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Columbo Detective Game Board Game Review and Rules

How to Play | Review | Final Verdict | Comments

How to Play

Setup

Shuffle the cards and deal seven to each detective. The rest of the cards are separated into equal sized stacks with one stack being placed on each of the numbered rooms. Each player chooses a playing piece and puts it in the living room. Each player rolls the dice with the highest roller getting to play first.

Objective

Players can win the Columbo Detective game in two ways.

The first way is to get a complete set of cards for one suspect and one weapon. Once a player gets all four cards of a suspect or weapon they can lay the cards out on the table in order to claim that suspect or weapon and clear space in their hand to collect the suspect or weapon that they still need. Once a player has gotten a full suspect and weapon while also having a motive card in their hand wins the game.

Winning the Columbo Detective Game
This player has completed a suspect, and a weapon. They have also acquired a motive so they will win the game.

A player can also win the game by collecting all six Columbo cards along with a “It’s A Mystery To Me” card. Once a player has all of these cards they can lay them out and they will win the game.

Winning the Columbo Detective Game
This player has won the game because they have acquired all six Columbo cards as well as a “It’s A Mystery To Me” card.

Movement

On a player’s turn they roll the dice and move the corresponding number of spaces. The player needs to move all of the spaces rolled unless they enter a room. Rooms can only be entered and left through the corresponding door spaces. Rooms count as a space while moving. Players can move in any direction on the game board but they can’t move over the same space twice in the same turn. If a player rolls a seven, eleven or doubles they can move their playing piece to any room in the house and they can even re-enter the room they are currently in to draw another card.

Rolling Doubles in the Columbo Detective Game
Since the player rolled doubles, they can move to any room on the board.

When a player enters a room (other than the living room) they can take one of the cards located in that room (if the room has any cards remaining). They draw the top card from the pile and add it to their hand. If the player has seven or less cards they get to keep the card and don’t have to discard a card. If they have eight cards though they have to discard one of their cards to the lawn (somewhere on the table off the game board). Before putting the card on the table face down, the player has to show it to all of the other players. Unless the player rolls a seven, eleven, or doubles the player cannot re-enter the same room on their next turn.

Enter room in Columbo Detective Game
The green player has reached the dining room. The green player is able to take the top card from the stack of cards.

Taking Evidence From Other Detectives

If a player lands on the same space (by exact count) or a room occupied by another player, the player has the option of questioning that player for a piece of evidence.

Challenging Another Player in the Columbo Detective Game
The green player has landed on the same space as the yellow player. The green player has the option of asking the yellow player for a specific card.

The challenging player has to show the player they are challenging one of the type of cards that they are looking for. If the player is looking for a motive card or a “It’s A Mystery to Me” card they don’t have to show one to the other player. If the other player has one of that type of card they have to give it to the challenging player. If the challenged player has a “no clue” card though they can give this card to the challenging player instead of giving them the card they asked for. If a “no clue” card is played in this way, it is removed from the game. If the challenging player has eight cards after getting a card from the other player, they must give one of their cards (their choice) to the player they challenged.

If the challenged player does not have the card that was asked for, they have the opportunity to ask the challenging player for a card in the same manner. All of the rules regarding challenging apply to this challenge as well

Searching the Lawn

When players discard cards they discard the cards to the lawn face down. Players should try to remember where these cards are placed since they have the opportunity to take these cards in future turns. When a players goes to the living room they have the opportunity to take cards from the lawn.

Searching the lawn in Columbo Detective Game
Here is a picture of the lawn. If a player wants one of the cards from the lawn they will need to correctly guess the card that they point towards.

To search the lawn the player first has to show a card from their hand of the type of card that they are looking for. They then point to the card on the lawn that they want. If the card is the type of card they were looking for they get to keep it but they have to discard a card if they now have eight cards. If the player guessed right they can continue trying to take more cards from the lawn. If a player is looking for a motive or a “It’s A Mystery to Me” card they don’t have to show one of them from their hand.

If the player chooses a card that doesn’t match what they are looking for, they swap the card from their hand that they showed for the card that they chose. The player’s turn then ends.

No Cards Remain in the Rooms

Eventually the game might reach a point where no cards remain in any of the rooms other than the lawn. If this happens, all players move their playing pieces to the living room and the rules for the game are altered.

Players roll the dice like normal. If the player rolls an even number (between both dice) and they aren’t doubles, the player loses their turn. If a player rolls an odd number or doubles they can try to take some cards from the lawn which follows the same rules as described above. If the player rolls a seven, eleven, or doubles they can ask another player for a specific evidence card as described above.

Winning the Game

The game ends when one of the players achieve one of the winning conditions. If a player completes a suspect and a weapon as well as holds an evidence card they win the game. The player also wins if they collect all six Columbo cards and the “It’s A Mystery To Me” card.

Additional Rules

In two player games you need to remove three sets of suspect cards, two sets of weapon cards, three motive cards and three “no clue” cards.

In three player games you need to remove two sets of suspect cards, and one set of weapon cards.

