Chronicles of Crime is a murder mystery cooperative board game, which was released in 2018 by Lucky Duck Games. Designed by David Cicurel – featuring artwork from Matijos Gebreselassie, Mateusz Komada and Katarzyna Kosobucka – the game sees 1 – 4 players become detectives for around an hour at a time. Investigating the crime via an app and physical components this is somewhat of a hybrid title. However, does technology improve the experience? Let’s find out!
Setup is rather fast as most of the components stay piled within reach. The board where locations, and more, are arranged on is placed at the centre of the table. A starting location (marked with a home symbol) is placed and then it is time to boot up the app. Chronicles of Crime features stories that gamers will experience through a combination of small items cards, normal sized character cards and location mats with an app. This combination is made possible via QR code technology, with every physical component – other than the board – coming with a QR code to scan.
Starting one of the 5 available scenarios, players are introduced with starting blurb and find themselves at the starting location. This text will give players things to find from the numbered location/character/item piles. When there are multiple locations players simple scan the QR code of a location to venture there. Places where key events occurred, such as the crime, can then be searched. This is like no other board game mini game, with the mobile device running the app becoming a virtual reality (VR) portal to the game world.
Using the VR Glasses if you have them, or just by holding the phone, you can turn around looking at the scene. If solo you’ll have to remember what you see otherwise it is important to shout out potentially suspect items that you see to your teammates. Things from blood and organs through to the mundane sounding paper or footprints are included in the item deck. Some won’t be important, some might even be red herrings. Either way scanning the item QR codes of what was seen will indicate if they are clues, but also take time!
When you go to locations, or interview people, new characters will appear. When at the same location you can talk to these characters: asking about things such as how they knew the victim, have they seen a specific item before and more. This is easily done by scanning the QR codes of the character and then a secondary thing you are asking about. This is the meat of the game and is where players will find out the majority of the information. One tip that might sound simple is if you are unsure keep investigating and question people about other people or items. It sounds simple but can be forgotten in the heat of the investigation.
Players always have access to four experts, and these will need to be used. Each performing slightly different roles there is a hacker, scientist, criminologist and doctor. While there is little point taking a blood sample to the hacker he might be useful when technology comes into play. Used at the right time these experts can give you a trace to follow or help work out something that occurred.
Making Chronicles of Crime more lifelike is the time factor. While you may learn of a specific character and where they are likely to be it is entirely possible for them to not be there. Some characters will only be at locations at certain times of the day, making it even more of a choice to go to a location, and potentially waste precious clock time. When players think they have gained a good enough understanding of the case, and more importantly who did it, it is time to solve the case. This is done via the app asking you specific questions. Answering these correctly will see you pass the case to a varying degree, based upon how right you were.
There is a short tutorial to get players used to the app and step them through the way the game works. This is very easy but then players are confronted with 5 scenarios, with 3 linked together into a longer story arc. The way these scenarios link together to create a longer narrative is brilliant. You can play for around 45 minutes and solve one section, hopefully correctly completing it. Then, you have the choice between a perfectly placed bookmark to come back another time or dive straight back in. This isn’t to say the standalone scenarios aren’t worthwhile but there was something special about the way the 3 had an overarching story.
Ranging in difficulty, with each scenario suggesting how hard it is, these lasted around 45 – 75 minutes each with two or three players. It might be a slight tweak from chefs and broth but too many investigators might spoil the experience. Chronicles of Crime is ideal of a couple of people to play, with a third is also viable. However, there weren’t any points where an additional fourth player would have been beneficial. This is perhaps due to the player holding the phone being in control and others unable to physically do much, relying on group discussion to drive what is scanned. Another player would just have been an extra opinion to choose between.
Players will need to be able to handle getting stuck. Much like in escape room titles it is frustrating when you reach a brick wall, unable to seemingly progress. Often taking a step back to think whom you hadn’t questioned, or what you missed at a crime scene, can be the answer. With the pressure of time the app adds, it isn’t exactly that easy to do though. There weren’t too many instances of this but the harder scenarios certainly provided some head scratching moments. Generally progression came at a steady pace so players felt they were getting somewhere.
The world created in Chronicles of Crime may look slightly cartoony but it is as dark and twisted as any murder game, program or film. It is a realistic world, with characters of all ages and races. The range of characters in the deck, the number of items and locations means that none of the included scenarios feel the same – with only a few of the characters overlapping. The artwork that adorns the character cards is brilliant at bringing them to life – even if some are a tad on the creepy side.
When you go into the world via VR that same artstyle awaits you, providing a visually pleasing and consistent experience. It may have been nice for some of the item cards to be more artwork instead of icons. Though this does allow the same cards to represent very different things from one scenario to the next – so was clearly done for a reason.
Apps can often get a bad rap in board game circles, and there will be some whom will simply not touch it. Yet, these people will be missing out on a new and rather unique experience. As someone whom is a fan of both board and video games this is somewhat of a bridge between the two but it certainly doesn’t leave the analogue medium behind. Scanning the QR codes initially seemed very clunky. This clunkiness isn’t entirely lost but it certainly reduces the more you play, as you come accustomed to the way the app needs you to interact with it.
The worst part of there being an app is you can instantly see that more scenarios are simply put behind a paywall. This is very much like the DLC (downloadable content) model that many video games utilize. Excluding the full expansions you have all the physical components in the box but the additional cases still need to be brought. Clearly they take a lot of time and effort to craft such detailed scenarios but it is a little too obvious in the app.
Chronicles of Crime is an experience as much as it is a game. The line between it being a board game or video game is blurred, with the game not possible in the same form without both the physical components and the app. The world created and the scenarios within it are believable – which says as much about the quality of the writing as the world we live in. It may be geared towards buying extra content and scenarios. However, the standard is so high it doesn’t feel like a money grab. Price wise for the 5 included scenarios it seems inline, if not below, what you’d expect 5 escape rooms of similar length to be. Hopefully, soon we will revisit the game with the next batch of scenarios!
[Editor’s Note: Chronicles of Crime was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £27.99. It is also available from local board game stores, find your local store here]