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Rear Window

If you've never seen Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1954 thriller Rear Window then stop reading this. Download and watch the movie now (it's available on Amazon Prime). If you're ignoring this injunction, we'll nonetheless extend the courtesy of avoiding any Spoilers as we set the scene for the movie, around which Prospero Hall have designed this 3-5 player game.

In Hitchcock's movie, James Stewart plays a newspaper photographer who is confined to his apartment because an injury has put him in a wheelchair with a leg in plaster. Because he is bored, he spends his days looking through the rear window of his apartment observing his neighbours in the apartment block opposite. He becomes convinced that one of the neighbours (a suspicious-looking [pre-Perry Mason] Raymond Burr) is a murderer. He calls the police, who find no cause for concern, so he enlists the help of his girlfriend (played by Grace Kelly) to investigate... Part of the appeal of the film to cineastes is that it can be viewed as a celebration of voyeurism, and a reminder that as movie-goers we are all essentially voyeurs...

That then is the context of the Rear Window game. Tho' not exactly a recreation of the movie, its contents and characters are based on those you'll see when you watch the film. James Stewart and Grace Kelly even peer out at you from the box lid. To play, one player is 'the Director'. That player takes a copy of each of the eight different neighbour tiles and the Alfred Hitchcock clapper board that shows four apartments. The other 2-4 players, designated as 'the Watchers' take the other four copies of each of the neighbour tiles and they choose 12 out of the 20 different stacks of attribute tiles, handing one of each to the Director. The Director shuffles the 13 attribute tiles and draws four which they place out on their Director board - hidden from other players by a screen. The Director picks four of the eight neighbours and puts them out on the board so that each of the four chosen neighbours is located in a specific apartment and has an assigned attribute. If any of the more complicated purple coloured relationship attributes are used, that tile will additionally have another neighbour placed on it. A 'trunk' (tuck box) is supplied for all the neighbour and attribute tokens not in use. The Director has a deck of 'window' cards. These have shutters on the rear but on their face they show scenes that can be viewed in the various apartments.

The game is played over four rounds, referred to as Days. For each Day, there's a board that players can all see. It represents four apartments. The Director draws eight cards from their deck and places these out in the eight spots on the Day 1 board so that there are two cards for each apartment. The Director is using these to try to communicate to the Watchers clues as to who lives in each apartment and their assigned attributes. Some of the window cards drawn by the Director will be super appropriate - maybe showing the specific neighbour and/or a clear representation of an attribute but others will be rather more tangential and there's a risk that some may be downright misleading. The Director can, therefore, choose to place two of their window cards face down - as if the shutters have obscured the Watchers' view. Throughout the game, the Director mustn't talk, grimace or give other facial responses that communicate with the Watchers other than via the cards.

The Watchers have four 'placards' representing protagonists from the movie and these give them special abilities to help them in their deductions but they can each be used only once per game. The Watchers debate the clues from the card placements and agree among themselves the neighbour and attribute tiles for each spot. The Director then places out a marker that tells the Watchers how many they have got right (1-8). The process is repeated for each of the other three Days, but the earlier Day boards are always left in place, so Watchers can refer back to them as part of their deduction process. The Director too will want to take account of the Watchers' discussion as that may help inform their choices when placing out the next Day's cards. For example, if, on Day 1, players have got both the neighbour and attribute right for apartment A, then the Director might consider placing two closed shutters there on Day 2 to signal that no further guesses are needed for that apartment.

It's a cooperative game: the Director wants to communicate information to the Watchers as accurately as possible so that the players all collectively win if the Watchers correctly place the neighbour and attribute tiles for all eight spots. Except... If the Director has drawn the Murder tile from the 13 attribute tiles they were handed at the start, then the game will be only semi-cooperative: the Director will want the Watchers to get all of the other apartments correct but they will not want them to discover the Murder. In that case, the Director wins if the Watchers guess six or seven spots correctly but don't correctly guess the Murder tile location; the Watchers win if they correctly guess seven or eight spots including the Murder tile.

Without the Murder tiles, Rear Window plays like a quite challenging version of Mysterium (Libellud). It's an excellent and engrossing deduction game. Adding in the Murder tiles tho' steps it up a notch. Tho' the Director is only likely to draw a Murder tile in around 25% of games, the Watchers don't know for sure whether or not it is in play and so they need to maintain a healthy suspicion about some of the information they are getting from the Director. Is there a Murder tile to find or are they being paranoid? The Watchers can't be sure; any more than Hitchcock's viewers for much of the movie.

Funko Games have done a sterling job with the production of Rear Window. They've even included a moulded and lidded tray to neatly accommodate all the tiles. You can make the game more difficult by including the relationship tiles in the mix, as to get these right you have to choose not only the nature of the relationship but also who it is with. The game works equally well with two, three or four Watchers; indeed, you can even play it with just one (ie: as a two-player game) but that won't give you the best experience. We've especially enjoyed Rear Window at the higher player counts but if you're playing with four or five players (or more - you can easily accommodate an extra player to join the Watchers' debate) we'd recommend the use of a timer to limit each Day's discussion to 5 minutes and so keep the game to its 40-minute playing time.

(Review by Selwyn Ward)

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