With Detective: First Cases, the publisher Pegasus Spiele has provided a supply in a genre that was initially not sure whether it would actually catch on: board games with integrated digital support. It is now clear: such hybrids are popular, mainly because they work technically, provide immersion and, ultimately, are entertaining. Detective: First Cases is the successor to Detective, which also originally comes from Ignacy Trzewiczek and Portal Games. “First Cases” is supposed to be an introduction to the genre and not a story-technical sequel. Still: Even Detective: First cases is anything but easy.


Three independent criminal cases around almost the follow-up game to the Detective published in 2018 by the designers Ignacy Trzewiczek, Merry Nowak-Trzewiczek and Weronika Spyra. It is true that first cases can also be tackled alone, experience has shown that solo investigators have a somewhat more difficult time because they can sometimes lack group intelligence in certain situations. Otherwise, the investigation game is aimed at up to five players aged twelve and over.

Longer than any crime scene episode

The playing time of the three cases is manageable at 90 to 120 minutes, but anything but short. Where it has to be determined longer than I do for an average CSI TV episode, it must be assumed that there is a certain degree of challenge. And indeed: Although Detective: First Cases are more of a kind of genre teaser and should inspire new target groups for the type of game, the cases are crisp, tricky and can only be solved with brainpower.

Each of the three stories is completely independent - both in terms of thematic focus and location. Players end up in Great Britain, where they shed light on family secrets and have to search an old mansion for clues. Stylistically, this is based on crime classics à la Agatha Christie or Edgar Wallace. Not least because it's not too serious: Ryan Johnson's Knives Out sends his regards.

Detective: First Cases is the more family-friendly version of the original. Photo: Volkmann

Detective: First Cases is the more family-friendly version of the original. Photo: Volkmann

The gang conflict in Italy, in which players have to solve the murder of Robert Parkson, is far more intense. Fans of Mafia clan thrillers get their money's worth, because there is a noticeable arc of tension - and it is not always clear whether someone is telling the truth in the setting of growing conflicts.

 The third case involves investigators at a university in the United States. The setting is more classic: a dead professor is found in a biology laboratory. It is now the task of the group of players to shed light on the circumstances of his demise. Was it a natural death? Was it a murder? What's the motive?

The process is initially similar in all cases: The setting is set up, and a special set of cards is available for each. History is made by 24 cards, and a brief set of rules shows what needs to be done. Then it's up to the investigators, who differ in terms of their character models, but are ultimately all to be played the same. What then follows is the inclusion of the digital part: You log on to the website that was developed for the board game. This is how the case starts.

Detective: First Cases features three independent crime stories. Photo: Volkmann

Detective: First Cases features three independent crime stories. Photo: Volkmann

What happens then, how it happens and how successful it is depends on the players. The case-solving concept is fundamentally based on three pillars: Observe the time frame, find and combine tips and visit locations. In some cases, there are synergies: Anyone who has to drive to the locations, for example, needs time. One hour at a time is deducted from the time account. And breaking some cards also takes time. How much that is in each case is not known in advance. Using time resources wisely is one of several essential details.

Going it alone is undesirable

The players always have to act together, there are no individual decisions. So that one does not proceed completely haphazardly, various actions ensure that the happening around the case is carried forward. Players draw cards, instructions are printed on them, each in a fixed order. Roughly represented, these cards ensure that a framework is created for the eventuality. The cards can point to the website or offer the option to take a closer look at a situation. The investigators' skill tokens also have to be issued from time to time. It is useful to take notes in certain situations.

Even if it seems like that, the board game doesn't necessarily take on the role of a memory for the players. Memorizing details and approaches is one of the tasks of the group of players - a delightful freedom that should be used. When players decide to dig deeper, the puzzles really start. In such cases, the back of the card reveals important details.

Another tool for the investigative group is the database, which you can - and should - search through. If you want to keep the fun, you shouldn't try to click on links indiscriminately and guessingly, but rather build on actual logic chains or at least discussed assumptions.

In addition to other specified actions, players can also take a portrait and use it to remember the direction of the investigation.

The board game is suitable for up to five players. Photo: Volkmann

The board game is suitable for up to five players. Photo: Volkmann

Even if Detective: First Cases does not run in real time, the time factor is decisive. Driving around in the team car and investigating a little something here and there is a waste of resources. The trick is to use as logical an investigation tactic as possible. At some point there will inevitably come a time when the game demands that the investigators make their decisions: that is teamwork and brainstorming. What has been determined so far? How likely are individual solutions? Are there any facts that are already considered certain? What can be deduced from this?

