Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Scotland Yard - Classic Chase Game

I took my kids to Belmont Toys yesterday and made some happy discoveries. One was that the staff there are really good with kids and the store has a nice ambiance. Two is that tucked away in the game section was a copy of Scotland Yard- on sale. My kids left with good memories and I left with a copy of one of the classic games of deduction and pursuit.

In the game of Scotland Yard one player is the mysterious Mister X and all the others are detectives. Mister X has to elude his pursuers for the duration of the game and as you might guess, the detectives are trying to, well, Not be eluded. All the action takes place on a detailed map of London. The map is marked with various landmarks of the city and criss-crossed with the city's bus, subway, and taxi lines. Each player starts at a randomly determined subway stop. In each turn they choose one means of transportation (bus for example) and move one stop down the appropriate line. Mister X does not appear on the map, that player logs their moves on a hidden sheet of paper. Every few turns Mister X has to reveal where they are on the map, then they move secretly again.

There are some tweaks and details in addition to these basic rules but the gist of the game remains as described. The detectives fan out across the city in the hopes of landing on the space that Mister X is on. Every few turns they are told where he is and then they must race in that direction, knowing that as they race towards him he'll be moving away. The key to the game is to say "OK, if Mister X is on that spot, where can he get to in the time it takes us to close in?" For the Mister X player they key is to be on spots where there are many transportation lines and to not be boxed in. Some spots may only have a bus line for example. If Mister X is revealed on that space the detectives know that he can only leave via bus and that limits the places he'll be next turn.

Clearly Scotland Yard has a component of luck. The detectives will be doing their fair share of guessing in between glimpses of Mister X's location. At the same time there is a component of strategy and planning, as well as a need for the detectives to work together. Finally, the game does have the necessity of trust. Mister X logs their moves secretly and the other players have to assume that the moves are being done legally. To some extent, though, why play with people you don't trust?

Scotland Yard is a fun, light game. It's great for people who like logic and deduction components. I don't find it as epic as Race for the Galaxy and the components are certainly old school in comparison to the extravagant productions that Fantasy Flight Games or Worlds of Wonder releases. Still, it's a clever and well crafted game that has good staying power and is likely to be pretty palatable to the whole family.

Pros: simple, fun, exciting

Cons: see below

Beyond the Basics: It's a basic game. I like it, I'll never Loooove it like I love Race for the Galaxy, but I may be playing Scotland Yard ten years from now and I'm not sure I'll be playing RftG even five years from now.

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