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Lady Alice

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Hurrican Games, 3 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, about 30 minutes, $42.99)

ladyaliceboxThe time is Victorian England and noted explorer Henry Morton Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame), who has sailed into London on his ship Lady Alice, has suddenly disappeared. In circumstances such as these, it is only natural to call upon the finest analytical mind to solve the case – and the authorities have: Sherlock Holmes! And solve it he does (as he tells us as narrator in the rule book). But Holmes solving the case is not the issue. Holmes wants US (as Baker Street Kids) to hone our detective skills and, with a bit of help from the Master Detective himself, see if one of us can pinpoint the evidence, solve the mystery and be the kind of detective that our mentor, Holmes, envisions. And that is the premise of Lady Alice, the new mystery deduction game by Ludovic Gaillard.

The challenge of the game is to uncover the four elements of the crime: WHO kidnapped Stanley, WHERE the kidnapping occurred, WHEN the crime happened and WHAT object from Stanley’s collection was stolen. There are four sets of 8 cards for each of these elements. These sets are shuffled individually and one card is removed, without looking, from each deck. These represent the evidence that needs to be deduced to solve the crime. Now, each player (in a four player game) receives ONE of these bits of evidence so he (or she) is one quarter along towards solving the mystery. The playing board represents the desk of Sherlock Holmes with these four elements prominently displayed. (The board serves as your “sounding board” for your deductions as NO note taking is allowed!)

Game play follows a simple pattern. First, the active player voices his (or her) suspicions. This is done by using the game’s spiral notebook which displays all 32 crime elements divided into the four categories. The player turns the pages to the elements he wishes to propose and presents it to everyone. Now everyone will get a chance to reveal if the evidence suggested is true or false.

Everyone has a “Verdict Folder” and a Holmes card. The Holmes card is two-sided: a smiling Holmes and an unhappy Holmes (against a red background). Each player looks to see if an element revealed in the spiral notebook matches the evidence card he holds. If so, he places the smiling Holmes in his Verdict Folder face up, if not, then the red background Holmes is placed face up instead. These folders are collected, shuffled and then revealed to all! Now players may make their deductions.

Deductions are made through the use of “clue chips”. All players begin with a set of 9 of these, 3 each valued at 0, 1 and 2. In turn, a player MAY place a clue chip, face down, on any of the evidence areas on the board. No more chips than the number of players may be placed on any one piece of evidence. Players may continue to plant chips or pass. Should another chip be placed on the same bit of evidence, the previously placed chip is revealed so everyone sees its value. When all players have passed, the next player gets the spiral notebook and we do it all again. This continues until, finally, someone feels they know the correct solution. At that point, they may make an “accusation”. If incorrect, they are out of the game! But if they are right, the game is over – but that player may not necessarily be the winner! To determine the winner, we need to do some scoring.

All chips placed on “wrong” clues are removed from the board; only the chips on the correct clues remain and will count. These clues score face value for their owners. (So a 2 point chip placed on a correct piece of evidence is worth 2 Victory Points.) If you have a chip on ALL FOUR correct bits of evidence, you are rewarded with a 2 point bonus! A correct combination of clues during play is worth 1 Victory Point as well. But if you are the player who made the correct accusation, score a hefty 3 Victory Points for your deductive reasoning. The player with the highest combined total wins!

Lady Alice gets its inspiration from several sources. In game terms, one of them is Clue, that venerable classic of mystery and deduction. Clue has inspired a number of variations, most notably Sid Sackson’s Sleuth wherein Sid isolated the key element of the game (the deduction) and made it stand on its own. Lady Alice takes a different tack.

ladyalice2In both Clue and Sleuth, only the player making the correct accusation wins. It’s an all or nothing proposition. While deducing the correct solution is a decided advantage here (that 3 point bonus is huge), it is possible to win on chip points alone. This makes the game a bit more forgiving and keeps everyone in the action.

The board itself, populated with players’ chips, serves well in place of any notes a player may wish to make. (Of course, it would have been nice if the fronts of the evidence cards were in different colors rather than the same sepia tones to make identifying the different bits a whole lot easier.) Giving each player a disc as a reminder as to which color represents which player is an appreciated addition.

Another source of inspiration is Sherlock Holmes himself yet Holmes has a relatively minor role in the proceedings. He does appear in the game as a semi-narrator (in the rules). Also, should a player offer suspicions that are ALL WRONG, Sherlock Holmes business cards are used as “place holders” on the board so everyone knows (and remembers) that those clues are false. But so much more could have been done. Take the title, for instance.

Lady Alice? Although that is the ship from which our victim has vanished, the ship plays no role at all in the mystery and doesn’t even give the potential customer seeing the game on the shelf an inkling as to what the game is about. How about “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Vanishing Explorer”? And how about a back story to indicate why certain items may have been taken? Were they keys to a lost treasure? Ciphers to a code of a secret document that could start a world war? Or, if you’re enamored of the current title, why not give Lady Alice some sort of meaningful role and make her a person. How about “Sherlock Holmes and the Gone Governess”? Or “Sherlock Holmes and the Vanishing Vixen”? Now there’s a title to pique your interest! You get the idea. A missed opportunity here. And players called The Baker Street KIDS??? What’s with that? Wouldn’t it have been better to call players The Baker Street Irregulars (as Holmes’ street urchins were named when they aided the Master Detective in some pivotal aspects of his cases)? Was it a question of obtaining rights to the names? If so, it might have been worth paying the price to attract more customers who know the Sherlock Holmes name as opposed to the nondescript and vague Lady Alice. But there are some elements here that work very well.

Providing a layer to the game of chips and points is an excellent addition to the genre of deduction games as it makes a player able to win the game without completely solving the case. It keeps players in the hunt and interest high, an important consideration in a family game. And the use of those chips with varying values gives players the opportunity to sow the seeds of confusion by planting red herrings themselves. Placing a 0 chip on some evidence to entice another player to waste a 1 or 2 chip there can mean the difference between a win and a loss. Since you only have 9 of these chips to use, another set of decisions needs to made as to where and when to place them to score the most for you and derail the chances of your fellow would-be detectives. That it all plays out in about 30 minutes is another solid plus for a family game. (Rules are provided for 3 and 5 players so you have some flexibility here although the sweet spot seems to be four.)

It’s fun to play detective. It’s even more fun when you can pal around with Sherlock Holmes when doing it. Lady Alice is a fine family friendly game of mystery, bluff and deduction played against the shadow of the Master Detective himself.


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