Any amateur sleuth who has played Cluedo – called Clue in the US - knows it just doesn’t cut it when it comes to being a good detective board game. Players want juicy mysteries, to piece together clues on a big whiteboard with pieces of red string and have a flip-up notebook at hand.
Best detective board games
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
- Detective: City of Angels
- Mortum: Medieval Detective
- MicroMacro: Crime City
- Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
- Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
- Chronicles of Crime
Board games have moved on a lot in the past few decades since the release of Cluedo, so you’ll be pleased to know you can finally be the detective you’ve always dreamt of on the tabletop. Otherwise, if you’ve already solved a few tabletop mysteries and are looking for even more, we’ve got a selection of board games will test your deduction skills. Here are seven detective board games that are much better than Cluedo.
1. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Can you gain the respect of the greatest fictional detective of all time?
In Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, you and any number of friends will delve into a complex and well-written mystery through the dangerous streets of Victorian London. But you won’t be playing as Holmes and Watson of course. Instead, you will be playing as Sherlock’s rag-tag group of street urchins, The Irregulars, as you use your unique three-foot perspective to solve a box of ten cases. With every case, you’ll receive a plush A4 book of numbered prompts and illustrations detailing every small detail of the mystery at hand. Everything is lovingly written in prose to recreate the shiny streets and seedy underbelly of London. However, every prompt you read will require you to spend more time on the case and will reduce your final score at the end of each game.
Each prompt is tied to one of the hundreds of locations you can visit on the detailed map of London that comes with the game. Some of the possible addresses will be available right from the start, whilst others will require careful deduction to find. You might need to search through a directory book to find someone’s surname or look through the different businesses and landmarks that are listed at the back. Perhaps you’ll find an interesting clue when browsing through the newspaper? However, as you chase the footprints of your culprit, they’ll always be that one step ahead.
Once you feel like you’ve properly cracked the case and are ready to answer the booklet’s questions to get your final score, it’s time to compare your efforts to Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself. Sherlock has already solved the mystery with a tiny number of leads - there’s even a case wherein Sherlock solves it without even leaving the bloody house – so expect fierce feedback. If you want some really tricky puzzles to pull apart, then Sherlock Consulting Detective is a perfect game for you. My personal recommendation is the green box, The Baker Street Irregulars, which genuinely has some of the best board game writing I’ve ever read.
2. Detective: City of Angels
Become immersed in the noir of a 1940s mystery with this board game inspired by classic detective stories
From The Big Sleep to LA Confidential, Los Angeles has served as the backdrop to countless crime thrillers and mystery stories, both real and imagined. Where better, then, to set a mystery board game? Detective: City of Angels has players’ gumshoes walking the streets of LA during the 1940s, looking to solve a number of cases inspired by classic noir thrillers. Although players’ detectives might be chasing the same cases and looking to bring those responsible to justice, they’re also all in it for their own glory - making this a competitive crime-cracking experience. To get ahead of their rivals, players can even deploy less scrupulous methods such as concealing evidence or spying on their opponents.
City of Angels’ true masterstroke is The Chisel, which is that player who controls all of the suspects in the case and works to mislead, misdirect and send the other players’ detectives off the scent by providing certain responses to certain questions. While they can’t completely stop the detectives solving the mystery, The Chisel’s job is to make the truth harder to uncover. City of Angels also includes a fully co-op game mode for players that don’t want to play competitively. City of Angels drips with noir atmosphere, with players spending their turns travelling around Los Angeles on the game’s massive map to seek out clues in the less glitzy side of the city, dealing with some of its unsavoury characters and walking the fine line between right and wrong.
It’s the competitive edge and dynamic interrogations that make Detective: City of Angels unique in the world of mystery board games, putting the interaction between players at the heart of its immersive world. If you’re a fan of classic crime thrillers from Hammett to Chandler, Hitchcock to Fincher, LA Noire to Disco Elysium, this board game could well be the next gripping mystery to suck you in.
3. Mortum: Medieval Detective
Travel back in time to solve ye olde crimes and avoid all those piles of horse manure in the streets
Grab a feathered hat, unsheathe thy sword and whatever you do, don’t drink the water, because we’re heading back in time for this entry. Mortum: Medieval Detective is exactly what it says on the box, a sleuthing game set in the Middle Ages. No phone transcripts to read, no fingerprinting powder to use, just good old-fashioned clue hunting in a world of taverns and horse travel.
The fun of Mortum is that you can crack it open and instantly start playing. There aren’t any instructions to read through and you learn by doing - so you’ll be nosing around stables and forests in no time. There are three quests included in the box, one of which Dicebreaker played in a stream so you can get an idea of what the game is like by checking that out. The case itself was a curious missing person mystery that went places we didn’t expect it to. The three stories in the box all link together as one quest in amongst the smaller ones. In the game, players head to different locations on their ever-growing map and reveal cards depending on how they want to tackle the investigation. Perhaps you’ll interrogate the innkeeper? Or search the forest for clues? Or maybe even raid a place.
You have various agents to pick from in Mortum, such as spies or warriors, who each have unique skills such surveillance or fighting. Mortum can be played with one to six players, with everyone able to bounce ideas off each other to solve mysteries. You’re also welcome to do silly voices for the NPCs, should you please. Each case will take you a good couple of hours to work your way through, so it’s definitely one for an afternoon of gaming or evening of sleuthing.
4. MicroMacro: Crime City
Study an enormous illustration to answer a series of questions in this Where’s Wally? style game.
