Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I have an Alibi

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved.
Seth Jaffee's misfortune is my good fortune, I must admit.  Seth (designer of Eminent Domain and Terra Prime) suffered a personal setback that motivated him to auction many of his games to raise money.  Among the things with which he was gracious enough to part was a copy of Alibi (designers Darwin Bromley and Jim Musser, publisher Mayfair Games) - a copy, as it happens, that he'd never got round to playing.

For my family, Clue has been a multi-generational favorite.  Whenever we'd go home to visit my mother, we'd play it on the kitchen table.  I lost count of how many different copies and editions we went through.  My kids enjoy playing it even today.  Clue is not what you'd call a great game in the context of the boardgame culture, but it has great sentimental value and meaning as a focus of family get-togethers.

Nevertheless, recently, we have been looking for another mystery game for some variety, as Clue has betrayed its  age and repetitive nature with so many playings.  Based on a review by BoardGameGeek "Tim," I had added Alibi to my wishlist as "a bit more interesting than Clue, though not compellingly so."  It seemed worth taking a shot to bring Seth's unplayed copy into our household and see if it couldn't get some attention.

My two teenage sons, my wife, and I played our first game this afternoon.  At first, the task of adding emotion (motive) to the customary questions of murderer, location, and weapon seemed only a minor complication - until we realized that there are ten suspects, 18 locations, 18 weapons, and 18 motives to eliminate, as well as time of day (morning, noon, or evening).  Whereas Clue has 21 cards from which to determine three, Alibi has 78 cards from which players must discern which four describe the murder.  Daunting, indeed.

But of course the game works very well, and in many ways very differently from Clue, which is what we were really hoping for.  Questions can only be asked that have a number as an answer, and only of one other player.  Rather than ask (as in Clue), "do you have Colonel Mustard, the knife, or the dining room," a question might be, "How many weapons do you have," or "How many blunt objects have you seen?"  Even more dramatically different is that players are required to pass one or more cards to the left after each question is asked, so that some cards eventually get seen by some or all players.  

Three "Auto" location cards.
(c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved.
Bonus points are awarded for exposing full sets of categorized clues.  Cards are organized in sets of three - for example, three different guns, three different "sharp objects," etc.  Players are therefore motivated to expose such sets of three to everyone at the table, e.g. "The victim was not killed in the Auto" while laying down all three Auto cards (Front Seat, Back Seat, and Trunk).  Finally, the winner doesn't have to make a perfect accusation - just outscore his or her opponents in the accuracy of his accusation (positive points for correct elements of the murder, negative points for incorrect elements).  

The result is a game that requires completely different approaches and strategies to deduce a near-correct answer well enough to outscore one's opponents.  In our game, our 16-year-old initiated the end-game with what turned out to be a correct accusation, but my wife tied his score because she had exposed higher-scoring card combinations.  Everybody agreed that it was a fun, approachable, and different take on deduction games, and we are likely to play it again soon.  I am sorry for Seth that he had to give it up, but he may like knowing that his copy has found some fresh life in its new home.


  1. Sounds like a variation on rummy.

  2. Well, no, it's not a set-melding game. It's a deduction game. The card affiliations in categories facilitate the logic aspect of the game, but there's no building of sets.