The Grand Jury charges you with murder. That is just one of the grim fates that befall all of the players at the beginning of today’s game Jurisprudence (also known as Trial Lawyer). Starting with an indictment ranging from robbery and counterfeiting to kidnapping or murder, players need to navigate the criminal justice system in order to persuade enough jurors to find them innocent of the crime that they are charged with. When I first saw Jurisprudence it was one of those games that you never thought would have been made and yet somehow it exists. Jurisprudence deserves some credit for teaching you critical information about your legal rights but otherwise is another very generic roll and move game with some trivia mixed in.
How to Play Jurisprudence
- The players decide whether they are going to use a six or twelve person jury. Choosing a six person jury will lead to a shorter game but otherwise doesn’t change the game. Place the jury discs to the side of the gameboard.
- Each player is given $25,000 (4-$5,000, 5-$1,000).
- Each player chooses a playing piece and places it on the jail space.
- Shuffle the evidence cards and place them question side up near the gameboard. Place the evidence card on top to cover up the top card.
- Shuffle the stop and frisk cards and evenly distribute them to each player. Players may look at their own cards but the other players may not see them.
- Each player draws an indictment card and a defense card. These cards are placed face up so all of the other players can see them.
- The players take turns rolling the dice. The player who rolls highest will be the first player.
Playing the Game
The goal of Jurisprudence is to acquire six or twelve jurors (determined by what was chosen at the start of the game) in order to be found not guilty.
On a player’s first turn they can either decide to pay the bail listed on their indictment card or they can exercise Habeas Corpus. When a player chooses Habeas Corpus they will pay $1,000 for a lawyer (paid to the bank) and will then roll the two dice. They will reference the Habeas Corpus chart to determine the affect on bail. The player can either chose to pay their new bail or they can wait until their next turn to roll the dice again. The player will only have to pay their lawyer once even if they end up rolling several times.
Once a player is released from jail, their playing piece moves to the “Court is in Session” space. They roll both of the dice. The player then chooses one of the dice to use for movement. The player will move their piece in the direction of the arrows. The player will then take an action based on what space they landed on. Once a player has taken the action of the space they landed on, play passes to the next player clockwise.
Defense (Alibi, Entrapment, Insanity, Mistaken Identity, Self-Defense)
If a player lands on a defense space that matches their own defense, they get to take a juror. If your defense is self defense and you committed any crime other than murder, you do not get to take a juror. If a player lands on another player’s defense, they must give one of their jurors to the other player.
When a player lands on an evidence space they can either answer the top question themselves or pass it to another player. If a player chooses to answer the question themselves they will gain a juror if they are right and will lose a juror if they are wrong. If the player passes the question to another player, that player gets nothing if they answer correctly but they have to give you one of their jurors if they are wrong.
Stop and Frisk
When a player lands on a stop and frisk space they will get to choose a stop and frisk card from one of the other players without looking. They will read the card out loud and follow its directions. The card then belongs to the player who took the card.
There is one special stop and frisk card that can be used by the player who owns it at any time to prevent an unfavorable ruling against them. If the card is used to prevent paying another player, the player gives the card to the player instead of paying them. If the card is used to prevent something from the government (mistrial for example), the card is removed for the rest of the game.
When a player lands on the search warrant space they will take the search warrant card even if another player currently controls it. If a player currently controls the search warrant and lands on a stop and frisk space they can use the card to look at all of the stop and frisk cards controlled by the player they choose before picking one of the cards. The player who was searched gets to keep the search warrant card until they use it or another player lands on the search warrant space.
A player that lands on the electronic surveillance space gets to look at one of the stop and frisk cards owned by another player. If the player wants to keep the card that they looked at, they can exchange it for one of the stop and frisk cards in their hand.
When a player lands on the 5th Amendment space they will take the 5th amendment card even if someone else currently has it. While holding the 5th Amendment card the player can refuse to answer any evidence questions given to them by another player. Also if the player lands on the “interrogation by police” space they get to take one juror and leave the interrogation by police space on their next turn.
Interrogation By Police
If a player lands on this space without the 5th Amendment card, they must roll doubles in order to leave the space. After they have failed three times they can choose to use their die roll with the Habeas Corpus chart to determine bail. If they pay the bail they can return to the court is in session space. If the player has the 5th Amendment card they can take a juror and leave the space on their next turn.
Winning the Game
The first player to acquire and keep six or twelve jurors (depending on what was chosen) wins the game.
My Thoughts on Jurisprudence
While Jurisprudence has a lot of issues which I will get to later, I want to start with what I liked about Jurisprudence. I think the best thing Jurisprudence has going for it is the fact that the game actually has important information to teach all Americans. I would say the main purpose of Jurisprudence is as a teaching tool to teach players about the American legal system. The spaces around the gameboard address different parts of the legal system and the game includes questions about your rights should you be charged with a crime.
A lot of people will find this to be kind of boring (it is not particularly exciting), but every American should know their legal rights should they get in trouble with the law. The gameplay itself is kind of dry but I think it does a good job teaching players their basic rights. If you don’t really know much about the legal system you can actually learn something playing Jurisprudence. Some of the information is outdated at this point, as all of the versions of the game are over 40 years old, but a lot of the information is still quite relevant. I did notice a couple trivia cards that are not entirely accurate anymore but for the most part the information is still accurate. If the game was more recent I actually would say that the game would be a great learning tool for schools.
