Agatha Christie's Death on the Cards
The villain in the action-adventure film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade warns hero Indiana Jones: "Don't trust anybody". More about that later. Keep this in mind as you read this review and examination
of this new card game.
What is this new card game, you ask? The full title is "Agatha Christie's Death on the Cards", created in 2019 by Modiphius Entertainment, a game publisher based in the UK. This game
can be found on their website and is also for sale at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Waterstones. It is a card game involving
cooperative play and bluffing where one of the players is a murderer. There's a tricky part to this, because as you're looking for the murderer, you have your own secrets you must keep hidden. If found out, you are thrown
into public shame or social disgrace.
We had a fun evening testing out the game. In this 1st time joining me was my wife and my parents. With various interruptions during the game and going over the rules, it took about an hour to finish a game. It takes
about 10 minutes to grasp gameplay and a game can last 20-45 minutes. The game can be played with 2 people (you already know who's the killer!) and up to 6 people. In the 5 or 6 player game, the murderer is joined by an
accomplice, too! How fun!
I want to say that it is not a requirement to know Agatha Christie's books to enjoy this game. If you are familiar with her mysteries and detectives, then you are in for a treat. Her detectives are all included,
various motives and secrets (or red herrings) are there, and various twists on her story titles are present. Even on the detective cards you'll find quotes from each of the characters. Bonus: even Christie's
fictitious country of Herzoslovakia gets a mention in the game. So, this card game has a great attention to detail.
The Hercule Poirot card forces a player to reveal a secret. Each detective card has a unique "ability" in the game.
More on the cards themselves: the artwork is beautiful to look at and some are humorous. The art captures the look and style of the 1920s and 30s well. The cards consist of detective cards, event, devious, secret, and
The detective cards are used to uncover players' secrets and thus discovering the killer's identity. The various 9 sleuths in the game (I'm astonished that there were that many and that's very pleasing) include
Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, and others.
The event and devious cards affect gameplay in various ways. These cards force you to reveal a secret, give up a card from your hand, "resurrect" a discarded card, steal detective cards, or prolong/shorten the
game (depending if it favors the killer or not!).
The secrets to be revealed in the game are, of course, in the secret cards. It just doesn't include the secret of "You're the Murderer!!", but other character secrets that are famous in Agatha Christie's novels.
Remember, in a Christie novel typically every character is guilty of something or is hiding a secret. These include slow poisoning, fake royalty, faking your death, being an impostor, having a gambling problem, etc.
An example of a secret card. There many different secrets you must hide from other players. This particular one reminds me of a few Christie novels.
The instant card in the game ("Not So Fast, You Fiend!") is designed to interrupt gameplay, ie: a player's action or card ability. This is extremely useful to cancel a card even if it is not your turn. And that
played card/action might not directly affect you but you can still play the "Not So Fast..." card. (This game is meant to be cooperative. Besides, cancelling a card affecting someone else might be advantageous for you
later on.) Multiple "Not So Fast..." cards may be played by multiple players to cancel a previously played "Not So Fast..." card. So, this cancelling ability is very useful. You'd want to play this to keep your secrets
from being revealed, losing a card, or protecting another player's misfortune or when a player is heading towards social disgrace.
Perfect example of including an Agatha Christie reference into the game. This event card is helpful since it can save a player from being disgraced.
There is a fascinating occurence in the game when all of one player's secrets are revealed (turned face-up on the table). If all of his or her cards are revealed, the player is incapable of playing cards and is
disgraced. That shamed player still participates and can share victory if the murderer's identity is discovered. (If all players are shamed/socially disgraced, then the killer automatically wins.) A player may remove
social disgrace from another and bring that person "back into the game". This is useful if the killer is getting close to winning and more help from all players is needed. In several ways this game is cooperatively played.
(For more on game strategy, see below.)
HOW THE GAME ENDS
The mechanism that ends the game (for the murderer) and allows him/her to escape is quite clever but simple. A card that's titled "Murderer Escapes!" is placed at the very bottom of the draw pile. If the draw pile is
depleted (there is no reshuffling the discarded cards!) and the "Murderer Escapes!" card is revealed, then the murderer wins.
If at any time the killer's secret is revealed, he or she is caught and the other players share the victory.
SOME TIPS ON STRATEGY
There is a collaborative effort between players. There is much more player interaction here than Clue, the famous classic mystery game. In Clue, it's an individual effort in finding the killer's identity. You don't
share information, but instead you see other players' cards and mark it down on a notebook. (The only collaboration in Clue is the showing of cards.) In Death on the Cards, you can openly discuss strategy amongst players
(if you choose).
Pay attention to the types of cards played and actions taken by all players. Ask yourself why two players did a card exchange with each other. A tell-tale sign of the killer's identity is when the player is discarding
an unusual amount of cards to reduce the draw deck or playing an event card that forces more cards to the discard pile. The killer may be collecting "Not So Fast..." cards to hide secrets. (You want to have this card
type regardless if you are the killer or not.)
The "You're the Murderer!!" secret card. Knowing its position amongst your secret cards in front of you will prevent you from unmasking yourself.
