Given the mystery based nature of the game let me state up front that this review will be spoiler free.
I’m a big fan of immersive storytelling experiences in games like T.I.M.E Stories, and a huge mystery buff, so was extremely intrigued by the concept of a modern style investigation in the form of a game.
Players are agents of a special investigative agency in current times, and that’s pretty much all the background needed before jumping in. Cards and well implemented online features provide information as the cases proceed, and it’s all up to players to decide how to use the (in game) time they have to pursue leads and then piece together the answers needed for the particular case they’re tackling.
The rule book warns that there’s no “right answer card.” This isn’t a matter of searching for that one statement that jumps up and down saying “you win now!” There’s plenty of information to analyze, but players will never see it all and have to make choices about what to investigate and (even more importantly) make inferences from what’s discovered. A series of summary questions at the end of the case will determine if the players were successful, or if they’ll need to try that particular case again.
The feel of the game and level of immersion were incredible. Playing felt like we were doing detective work. This is a storytelling experience as much as it is a game, and each case will run around 3 hours or so. But it never felt that long. The way research is integrated, the story elements, a real sense of discovery and tension, and the constraints of not being able to investigate everything while still feeling like we got enough to figure things out kept us engaged and excited.
There are historical and real world connotations wonderfully tied into the fictional narrative that unfolds, and the mechanics and the way everything comes together is really clever and well done.
I played this with one other person. It went extremely well with the two of us given our level of gaming experience, etc. I think for most groups three people would be the sweet spot, although the game is listed as for 1-5. Everything is highly connected from case to case in the included campaign (five cases), so it’s highly preferable to continue the campaign with the same group from start to finish.
I’ve seen some understandable criticisms of some of the leaps of intuition needed in a couple of places and of some plot points. But I thought the mystery level overall was challenging but reasonable, and the story engrossing and well enough executed as the campaign unfolded from case to case. One case bordered on frustrating in some ways for us (and we did have to replay it), but it was still fine in the end, fit into the greater picture well, and we loved the other four.
With the length, note taking, gradually unfolding pace, and other elements I’ve mentioned, there is a rather specific target audience that will enjoy Detective. For me it was a wonderfully compelling cooperative game. Simply incredible overall.