A ‘Sharpe’ Distinction Review

Last Saturday I hosted my first ever Murder Mystery Dinner Party.  I was nervous about how it would go, but I am happy to say that it was fantastic.  Everyone dressed up and we ate and drank and merrily tried to solve a murder.  The game we played is called A ‘Sharpe’ Distinction by A Murder of Crows – Murder Mystery Games.  They are relatively new and had a successful Kickstarter campaign where they launched A ‘Sharpe’ Distinction and coming soon ‘The ISS Constantine’.  They graciously offered me a copy of the game to review and I am so glad I tried it.

The game is played with 10 guests choosing 1 of 10 characters.  This can be done ahead of time as you send out invitations or you can choose at the start of the game.  Each character has a sheet that describes their back story as well as characteristics that you can use during the game to sharpen those acting skills.  Each character receives an envelope that contains additional information on your character, your alibi and motives surrounding the murder, your goals for the game, two ability cards, and your character’s secret.  This should all remain confidential until the end of the game or you reveal them to the other characters.  You can lie, eavesdrop, trade information, or use other techniques to piece together the story and ultimately solve the murder. 

One of my guests had played two other murder mystery games before.  So, although I am unable to compare this game to others, she gave some insight on how murder mystery parties usually go down.  Typically, there will be a script and several rounds of dialogue.  Everyone will sit around a table and read aloud their parts for the first round and discuss everything freely as a group.  You will move on to round two and continue the game in this fashion until everyone is finished.  If I compare this game to that description, I would say that ‘A Sharpe Distinction’ is much more dynamic and livelier.  Each character knows one tenth of the story and it’s your job to gather that information.  I can see the merits of both gameplays, but this game suited our party much better.  It made it feel more like an actual party where you are free to wonder and talk to whomever you choose.  The only things you need to accomplish are your goals.  Where this might put some people off is very little direction is given.  You may think you understand the story only to realize you were deceived or there was a whole other narrative going on that never came up in your line of questioning.  It also made for a slow start as everyone needed 10-20 minutes to read through their character sheets and understand what was expected of them.  Once we got past this initial crawl, everyone was off and having a great time. 

The ability cards help push the game forward if you’re feeling stuck getting information from a particular character.  Each character seemed to have one ability to gather someone’s secret and one to hide their own secret.  You can only use the ability once for the game although several in our party forgot this and just kept using them.  It didn’t help them a whole lot so it wasn’t a critical rule to enforce.  The secret should remain a secret for as long as you can keep it.  Once another character has this secret, they are free to tell anyone they choose for their own purposes. 

There was 4-5 pieces of evidence that everyone can rustle through. This was a nice touch as it allows you to take a quick break and gather some additional clues for your investigation.  One of the papers included a cipher which I thought would be a little difficult during the game.  Only 2-3 guests were interested in solving it so it might be something not every gamer is willing to try.  I knew it had to be simple since ciphers are generally time-consuming.  One guest brought up a clue which I immediately knew was the key.  One of the characters saw what we were doing and acted nervous and tried to distract us by offering us drinks.  It’s the fun little interactions like this that made the game really pop.

Choosing the location for your party is important.  Most of our party was located outside on the patio.  We also had the kitchen where the food was served and the living room where the bar was located.  I was mostly in the kitchen or living room for obvious reasons.  Everyone agreed that having multiple rooms and areas to have private discussions made the game more fun and easier to prevent pesky eavesdropping.  Finish off the atmosphere with some decorations or some prohibition era music and you’re golden. 

Choosing your friends is another important decision.  Picking a group that is willing to be in character and actively participate brings the story to life.  My group all dressed up and some even went all out.  My brother was packing some heat with some BB guns and shoulder holsters and one of the ladies playing Dina came with dark eye shadow and a goth look.  Everyone looked great as you can tell from the pictures. 

Esteemed guests at my Murder Mystery Party! At least one of them is a murderer!

For food I followed the suggestions by the game as well.  I had shrimp cocktails, deviled eggs, a cheese and meat platter with crackers, and several other finger foods.  I ended up having way too much, but it allowed everyone to grab what they wanted or just continue their conversations into the kitchen.  You could have a sit-down dinner but I think it would slow down the game or stifle your progress.  It would also allow everyone to hear other’s conversations which might spoil the game if you are trying to keep secrets and discover other’s secrets.

