Review - Chronicles of Crime
This is a spoiler free review. All photos are taken of randomised game set-ups that are indicative of what you might see in a game.
Designer: David Cicurel
Publisher: Lucky Duck Games
Player Count: 1-4
Chronicles of Crime is an investigation game where players take on the roles of detectives solving a variety of crimes in modern day London. The game makes use of a mobile phone app and QR codes on the physical game components to allow players to interact with people, clues, and locations. The app also allows crime scenes to be investigated and investigations to react dynamically to player actions. Virtual Reality glasses can be purchased separately to the base game to increase the immersion of the game when investigating crime scenes, but this is entirely optional and I did not use them in the course of this review, nor did I feel it was necessary to have them. The app contains six cases for the base game (including a tutorial and a three-case campaign). More scenarios can be purchased in the app that use the material of the base game, but this review will only focus on the scenarios that come with your purchase of the base game of Chronicles of Crime.
How to Play
Chronicles of Crime is incredibly easy to set up. To begin, place the “Evidence Board” in the middle of the table within reach of all the players. Distribute the “Forensic Contacts” (specialist advisors that can give you information on clues or suspects) evenly amongst the players. At the bottom of the Evidence Board place the Scotland Yard location. Place the remaining location boards, character cards, and evidence cards near the board. Finally, open the Chronicles of Crime app on your phone and choose a scenario. The app will tell you know when to place new items on or around the Evidence Board.
Chronicles of Crime has no turn order, players work together to solve the case by passing around the phone and interacting with elements of the case. In order to go to a location, players scan the QR code on the relevant location board. If there is a crime scene at the location, players will be given the option to view it on the app, moving the phone to view a full 360-degree image of the crime scene. The player viewing the crime scene calls out clues that they see, and other players find corresponding evidence cards. The cards are scanned, and the app tells players whether this piece of evidence is related to the case and explains what the evidence is in some detail. Players can talk to characters at the location that they currently are by scanning the character card’s QR code. Characters can be asked clues or about other people by scanning the QR codes of evidence or character cards. Finally, players can call up the Forensic Contacts (Doctor, Hacker, Scientist, and Criminologist) at any point to ask about characters or clues in a similar way.
Every action that players take in Chronicles of Crime takes time, with the time of day written in the top corner of the app. Take too long to solve a case and perhaps things will get worse, the app will tell you you’ve gotten a phone call from the stations, another person/jewel/dog has gone missing and you can visit a new crime scene.
Once players are confident that they can solve the case, they return to Scotland Yard and are asked a series of questions about the case. These questions are answered by scanning related QR codes and players are given a score based on their answers and the speed with which they solved it.
Chronicles of Crime follows a very simple gameplay loop. Players are given a scenario, involving a crime scene and some witnesses. Players investigate the scene to find clues. Players ask the witnesses about other people or about the clues. This opens up new leads in the form of new locations, clues and people. Players repeat with new people at the new locations, and occasionally investigate an additional crime scene. Players can at any time also call one of the Forensic Contacts to gain new insights into clues and suspects.
This will all be pretty familiar to anyone who has played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. The main difference being the use of the mobile phone app instead of leafing through a booklet and reading the appropriate paragraph. This is a huge gameplay improvement as it allows players to have a branching interrogation and feel like they are interacting more with characters by having agency over what they have to respond to. It also makes the cases dynamic, responses can change as time goes by or as players take action. This is all very exciting.
Some purists might criticise the app for making Chronicles of Crime less of an analogue experience and to an extent, that’s fair. A big appeal of board games is that they let us disconnect from screens and Chronicles of Crime prevents us from doing that. If that’s a problem for you then, don’t buy this game. But the app does improve the game and players still interact with one another and move clues around on the central board. If Chronicles of Crime had been released as a stand-alone app, without the physical components, then something bigger would have been lost, but this is definitely a board game.
A big appeal of the game for me was that the cases in Chronicles of Crime make logical sense. I found many the cases in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective tended to resort to solutions that required serious logical leaps that didn’t feel satisfying when we read the solution at the end of the game. Equally my experience with the Unlock! games series (full disclosure, I only played one of them) was that there was a tendency to resort to moon logic to artificially increase the difficulty. Chronicles of Crime does neither of these things, cases might not have totally obvious solutions, but the solutions make sense. This may be something of a neutral point depending on your perspective as it makes the game easier. Even cases described by the app as hard didn’t feel wildly challenging.
The addition of the timer to the app helps the gameplay significantly. Like other similar games, the quicker you finish a case the higher a score you get. However, that never really motivated me too much. What is special about Chronicles of Crime is that as time passes, things happen. People die or go missing, there’s an accident and you can no longer view a crime scene. These are consequences of you acting too slowly. Every question loses you time, every time you move to a new location you lose even more. This means the decision to ask another question of a witness don’t just affect an arbitrary score. They effect the game world, which feels special.
