Any regular readers of Geeky Hobbies will likely already know that Phil Walker-Harding is one of my favorite board game designers. I generally really enjoy his games for a number of reasons. They usually have an interesting twist on traditional board game genres. Probably the biggest factor is his games do a great job at finding the right balance between accessibility and strategy. This is one of the reasons that I was really excited when I heard about one of his most recent games, Museum Suspects. I am a big fan of a good heist movie, and I was curious to see what Phil Walker-Harding would do with a Clue style deduction game. Museum Suspects is a really interesting and fun twist on your typical deduction game, even if it does rely on quite a bit of luck at times.
A heist has recently occurred at the local museum. In Museum Suspects you play as a detective trying to figure out who was responsible. Each round you will get to look at one of the randomly selected Clue cards which will give you a piece of information about what suspects are innocent. You will then put a cost on that clue that other players will have to pay to check it out on a future turn. Each turn you also will place a bet on what suspect you think is responsible for the heist. This continues for six rounds. At the end of the game players will receive points based on how much they bet on the suspect(s) that were ultimately responsible for the heist. The player who scores the most points wins the game.
If you would like to see the complete rules/instructions for the game, check out our Museum Suspects how to play guide.
If I were to make a comparison, after playing Museum Suspects, it kind of felt like a mixture of Clue meets Guess Who?. The game has Clue’s mystery element where you are trying to figure out who is guilty. The Guess Who? element comes from receiving various pieces of information such as the type of animal or clothing which eliminates some of the suspects. This is not a perfect comparison, but I think it is a good quick description to give you a general idea of what it is like playing the game.
At its core Museum Suspects is a deduction game. The objective of the game is to figure out the guilty suspect(s) as quickly as possible. The more information you receive, the more informed the bids you can make. This will hopefully score you more points at the end of the game. Instead of asking questions and getting to see another player’s card, you instead get to see a piece of information that may eliminate multiple suspects at the same time. Instead of figuring out what questions to ask to get needed information out of the other players, you are instead trying to figure out what pieces of information are the most valuable.
This introduces a sort of bluffing mechanic into the game. To begin the game you get twelve Investigation tokens. These tokens are used for blocking other players’ access to a clue, as well as being used for bets on the final suspect(s). This adds a read your opponents element to the game.
Do you put a high or low valued token on the clue you just saw? If the clue is valuable allowing you to eliminate quite a few suspects, you want to prevent other players from seeing it. Placing a high value token on the card forces the other players to spend more to see it. This reduces what you can use for your bids, and also makes it more likely that the other players will want to look at it. Otherwise you could play a lower number on it hoping the other players think the clue is worthless. This allows you to avoid playing a higher valued token, leaving you with more high value tokens to use on bidding.
I thought this mechanic was interesting even though I wish there was a little more to it. There is some strategy to choosing what to place on each clue you look at. The clues you end up getting to see can have a big impact on how well you do in the game. If you can keep the other players from an important clue that eliminates a lot of suspects, it will greatly improve your odds. Making other players waste their valuable tokens is helpful as well. It could just be my gaming group, but it was generally pretty easy to know if a Clue card was valuable or not. I don’t know exactly how I would have fixed it, I just wish there was a little more to it.
While the bluffing mechanics could have been a little better, the mystery itself is Museum Suspects greatest strength in my opinion. What is so unique about this element in the game is that the solution will be different every single game. With the number of different suspects and Clue cards, it is unlikely that you will play the same game twice. Even more interesting is the fact that there isn’t even a guaranteed number of suspects each game. A game could have anywhere from one to multiple guilty parties. There is even the chance that none of the suspects are responsible for the heist.
This is a really interesting idea that the game utilizes well. Towards the end of the game you tend to get a good idea of what suspect(s) are likely guilty, but you can never know for sure until all of the Clue cards are revealed. You won’t be able to see at least two of the Clue cards. The only way to 100% know who is guilty before the final reveal is to find clues that eliminate all of the suspects. Otherwise you can have a very good idea as you have eliminated all but a couple of the suspects. You will never know for sure though. This adds an air of suspense to the game. You could think you know who is guilty and then be surprised by the final outcome.
The outcome of some games could truly surprise you. For example lets take the game I set up for the pictures I used in the how to play post. I randomly setup the game like any other game. Then I simulated the game for the pictures. As I was progressing through the game I started to notice that not many suspects were getting eliminated after the first couple of clues. Well it turns out that I ended up creating an Oceans Eleven style heist where there ended up being four different guilty perpetrators. Heading into the game I didn’t even know that this was possible. I would have thought at max two or maybe three suspects could be guilty. Other times there may be cases where no one is guilty.
What I really like about this idea is that it keeps the mystery intriguing until the very end. You can never be sure how it is going to end until you see all the information. One clue could be the difference between having a lot of suspects and eliminating most if not all of them. I felt this made the game feel like a real mystery instead of just trying to figure out what cards were missing.
Outside of the mystery being quite compelling, another element of Museum Suspects that I really enjoyed was the fact that the game is really easy to play. This is not all that surprising as most games designed by Phil Walker-Harding seem to be designed to be accessible. If you have never played a deduction game before, it may take a little longer. I don’t really see the game taking longer than five to ten minutes to explain to new players though. The game is quite simple and to the point. After a round or two, players will know exactly what they are supposed to do each round. Because of the game’s simplicity, I think the recommended age range is perfect.