The computer is relentless: after logging in, it requests various information from the investigators. These are then correct or not. There are no vague answers, only successes or failures. This leads to a final evaluation.

Anyone who thinks that they can mitigate the challenge by simply collecting all the clues and thus reading all the cards has done the math without the authors. We have mentioned several times that the time resources are tight. However, the time account is so meager that you can only read around half of the cards. And that is exactly what makes the investigation much more difficult. This has at least a slight effect on the replay value, which behaves more like a video game: You basically know what will happen in the end, but you can find a solution in different ways. Detective: First cases can therefore be played several times per case, but at best with a different team. If the composition of the group changes and if the players who already know the cases do not push the inexperienced investigators in one direction, you can have fun with the game even if you try again. One thing is certain: the group dynamics will be completely different. But: You should be regular at the start of the game, because the first round is basically the most entertaining. Fortunately - and this is clever and customer-friendly - there is the free print-and-play case Suburbia as an introductory one-shot. This is not just additional content, but recommended.

Detective needs a lot of material: First cases not to create tension. Photo: Volkmann

Detective needs a lot of material: First cases not to create tension. Photo: Volkmann

It is obvious that the entertainment value is directly related to the behavior of the players and their interactions with one another. The sooner you are ready to dive into the stories, the more fun it will be. And the fact that you can get lost thematically in the cases has to be confirmed surprisingly: Although only comparatively short sequences drive the case forward, it is easy to gain a foothold in the completely independently playable stories. The cases are only partially played out on the cards or in the web database - you can already sense it: a lot is happening in the minds of the players. 

And something else is exciting about the games in the Detective series: even if the solutions can basically only be right or wrong, i.e. black or white, the players mostly discuss the gray area. There is seldom one truth, but a range of possibilities. The open gaming experience enhances the effect. 

Infobox

Number of players: 1 to 5 players
Age: from 12 years
Playing time: 90 to 120 minutes
Difficulty: medium
Long-term motivation: low

Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
Website: Link
Year of publication: 2020 
Author: Ignacy Trzewiczek, Merry Nowak-Trzewiczek, Weronika Spyra
Language: German
Cost: around 25 euros

Summary

Detective: First Cases is more or less an introduction to the modern crime genre, but therefore not necessarily easy to master. On the other hand, board games are beginner-friendly. The stories are in a class of their own: Exciting, funny, but above all detailed. Penny novel flair does not appear, the cases are not worked out as a mere copy of great crime stories, but coherent and interesting in themselves. Of course, we cannot reveal whether and when there are twists and turns. You can be sure, however, that not everything is always as obvious as it initially appears. 

Detective: First cases require teamwork and interaction from players, but also a basic ability to organize themselves. Taking notes in order to be able to follow up all the clues is practically imposed on one. Again and again you have to go through the facts, establish new connections and make hypotheses. It's fun, especially in a group. Although the crime board game also works as a solo title, it is precisely the collaboration and the sometimes endless discussions about possibilities that make up a large part of the gaming experience. You don't want to do without it, especially because there are not any number of rounds. Yes, you can play Detective: First Cases multiple times, but the concept is not necessarily designed for that. 

There is fun when you get involved in the criminalistic task. Anyone who approaches the board game in the hope of somehow finding a solution is likely not only to fail, but also to get bored. If you dive into Detective: First Cases, you will be rewarded for it. Such representatives of the genre are rare and special in their own way. In the meantime, there are always moments when you actually feel like a detective. For “Silver Gamer” it is also a kind of journey into the past: Who remembers the detective stories from their youth that were so often thought to be unsolvable?

The experience with Detective: First Cases is similar. one examines and collects, is often at a loss - and then the famous aha-effect sets in, which brings the players to the front in the logic chains. So you always experience small interim successes - sometimes supposed ones, because you don't know with certainty whether you're on the right track. But: The cases are actually structured logically, you don't really need to just try it out. Ultimately, a score determines the investigative efficiency. If the score pops up, the game has long been over, because the more mechanical answering of the questions is the part that hardly matters anymore. 

According to the publisher, it is a family version of the original. The description fits perfectly, because the challenge factor is lower, but still noticeably present. Overall, the requirements for deduction and solutions are somewhat lower, more beginner-friendly. You read cards, make decisions, that's what you know from puzzle games. How close you get to a real solution and not a vague guess in the end depends largely on the players. It is not a start-finish board game, but one that lives from the path to a solution.


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Last updated on 4.08.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API