The box for Chronicles of Crime says that it plays with up to four players. In fact, there is no physical reason why players couldn’t play in groups of five or more. However, I feel that at higher player counts it might prove more difficult to gain consensus on where to go, how to speak to, and what to ask about. This would be most difficult when choosing when to solve that case or how to answer questions if some players have different theories.
I played all the cases at two-players (it is not possible to play the case with fresh eyes to test other player counts) and the game worked well. Cooperation was easy, and the game length was around an hour.
There’s no real change to gameplay between different player counts. The only change would be the level of discussion and cooperation between players. If you’re playing solo this won’t exist at all and if you’re playing at higher player counts the length of time it takes to play a game may increase as players take longer to discuss their next move.
The base game comes with a tutorial and five cases (three of which form a mini campaign). There is no variability to these and it is not possible to replay them if you already know the solution. Lucky Duck Games continues to release new scenarios on the app which use the components in the base game to give new cases. These are not free, costing €5.49 each (in the Netherlands at least). I can’t speak to the quality of these scenarios as I have not played them yet.
The game also provides access to a scenario creator. These allows players to script cases for use with the app and the game components. This, in theory, gives the game endless replayability as you create scenarios for you friends. Alternatively, you could download fan made scenarios from the internet, similar to the video game modding scene. Quality of fan made cases is likely to be highly variable and the quantity of these scenarios is dependant on how long this community engages with the game.
Chronicles of Crime does a great job of capturing its theme despite taking a less is more approach to its writing. Pieces of text are short and suspects are developed as much by what they don’t tell you as what they do. It should be noted that in being short, the writing is also quite simple. Most characters don’t have a huge amount of depth to them, just a few details of motivation. This didn’t feel like a problem to me, the game plays in the length of time of an episode of a TV show and needs to introduce enough characters to keep you guessing as to what the solution is. In terms of character depth, most characters in the game have similar depth to suspects and witnesses in a police procedural show like Criminal Minds. This isn’t Proust, but it isn’t aiming to be.
Viewing crime scenes does an excellent job of situating you in the world. Looking around for potential clues for a case that is stumping you, only to look up and notice something unusual does a great job of making you feel like detectives in a procedural cop show, investigating a scene. It is worth noting that some of the crime scenes are quite gruesome, so this might not be a game for the squeamish.
Different cases feel distinct. Whether you’re investigating a theft, trying to solve a murder, or unravelling a shady conspiracy, Chronicles of Crime does a great job of making each scenario feel unique. This is likely helped by the fact that different writers scripted each of the scenario, each writer bring their own style to the cases. Despite the range of writers and tones, the quality of cases in the base game is consistent.
The option to call up specialists to analyse clues or give you a psychological profile of a victim or suspect is a nice touch. These roles could easily have felt like hints that you could use if you felt stuck, but the game does a great job of making them feel like legitimate tools at your disposal. There are times when a scientist instantly getting DNA match for blood that you just found at the crime scene seems a bit unbelievable (though you are sometimes asked to call back later for the results – which was great), for the most part these feel like artistic license and a conscious decision to keep the game moving.
The time of day in the corner of the app does a great job of situating you in a world that feels real. As time passes, new developments occur. Show up at a location later in the day and a new character might have appeared. These changes do a lot to make the theme come alive and the cases seem real.
Art and Components
The artwork of Chronicles of Crime is functional, which is suits the tone of the game. Most of the cases feel quite grounded, so a gallery of normal looking people fits the game. Despite this the character art is clear and faces are easy to differentiate. This is particularly important as character cards are just a face and a number, characters are named through the app.
Investigating crime scenes shows a 360-degree artist rendering of the scene. These are functional and clear. They are also at times graphic. Given that you need to physically turn to view the crime scene, turning to see a dead body in pile of blood or a body hanging from a rope isn’t always pleasant, but it fits the artistic tone well.
Clue cards just have the name of the clue written on them. Initially I thought this was a bit lazy and that a symbol or picture of the clue could be added as well. However, given that clues need to fit several specific clues, a symbol might confuse things. For instance, “high tech devices” could refer to a keypad, a security system, or lasers. The clues look great on the game board, which has the aesthetic of a pin board, allowing clues to be moved around to fit theories and to allow you to live out your detective fantasy
Finally, all the components are made of quite solid materials.
Chronicles of Crime is excellent, and I would highly recommend it. I played through all the scenarios in a matter of weeks and enjoyed every one of them. The app adds a dynamic aspect to your investigations which goes a long way to make it feel like a real case in a real world. That said, there are not a huge number of scenarios in the box and each one is relatively short so that should factor into a value for money calculation if you’re on the fence about buying it. I was left wanting more and would have preferred in some of the additional downloadable scenarios were included in the base game.
Having said that, I liked Chronicles of Crime enough that I full intend to buy one of the boxed expansions and will likely have a review up for them on TheTabletopTimes.com in the not too distant future.