This week’s review is Noir. It is a quick deduction game for 2 players(though there is a 3-4 player variant). This game is part of the 4 ½ game series on Kickstarter from Level 99 games. This series features 4 games that you can buy together or separate. While this review is only for Noir, we will be taking a look at Pixel Tactics within the next week or two. Inside of Noir, there are 4 variants to play with the same set up for all—a 5 by 5 grid of cards. The first variant is Killer vs. Inspector. The premise for this version is pretty simple—one person is the killer and one is the investigator. To begin the game, the killer must choose one card from the innocent deck; this will now be their secret identity. After this, and only on the first turn, the killer must choose a suspect card on the table adjacent to their secret identity (either on the sides or the diagonals) and flip that card over to the “deceased side”. The first turn of the inspector includes taking 4 cards from the innocent deck, choosing 1 to be their secret identity and keeping the other cards as “evidence cards”.
For the rest of the game, each player takes turns trying to find the other by using 1 of 3 moves. The killer can either shift a row or column, disguise themselves or kill someone; while the inspector can shift a row or column, exonerate a suspect or make an arrest. To shift a row or column, move all the cards in one direction; this will cause one card to “fall off” the edge of the board. It is to be placed on the empty side of that row. To use the disguise action, the killer must take the top card off of the innocent deck and check the current board to find if that suspect is still alive. If he/she is, then the killer must discard their current identity on the board and flip it to deceased. They must place the new card face-down in front of them—this is their new secret identity. Killing suspects is just like the first turn of the game—choose a suspect adjacent to your killer and flip them to deceased. If you are the investigator, you may use the exonerate action. Here the inspector flips the top card from the innocent deck, then places this card on top of the corresponding card on the board. To arrest someone, the inspector must choose someone adjacent and ask the killer directly if they are that suspect. For example, if Amanda was the inspector and she was adjacent to Ophelia, Amanda could ask if Ophelia was the killer. If I was, game over, if I was not, that was the end of her turn. The killer wins if they kill 16 people or the inspector; the inspector wins if they can arrest the killer.
The other variants included in Noir are “Hitman vs. Slueth” where one person has a hit-list of 4 people and the sleuth wins if they catch the hitman; “Master Thief vs. Chief of Police” where treasure is put out on each suspect and the Master Thief must gather all 25 pieces of treasure to win or get caught by the Chief of Police and his deputies; and “Spy Tag” , a game for 3-4 players in which everyone is a spy trying to capture the other spies. Each variant is unique and has different levels of difficulty. So did Noir make us want to become gumshoes or just murder this game?
Components – We cannot fairly judge this category as we have only played the prototype. However, we know that the cards we received are close to the finished product and the cardstock seems solid and the art fits the games’ theme amazingly well.
Value – Very high. While Noir is essentially just a deck of cards, we both enjoyed the game immensely. For the $12 (if you hurry there are early birds for $10) this game will run you, it is a steal.
Setup/take down – Fairly fast. You shuffle two decks of cards and arrange the suspects into a 5 x 5 grid, then deal out a few cards depending on the variant. In general, this process takes around 2 minutes.
Length – 10 to 15 minutes for the base game but the variants can take as long as 45 minutes. The length of the base game feels perfect for what this is-- a quick deductive game that lasts just as long as you would want it to.
Luck to skill ratio – 80/20 on the skill end. It is possible to start in a corner where your actions are more suspicious. It is also possible to have someone just get a lucky guess on who you are as a result because of this. In general though, there is far more skill then luck involved here.
How often does it/will it hit the table? - Amanda hopes a lot! This is one of the rare games that Amanda will want to play FAR more than Ryan. Amanda feels she would pretty much always be up to request Noir, whereas Ryan would never turn it down, but would only suggest it a few times a week. The short length of the game certainly helps in wanting to put Noir on the table regularly.
Accessibility & Rules - Very good. The page for the base game is only 2 pages long and each of the other 3 games builds off the base game and thus are only 1 page each. You can learn to play the base game in five minutes or less and you can teach the game to anyone in the same or less.
I love adding myself to the body count - In Noir, as the killer, you can switch who you are playing as. I LOVE, LOVE, LOOOOVE doing this. First off, it is incredibly satisfying when you announce who you were and watch the person playing the detective get upset because they had figured it out and you have now denied them an arrest! Second though, it is a great gameplay mechanic. Switching the killer’s identity allows you to protect your own interest and early in the game it is a great way to get in a kill (when you switch identities you kill off your old identity) that puts no suspicion on your new identity.
Both players have a deduction element - In far too many "deduction" games someone is left hiding not deducing. There is a criminal and a detective who is trying to find the criminal, but the detective’s identity is known. In Noir, both players get to experience the joy of trying to figure out who the other player is even if their goals are different.
Very approachable - We brought Noir to our family’s house for a little get together over the weekend and it was a huge hit. Amanda’s family are a bunch of scaredy cats that think learning any new game is incredibly intimidating. They also worry about looking stupid while playing. We taught this game to one family member and throughout the weekend, a bunch of people learned to play just by watching the rest of us. At one point, Amanda and I went for a quick swim and when we came back in one family member was teaching the game to another (something that has never happened before). I feel the theme mixed with the simplicity of move a row, switch your identity/exonerate a suspect or kill/arrest is just so simple and approachable.
The theme fits the gameplay – Sure, moving a row does not "feel" like you are running away nor does switching your identity feel like taking on a whole new identity. When you take everything and add it up the whole theme blends to give the overall sensation that you are a serial killer or a detective trying to allude the law/ferret out the killer.