The game says that it will last for 1-3 hours depending on the diligence of the participants.  You can take breaks if you wish but because the game allows you to roam freely, we didn’t need one.  We easily played the game for 3 hours before I decided to make a last call for everyone to achieve their goals and start the endgame.  As host, it will be your job to judge the progress of your guests in the game and decide if everyone is getting tired or no longer playing.  The conclusion starts when the host reads the final speech.  Before the speech, our party came together and discussed all our findings and theories.  From there I began reading the final speech which brings to light everyone’s secrets and ties all the narratives together.  It’s only two pages but it was easily my favorite part of the night.  There were several revelations that got everyone excited and laughing.  As we covered what each character was up to, they had a chance to explain themselves and laugh about their difficulties trying to stay in character or keep a secret.  We then concluded with the finale of the murderer’s identity.  I think only two were able to guess correctly apart from the murderer of course.  We all joked that it would be a crazy twist if the murderer didn’t even know.

I think a testament to how well the game was written is that our murder mystery party veteran was able to guess correctly.  She told us that in the other two games she played, nobody was able to solve the murder.  It’s very difficult in murder mystery stories to keep enough secrets and throw out enough red herrings to keep the mystery exciting.  It’s extra challenging to make the game solvable.  Everyone at the party had a motive and possible opportunities to murder the victim.  As you sift through all the alibis however, there can only be one murderer, unless you’re on a train or something. 

One possible issue that could arise is the fact that you need exactly 10 players for this game.  A Murder of Crows said they can send you a modified version if you could only muster 8-9 or had a no-show.  There’s also a version now with 12 characters that’s available if you can manage it.  One way the game says you can get around this issue is to invite more people than needed and only have 10-12 play.  You must be actively playing your character for a good 1-3 hours so that might not be very fun for the additional people.  Those people might even get bored and sabotage your game a little since they have no stake in keeping secrets. 

There are 4 female characters and 6 male characters in the 10-player version.  The additional 2 players for the 12-player version are both female I believe.  Two of the characters can be either gender and the art is simply an interpretation of that character.  A Murder of Crows has stated that they can change any character to use genderless language if anybody feels uncomfortable playing a character of the opposite gender.  One of our guests had to play a male character and she was a good sport about it.  This cannot be helped unless you pick guests with the exact female to male ratio and you should just roll with the roles. 

I believe the way A Murder of Crows has structured the game will make murder mystery parties much more appealing and inclusive.  It’s dynamic and exciting to be forced to interrogate your friends or try to weasel information from them.  The game releases that stuffy stigma that might come with a murder mystery party and really opens it up to several types of personalities.  If you’ve ever played a murder mystery party before, this is a great game to change things up a bit.  If you’ve never played one before, this is an awesome game to start with.  I feel very accomplished to have my first murder mystery party to be such a success.  This game helped make that happen with their great suggestions and well written story.  Thank you A Murder of Crows!  Never leave a murder mystery party unsolved!

-J.C. Mystery Detective

Check out their website to see other fun content like The ISS Constantine! https://crow.black/

Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue Interview

Before, there was either puzzle books or games or novels.  Now in a dystopian future we can have all three in a new project that is live on Kickstarter.  The Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue was created by Leona Rose and is a brilliant new concept.  Like the TARDIS from Doctor Who, this novel is much bigger on the inside than it is the outside.  Leona was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had.

J.C.-Hello and thank you for taking the time today to answer some questions. Are you the creator or one of the creators for Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue and did you create it by yourself or with a team? 

Leona- Hi there. I’m Leona, creator of what is to be The Omniverse Saga. It’s a solo project for which I am writing the story and designing the games. If funding on the current Kickstarter campaign goes well I’ll be teaming up with an illustrator for additional art, but it’s a solo project for the moment.

J.C.- Will the story be like a choose your own adventure type of book with multiple endings or is there one clear ending once complete? Will the decisions you make or the pages you’ve visited affect the story in any way? 

