When I was a kid I remember really wanting the board game 13 Dead End Drive. I remember seeing the ad for the game on television. Being a sucker for 3D boards with gimmicky gameplay, it was right up my alley when I was a kid. My family never ended up getting the game though. As an adult I no longer had high expectations for 13 Dead End Drive though because it has very average ratings and it looks like a pretty generic roll and move game. I still wanted to try out the game though because I am still a sucker for 3D gameboards and gimmicky mechanics. I also thought the theme of killing off the other guests in order to gain the inheritance was an interesting theme despite being a little dark. 13 Dead End Drive actually has a lot of interesting ideas for a 1990s roll and move game but has some issues that prevent it from being anything more than a very average game.
How to Play 13 Dead End Drive
- Assemble the gameboard as shown below.
- Attach the 12 pawns to their bases and randomly place them on one of the red chairs in the center of the gameboard.
- Place the detective pawn on the start space on the outside of the mansion.
- Separate the cards based on the back of the cards. Shuffle the character cards and deal them out to the players face down. These cards determine which characters each player is “rooting” for in the game. The number of cards the players will receive depends on the number of players:
- 4 Players: 3 cards
- 3 Players: 4 cards
- 2 Players: 4 cards
- Remove the Aunt Agatha card from the rest of the portrait cards. Shuffle the rest of the portrait cards and place the Aunt Agatha card on the bottom. Place all of the cards inside the picture frame in the mansion so Aunt Agatha is the picture showing in the frame.
- Shuffle all of the trap cards and place them face down on the front yard.
- All of the players roll the dice. The player who rolls highest will start the game.
Playing the Game
Before you begin the game, remove the Aunt Agatha portrait from the picture frame and place it on the large sofa. The picture now showing in the picture frame is the person who is currently going to inherit Aunt Agatha’s fortune. The player who is “rooting” for that person needs to try and get them out of the mansion in order to win the game.
A player begins their turn by rolling the dice. Unless the player rolled doubles (see below), they will have to move one character with the number on one die and another character with the number on the other die. Players can choose to move any of the characters on their turn even if they don’t have their character card.
When moving characters the following rules must be followed:
- The characters must be moved the entire number rolled. Characters can be moved vertically or horizontally but can’t be moved diagonally.
- One character has to be moved completely, including any actions related to a trap before the other character is moved.
- No characters can be moved a second time or onto a trap space until all of the characters have been moved off the red chairs at the beginning of the game.
- A character cannot move through or land on the same space twice in the same turn.
- A character cannot move through or land on a space occupied by another character or a piece of furniture (characters can move on carpets).
- Characters cannot move through the walls.
- A player can use one of the five secret passage spaces to move to any other secret passage space on the gameboard. To move between secret passage spaces, a player has to use one of their movement spaces.
If a player rolls doubles, they have a couple additional options. First the player can choose to change the card in the picture frame. The player can choose (they don’t have to) to move the portrait at the front of the picture frame to the back. The player can also decide between moving a character the total of both dice or using one die to move two different characters.
If after a character has been moved it has landed on a trap space, the player has the opportunity to spring the trap (see below).
Once a player has moved their characters, their turn ends. Play passes to the next player clockwise.
When one of the characters land on a trap space (skull space), the player who moved them has the opportunity to spring the trap. A player can only use a trap on a character if they moved them to the space on this turn.
If a player has a card that corresponds to the trap that the character was moved to or a wild card, they can play it to spring the trap killing the character on the trap space. If the player has an appropriate card they can choose not to play it. When a card is played it is added to the discard pile and the corresponding character pawn is removed from the board. The player who had the corresponding character card discards it. If the character was the featured portrait, the portrait card is removed from the picture frame.
When a player loses their final character card, they are eliminated from the game. They discard all of the trap cards from their hand and they are a spectator for the rest of the game.
If the player does not have a corresponding card or chooses not to use it, they will draw the top card from the trap card pile. If the card matches the trap, the player can play it to spring the trap (they don’t have to use it). If the trap card corresponds to another trap or the player doesn’t want to spring the trap, they announce that it was the wrong card and they add the card to their hand.
If the player draws a detective card they reveal it to the other players. The detective pawn is then moved one space closer to the mansion. The detective card is discarded and the player has the opportunity to draw another trap card.
End of Game
13 Dead End Drive can end in one of three ways.
If the character who is currently featured in the picture frame is moved to the game over space (does not have to be by exact count), the player who has that character’s card wins the game.
If only one player has characters remaining in the mansion, they win the game.
If the detective reaches the game over space, the game ends. Whoever controls the character currently shown in the picture frame wins the game.
Two Player Game
The two player game is played the same as the normal game except for one additional rule. At the beginning of the game each player will be dealt one secret character card. The players cannot look at these cards at any time until the end of the game. The game is otherwise played the same. If one of the secret characters end up winning the game, both players reveal their secret characters. Whichever player controls the secret character that won, wins the game.
