So you are into detective stories, mystery or crime cases but do not want to get into long paragraph reading like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detectives? Well Deadline might be the one game for you. Deadline is designed by A.B. West and Dan Schnake, published by Wizkids in 2017. The story setting is New York City in 1938 and players take the roles of Detectives (private ones at that) under Buckminster, New York Detective Agency. Its a cooperative game where players will hand in hand trying to solve the case in front of them. The game has 12 cases to choose from with various difficulties from one case to another. There are also 8 different characters to choose from, and like other cooperative games, these characters have different abilities that they can use once in the game. It also provides the players with a Case Book, Case Question and a Solution Book that hold as integral parts in the game. Each case has a story that can be checked on Case Book and Clue cards for the players to get information. To start the game, players choose which case to play and prepare the clue cards related to it, do not read the back of the cards since it’s crucial and give case related information. Players decide what characters to play and choose the first player, give him the detective badge, he will be the lead detective for the first round. Set aside the three bullet tiles and four matchbook tiles face down. Shuffle lead cards and place it face down to form a draw pile. Each player gets 3 cards from that pile. The lead detective then read the chosen case from the Case book aloud so all players can hear. At the end of the page, take and set aside the starting clues from the deck and place it face down. These clue cards are the clues available for players to check at the start of the game.
The lead detectives start the round by choosing which clue they want to follow and choose one action from the available three actions, whether to play a lead card, use their detective ability or use hot tips. If they do not want to or cannot take one of those three actions, they must Drop Out.
The active player may play a Lead card from their hand, if they play the first time in a round, they can play any lead card. But if they are following an already placed lead card, they must place their card overlaying one of the existing lead cards on the table by matching the symbols between the two overlaying cards. Blank space is wild, so any symbol can overlay it or it can overlay any symbol. The goal is to play lead cards with matching symbols shown on the chosen clue card.
The active player can choose to play their unused character ability. Each character has a different and powerful ability that can help them completing a clue card. The active player can also use Hot Tips. Hot tips can only be used if there’s more than one light match on it. The four different colors of the matchbook have a light match on the back side. Players flip this tile to the light match side when they play a lead card with a matchbook symbol on the left corner of the Lead card. When they play a card with this symbol, they can flip the corresponding matchbook tile face up (if it’s already face up, ignore it). The effect of the hot tips are different based on the amount of tokens they use. With two hot tips, they can draw a new card from the pile, with three hot tips, they can remove 1 plot twist card in front of any player and with four, they can remove 2 plot twist cards. Once used the matchbook tiles are flipped back face down and can be flipped again in later turns.
If by any means that a player cannot or choose not to take any action, the must Drop out. In order to drop out they check if there are any Plot Twist card in their hand. If there is, they must play the Plot Twist card in front of them, unless they already have two in front of them (the maximum number of Plot Twist a player can have in front of them is two) and then they discard their hands. Dropped out player cannot take any more turn in the round.
The round ends when all players have already Dropped Out and they fail to follow up the clue. Or when all symbols on the chosen clue card covered up by the symbols shown on played lead cards. If they fail they remove one of the bullet tiles to the box. Once there’s no bullet left, the investigation ends. If they succeed, they discards the played Lead cards and flip the chosen clue card, read the information aloud while take new clue cards listed (if any) and then they keep the completed clue card as reference at the end of the game. Players draw their hands back to three cards and then the next player clockwise will be the next round first player. In the next round, the lead detective may choose which clue card they want to follow, considering their hands of lead cards.
At the end of the investigation, players will review what information they’ve gained from all the clue cards and they will check the case question book to answer the questions related to the case. There are 2 different questions, critical and bonus questions. Critical questions are strongly related to the case that usually involve who is the criminal, what motive and the weapon of choice, etc. While bonus questions are something that players pick up along the way. How well they answer these reflects their performance / rate in the case they check this on the Solution Book where the answers lie. There are 4 different kind of levels, ranging from Master detectives to the lowest level, Gumshoes.
I find the game to be pretty simple. The rules are easy to discern and straightforward. There are 12 cases and by the looks of the game play this gives you 12 time replay value cause once you figure out the case, then you won’t be playing it again. Unless you are in for the mini game. Okay, what mini game? Yes, the game really revolves around you putting up mini game to get information. Why I call it mini game? Because it’s not related to the case itself. Players completing the lead without any context about the case at all, it’s not incorporated with the story or case you are dealing with. Alas if you compare this with Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, I must say that they are both different in many aspects except cooperative game play and criminal mystery case solving theme. SHCD has a very strong theme that blends well with how the players act as detectives, unlike this game where players just handed out the information once they are done with the mini game. SHCD requires them to actually think, to decide where they should follow the lead. SHCD has a very long, tedious but masterpiece writings in its paragraph provides a very compelling story of the famous Sherlock Holmes cases. Deadline in the other hand, provides an easier alternative to the same spirit of crime-solving detective theme. I found the game to be quite similar with The Grizzled where players have their own hand and when taking their turns, need to play the correct card as they see fit, if not they need to pass / drop out. While works slightly different the plot twists in this game almost work the same as the trauma cards in The Grizzled. While dropping out might be a good idea to secure the lead chain for someone else, having a plot twist in hand might not be a good idea to do that since plot twists are mostly bad and give other players hard time to clear the clue card. The detective abilities are quite interesting cause they do a lot better / meaningful than the abilities in The Grizzled.
I like the game so far, unraveling the mystery of the case always interests me. Though you do not need to be a detective to enjoy the game. Though once I played all of the cases, I think about to let the game go cause there’s nothing much you can do. Unless the mini game is the appealing factor for you. Played the game once and there’s not enough variation in the game that makes you need to play it several times to really get the hang of it. I played the first case, easy difficulty and it’s just that is. The story is interesting if you like the genre. I call this game as a tea time game, where you can spend time with friends, having tea and solve crimes. A time well spent. But of course not the game that you really want to play, that leaves something behind from your last game and pull you closer to play it again. A game that makes you always talk about it, leave that impression that you always remember. A game that makes you eager to play it again though it’s a once a year game.