Leona- It’s not a choose-your-own-adventure as you know it. It’s a unique new format and the adventure depends on where you start. That’s what’s really unique about Omniverse! The implications of that are that if you start locked in one level you will need to defeat a boss in a different way to if you started in a different level, and to break out of a room you will need to solve different puzzles and acquire different objects than if you were trying to break in to that same room. It works like a Tangram. Each page reveals a bit of story or puzzle or both, and depending on which way you assemble them you get a different image, or in this case a different outlook on the game that’s being played. Just like in real life, there are a thousand different ways to experience the information you get on your life journey, and what you do with it shapes your view of the world.

J.C- I’m imagining something like an old style role playing game (RPG) or maybe a single player Dungeons and Dragons in a new format. I’m especially excited about the concept of facing off against bosses in a book. How would you describe the type of gameplay? 

Leona- So, I’ll level up with you here. I have never played Dungeons and Dragons in my life! I know – shock horror and I’m sure I’m missing out terribly. I’d liken Omniverse more to an open-world game like GTA or Myst for example. It works just like that – only your surroundings are described to you by the narrator, as a DM would in DnD. You play the role of the protagonist – moving about taking actions, etc, but part of the game is working out your character’s credentials – your role. I definitely didn’t want to design a game with random dice rolling mechanic for defeating bosses. It just doesn’t work for me. You’d just be sat throwing your dice until the right number rolled up! So defeating bosses may require you procure some obscure object with which to arm yourself, or then again it might not – you’ll find out when you come across one. That said there is definitely room in the adventure for other dice mechanics as you’ll find out.

J.C.- The open idea of the gameplay and story of being able to pick it up at any point is intriguing and I’m eager to see how it plays out. Something I can keep on my bed stand and jump into when I feel like diving into the Omniverse. Will there be some sort of guide provided to those who might feel a little lost when starting? 

Leona- Oh yeah of course. It’s really simple to play. I like a rules-light game myself so I’ve designed something I’d wanna play. The main rules are simple. You can move, and you can pick up and use stuff. That’s all. And it’s perfect for dipping in and out of, between commutes, when you’ve got 5 minutes to spare, and it has the world’s simplest save game mechanism…The humble bookmark.
So, to move forward just go to the page indicated at the top. Or, turn to face left or right by going to the pages indicated on the left and right. But you must only ever move to a page that is linked to your current page.  As you move you’ll pick up objects by simply writing them down in your inventory. Each object has a 4-digit number which allows you to use, combine or break things apart. You just need to add or subtract their object numbers. You see. Super simple.

J.C.- The puzzles I’m seeing look similar to the style of Journal 29 or Trip 1907. Of course The Omniverse is on a totally different level being much larger and with a non-linear storyline. How would you describe the types of puzzles that we might see in the book? Will they be critical to continuing the story or direct you to certain pages when complete? 

Leona- That’s exactly right. People like things to be a little familiar. So I’m adding on a new gaming experience.  In the game you move about left, right, forward, back – and as you move you come across puzzles that are fully built into the ambience of the narrative. Puzzles can be standalone or meta-puzzles and there’s not necessarily a given order in which they must be complete so that’s cool. Each of the puzzles plays a role and helps you complete a task or mission which the story may suggest to you. You basically have to find your way through a giant maze solving puzzles and completing missions. Each mission allows you to unlock different pages and chapters of your journey. These are the different levels of the game… Like in GTA, or when you’re in an escape room. In Omniverse you’ve got 8 levels to get through so it’s might take a while! There’s a whole range of puzzles in Omniverse. Ranging from real easy to not real easy at all. I’ve been very careful to have lots of variety in there. Some word, some math, some logic, some observation. I particularly like the one-word word search which you can see in the preview pages. Fiendishly simple. And here’s a hint. You’ll use the object you find to complete a gruesome task and unlock a new chapter. To be honest, I feel that the narrative is a huge bonus in Omniverse. When playing Journal 29 for example, I felt like I was just doing a compilation of random puzzles, which I found a little frustrating.  Whereas in Omniverse the puzzles actually mean something. You’ve strategized. You’ve made a found objects, made a makeshift contraption and know how you’re going to use it. I’ve really worked hard on contextualizing each puzzle and each action that your character takes. For me Omniverse is interactive fiction with a heavy bias on puzzles.

J.C.- This project looks pretty ambitious although you mentioned in your updates on Kickstarter that it’s nearly complete. How long did it take to make such an epic book? 