If you want a more difficult game you can use the advanced rules. Whenever a card is discarded in the game, the player does not show it to the other players. The game ends in the same way as the normal game but players accumulate points during the game which determines the ultimate winner of the game. Points are awarded as follows:

  • $500 for each complete suspect
  • $500 for each complete weapon
  • $1,000 for a complete Columbo set
  • $1,000 for the player who ends the game
  • -$200 for any Columbo or “It’s A Mystery to Me” card in your hand that doesn’t complete a set

Review

Having never seen the Columbo TV show, I didn’t really know what to expect from The Columbo Detective Game. The Columbo Detective Game has some interesting ideas. Basically the game is a combination of Go Fish, a deduction game like Clue, mixed with a memory game. I had some fun with the game and I have played a lot worse games but it is still not a good game. The game has some interesting mechanics that show potential. The problem is that none of them work as well as you would like which makes the Columbo Detective Game an interesting idea that lacks execution.

The roll and move mechanics in the game are pretty pointless. All the dice rolling does is add luck to the game and makes the game last longer than it needs to. Moving around the house is meaningless since you have no idea what cards in which rooms. You just have to randomly select a room to enter hoping that the top card is a card that you need. You don’t know what is in any given room so it doesn’t really matter which room you end up entering.

The roll and move mechanics are also pretty pointless because you end up rolling sevens, elevens and doubles so often that you can choose to move to whatever room you want regularly in the game. The only impact the rolling really has on the game is determining when you can try to take cards from the other players. The roll and move mechanics of the game are so unimportant that the game mostly ditches them after all of the cards have been taken from the rooms. The dice roll is only used to determine what a player can do on their turn. I actually think the game might be better if this was the rule for the whole game since it would cut out a lot of wasted time moving through the house that doesn’t really add anything to the game itself.

The next major mechanic in the game is the deduction element. This mostly comes into play trying to figure out what cards the other players have in their hand. Taking cards from the other players is quite important in the game since if the player doesn’t discard a card that you need, the only way you can win the game is by taking that card from them.

This seems pretty easy but the game has some problems when it comes to stealing cards from the other player. Eventually the game is likely to reach a point where two players are going for the exact same suspect or weapon. Once both of these players control all of the cards for this suspect or weapon it becomes a game of tug of war as the two players compete to try and steal the cards from the other player. These two players will keep going back and forth taking the same cards from each other since they know the other player has the cards they need. This continues until one player is lucky enough to get more opportunities to take cards from the other player than that player has to take from them.

One way to fight against this stalemate is to use “no clue” cards. If you are in one of these situations they work pretty well since they can stall the other player. The problem is that they are just a stop gap since the player can just come back the next turn and take the same card again. When you play a “no clue” card you are pretty much telling all of the other players that you have one of the cards that were asked for. This means that any player that needs that card can target you in another round and take the card from you.

The final major mechanic in the game is memory. This is the key component in the game in my opinion. Unless you are lucky enough to get all of the cards for a given weapon or suspect before they get discarded you will have to start digging through the lawn for discarded evidence that you need. Now you wouldn’t think that it would be that hard to remember where the necessary evidence was placed on the lawn. Early in the game it isn’t that hard. The problem is that unless you commit to your suspect and weapon right away in the game, it becomes really hard to remember where any particular piece of evidence was put out on the lawn. Towards the end of the game there can be close to twenty cards out in the lawn and because you are distracted by playing the rest of the game, it is really hard to remember where any given card is.

The problem with the lawn is that to try and get a piece from it, you are putting one of your own cards at risk. For example if you are only one card away from completing a set you better be sure you know which card is the last card that you need because if you are wrong you will be two cards away from completing the set. Most games are going to come down to who remembers the cards in the lawn the best since you likely won’t find all of the cards you need from other players or from the rooms. Therefore a good memory is key in doing well in the game. Most likely the player with the best memory is probably going to win the game.

The final mechanic I want to talk about is the idea of collecting the Columbo cards in order to win the game. While you could win the game by collecting all of the Columbo cards I wouldn’t bet on it. In order to win with the Columbo cards you need to dedicate your whole hand to collecting the cards since to collect all of the cards you need to use your whole hand to get all of the cards. The problem is that you pretty much need to decide from the beginning of the game whether you are going to go after all of the Columbo cards which is a big risk since it is a boom or bust strategy. The reason you need to make this decision right away is that everyone that is not going to go for the Columbo cards are going to start ditching them right away. This means that you will need to regularly dig through the yard looking for the cards that they discard. Once you start picking up the cards players are going to know that you are going after them as well so they will start hoarding the cards so you can’t get them. Due to the lack of flexibility while going for the Columbo cards, I just don’t think it is a very good strategy.

Since I have never watched an episode of the show, I can’t really comment on how loyal it is to the TV show. Other than the game featuring Columbo, the game just seems like a traditional deduction/memory game with the theme of Columbo being pasted on. The game mechanics don’t really make a whole lot of sense with the theme either. I don’t know why detectives would be discarding evidence randomly onto the lawn, going after different suspects for the same crime, or why they would steal evidence from one another. The Columbo Detective Game is the type of game where you probably shouldn’t put too much thought into the theme.

Final Verdict

Overall I would say that the Columbo Detective Game is a below average roll and move/deduction/memory game. The game has some interesting ideas and could have been an above average game. I had some fun with the game but a lot of the mechanics have issues. If someone specifically asked me to play the game I would probably play it but otherwise I don’t think I would ever play the game again.

Unless you are a big fan of Columbo I don’t think the Columbo Detective Game will be for you. If you are a big fan of Columbo it might be worth paying a little more for the game but I would otherwise not recommend buying the game unless you can find it for really cheap at a rummage sale or thrift store.

If you would like to purchase the Columbo Detective Game you can purchase it on Amazon here.

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