As a kid Monopoly was the game of choice when I went to my cousin's house. However, I only got excited when Cluedo (Clue for our US readers) came out of the cupboard. I loved the race to find all the necessary information to uncover the murderer. I enjoyed the tension of placing the game on the line when making an accusation and opening the file. The pressure to race to the end was what forced me to find the simplest and quickest way to eliminate irrelevant data and get to the truth. I got good at this game until it became a dry and effortless routine. The game was not a solved game, but a very simple process that really stopped being exciting after a certain age. I never despised the game for that, I just outgrew it. I have always cherished that experience growing up and it has been a goal of mine to design a modern version of the game. Unfortunately, I am too late to achieve that dream. Fortunately, Ron Gonzalo Garcia was the right person to reinvent the game and did a great job of it.
Gracia is a Spanish designer and his game Incómodos Invitados (Awkward Guests) brings to life the murder mystery genre in a game for 2-8 players that takes between 45-75 minutes. Playing Awkward Guests made me feel like that kid experiencing Cluedo for the first time. But it would not be fair to simply say Garcia has made a Cluedo for adults. Despite keeping the deduction of Cluedo, Garcia has added mechanics that layer complexity creating an entirely new experience for the modern player.
In Awkward Guests, you will be going through a process of elimination to discover who murdered the host, Mr. Walton. Before making any accusation you will also need to discover what the murder weapon was, the motive for his murder, and determine if the murderer had any accomplices. This is why the game has that familiar feel to it, but the game offers so much more. Each player will receive 6 information cards that you will mark off on your reference sheet. As a motive, character, weapon, and so forth, is eliminated you mark it off and find your way to a final verdict. However, this is as far as the connection to Cluedo goes. From here the game utilizes some clever and competitive mechanics.
Each card is rated as either a 1, 2, or 3 to indicate the amount of information the card provides. On a player's turn, she or he requests information on two aspects of the investigation. Each player puts in a bid. They place face down one or more cards and indicate how much the cards are worth. For example, a player may place down 2 cards with a “2” rating and indicate the cards are worth “4”. The turn player decides which bid is most appealing and trades cards with equal or greater worth than the offer made. Both players then go through their reference sheet and mark off any new information. This mechanic immediately blows my Cluedo strategy out of the water. I can’t simply isolate information I want and target the clue I'm after. There is no guarantee that the cards I am receiving will even contain new information for me. Players are incentivised to provide at least some good information to encourage people to trade with them on future turns. Trading is the only way information is shared around the table and trying to cheat people by giving them poor cards will only isolate you from others playing the game. It also adds a significant amount of strategy in what information you allow to get out to the public domain. You can attempt to strangle hold clues that pass your way or attempt to lead people off track by providing evidence that may suggest or point strongly at the wrong person. Turns conclude with players secretly selecting a token to either solve the mystery or to continue investigating. This may seem silly, after all, why not just announce you will solve the mystery? By selecting a token you are forced to show simultaneously if you intend to solve or not. There is no ability to simply say you will solve after some else indicates their intentions. It also adds pressure towards the end of the game. You realise everyone else must be as close as you are, but do they have information you are mising? This cannot be known. Is it worth trying to guess at an answer and go early or hold off for a turn and hope to close in on your verdict? This decision is important to get right and adds a little extra incentive to push towards the end game. Players continuing the game must discard down to three cards and draw back up to six cards.
The card system adds depth and strategy to the game, but it also adds huge replay value. There are in fact nearly 300 cards generating over 3600 possible solutions. The number of games possible will outlast your ability to play that number of games. The way Garcia has designed the cards and how they form a story builds complexity in two ways. Firstly it overwhelms the player with information meaning you cannot safely jump to conclusions. You must be meticulous in sorting through the information and deducing what the clues mean and how you can use them. They also add depth of play. With the constant flow of cards being exchanged, discarded and drawn the whole picture is never available to any player. It also offers complexity in what information you share and with whom you share it. This is why I say Awkward Guests has that excitement and fun I first encountered through Cluedo, but takes it to a whole new place. Awkward Guests is clearly its own game, but it definitely fills that void in my life left by Cluedo.
The design of the game cards and components is cleverly done to make you feel like you are part of some old film noir adventure. The clues are offered from character testimony, police reports, and eye witness accounts of service staff all written in a way that immerses you in the story of what happened. I had a ball playing this game. It should be noted that I did not have a full English version, but a Spanish edition with English cards. I do not know if a full English version is on its way, but I certainly hope so. Awkward Guests is an easy to learn game with a lot of depth and complexity. I would highly recommend it for any budding super sleuth out there.