In MicroMacro: Crime City, you’ll only have one sense to rely on – your sight! Utilising this enormous poster-sized map that’s filled to the brim with fun and quirky illustrations of cute little characters doing quite horrible things to each other, you’ll need to search for clues amongst the visual noise to help you answer questions. After choosing a case you’ll pick between two difficulty levels - the beginner or expert mode, with each one providing varying levels of complexity. Some of the cases in MicroMacro are surprisingly dark! So don’t misjudge this as to be a kid-friendly game just because of the cute artwork.
Once you’ve got your mission, you’ll head out in search of your first lead. You might know where a crime took place and search on the map there first. You’ll then begin to look outwards for something out of place and you’ll notice one of the strange quirks of MicroMacro’s map. The game’s map is not a snapshot of a single moment in time, but instead a composite image of loads of little moments spread throughout the city. You might find your murderer running from the crime scene and be able to follow their path as they dump a bloody weapon in the trash can down the street. But you can also then follow their path backwards to see where they came from before the crime and maybe even spot their motivations or deduce if the crime was premeditated.
In the easier cases, the game’s paths are simple to follow with nice and cut and dry routes and motivations. But as the cases get more complex and the events of your investigations become more tricky to parse, you’ll need to adapt to the lack of intel and get smart. What happens if your perp disappears down into the subway? Or if a person of interest pops into a clothing store and comes out in an entirely different outfit? What if two people wearing the same hat and clothes branch off into two different paths? The answers are for you to find out. I will say that if you’re very experienced with this kind of game then you should definitely play the harder difficulty. With its truly unique design, there really is nothing else like MicroMacro: Crime City!
5. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
Figure out which of your friends committed a murder through social deduction
Deception Murder in Hong Kong allows players to step into the role of investigator by giving them the tools to hunt down a killer hidden amongst a bunch of innocents. Taking place in the city of Hong Kong, each player will take it in turns to try to locate the murder weapon and a key piece of evidence, before tying both to the murder.
As well roles of investigator and killer, there are other identities in this social deduction game too, as the heart of the game lies in the roles everyone is given and how they are played. If you’re randomly assigned the role of the Forensic Scientist, you essentially become the game master for that round. The Forensic Scientist must do their best to lead the other investigators to the correct set of evidence laid out in front of everyone. However, this won’t be easy as that player cannot speak, point or generally cast suspicion upon anyone directly. What’s especially fun about this game is that, unlike others social deduction games where if you’re identified as the antagonist you’re pretty much out of the game, Deception allows the murderer to stay in the game regardless of whether or not the other investigators know their identity. The outcome of the game all falls down to whether or not the investigators have found the murder weapon and key evidence, otherwise the killer goes free.
There are a few other roles that you can only include if you have enough players, such as the Witness and the Accomplice. The Witness starts the game with the knowledge of who the murderer is. But what they don’t know is how the murder was carried out. This may seem like a huge advantage, but if the killer discovers the witness then they can win the game by pointing them out at the end. The accomplice knows as much as the murderer does and can be a fantastic ally in throwing off the scent from certain pieces of evidence. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong takes the best elements of the murder mystery board game and expands them into a great social deduction game.
6. Detective: A modern crime board game
This detective game is for players who want serious crime drama stories
Like the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective game, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game has players racing around a city in search of clues. However, in this deduction game, they can also access a companion app to examine pictures and text files in a police database. While a lot of Detective’s action plays out through this app, it’s still fundamentally a board game. Players must manage their investigators’ precious time as they travel between locations on a central board, being careful not to waste hours following red herrings or risk taking on too much stress by working overtime.
The mix of time management, investigating and good ol’ fashioned brain teasing makes Detective a potent app-assisted board game to tackle. Although the writing can be a little iffy in spots and the original game’s story takes some very unexpected turns - for both better and worse - the excitement of having to trawl Wikipedia or hunt on Google Maps for real clues it as enjoyable as any board game we’ve played. At its best, Detective really does feel like playing out an episode of CSI on your table. The original Detective offered a set of five connected mysteries that tied into a bigger plot. It’s since been followed since by a number of spin-offs - from the more compact Detective: Season One to expansions that take the original game to ‘70s Boston and ‘80s Los Angeles.
If you prefer something a little less real, Detective has also been taken to the sci-fi universe of Dune in House Secrets, where investigating crimes is swapped for political machinations, and the comic-book streets of Gotham City in Batman: Everybody Lies. Whichever of the Detective games fits your fancy, the blend of tabletop, mobile app and classic puzzling remains a delight.
7. Chronicles of Crime
Analyse evidence and search for clues online in this unconventional board game
Chronicles of Crime presents an interesting twist to not what you’ll be experiencing but how you’ll experience the game. After downloading an app, you’ll begin to set up the board using the game’s instructions and notice that there’s not a whole lot of text to be read from the content in the box. That’s because pretty much everything in Chronicles of Crime is handled by your mobile app.
Cards have QR codes that can be scanned to interrogate a perp, inspect a piece of evidence or sweep a crime scene for clues. Instead of reading from heavy tomes of text entries or managing hundreds of cards, you’ll be tapping through what looks like a visual novel. Scanning QR codes will allow you to travel from location to location and speak with the suspects there to gather information. You might then scan the QR code of an object to see what that suspect has to say about it. Not all characters are going to have something to say about every piece of evidence though, so you’ll have to be careful about who you approach with your investigations so as not to waste precious time. When scanning the QR codes of crime scenes, you’ll be taken into one of Chronicles of Crime’s more impressive features as you use your phone or tablet like a looking glass into a full 3D panorama of the locale. This enables players to search for relevant objects you can find matching cards to that will allow you to investigate further.
For those that have truly jumped off the deep end when it comes to app integration in board games, there’s no better way to flex your phone’s processing power whilst solving some tricky cases against the clock than cracking open Chronicles of Crime.