A killer might be identified early (inadvertently) if he is checking the secret cards in front of him. He should memorize which one is the "You're the Murderer!!" so when it's time to reveal a card, he calmly flips
over a different card instead of accidentally showing the murderer card. There's no reason for innocent players to check their (innocent) secret cards because none of them is the murderer. The secret cards are
embarrassing and funny but having them revealed doesn't make you lose the game. A secret is a secret, no matter what the secret is. In the deck I have not encountered an event card that targets a specific non-murderer
FIRST TEST OF GAME
As I mentioned before, my family and I tried out firsthand playing the game. We agreed at the end that the game was enjoyable. We reminded ourselves that it was our first time playing it and we realized there were
missed opportunities in playing certain cards. We got a grasp of the game's rules and mechanics early on, but still had to refer to the rules sheet from time to time. We had to remind two family members of the rules
behind playing detective cards/sets. There is a big difference and we had to re-read the rules. The actions taken during one's turn is easy to remember and player aid cards are included to remind players what they can
do during their turn.
One of the more "powerful" event cards in the game. Playing this early might cause other players to be suspicious of you!
Remember how I started off discussing the game with a quote from the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The quote was "Don't trust anybody", said by the villain. The four of us sat at the table in this
order: it was myself, my father, wife, and mother (she was on my right). In the first game we tried out, I was dealt the murderer card as one of my three secret cards. I was forced to reveal my second secret and the draw
pile was shrinking. Good time to play my event card "Early Train to Paddington" on my next turn, I thought to myself. My father placed a detective set down to force my mother to reveal her first secret card which I halted
by playing the "Not So Fast..." card. I did so because I wanted to earn her confidence. (I didn't know what my mother had in her hand or what she planned). My mother seemed grateful that I prevented her from revealing her
first secret card. My wife discarded cards. Then it was my mother's turn.
After what I did for her, what does she do? She played a detective set to force me to reveal my secret card showing that I was the murderer. I calmly cancelled that action by playing my final "Not So Fast..." card. So I
saved myself from losing and no one opposed my playing the "Not So Fast..." card. Well, like the quote "Don't trust anybody" goes, you can't entirely trust and rely on fellow players in this game! So much for the favor I
bestowed upon my mom. The next turn my was mine. I tried my best in counting the remaining cards in the draw pile--there were five left. I played my event card and the bottom card of "Murderer Escapes!" shows up. That
effectively ended the game and I eluded capture and disappeared into the night victorious.
The final play of the
game, with my detective set and secret cards on the table. The discard pile is now full because of this event card I played to win the game as the murderer. The face-down secret card is the murderer card.
The cards and box (lid closes with a magnet) are of great quality and they are sturdy. (With the way the box opens, it would have been a clever idea to make it look like an Agatha Christie novel.) The motif of blood
is everywhere, but it makes sense as murder is the plot. I mentioned the artwork already before. Suffice it to say that the art is beautiful to look at (and humorous). The colors are used very well and I like the
caricatures. Sure, Tommy Beresford should be red-headed and Mr. Satterthwaite looks like an elf in the books, but this is forgivable. The art captures the era well, which is presumable the 1920's and 30's.
This game is well executed and designed. The rules slightly change depending on the number of players, and I like how it adapts to the number of participants. With
5 or 6 players, an accomplice is added to the game. It makes it fair for the murderer to have a chance to win so it is not too overwhelming with everyone out "to get him". The game does give a chance for the murderer to
escape (see about my family's first try at the game below) and I would say the same is true in giving a chance for the "innocents" to win also.
The rules are fairly easy to understand but there are a few aspects that are a little vague. For example, it's not exactly explicit on how the table layout is supposed to be and if the secret cards are stacked or
laid out side by side. Another thing not clear in the instructions is that if you are forced to discard cards not on your turn, can you immediately draw cards to get back to the limit of six in your hand. The rules sheet
does have a game turn example to understand better the game, but there is a scenario in the example that is both very confusing and contradictory.
The only interrupting card in the game is the "Not So Fast, You Fiend!" card. There are plenty of this found in the deck and it is essential to have in your hand.
I can't wait to really get into the game and test the various event cards. Some are very useful and powerful. The event cards are versatile in different ways to force players to reveal their secrets. I like the card
draft area on the table just next to the draw pile. These are the top 3 cards from the deck, face up on the table to be chosen as an alternative to drawing from the draw pile. That is very helpful especially when a
card revealed is a detective card or a "Not So Fast..." card.
I would recommend this card game to anybody who enjoys games that involves teamwork. Also, I think aficionados of mystery games would enjoy solving a murder. Having the theme of Agatha Christie is an added bonus and
references to her works are employed expertly. This is an excellent addition to any discerning fan of Christie. Any negative aspects of this game would be that the deck is fairly small, the rules could be a little more
clear and expanded, and that it would be fun for other type of cards representing a motive and weapon (or method of murder/death). Good marks for this game include the gorgeous artwork, the use of the hidden traitor
mechanic, and the brilliant use of Agatha Christie characters and abilities (these go well with their personalities as written by Christie).
HPC rates this game: Out of 5 mustaches
- Number of Players: 2-6
- Appropirate Age: 10 +
- Game Length: 20-45 minutes
- Box includes 86 cards and rules sheet
- Date of Manufacture: July 2019