Mystery-solving games are an excellent mix of theme and system, like the famous Clue (originally Cluedo, created during the WWII Blitz to give players some escape while waiting out the devastation in shelters). Most of these games involve determining who has done some grisly crime, but Simply Suspects from Spy Alley Partners gives it a new twist: framing someone and not getting caught.
In high society, what the crime is, exactly, does not matter. What does matter is keeping one’s reputation. Players take on the secret identities of characters trying to protect their names, even if they in fact did not commit any real crime. The object of the game is to pin the evidence and eliminate someone, anyone, else. As in its board-game relative Spy Alley, when a player’s identity is guessed, that player is eliminated. While Spy Alley was about sneakily collecting the proper materials to win the game, Simply Suspects is all about the elimination.
Players spend each turn rolling a die and moving around a board of squares that determine their available actions for that round, akin to vintage games in its mode of randomizing what happens. Get-Away cards allow players to move a certain number of spaces rather than rolling a die, giving an element of strategy above chance. Other spaces have players move markers denoting evidence of tire tracks, footprints, photographs, and more that might be considered circumstantial. A player with two pegs on his or her identity who lands on the Grand Jury square is eliminated.
While rolling is the mechanic of the game, the real play is psychological. The logical way to avoid being eliminated by the Grand Jury square would be to keep evidence away from one’s own identity. However, players may also guess someone’s identity and knock him or her out of the game presumably for the serious crime of tampering with evidence, even though all players are doing it. Players will want to move different pieces of evidence, perhaps even incriminating themselves, just to keep others guessing. The mind games take Simply Suspects to a higher level of bluffing, guessing, and even making outlandish accusations as part of the fun.
The game itself is intense with puzzling over who is who, but the punning names of the would-be criminals, like Miss Demeanor and Pearl E. White, keep it refreshingly hilarious. The identity cards have great jokes, like Pearl E. White’s body-type being described as “Mind your own business” and Vinny Da Skinny being wanted for “You Name It…” Most endearing of all is Wilbur E. Meadows, the horse wanted for cattle-rustling.
Simply Suspects is a game for two to six players aged eight and up. Alternate rules outline a “Partners” way of playing in teams of two. Having accomplices changes up the gameplay by protecting one another and yet possibly giving away one’s identity with a mistaken knowing look. Whether in team-play or on their own, lovers of classic mystery games and social puzzlers will dive right in to Simply Suspects.