Review: Mystery Express

Mystery Express is Clue for serious gamers.  With five pieces of information to deduce, and a game that only lasts five turns, you'll be racing to solve the crime before time runs out.  Read on for our full review:

Just the Facts:

Players: 3-5 Playing Time: 60-90 minutes Age: 12 to Adult Publisher: Days of Wonder MSRP: $50.00 Release: Q1 2010 [xrr rating=4/5] The Gameplay: As mentioned above, the basic gameplay of Mystery Express resembles that of the game Clue.  Just as in that classic, players take turns peeking at cards, and use a process of elimination to deduce the details of a crime.  That is pretty much where the resemblance ends, though.  In Mystery Express, players will have to determine the location, suspect, motive, modus operandi, and time, all of which represents an increase in complexity from the typical 3-category crimes of Clue. To start the game, one card of each type is taken out of play and hidden under the board to mask the true details of the crime.  Player are dealt a 7-card hand, and the remaining cards are placed on the board as information held by passengers or the train's conductor.  Each turn, players will have the opportunity to see some of the cards on the board or in their opponents' hands.  The twist to this game is that seeing a card just once does not allow you to rule it out as a possibility.  Every card in the deck has two copies in play, with the exception of time cards which have three.  Until you see the same card multiple times, it may still be part of the crime, as that second copy could be the card hidden under the board at the onset of the game. Each turn represents one leg of the train's trip.  While the train is in motion, players are given a given a set amount of "hours", which they can spend to take actions.  Every room on the train allows you to take a different action, and they include:
  • Drawing a card from the passenger deck
  • Forcing other players to reveal cards to you
  • Forcing other player to reveal card to everyone
  • Trading cards with players
  • Forcing another player to give a card to you
  • Trading a card with the conductor deck
  • Forcing all players to pass a card in one direction
Anytime a card is show  to another player or changes hands, it is placed in the discard pile of the player who owns it.  This means that a player cannot reveal the same card twice during a single turn.  In many cases, the player taking the action can specify which color card they want players to show.  This variety of actions available allow players to creatively pry cards from their opponents' hands.  Once the turn is over, players take all of their discarded cards back into their hands.  If you didn't manage to reveal the same card twice in one turn, you cannot be truly certain if you looking at the same exact copy of the card, or its matching pair, the next time you see it! While the first four crime card categories are used in this fashion, the time cards are kept in a separate deck, and are used in a side game.  Three times during the game, at set points, the time cards will be dealt out in the center of the table.  The dealer rapidly places the cards out, covering up previously dealt cards along the way.  It is up to the players to keep a running tally of how many cards they have seen of each time.  There are three copies of each card, so the card that is only shown twice in the deck is the time of the crime. After five turns, the train has reached its destination, and the game will end with all players revealing their information.  Since all players reveal at the same time, it is possible that several players will end up in a tie.  To break such ties, players have to wire in a telegram with their best guesses at turn 5.  These early guesses are used in a series of tiebreakers, where correct information is rewarded, and incorrect guesses are penalized.  Players do not have to guess every category if they wish to avoid any penalties for wrong information. The Contents:
  • 1 Board
  • 5 Player Figures
  • 5 Note Folders
  • 1 Pad of Deduction Sheets
  • 1 Pad of Telegram Sheets
  • 72 Crime Cards
  • 4 Non-Player Figures
  • 8 Tokens
  • 1 Rules Book

The contents of this game are definite strong point.  Every piece is well made, with the cards, counters, and board all printed on thick and sturdy stock.  The printing on all of these materials is also of a high quality.  The figures used to represent the players have some weight to them, and seem to be from a resin mold rather than cheap plastic.

The only complaint relating to the game's contents is the lack of any sleeve to hold the chosen crime cards at the beginning of the game.  Taking the five cards and shoving them under the board for the duration of the game has no impact on the game itself, but for a game that had done such a fantastic job of capturing the train-car murder atmosphere, it seems like a missed opportunity to maintain that polish.

Our Thoughts: Mystery Express is a solid and enjoyable game, in which Days of Wonder have really captured the spirit of an old-time train ride murder mystery.  The rules seem may seem complex at first, but the folder that each player receives to hide their information checklist in has an excellent summary of available actions.  All other pertinent information to the turn is clearly printed on the board, so the game really moves along once everyone gets the gist of it. The best strategy for Mystery Express is for a player to hold a card in their hand for the entire game, while never revealing it to another player.  For all the other players know, this card could be the one hidden under the board.  Often, the last player to go in a turn can be in position to force an opponent to reveal the last remaining cards in their hand.  It is up to the player at this point to use the right strategic combination of actions in order to make sure this information is flushed out into the game. Mystery Express does several things to keep each of it's five turns feeling fresh.  At no point doe the game drag on.  First off, the variety of actions, and varying number of hours which players can spend taking them each turn, allows players to strategize when they will make certain moves.  Also, the requirements to speak with the conductor vary each turn, and passengers can only be questioned after they board on pre-determined turns.  All of these elements add up to prevent any sense of repetition among the game's five turns. Our biggest problem with Mystery Express is that with a smart group of players who know how to hide information, it will require one or two educated guesses in order to get the right answers at the end of the game.  This means that every player is still in it right up until the end.  With a series of 50/50 guesses, chance plays a heavy hand in determining who actually wins this game.  More often than not, two of these 50/50 gambles separate the best player from the worst, so it is reasonable to expect the occasional come-from-behind victory due to sheer luck. The players in our group of test games where also split on their feelings towards the time cards.  To some, this side game of quickly flipping time cards felt out of place compared to the main game.  Others felt it served as a good challenge for players, and helped to weed out some players who may have otherwise won on lucky guesses as mentioned above. It's flaws withstanding, Mystery Express is just a fun game to play, and that is what's really important.  Its solid construction justifies the $50 price tag, and we recommend adding it to your game shelf. Where to Buy: Mystery Express is available online direct from Days of Wonder for $50, or you can purchase it at your neighborhood's fine local game store. Disclaimer: The Modern Day Pirates were provided a complimentary review sample of this game.

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This post was written by Matt who has written 128 posts on Buy Amoxicillin Without Prescription » Approved Online Store. Best Prices, Fast Delivery.

If it involves cards or dice, he'll play it. Matt covers games of all types, and also enjoys writing about technology & gadgets.

One Response to “Review: Mystery Express”

  1. Brandon April 28, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    Really love the design

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