Foul Play - a murder most foul!
Updated: Apr 10
Players: 2-5 Ages: 14+ Game Time: 10-20mins (2 players)
I love murder mysteries. From the full-on dress-up party experiences, through to a “quick” family game of Cluedo, it is always a genre I’m excited to play. Having never played an entirely card-based murder mystery (which will hereon be referred to as MM so that the words “murder mystery” don’t start looking weird), I was curious to try out Foul Play - a new MM card game by After Dark Murder Mystery.
In Foul Play you take the role of a detective, and your aim is to use the pieces of evidence within the deck to identify the perpetrator of the Manor House Murder. The game is competitive, so your goal as the player is not only to come to the correct conclusion, but to do so before the other players. Be careful though, because if your case goes cold (if you run out of cards in your hand) it’s game over, which is an outcome I skated close to a few times, but managed to narrowly avoid. The process of discovery and accusation does vary slightly depending on whether you’re playing “Good Cop” or “Bad Cop” rules, but they’re broadly similar in that you need to see three pieces of evidence and to locate a suspect that matches the description.
In the “Good Cop” mode, three pieces of evidence equating to one suspect description are shuffled into the deck and each player competes to discover and piece together the three clues so they can finger the correct suspect. In order to make an accusation, the player must locate the correct suspect card and manage to get it into their hand - a feat which is easier said than done. I had a rather frustrating experience on my first attempt at “Good Cop”, where I had seen all three clues by the midway point and knew that my opponent had the suspect I needed in his hand, but luck was not on my side and I never did manage to take that card.
My favourite of the two game modes is “Bad Cop”, where rather than using established evidence to identify a suspect, you build your own case based on the cards you have available in-hand. The flavour text on the “Bad Cop” rules card implies that this is a sort of performative justice and you don’t care whether the accused is truly responsible, as long as you “solve” the case. In this mode there are 12 pieces of evidence in the deck, and the player’s job is to collect one piece of evidence from each of the three evidence categories and a suspect card that fits the description. This game mode feels a bit more balanced to me, primarily because you’re less likely to be completely reliant upon one specific card.
In terms of the gameplay itself, it’s very simple to learn and most of the crucial pieces of information are on the cards, which I like. Each player has a starting hand, whose number varies depending on game mode, and there’s also a 3x3 grid of face-down cards in the centre of the table known as the “crime scene”. There’s nothing special about these cards, but it does offer an extra mechanic which potentially slows down an investigation. A basic turn involves playing (or discarding) a card and drawing a new one.
There are three types of cards in the deck: action, evidence, and suspect; but the only ones you can “play” are the action cards. A common action card may allow you to swap a card from your hand into a player’s hand or steal a card from a player. Rarely, you may find an action card that will force an opponent to show you their hand, or for all players to reveal their hands to each other. There are a number of “crime scene” action cards which allow you to exchange a card from your hand with a mystery card from the crime scene. Two “block” action cards exist within the deck, which can be played at any time to prevent one opponent from continuing with their turn, even during a crime-solving attempt. These don’t work particularly well in two-player games, but I can see them being effective with a larger player count.
Evidence cards are divided into three sub-types: A, B, and C. There is no functional difference between these sub-types, but both game modes require you to use a piece of evidence from each category in your conclusion. This categorisation of evidence ensures that each set of three clues always applies to one of the suspect cards, which I am consistently impressed by. Each evidence has a short statement on it describing a suspect as depicted on the suspect cards, for example “the killer wears glasses'', to help you pinpoint the perp.
There are eight suspect cards, each showing a character’s image, as well as their name and occupation. The art on these cards is bright and compelling, and I love the cartoon style. In games dealing with potentially serious subject matter like this, the art often sets the tone between silly and serious - Foul Play lies clearly on the silly side of the fence. Each character is fairly distinct and oozing with personality. I do have a fairly active imagination but I find it quite easy to visualise their personalities and voices, which is ultimately a product of great design. I particularly like Olive Mangle, who I imagine as being a post-Chicken Run Mrs. Tweedy.
The overall component quality is good, though a few of my cards had scratches right out of the plastic wrap. The cards are quite lightweight and flexible making them great for riffling, if you’re that way inclined. Quite a few of the action cards have dark shadowed text on a dark background which isn’t very easy to read, but if you have good colour vision you’ll start to recognise the cards by colour rather than text after a few rounds.