What is this game about?
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is exactly what it sounds like—it's a game in which you (and some friends, if you so choose) work together to solve mysteries. The game consists of five interconnected cases, with a sixth case available as a mini expansion. The way this game is set up is interesting. You have a limited amount of time and resources: Each case has a strict time limit, and your detective team will also have a limited pool of tokens that can be used to push for more information. So you start each case with a deck of 35 cards, but you cannot realistically expect to get through them all. Instead, you'll just have to do your best and work with what you've uncovered by the time the clock runs out. Also interesting is that the clues are partially printed on cards, but you'll also be working with an online database that serves as a companion to each case. The Antares database includes files on various people you encounter, records of interrogations, and—my favorite—DNA and fingerprint matching capabilities so that you can track who touched what, who bled where, etc.
Once you run out of time on a case, it's time to fill out the "final report," which is essentially a multiple choice quiz. You'll get a score based on how many correct answers you can produce, minus the number of "stress tokens" you used when you pushed yourself a little too far during the game.
How does it play solo?
I personally prefer this game solo, although I can see how others might prefer to work with others. There is definitely enough going on for multiple people to have something to do—take notes, sort clue cards, check the computer. But the bookkeeping was in no way too complicated for me to handle myself. I did the first case with a group and then again solo, and I caught so much more information the second time. I played through the following four cases solo and enjoyed them.
Detective is not a perfect board game, but it's a really fun one. The flavor text on the cards is cheesy as hell (how many sludgy coffees can a detective consume while sitting in uncomfortable metal chairs?) but I got a real kick out of it. And the overall storyline of the case was really interesting, so much so that I played the whole game out over the course of one long Saturday. I just couldn't help myself! I loved using the Antares database online, especially when I was able to do fingerprint and DNA matches. It made me feel just a little bit like a real cop. Portal Games makes a big deal out of board games that tell stories, and Detective certainly is one.
That said, there were times when Detective was just a little too "gamey" for me. I often chafed against the restrictions of the investigation tokens, which often felt unfairly limited to me. I mostly enjoyed trying to stay within the time limits, but I would have preferred not to worry about them. And in Case 5, there was an extra mechanic that I won't discuss too much here (I don't want to spoil anything for you!), but I didn't really enjoy dealing with it while I played. Of course, my opinion is definitely connected to my personal feelings about how mystery games should be played. I never bother with the technical rules in Sherlock Homes: Consulting Detective, because I'd much rather "wander around" in the game world and read all of the flavor text. You can't get away with that in Detective so much, because of the way the cases are set up, especially in the later installments.
I should warn you that, while the "Final Report" will make you feel like you should have definitive answers, you will often find yourself going with your gut. Don't let it freak you out—just go with your best guesses. Probably the least satisfying aspect of Detective was the scoring system, since you could guess a lot of right answers but still feel uncertain about the case or be upset about events that occurred during the investigation (I won't spoil the story by elaborating). I also wasn't entirely convinced that the final case truly tied the plot together. Not everything seemed to make perfect sense in the end. But the ride was exhilarating, and I would definitely play a game like Detective again.
Do I recommend it?
If you like trying to solve mysteries and can handle the fact that you'll have to go with your gut a lot, then yes. Detective is highly entertaining and well worth the time it takes to play through it.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it.
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.