Designed by: Charles Chevallier, Bruno Faidutti
Art by: Vincent Burger
Published by: Pixie Games
Playtime: 15-30 Minutes
Review copy provided free of charge by Asmodee UK
Ah, the detective, a classic figure from books and movies alike, the man or woman capable of solving the greatest of mysteries via a series of incredible deductions and, in the case of Benedict Cumberwhatshisnname’s Sherlock Holmes, plentiful insults because everyone else is stupid. Small Detective looks to take the basic premise of something like Cluedo and shoves it into a tiny box. Good things really do come in small packages.
The game is simple to set up; you just grab the little circle depicting a classic circular culdesac in which anyone living cannot possibly escape since there doesn’t seem to be any way out, put the pub and police station on opposite sides and then proceed to sort the eight house tiles out into their two piles; one for the tiles that have people on the flip-side, and the other for those with weapons printed on them. You’ll then randomly pick one tile from each pile in order to decide who the murderer of poor Mr. Shuman is and what weapon they used to do the foul deed. The rest of the houses are placed around the central circle to form the board, and off you go.
All you have to do is visit the six houses, look at what’s on the other side of those tiles and from that information figure out who the murderer is, and what he or she did the deed with. It sounds simple, but the catch is how you actually get to those houses, because like any good detective who knows they have many chapters or scenes left to fill you have to take the most circuitous route possible to succeed. Oh, and you have to casually insult Watson whenever possible.
Okay, so travelling around the board involves the use of various cards. At the start of the game each player is going to get dealt three cards, on on their turn they’ll play one of them in order to move around tiles. One card might let you jump to the directly adjacent tile, another may allow you to shift three tiles clockwise and yet another could let you investigate the houses on your left and right. These cards get played in order based on the number listed on top of them, and if you end up on a house tile once everyone has finished moving around you get to flip it over and see who or what is on the bottom, thus moving you another step to solving the mystery.
But there are two catches; firstly if more than one player ends up on the same tile then nobody gets to flip it over and look, so a lot of your time is spent trying to remember where other people have already been so that you can avoid them while also moving toward wherever you need to be. The second catch is once everyone has finished moving their played card gets given to the player on the right, thus if you have three players then it’s always the same nine cards in circulation. This lets you better try to predict where a player might be heading.
At least, that’s the theory. The nature of the game means your plans are always going to get ruined either because another player wound up on the same spot as you or just because you didn’t quite get the cards you need to get you to that specific It can be frustrating to bounce madly around the board trying to get to a certain spot, but if you can embrace it then it’s quite fun.
There are two final tiles we need to chat about; the police station is simply where you have to go to make your guess, at which point you grab the tokens representing the person and the weapon and then secretly check the two house tiles that were put aside at the start of the game. Guess right and the player wins, guess wrong and they are out of the game. The other tiles is where every good detective goes to solve a mystery; the pub. When you go here you can take up to three tokens depicting people and weapons and then show them to another player, asking them if they have seen this/these? The thing is, the player can answer with a blanket yes or no, thus if they’re shown two tiles and have seen one of them they can choose to answer yes or no. The only way around this is to ask about a single person or weapon.
It’s ultimately less about deduction and more about having a decent memory because you’re always trying to remember where you’ve been, who and what you’ve seen, where everyone else has gone and what cards might be getting played. There are even a few cards that move tiles around, and if you play a few games one after the other everything starts to blur together.
So, it’s a simple game to play and only takes about 20-minutes from setup to finish which I feel like is about the idea time for something like this. In other, words it’s a filler game and I think in that role it largely succeeds. Everyone I played it with learned the rules easily, enjoyed the theme and enjoyed the gameplay. Even the production values are surprisingly strong due to the thick tiles and lovely artwork, although I wonder if there could be a potential problem with tiles becoming slightly damaged on their edges and thus could give the game away. The only real issue I could find is that the replay value might be a bit weak. The first couple of times you play it’s quite fun, but after that it doesn’t have anything to keep people coming. One game of Small Detectives feels exactly like any other.
For a filler game, however, that’s not much of a problem. In the end this is a really solid, fun, quick game that serves as a great choice for a family game or as a little pallette cleanser between heavier stuff, especially if you like the detective theme.