My Thoughts on 13 Dead End Drive
While not nearly as popular as they once were, roll and move board games were huge in the 1990s and earlier. The genre was particularly popular for children’s and family games. Roll and move games are still popular today but there is more variety in children’s games today than in the past. Generally speaking I have never been a huge fan of the roll and move genre. That mostly has to do with the fact that most roll and move games aren’t very good. Unfortunately little effort is put into most roll and move games. You basically just roll dice and move your pieces around the gameboard. The first player to reach the finish space wins the game. There are the occasional roll and move games that actually tried to do something original though.
This brings me to today’s game 13 Dead End Drive. Heading into the game I knew it wasn’t going to be a great game. I held out some hope though that 13 Dead End Drive would add something unique to the roll and move genre to make it stand out. While it has its own issues, I actually think 13 Dead End Drive succeeds at adding some interesting mechanics to the genre.
Probably the best way to describe 13 Dead End Drive is to say that is a blend of a roll and move game with some bluffing/deduction mechanics. The main gameplay mechanic is rolling the dice and moving the pieces around the gameboard. Where the bluffing/deduction comes into play is that all of the players have secret loyalties to some of the characters. They want their character to take home the fortune while the rest of the characters are removed from the equation. This involves keeping your own characters safe while eliminating the other characters. Players have to be sneaky while doing this though as they want to keep the identities of their characters secret.
I think this is a good framework for a family roll and move game. The best roll and move games are those that have you do something more than just rolling the dice and moving pieces around the board. While the strategy in 13 Dead End Drive is far from deep, there are some actual decisions to make in the game. You have to decide which characters to move and where you want to move them. There is some strategy in deciding how to keep your own characters safe while also keeping their identities secret. You can’t play too passively and allow all of your characters to be killed off. You also can’t be too aggressive or all of the other players will know which characters are yours. They will then try to kill them as quickly as possible. These decisions are pretty obvious and don’t drastically change the game, but they make it feel like you can actually impact the game. This makes 13 Dead End Drive better than most roll and move games.
It might seem counterproductive but I think one of the best strategic decisions you can make in the game is moving your own characters onto the trap spaces. This actually provides you with several benefits. First as a character can’t be moved onto the same space in a turn, by moving your character onto a trap it means the next player can’t do it. This keeps your character safe for at least one turn as another player will have to waste one of their turns moving the character off the space. The second benefit is that since you won’t be springing the trap, you can add another trap card to your hand. The more cards you can add to your hand, the easier it will be to kill one of the other player’s characters. Finally you can somewhat hide the identity of the cards you hold by putting them in danger. Players at first might doubt that you are moving your own characters into danger. If you keep putting them in danger though and they never get killed, it is going to get suspicious after a while. This strategy might buy you a little time though.
At its core 13 Dead End Drive is a pretty simple game. With the gameplay being so straightforward, I don’t see many people having troubles playing the game. The game has a recommended age of 9+ which seems appropriate except for possibly the theme. The game is far from graphic but I have always thought it was kind of weird that there is a children’s/family game where the goal is to kill off the other characters in order to inherit the fortune yourself. The theme is more dark humor than malicious as you kill the characters in pretty cartoony ways. I don’t personally see anything wrong with the theme but I could see some parents having issues with a game where you are actively trying to kill the characters.
There is actually a lot that I liked about 13 Dead End Drive which is why I think it is better than a lot of roll and move games. The game has some serious issues though which prevent it from being as good as it could have been.
The biggest problem with the game is that it is too easy to kill the characters. You just need to move a character onto a trap space and play the appropriate card. Early in the game you might not have the trap cards needed to kill a character, but you will acquire them pretty quickly. With it being easy to kill the characters, the characters drop like flies in the game. If you have the opportunity to kill a character you don’t control, there is no reason not to do it. Why leave a character in the game that another player could use to win the game? There are enough traps on the board that on most turns you should be able to move at least one character to a trap space. Pretty much the only times you can’t move a character to a trap is when another character already occupies the space.
While it is kind of fun springing the traps on the characters, it being so easy to kill the characters hurts the game in my opinion. The fact that it is so easy to kill a character makes it hard to implement any real strategy. You are basically just fighting to keep your characters alive for as long as possible in the game. Eventually someone is going to try and kill your characters and there isn’t much you can do to prevent it. Unless you are lucky you won’t ever be able to get one of your characters to the front door. You basically have to get lucky that the other players target your characters later in the game.