Leona- That’s why the writing hasn’t been the longest or the hardest part. It’s been designing the core principles and mechanics of the game, then compiling the puzzles and integrating them into the ambience. That’s what’s really taken up the time! I’ve working full-time on Omniverse for the last few months and it’s going to be finished shortly after funding ends. 

J.C.- What would you say was your inspiration for starting this project? What made you decide to make such a unique game? What keeps you motivated? 

Leona- I’m a problem-solver and inventor at heart and I’ve always loved a point and click adventure, an escape room and anything else like that. I spent hours and hours playing classic games like Monkey island, Leisure Suit Larry, Dreamweb…from the 90s on my Amiga 500 (which I expanded to 1MB!!), and as I feel that getting away from a screen and doing something 100% offline is good for the soul I came up with this.  I’m also a bit of a loner and I shy away from social media. So when I launched my Kickstarter campaign with no idea of how to use the platform and a Twitter account of 0 followers, I was more than a little in above my head!  I’ve been really overwhelmed to see that complete strangers are starting to get behind my project. And there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the pledges roll in. So I’m super-motivated about getting more of my projects out there and in the hands of people that can appreciate them.  I’m only just learning that I should be braver and unleash more of my ideas and projects on the big wide world. I have a whole load of other games and stuff that I’m going to be launching in the near future, so keep an eye out for them too. I can’t wait!

On that note, I’d really appreciated if you guys could go check out Omniverse on Twitter @_Omniverse and like the Facebook page! I can’t do this without you. Thanks.

J.C.- Thank you so much for your time. I am now way more excited about Omniverse if that’s possible and I’m excitingly waiting to see the finished product!  Please take a look at the Kickstarter page and help give the world the Omniverse!

Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue live on Kickstarter!

The VOC Treasure – At Home Mystery

There’s a new mystery live now on Kickstarter and I’m excited to see this adventure come to fruition.  Growing up watching The Goonies and Indiana Jones, I’ve always been a huge fan of a treasure hunt.  Fortune and glory awaits!  The VOC Treasure puts you on the trail of the van Amstel family’s uncle.  An adventurer and treasure seeker who recently passed away.  Following clues and solving puzzles, you can help discover the mysteries of the Dutch East India Company’s lost voyage.   

Jachin Letwory is the creator of the project and he graciously answered a few questions I had for The VOC Treasure.  He told me that he is a teacher of both guitar and physical education in The Netherlands.  He has his own guitar school and likes to organize outdoor treasure hunts in his spare time.  The Dutch version of the game is already up and running and has raving reviews. 

JC: I am a big fan of mystery puzzle games and I always love seeing new and exciting mysteries to solve.  What made you decide that you wanted to create a mystery game?  

Jachin: Two years ago I had to organize a bachelor party for my best friend. Without any prior research I made an Jason Bourne/secret agent like scavenger hunt. I enjoyed the process so much that I decided to make some more.

JC: Most of these games tend to be murder mysteries so it’s refreshing to see one that’s about a buried treasure.  What inspired you to create this story and what makes this box unique?

Jachin: I was thinking of some original ideas an treasure hunts came to my mind. I did some research and came across some inspiring treasure hunts like The Golden Owl.

During the same period I was doing some family tree research and in on of the online archives I found some old Books. In one of those books I read a line “a ship wrecked”. I knew it was from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) during the period of the pirates. I used this story as a bases for The VOC Treasure. Most used materials in the box I’ve found in the archives such as an original page from the ships log dating around 1709. So what I did is make the story and all the puzzles to make it an At Home Mystery.

JC: You mentioned that this story is based on a true events.  Is this a well-known legend from the Netherlands that a U.S. audience has not heard before?

Jachin: The story isn’t well known to both the Dutch as the U.S. audience. But that a good thing. otherwise they would know some of the answers beforehand.

JC: Kickstarter seems to be a popular place for many of these games to get a start.  What made you choose Kickstarter? 

Jachin: I choose Kickstarter because a lot of creative projects use this platform and other mystery games and books have used Kickstarter in a successful way.

JC: Thank you for your time and I wish you all the luck!

I for one am sold and was able to snag one of the early bird packages.  Check out the The VOC Treasure page on Kickstarter or their webpage www.moderntreasurehunt.com to learn more and become a backer.  Don’t miss out on this great experience.