A person has died under mysterious circumstances. You have been given very little as far as background information on the case. Can you along with a group of your friends and family solve the mystery using only yes or no questions? Well that is the premise behind Black Stories a set of fifty mysteries with solutions that might not be as obvious as they first appear. While you can debate whether Black Stories is actually a game, it is a pretty satisfying experience.
How to Play Black Stories
One player is chosen as the riddle master while the rest of the players will be the guessers.
Each mystery begins with the riddle master reading the front of the card to the rest of the players. The front of the card sets up the premise for the mystery. The riddle master then reads the back of the card to themself in order to familiarize themself with the rest of the story. The game then begins.
All of the players other than the riddle master must work together in order to try and solve the mystery. The players ask yes or no questions in order to find out more information about the circumstances surrounding the mystery. If the players ask questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no they must rephrase their question. If the players ask a question using a false assumption, the riddle master should tell them that their question is based on a false assumption. Finally if the players are asking irrelevant questions or are going in the wrong direction, the riddle master can help the players get back on the right track.
Once the players solve the mystery the riddle master reads the back of the card so the players hear the full story. If another round is played a new player takes on the role of riddle master.
My Thoughts on Black Stories
To get right to the point I find it debatable whether Black Stories should even be considered a “game.” Generally games rely on players either competing against one another or working together in order to reach some objective which leads to players either winning or losing the game. The thing with Black Stories is that none of the traditional elements of a game are present. You can’t win or lose Black Stories. Outside of solving the mystery there is no goal in the game. You can solve a mystery quickly but there are no rewards for doing so. Black Stories only really has the one mechanic of asking yes or no questions. Instead of calling Black Stories a game, I think the more appropriate term would probably be to call it an activity.
For a lot of people the idea that Black Stories is more of an activity than a game will turn them off. Generally I am not a huge fan of games that are mostly just activities but Black Stories is still pretty good despite the lack of actual gameplay mechanics. I think Black Stories succeeds because the one mechanic in the game actually works quite well. You wouldn’t think that an entire game based around asking yes or no questions would be very good but it actually works quite well for some reason.
I think Black Stories succeeds because it is actually fun trying to solve the mysteries that the game presents. Each card gives you very little information to start each mystery. You basically find out that a person has died (in most of the cases) along with a little clue to start you in the right direction. At first you would think that it would be impossible to solve these mysteries with so little information but you soon find out with some smart questions you can learn new information pretty quickly with just a yes or no question. The best part of the game is when the players slowly start to unravel the mystery. While there really isn’t much of a goal in the game, I found it quite satisfying solving the game’s mysteries.
As far as the mysteries are concerned they are a little hit or miss. I give the game a lot of credit for some of the mysteries since they really make you think. The good mysteries will keep you stumped until you figure out the one key piece of information that opens up the entire mystery. Some of the mysteries can be kind of out there but the best cases are really creative and go in directions you wouldn’t expect.
The problem is that while half of the mysteries are pretty good, the other half are either way too easy or just aren’t that interesting. A couple of the mysteries that we ended up playing were so straight forward that we probably guessed the answer within five to ten questions. Some of the other mysteries are “tall tales” that you probably have heard of at some point. For example one of the cards that we ended up using was actually a story tested by Mythbusters. For these mysteries if someone is familiar with the story they should probably recuse themselves from the round.
One thing that I liked about Black Stories that also creates some problems is the fact that the game doesn’t really have any rules. Outside of only being able to ask yes or no questions, you can basically play the game however you want. The positives of having very few mechanics is the fact that the game is really easy to pick up and play. Just ask questions and try to solve the mystery. In about a minute anyone is able to pick up and play the game. This means the game can work well in a party setting or with people that don’t play a lot of board/card games.
The problem with the lack of rules though is that the game really comes down to how the riddle master wants to handle it. The riddle master can either be lenient with clues or could let players wonder aimlessly as they make no progress towards solving the mystery. I personally think the riddle master really needs to be somewhere in the middle. If the riddle master gives out too many clues, the game isn’t very fun as it is way too easy to solve the mystery. If the riddle master is too stringent though players will get frustrated as they go off in directions that get them no closer to solving the mystery. Riddle masters should let players struggle for a while before they start giving them some small clues to point them in the right direction. The riddle master also needs to know when to say that the players are close enough since players are unlikely to get all of the small details of some of the cases.
The fact that most of the stories deal with murder/death should be a good indicator but I would like to point out that Black Stories is not going to be for everyone. Some of the stories can be kind of dark/disturbing/macabre and won’t appeal to everyone. I wouldn’t say any of the stories are that terrible but I wouldn’t recommend playing the game with children as it is more of a teenagers/adults game. I wouldn’t say the stories are much worse than your typical murder mystery storyline but if the idea of figuring out how a person was murdered/killed will turn you off, the game probably won’t be for you.
Other than it being debatable whether Black Stories is even a game, the biggest problem with the game is the fact that there is next to no replay value in the game. The game includes 50 cards which will last a decent amount of time. The problem is that once you play through all of the cards the game loses almost all of its replay value. While you might forget the solutions to some of the mysteries that is unlikely for most of them since the solutions to quite a few of the mysteries are memorable. Unless you wait a long time before using the same cards again, I don’t think it would be that enjoyable using the same cards a second time. The good news is that the game is not that expensive and there are many different versions of the game (over 20 different versions even though most aren’t in English).
Should You Buy Black Stories?
Black Stories is an interesting “game.” There really isn’t much to Black Stories as the game has only one mechanic. Basically the players ask a bunch of yes or no questions in order to solve a mystery. Despite the lack of actual gameplay I enjoyed Black Stories quite a bit. While some of the mysteries aren’t that great, some of the mysteries are quite interesting and have a twist you don’t see coming. The problem though is that the game has little replay value since as soon as you finish all of the cards there isn’t much reason to go through the cards a second time.
If you don’t really like the idea of a game that just relies on asking yes or no questions, Black Stories is probably not going to be for you. If the theme doesn’t appeal to you either, I would avoid the game. If the idea of solving some interesting mysteries intrigues you though I think you could get quite a bit of enjoyment out of Black Stories.