I applaud 13 Dead End Drive for having three different ways for the game to end. Unfortunately I would expect at least 90% of the games to end with all but one of the characters being eliminated. It is just too easy to kill off the characters which makes it is the easiest way to win the game. It is almost impossible to escape the mansion. As soon as you start to move a character towards the entrance everyone will know you have that character. They will then move it to one of the traps to kill it. The odds of you drawing enough detective cards to get the detective to the mansion door is unlikely as well. This makes 13 Dead End Drive a game of pure survival. You need to hope luck is on your side so your characters can outlast the rest.
Speaking of luck, 13 Dead End Drive relies on a lot of luck. Being a roll and move game it is important to roll the right numbers at the right times. The key to doing well in the game is being able to land characters on the trap spaces. If you go several turns without being able to move a character to a trap, you are going to have a hard time winning the game. Being able to move a character to a trap space allows you to kill them off or at least add cards to your hand which will make it easier to kill characters on future turns. It is also important to draw the right cards. If you never draw the right cards it will be hard to get rid of the other player’s characters. Finally you don’t want your characters to show up in the picture frame right away. This immediately paints a target on them meaning they will be killed quickly.
Another problem with 13 Dead End Drive is the player elimination. I can’t say that I have ever been a big fan of games that have player elimination. If you lose all of your characters in 13 Dead End Drive, you are eliminated from the game and have to wait for the game to end. Unless you are really unlucky, most players will probably be eliminated near the end of 13 Dead End Drive so they don’t have to wait around too long. If you are really unlucky though, all of your characters could be the first eliminated and then you left to sit there and watch the rest of the players play the game.
At this point regular readers of Geeky Hobbies might be getting a sense of déjà vu as you might think that we already reviewed 13 Dead End Drive a while back. Well it turns out that 13 Dead End Drive is a unique board game in that it received a sequel/spinoff called 1313 Dead End Drive which I reviewed about two and a half years ago. What is unique about 1313 Dead End Drive is that it was released nine years after the original game. The game took the same basic premise and tweaked a few mechanics. The main gameplay between the two games is same except that 1313 Dead End Drive added a will mechanic. This mechanic allowed several different characters to inherit money instead of one character inheriting everything like in 13 Dead End Drive. For more details on 1313 Dead End Drive check out my review for that game.
So is 1313 Dead End Drive better than the original 13 Dead End Drive? I honestly can’t say that either game is better as both have their positives and negatives. For the most part I actually like the gameplay additions 1313 Dead End Drive added. I liked the will mechanic as it added a little more strategy to the game since one character is not guaranteed to take all of the money. Where the original 13 Dead End Drive succeeds over the sequel though is that it seems a little harder to kill the characters. It is still really easy to kill the characters in 13 Dead End Drive but it was even easier in 1313 Dead End Drive. Which version you would prefer mostly depends on which things you think are more important.
Finally I want to quickly talk about 13 Dead End Drive’s components as they were probably responsible for most people originally purchasing the game. As I mentioned earlier I have always been a sucker for 3D gameboards. The same holds true for 13 Dead End Drive as I really liked the gameboard. The artwork is well designed and the 3D elements make it look like a real mansion. The 3D elements do force all of the players to sit on the same side of the table though which can be somewhat of a hassle with smaller tables. In addition to looking nice, the traps are pretty fun to spring. They serve no gameplay purpose at all, as the characters die even if the traps don’t work properly, but you get a surprising amount of satisfaction “killing” the characters.
Like with a lot of 3D games though, the setup for 13 Dead End Drive can be a hassle. Expect to spend at least five to ten minutes setting up the board. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a way to keep most of the pieces assembled inside the box. Then you could just bring them out and quickly reassemble the gameboard. While you can keep some of the pieces together, you have to take a lot of the pieces apart in order to fit them inside the box. This means you have to reassemble most of the board each time you want to play the game. With how large the box is you would think it would be easy to keep the board mostly together but you can’t.
Should You Buy 13 Dead End Drive?
For what it is there is quite a bit to commend 13 Dead End Drive on. At first the game looks like your typical roll and move game. The game mixes in some bluffing/deduction mechanics though which adds some strategy to the game. You have to maneuver the characters around the board to kill your opponents’ characters while keeping your own characters safe. These mechanics are interesting and had some potential. It is also hard not to love the 3D gameboard and springing the traps to “kill” the characters. Unfortunately 13 Dead End Drive has issues. It is way too easy to kill off the characters which makes the game mostly who can survive the longest eliminating most of the strategy. The game also relies on a lot of luck. Finally it is kind of a hassle to assemble the gameboard.
If you have always hated roll and move games, I don’t think 13 Dead End Drive’s bluffing/deduction mechanics are enough to save the game for you. If you have nostalgic memories of the game from your childhood, I think there is enough to the game that it might be worth checking out again. Otherwise if the game sound interesting it may be worth trying out if you can get a really good deal on the game. As 13 Dead End Drive is being re-released this year by Winning Moves Games, the game’s price may begin dropping soon.