The other thing I liked about Jurisprudence that I wish more roll and move games would use is the idea that you choose which of the two dice you use for movement. There are quite a few games that allow you to do this but I wish more games would let you as it gives players more control over their fate. Being able to choose which die you want to use for movement lets you analyze your two options to find the one that will help you the most. In Jurisprudence it is usually quite obvious which option is best but it still reduces some of the luck in the game as you can avoid the worse option from any given roll (unless you roll doubles).
Unfortunately those are pretty much the only positives I could find with Jurisprudence. The main problem with the game is that it is just another really bland roll and move game with some legal trivia added in for flavor. Basically you just roll the dice to move around the gameboard and collect jurors. Outside of successfully answering trivia questions to receive jurors, the game mostly relies on luck. As you will acquire most of your jurors through landing on the right spaces, the player that rolls the best is likely going to win the game.
As the roll and move and trivia mechanics don’t really do anything original, lets instead talk about some of the other issues I had with Jurisprudence.
While I give the game credit for teaching some important information about the legal system, the game’s theme tends to fail from time to time. For beginners the murderer in our game was immediately let out of jail with no bail due to his good name. I doubt many people charged with murder get released on zero bail. The bigger problem comes from the self defense card. As self defense is only a viable defense for murder (at least for the crimes included in the game) the game decided to make the self defense card less valuable if it is used for any other crime. Thematically this makes sense as you couldn’t legitimately defend kidnapping by saying that it was self defense. As far as the gameplay though, this is just cruel. It is stupid that a player who draws the self defense card with a crime other than murder, loses one of their opportunities to gain jurors for the rest of the game. As you have no control over what defense you draw, it is totally unfair that a player has a pretty significant disadvantage from the start of the game just because they drew the wrong card. The game should have either avoided self defense entirely or ignored that it wouldn’t be a valid defense for most of the crimes. It is stupid that the theme usually forces one of the players to have a significant disadvantage throughout the game.
Next I can’t say that I am a big fan of allowing players to pass their trivia question to another player. If you land on the space that gives you a trivia question you have the option to pass the question to another player. While you might want to answer the question yourself as it improves your odds of getting a juror, you are taking a risk that you will get it wrong and thus lose a juror. Instead you can pass the question to another player and there is no way that you can lose. If they get it right they get nothing but if they get it wrong they give you one of their jurors. While it gives you a decision to make, I don’t think this really fits the purpose of the game. A trivia game where you can just pass off the questions to another player just doesn’t seem right. I personally think the game should have had all of the players answer their own questions with no punishment for guessing wrong.
I thought the idea of the stop and frisk cards was interesting but kind of convoluted at the same time. Outside of the Supreme Court card, you don’t actually get to use your own cards. Instead you will use the other players’ cards. This is kind of weird as you mostly want to keep the least powerful cards yourself. With how this mechanic works the cards are worded in a way where you need to read them carefully in order to apply them correctly. Other than this mechanic being kind of weird, some of the stop and frisk cards seem to be kind of rigged. For example one card has the player who takes it lose all of their jurors. You could be one juror away from winning the game and then lose all of that progress just by drawing the wrong card. Another card allows a player to steal all but $5,000 from the player who previously held the card. With these two cards being so much more powerful than the other cards, drawing the wrong card could be the difference between winning and losing the game.
While I commend Jurisprudence for allowing players to use either a six or twelve person jury, I think this decision mostly came from necessity. We ended up playing the game with a six person jury and the game still took a long time. It might not sound hard to only acquire six jurors but the game is constantly giving and taking jurors away from you. I would say that on around half of your turns you will either gain or lose jurors. This lead to the six juror game lasting at least 45 minutes to an hour. I can’t imagine how long the twelve person jury game would take. With the game being pretty dull/boring I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to play to twelve jurors.
My final complaint with Jurisprudence is with the components. The game is a self published game from the 1970s and you can tell. The card stock is pretty thin and cheap. The pawns and jurors are far from special. The artwork is quite bland and it kind of feels like the game used clip art/stock artwork. The gameboard’s layout is pretty generic and not particularly appealing. The game also only has 32 evidence cards so once you go through the 32 questions you will know all of the answers. This really hurts the game’s replay value as I don’t see much point in playing the game once you know the answers to all of the questions.
Should You Buy Jurisprudence?
I never really thought I would see a roll and move trivia game about the justice system but that is exactly what Jurisprudence is. I give the game some credit as it tries to teach players some important information about their legal rights. While some of the information is outdated at this point (the game is over 40 years old), most the information is still useful. I also appreciated that the game gives players a little decision making for a roll and move game as it lets you pick which number you want to move with. Unfortunately there isn’t much else to the game as it is just another bland roll and move game with a legal trivia mechanic tacked on. Outside of answering trivia questions the game relies entirely on luck and lasts far too long. The theme doesn’t work half the time and can actually give a player a significant disadvantage in the game. The component quality isn’t anything to write home about either.
While I want to give Jurisprudence credit for trying to teach players important information, it just isn’t a very good game. Unless you really want a game to teach players about their legal rights, I see no reason to want to play Jurisprudence. If you want to use the game for learning purposes or to get a couple laughs you may have a little fun with the game. I would only recommend picking up the game though if you can find it for really cheap.