So, what’s the deal with Mystery Express?
You thought you signed up for a peaceful train ride across Europe. Little did you know, there would be a murder on the train! And as those intimately familiar with international train law are aware, when there is a murder on the train, it is up to the civilian passengers to solve the crime! International train rides are much like parties in the mansions of the wealthy in that way.
What makes Mystery Express special?
Mystery Express is by far one of the most challenging games I have ever played. A deductive challenge, it takes a sharp wit, close attention to detail, and a little bit of player manipulation to elicit the information you need to solve the crime – or come close.
Anyone who has played Clue before will find the setup pretty familiar – you must discern five different elements of a crime (as opposed to Clue’s three) by identifying the card missing from each of five decks – Suspect, Location, Modus Operandi, Motive, and Time. However, unlike Clue, there are two copies of each card in each deck – so you must find both cards of a type in order to rule anything out. It is a harsh step up in difficulty from Clue, but for anyone who has enjoyed Clue but wants more challenge, Mystery Express is here to offer that challenge.
Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?
At the beginning of the game, one card is removed from each of the five decks, and then all the decks but Time are shuffled together. Each player receives a hand of cards, and some cards are dealt to the passenger and conductor spaces on the board. The game takes place over several rounds, and during each round, players get a chance to get information.
Each round represents a leg of the trip lasting a certain number of hours. Each player spends these hours on actions – the actions that tend to gain more knowledge outright often cost more time to use. For example, it costs 2 hours to go to the Lounge Car, where the player can choose one category in which all other players must reveal a single card. A lot of information is revealed at once, but everyone gets to see it. In comparison, in the Smoking Car, you may spend 3 hours to choose a category of card and force two players to give you a card of that type. You then give them any card you choose from your hand.
A clever twist on the familiar mechanism in Clue is that once a card is revealed, it goes to a discard pile. This is immensely helpful for tracking cards, since it is not enough to see the same crime element twice – you must be sure that you have seen two different cards.
Throughout the game, various events take place between rounds that bring more information into play. For example, two passengers get on board at different points in the trip, bringing with them 2-3 new cards each time. Between rounds is also when players get to see Time cards – there are three chances to see all time cards, during which players have to try and catch the one that is missing! To make it tougher, there are three copies of each possible time card instead of the usual two. Don’t fret – there is a method to solving this, though it does take some of the fun out of the game (I’ll teach you if you ask nicely though!).
Beyond this overview, players each have individual powers that give them an edge over the other players. The powers are often rather minor, but are very helpful in being able to deduce crime elements quickly.
I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?
Mystery Express is a tough one to give a general recommendation for because it is a game that is very fun and very rewarding to play, but it is important that the play group be a good fit for the game. Being a fan of deduction games does not in itself recommend Mystery Express. Players must be prepared for an intense deductive experience, asking them to sustain focus and take notes on minute details, typically for a couple of hours. I often feel mentally fatigued at the end of a game because I’ve been thinking so hard!
However, if you do enjoy deduction and enjoy challenges that ask for intense sustained focus, I find Mystery Express to be a magnificent game. Feel free to call ahead and we can do our best to have a staff member ready to teach the game to your group. Just make sure that everyone you’re playing with is also…on board. (Double pun completely intentional. Apologies to all those who just got done groaning.)
Time: 2-3 hours
Game Elements: Deduction, Player Manipulation, Action Management, Card Management, Detailed Note-taking