Cost:$15 From: Mayfair Games, P.O. Box 48539, Niles IL, 60648, 1-800-432-4376 Players: 3-10 Playing Time: 45 minutes Type of game: Logic card Complexity: 6 Skill: 8 Reviewed by: Peter Sarrett, Issue 2.1, Fall 1993
Clue has been the most popular mystery game since its introduction decades ago. Many adults find Clue to be overly simple and not particularly engaging. Now Mayfair Games introduces Alibi, The Whodunit Card Game, which turns Clue's basic "Who? What? Where?" concept into a much more interesting game for adults.
Alibi comes in the same compact size box as Mayfair's other card games (Express, Bridgette, Family Business). Inside you'll find a deck of 78 cards, a rule book, and a pad of record sheets. The pad isn't very thick, and if you anticipate playing Alibi repeatedly I'd suggest setting aside one record sheet for Xeroxing purposes right away.
The cards come in four categories, organized by color. There are 24 blue Suspect cards, 18 green Place cards, 18 brown Weapon cards, and 18 red Emotion cards. Each color is further broken into sets of three, with each member of the set representing a subcategory. Two icons on each card identify the card's set and subcategory. For example, each set of Suspect cards represents the same person at a different Time of day (morning, noon, and night). Places are split into sets of Locations (the Boat set has three Locations: pier, in cabin, and on deck), Weapons are divided by Type (Sharp Object could be a butcher's cleaver, broken bottle, or straight razor), and Emotions have Motives (the murderer could be Jealous of a happy life, fame, or wealth). Thus, although there are three Sharp Object cards, each one is unique and has its own distinctive pair of icons.
The four colors are shuffled separately and one card is removed from each color and set aside. These are Brenda's murderer, the scene of the crime, the murder weapon and the murderer's motive which players will try to deduce during the game. The remaining cards are shuffled together and all are dealt out. All players also get a record sheet to use for information gathered throughout the game.
The record sheet is organized in four columns, one for each color. Each column is divided into rows, with each row representing a set of cards. Rows contain three checkboxes, one for each card in the set. The set's icon appears at the left of each row, and each card's icon and description appear above its corresponding checkbox. This makes it very easy to locate a card's box for quick reference.
On his turn, each player may ask any other player any question that can be answered by a number. "How many Weapon cards do you have?", "How many Morning cards have you seen?", "I think Brenda was killed by Slim Slant in the morning in the front seat of her car with a pillow. How many of those cards have you seen?" and "How many cards in your hand have you held since the beginning of the game?" are all valid questions. The questioned player must answer (aloud) truthfully and to the best of his recollection. After a period of furious scibbling on record sheets the next player gets her turn.
Once all players have asked a question, each player passes cards to the player on his left. The number of cards passed equals the number of times everyone has asked a question. Thus, one card is passed on the first round, two on the second, and so forth. As in Hearts, cards are passed face down and you must pass your cards before looking at the ones you receive.
Whenever someone has all three cards of a set in his hand, he may "meld" by placing the set face up in front of him. Why would you reveal information to other players like this? Because melding earns you points, and the earlier in the game you meld, the more points you earn.
The game ends when, instead of asking a question on his turn, someone chooses to make an accusation instead. This player is called the First Accuser. There are eight aspects of the crime to be revealed (one for each icon on the four hidden cards): the Suspect, Time, Place, Location, Weapon, Type, Emotion, and Motive. Record sheets have a space for each aspect. The First Accuser must fill in at least four of these blanks, one of which must be the Suspect. Other players may fill in as many or as few blanks as they wish. The four hidden cards are then revealed and points are tallied.
Each aspect is worth from three to ten points: Suspect is worth 10, the other categories are each worth 5, and the four subcategories are worth 3 apiece. Each aspect correctly identified scores that aspect's value, but an incorrect guess deducts that value from your score instead. If the First Accuser guesses incorrectly, he loses double the normal value. As compensation for the added risk, the First Accuser also gets a 7 point bonus. The player with the highest score (including melding points) is the winner.
Although the game's focus seems to be on the asking of questions, most of your information comes from the cards that are passed to you. Since you can only ask a question of one person, gathering information via interrogation is often slow to yield results. The game doesn't drag, however, because players pass an ever-increasing number of cards each turn. This spreads information quickly, leaving very specific gaps in each player's knowledge. Players should choose their questions carefully to fill in these gaps.
Brushing off your dusty Clue tactics will serve you well in Alibi. For example, a good Clue strategy when asking about aspects of the crime is to include one which you already have (ie, asking about Mr. Green in the Kitchen with the Rope when you possess the Kitchen card). When the person being questioned reveals that he has two of the three, you know precisely which two he has but your other opponents have no way of knowing which of the three is missing. Thus you gain more information than your opponents do. This tactic comes in handy in the later stages of Alibi, when players start to zero in on specific cards.
The bonus for being First Accuser is an attractive lure. Players often accuse prematurely for fear of someone else getting the bonus instead. This may not be a bad strategy if you're reasonably sure of at least four aspects of the crime. Even if you're wrong about one aspect, you're likely to lose only six points (for a net gain of one point). And you prevent an opponent from picking up the bonus. But guess too early and you could find yourself with a negative score.
If you're not one hundred percent certain of an aspect, should you guess? That's a tough call. I lost the last game I played because I took a wrong guess at the Emotion, having narrowed it down to two possibilities. I would have won the game had I played it safe and left that aspect blank.
The record sheets have a couple of flaws. Two icons bear the description, "Insurance," where one of them should be "In Will." This can be a bit confusing if you don't realize the misprint exists. A more serious shortcoming is the lack of adequate space for good notes. If a question involves cards depicted in different areas of the record sheet, there's no good way to indicate the appropriate information. That's more a factor of the questioning system than the record sheet, so it's forgivable. What I can't dismiss is the lack of space for notes pertaining to entire columns, rows, or sets. No space is provided except the extremely narrow border around the edge of the sheet. A little more space for notes would make the record sheets far easier to use. As it is, you'll probably wind up using the blank backside.
Alibi allows players to ask someone about cards he had in his hand at the start of the game, but after a few rounds it's impossible to remember your original hand. I strongly recommend players adopt a three-mark system to prevent confusion. In our games, we fill in the checkboxes of all the cards we start the game with; we mark with an X all the cards we receive in the course of the game; and we mark with a check or line all the cards we deduce are not part of the murder, but which we don't actually see. If I've deduced from various questions that Bruce started the game with the Pistol, this system prevents me from including the Pistol (which I haven't actually seen) in my total when Sara asks me, "How many Guns have you seen?" Otherwise, if my deduction is wrong and the Pistol is actually the murder weapon, I've unfairly given Sara incorrect information. A multi-mark system helps keep the game running smoothly.
Alibi moves quickly. The huge number of empty check boxes on your record sheet is daunting at first, but fills in soon enough. The clever mechanism of passing more cards with each round accelerates the game and increases the pressure to make an accusation. Best of all, nobody is ever "out of it"-- the winner isn't decided until the four hidden cards are revealed.
Alibi is fun, works well, and brings some fresh twists to the realm of deductive logic games. Kudos to Mayfair for a successful game.