While Museum Suspects is not the most strategic deduction game, I think there is still enough strategy to keep you interested. I wouldn’t say that the mysteries are particularly complex. The clues are really straightforward where there isn’t any need to interpret them. You still need to figure out the mystery based on the clues that you are given. This combined with choosing the best way of using your Investigation tokens adds quite a bit to the gameplay. I don’t know if there are a lot of highly strategic moves that you can make which will help you win the game. You can make mistakes which will make it considerably harder though.
This is all combined into a mystery that moves at a pretty brisk pace. Games like Clue typically take longer than they need to as you move around the board and try to find the additional information you need to confirm the answer to the mystery. Museum Suspects ends after six rounds no matter how much information you have received. Unless players have to over-analyze their decisions, most turns take a couple minutes at max. I could see most games taking around 20-25 minutes. This seems like the perfect length for the game.
All of this makes Museum Suspects a pretty good deduction game in my opinion. While the two games do diverge in a number of ways, I think Museum Suspects is better than Clue. I may still occasionally play Clue from time to time, but I would normally prefer to play Museum Suspects. I think I attribute a lot of this to the fact that the mystery and gameplay is just more interesting. Museum Suspects just feels like an elegant game. The game knows what it wants to do, and then does it. It isn’t filled with a bunch of mechanics that don’t really bring anything important to the gameplay. It gets down to the basics of solving the mystery allowing you to focus on what is most important.
I really enjoyed Museum Suspects and intend to add it to my rotation of deduction games that I play. The game is not quite perfect though as it has one pretty big issue. That issue is its reliance on luck.
While you need to do a good job of reading your opponents to improve your odds of finding the best clues, a lot of the game ultimately comes down to what clues you get to see. Outside of cheating you don’t know for sure what clues will be the most useful to you. All of the Clue cards in each game are not created equally. Some cards can eliminate quite a few suspects while others eliminate few. In some cases you can get a clue that won’t eliminate a single suspect for you. Each card depends on what other Clue cards are chosen for the round as well as what suspects are chosen.
Museum Suspects’ mystery is fun and has a decent amount of strategy/skill. It ultimately is going to come down to luck though. To win the game you need to pick the best clues. In each game there is likely one important clue that you need to see as it eliminates a number of suspects that none of the other clues eliminate. If you see this clue, you know you can eliminate the corresponding suspects. If you don’t, you will have quite a few more options to choose between at the end of the game. This will force you to make a lucky guess about what suspects to bid on. If a player gets to see all of the best clues early enough and makes bets corresponding to the information that they have seen, they will have a huge advantage in winning the game.
It is a shame that the game relies on quite a bit of luck. If it wasn’t for the luck, I think Museum Suspects might have been the best deduction game that I have ever played. With the luck though, I don’t think it quite reaches that point. What clues you ultimately get to see has too much impact on how well you ultimately do. The game is still quite fun, but the luck factor is hard to ignore. I don’t know how the game could have fixed this issue. It is a shame because I think Museum Suspects could have been a fantastic deduction game instead of a good to very good deduction game.
As for Museum Suspects’ components, I think they are fantastic like most Blue Orange Games releases. I kind of wish the game had some sort of dry erase boards/markers. I am kind of worried that the sheets could run out relatively quickly. Otherwise the components are great. The artwork really works for the game as it really fits the family friendly feel of the game. The components are well made, where I can see them lasting a long time. There are quite a few different suspects and Clue cards as well. This means that not all of them will be used each game. This adds quite a bit of replay value to the game. The game fits in a box not much bigger than it needed to be as well.
I generally enjoyed my time playing Museum Suspects. While playing the game it kind of felt like a combination of Clue and Guess Who?, but better than both games. What I think really makes the game is the mystery. A bunch of different things can happen in the game where there could be one, multiple, or even zero culprits. This creates an interesting mystery that you likely won’t be 100% certain about until the final results are revealed. The game is quite easy to play and plays quickly as well. Museum Suspects is a good game that I enjoyed playing. Unfortunately it does rely a little too much on luck. Some of the clues are much more valuable than others. The player that sees more of the good clues will have a distinct advantage in the game.
My recommendation for Museum Suspects comes down to your feelings towards deduction games and the overall premise. If you don’t generally like deduction games or don’t like the idea that the game relies on quite a bit of luck, I don’t know if Museum Suspects will be for you. Those intrigued by the game though will likely really enjoy Museum Suspects and should seriously consider picking it up.
We would like to thank Blue Orange Games for the review copy of Museum Suspects used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
Year: 2022 | Publisher: Blue Orange Games | Designer: Phil Walker-Harding | Artist: Maxime Sarthou
Genres: Betting, Bluffing, Deduction, Family
Ages: 8+ | Number of Players: 2-4 | Length of Game: 20-25 minutes
Difficulty: Light | Strategy: Light-Moderate | Luck: Moderate-High
Components: 24 Suspect tiles, 1 Emergency Exit tile, 32 Clue cards, 48 Investigation tokens, 4 Detective tokens, 4 Notebooks, 4 Pencils, Instructions
- A fun, accessible, and elegant deduction game that the whole family can enjoy.
- The mystery is interesting until the very end as you are never totally sure who the culprits are.
- Relies heavily on luck as the player that sees the best clues will likely win.
- The gameplay could be a little deeper in a few areas.
Recommendation: For fans of deduction games that are looking for a fun accessible game that the whole family can enjoy.