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DA VINCI CODE BOARD GAME

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Warren, 2-6 players, adult, 30-60 minutes; $24.99)

 

Whenever an intellectual property strikes a massively responsive chord in popular culture, you can be sure games based on that property will appear in its wake. We’ve seen this before with comic characters, TV shows and, certainly, with books turned to films (e.g. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings). So it should be no surprise that The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, a book publishing project akin to printing money with an impending major motion picture release, should inspire an avalanche of games. One of the early – and better – entries in this onslaught is The Da Vinci Code Board Game.

The game comes with a whole bunch of components, many of which are vital to unraveling the 15 mysteries provided with the game. There are 200 cards, a game board with important landmarks (L’Eglise de Saint-Sulpice, Temple Church, Westminster Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel) at the corners and the Louvre Library and Gallery at the center, several different decoding devices (Cryptex, Sidebar and mirror), a pad of answer sheets, 30 second timer, player tokens, rule book and, as a very helpful aid, a DVD which demonstrates and explains how to play.

Players start with a token (placed on one of the six spaces next to the Louvre) and their own individual answer sheet. On the top of the sheet are 20 spaces which you will attempt to fill. At the bottom of the sheet, the player will write three different numbers from 1 to 6 as his “depository code”. The rest of the sheet is used for notes and to answer questions specifically related to the current mystery. The decoding devices are available for all to use.

The 200 cards of the game are numbered and each mystery is linked to a set of specifically numbered cards. These cards are placed in their correct locations (correlating to the symbol on their backs) and mixed in with Taxi and Depository cards. Code-breaking cards and Art cards (used for all mysteries) are placed in their appropriate spots at the Louvre Library and Gallery. With the “oldest and wisest” player going first, the game begins.

Each mystery challenges the players to discover a 20 space “mystery phrase”. To do so, players travel around the board (via die roll, metro stops and Taxi cards) and visit landmarks, examining the top Clue card found at each site. (If the top card happens to be a Taxi or Depository card, that card is kept until played. Clue cards are examined and then returned to the bottom of the stack.)

Clue cards tell you which slots in the 20 word message can be filled by correctly deciphering the clue on the card. To do so requires the use of one of the decoding devices or other methodology of the game. You may need to use the mirror to read a clue or the Sidebar decoder (aligning the Clue card with the decoder to find the answer). The card may call for the Cryptex decoder (another alignment device to reveal letters needed for your message) or compel you to travel to the Louvre to reference code-breaking cards or art related clues. (This is where the timer comes in. You will only have 30 seconds to find the needed code-breaking or art card and transcribe any pertinent information.) Information may also be uncovered by playing a Depository card on an opponent and rolling the die. If the rolled number matches one of your opponent’s three depository numbers, you may look at his notes! The first player to discover the secret phrase needs to return to the Louvre and declare his findings – but this may not be enough to win!

Each player with the full correct message gets 20 points (and a 5 point bonus if he announced it first); other players receive 1 point for each correct letter and/or correct blank space completed. But that’s not all. There are five “mystery questions” worth 5 points each if answered correctly. The answers to these questions are found on the clue cards that players should have paid close attention to and taken notes from. Now, deduct 5 points for each unused Taxi or Depository card. The player with the highest final score wins.

Although some clues offer more help than others, play balance is maintained in an interesting way. Because you need to answer additional questions above and beyond the mystery phrase, being first to come up with the phrase doesn’t guarantee anything. You can still be outscored by players who have examined more clues, taken better notes or just remember more of what they’ve seen. So, timing – and confidence in your ability to answer fair but often demanding questions – becomes an important factor. The game rests comfortably in the Clue genre (the “roll the die and move” method of play is here though modified through the use of taxis, allowing you to go to ANY space, and the metro, allowing you to pop across the board). But the different approaches used to unravel clues simulates the search of the book/film quite nicely, offering some subtle sophistication rarely seen in games targeted for a mass market audience and makes you feel you’ve really WORKED to solve the puzzle. The welcome presence of the DVD includes an introductory mystery and makes understanding the game and how to use the decoders easy even for those solely enticed by the subject matter who have rarely played games.

Depository cards add an unwelcome luck factor to the game. You have a 50/50 chance of seeing another player’s notes on the roll of a die! Where is the skill in that? If you’re a stickler for following the rules, we suggest taking notes in your own special shorthand so that, should your notes be compromised, no damage is done. But it just might be better to remove the Depository cards altogether. Clue cards (as well as Taxi and Depository cards) are numbered, both front AND back, so you can see which cards are on top of each stack and know whether there is a clue awaiting you that you haven’t seen as of yet. This helps you plan your movement. Although, of course, if someone else beats you to a location, that clue card gets shunted to the bottom of the pile.

Mystery games are difficult to create. They have to be engaging and with enough play value so would-be sleuths feel satisfied with the intellectual challenge offered. And, if the game ties into another property, the essence of that property must be preserved. You can count on one hand the number of games that have fulfilled this criteria. But this one does. While there may be a significant percentage of gimmick (relying on special decoding tools to unravel clues) to game here, the Da Vinci Code Board Game enables non-gamers to get into the game while satisfying the demands of more experienced gamers, all the while staying true to its source. Well done!- – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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