Updated: Oct 24
Lucky Duck Games are going great guns at the moment, from 2017's Vikings Gone Wild, through the app-heavy Chronicles of Crime, to the fast-paced Mutants, they have shown a fair degree of innovation as well as solid production values. The latter remains evident in Paranormal Detectives, but not so much the former, as the elevator pitch of 'competitive Mysterium with props' is a pretty accurate summary.
For those who haven't played Mysterium (or to give it its original title: Tajemnicze Domostwo), the basic premise is that one player is a ghost, seeking to find eternal peace by solving their murder with the help of a circle of psychics; it is a cooperative affair that uses the medium of cards with surreal art (think Dixit, but darker) to work its magic. Paranormal Detectives does have a variant to play cooperatively and this brings the parallel to Mysterium (Libellud) in even closer, especially when players remarked, 'It felt like a co-op, but someone had to get the right answer first.' The components are all high quality and there are a good number of inventive death cards in the box (including some marked Parental Advisory, with more adult motives) and more grisly demises on offer online.
So, in Paranormal Detectives, (designed by Szymon Malinski, Adrian Orzechowski and Marcin Laczynski), one player is a ghost and they read the circumstances of their death to themselves then announce the basics - gender, description, fatal wound - before the detectives start their rounds of interrogation. Each detective has a selection of 7 cards from a variety of 10, which allow them to question the ghost in different ways, specifying the method the ghost must use to answer. This is where the props come in: flexible wires to make shapes; line-art tarot cards; a modified Ouija board; and a slider with different aspects (big/small, old/young, etc). These complement more usual methods of clue-giving: charades; drawing; non-verbal speech; and a couple of touchy-feely ones which the rules sensibly suggest people can pass by if they wish. As usual, publishers Lucky Duck score high on the quality of the visuals and production, with art from Mateusz Komada, Katarzyna Kosobucka and JocArt.
When a detective asks a question, the ghost responds as best they can using the chosen method; the player can then choose to use one of their two guesses or pass play to their left. And so on, until someone makes a guess, the ghost marking the number of correct elements on their sheet. At this point, the competitive nature takes a bit of a dive. The general circumstances of the death can be worked out fairly quickly and then, as in Cluedo (Hasbro), it comes down to who is first to get exactly the right combination of who/where/how/why and with what. While the ghost's role is enjoyable throughout, the fun for the detectives lasts until the point of fine adjustment, whereat it can become a bit of a lottery.
While on a slightly down note, it's worth mentioning that you may want to supply some more appropriate dry-erase pens: the ones included have very thick nibs, like Just One (Repos), which means some large, chunky writing on your notepad. Those who took a lot of notes quickly ran out of room.
In a world without Mysterium, this would be a breath of fresh air and, probably, would lead with the cooperative aspect first; but games do not exist in a bubble and, as it is, the decision for a potential player/purchaser is whether the props and competitive element bring enough to the seance table. There is certainly fun to be had, accompanied by a good deal of confusion before any 'Aha!' moments. The ghost is essentially a moderator and must do their best not to confuse or make mistakes; being a detective is as much about working off other player's questions/answers as it is timing your refined guess. All in all, a solid and very playable party-weight entry into a genre that is fast filling up.
(Review by David Fox)