Portable - The developer of Noir said one of his main intentions with the 4 1/2 games series was to make games that could be carried around with you and taught in minutes. As I said above, the game is obviously very approachable and when you combine that fact with Noir just being a deck of playing cards, it makes it one of the best pocket and play games I have ever come across. I feel you could keep Noir in your pocket and not only teach it within a few minutes of a lunch break, but fit in 3-5 games besides. I also feel it’s one of the rare games that your non-board gaming coworker would request you bring back the next day.
It can be frustrating getting close to the other player - It takes a turn to move next to the suspect you believe the other player is. This can be a HUGE issue because it opens you up to being killed or arrested. In quite a few games I knew who Amanda was but the second I moved next to her, I was arrested/killed. It can also be incredibly frustrating as the detective when you are trying to get close to the other player and they are able to kill a few people until you get close to them, then BOOM-- they change their identity.
I wish there was a bigger difference between the deceased & innocent cards - There are some slight differences in the two, but in general they look WAY too similar and can confuse/annoy players.
The suspects should have their names in color or something.... - All of Noir's suspects are drawn in black and tan like comic books of old. Thematically this is great, but since there is no purple hat or anything else to help set them apart it can be annoying finding the suspect you are looking for. Pretty much everyone we played with commented on this and said they wish that if nothing else, the suspect names had been written in several different colors to help differentiate each other.
Sometimes the killer gets lucky -- As you all know, I HATE losing on luck! Sometimes while we were playing this game with Amanda’s family, I (as the detective) would lose because the killer decided that they were going to kill the suspect to the left. They had NO IDEA THAT IT WAS ME! This can be very frustrating that you have planned out your moves and know who THEY are, but they unknowingly kill you! This isn’t a constant issue but it is frustrating when it does happen.
Unique fonts can catch your attention - Each suspect has a unique name and photo on the cards. It really adds to the theme of each character being different and makes trying to figure out who your opponent is that much more interesting. I enjoy that the youngest looking suspect has very childish handwriting. I’m a sucker for little nuances like that.
Game comes with 3 other variants - It is always a nice surprise when you realize that even though you purchased 1 game, you technically received 4. The base game is for 2 players and is easy; the second is for 2 players and is medium skill; the third is for 3-4 players and is medium skill; and the fourth is for 2 players and is hard skill. These variants can give Noir a chance to be on the gaming table multiple times a night because the experiences of each variants are somewhat different from others.
There is no killing in 2 of the variants - This is not a huge factor for me, but this can make Noir more family friendly.
Debates in my head- I really take pleasure in the decision making in this game. Should I run away from the suspect that I think Ryan is, or should I grab a disguise so that he cannot find me? This is what deduction games should really be about!
Why can’t the cards have the names on the top or side of the cards as well - Ryan already mentioned the confusion with innocent/deceased cards as well as finding your suspect in a sea of similar tan and brown cards. Adding to the confusion is the fact that only one side of the card has the suspects name on it. This is not a HUGE deal but it is frustrating that not only must you try and find suspect without any standout colors amongst a wash of innocent/deceased cards that look the same, but one of the two players must do the whole thing upside or sideways!
You are on the honor system, sir - This is a game that could potentially be really frustrating if you play with cheaters. This can be said of many games, but Noir is one where this really jumps out at me. We have caught Ryan’s little brother cheating quite a few times and I could see him lying about who he is in the 4th variant, Master Thief vs. Chief of Police, or killing people he is not adjacent to in the base game. If you really pay attention you may catch it, but it seems easy to get away with in general.
The other variants are ok, but I doubt we play them again – We were not interested in the second variant at all and usually do not play games with more than two people. The family members that played this game also agreed that they would only play the base game. The fourth variant was an interesting distraction, but we just did not enjoy it as much as the base game. It was a solid experience, but just not that appealing to the two of us.
I hear all the time that there are no good games coming out of Kickstarter. These people allege that they are all half baked games, overpriced and not good enough to make it through a normal publishing house. THIS is now the game I will refer Kickstarter naysayers to. We have enjoyed our time with games coming from crowd-funding sites like Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! and Zombies at your Heels; they are great games that I think everyone should have backed and I have used them as examples of quality in the past. Noir is the first, though, that I think we did not only like but we truly loved. There are a few downsides that bug me such as trying to get close to the other player without getting arrested/killed, as well as trying to find specific suspects amongst the dull colored cards. None of this is enough, though, to bring down this game that plays fast, has TRULY deductive game-play (vs gimmicks that pass for deduction) and the game even travels well. It was even well received by our non-hobbyist gamer family! We have wanted a replacement for Mr. Jack for some time and dear readers, this is it!
Awesome! I love deduction games! Before we got into hobbyist board games, I was always looking for an excuse to play Clue. There is just something that I love about trying to solve “who-done-it?”! Noir is excellent for Ryan and I, as we usually only play with 2 people. This makes Clue pointless and Scotland Yard not so much fun. While we do own Mr. Jack, I like Noir much more. Unlike Mr. Jack, Ryan and I do not have to share the same characters (which used to frustrate me quite a bit), nor do we have to try to remember gimmicky actions that each character has. This is just simple deduction. I can easily watch what cards Ryan has killed and follow his suspects as he moves the board around. (As you might have been able to tell, I like playing the detective quite a bit more than playing the killer). We also played this with many family members and I enjoyed arresting them all (except my Mom…she kicked my butt royally and pretty quickly, I might add!). I would really recommend this game for anyone looking for a new deduction game and especially people who only play with 2 players as Noir is just perfect for that!
As a note: Noir was sent to us for free by the publisher. The copy we were sent was a prototype copy not the finished product. We have since backed a copy of the final product ourselves and will try and update this review and our review to reflect the final product if changes warrant it. If you too would like to back Noir you can do so until the 17th of June by following the link below. The price for just Noir is $10 or $12 depending on if you get in with the early bird special or not. You can also get discounts by buying not just Noir but all 4 games in the series.