few cards in your hand that has an Action, hoping it reveals a valuable card, then trying not to run out of cards before others do. There is little agency and no opportunity for creative play beyond taking a punt on the identity of the murderer before the jig is up. If an accusation is made, even a complete shot in the dark, all the Evidence cards are found and revealed, meaning an incorrect guess cuts the game short and it turns into a race to hold the guilty character in custody.
The 'Bad Cop' way to play is appropriately louche, requiring that players hold three Evidence cards and a matching suspect in hand to frame them. In this mode, the game takes on a more chaotic set collection aspect. It could be over quickly - you could actually be dealt a winning hand - or it could last a while if Block cards are held to prevent people winning. We opted to remove Block cards from the game once played, especially as they steal a potentially winning card from a player at the same time. In neither mode is there a written rule that would prevent a player from being victim-ized, so the table meta is not policed.
Of the two games playable with these Foul Play cards, we much preferred the Bad Cop variant: although more lucky than logical, there's less chance of vital cards being unseen for long, which is distinctly possible in the Good Cop variant, especially if one of the key four is first in the discard. Also, the different colour card backs come into play more and the Crime Scene - a somewhat forlorn place for law-abiding peelers - is also more interactive.
The rules are user unfriendly, coming on four cards and displayed higgledy-piggledy in small type. This lack of elan is repeated on the playing cards themselves: the titles are in a Black font in black, with a black drop shadow on a dark background. This is a shame, as the suspect art itself (by James Lawrence) is actually quite attractive and mechanically sound as the Evidence cards refer to the art.
When we started Foul Play, there was hope of finding a quick, Clue-lite game with clever card play, manipulation of the communal area, and maybe a little push-your-luck to finger the culprit before others do. As it stands, the Bad Cops' zany race to frame a suspect offers a glimpse of that, while the trappings of old-fashioned card games - luck of the deal and draw, with randomized card stealing - do not suit the deduction aspect of Good Cops. It felt at times more like we were playing Inspector Clouseau rather than Morse.
There's a new fairy tale themed version of Foul Play on Kickstarter right now. You can check it out at www.kickstarter.com/projects/afterdarkmystery/foul-play-once-upon-a-crime-card-game.
(Review by David Fox)