23rd April 2014

‘Orrible Murder – The Game

I’ve been feeling a bit stuck recently – working on a game, but not really feeling like I’m getting anywhere – but yesterday I discovered the Boardgamizer Fitness Challenge at boardgamizer.com/fitness_challenge.  So I thought I’d give it a go.  It worked so well for me as an unblocking technique that I will probably try it again tomorrow – and maybe the day after too.  Anyway here is the result.

The challenge was to create a game with the following features:

  • Game Mechanic – Variable Phase Order
  • Theme – Murder
  • Victory – Most courage counters
  • Constraint – Must be able to be explained in under a minute

OK – so the theme is great – I love a good police procedural and Cluedo is one of my favourite classic board games.  Courage counters made me think a bit – how can you measure bravery in a game – where of course – there is no ‘real’ risk.  This brought to mind gambling games such as Poker, where you increase the risk of loss by continuing, but also potentially increase the size of the reward if you win.  The most extreme version of this would be Russian Roulette – but I definitely didn’t want that as a basis.  There is a dice game – which I know as Zilch in which you can build up huge scores by continuing to throw the dice but risk losing all of your points if you cannot extract a ‘scoring’ die from your throw.  This is what I wanted.

OK – now I have to fess up.  It was only once I had completed and written up the game that I realised that I had completely misunderstood ‘Variable Phase Order’ – which I read to mean that a different  player goes first each turn.  I promise I will be more careful at reading the definitions in my next attempt. The mechanic I actually used allows the ‘least brave’ player – the one who currently has the least courage counters – to attempt to steer the game their way be deciding what happens and by taking their turn first in a round.

And the constraint – Holy Moly!!  If I talk fast and do not include the set up in the instructions I can explain it in 55 seconds!  Here it is.

‘Orrible Murder  – A game for 2 – 6 players

An ‘orrible murder has been committed – stereotypically – in a country house.  The players are attempting to gather clues by investigating the rooms.  However, solving the murder is not the ultimate aim of these investigators.  They may choose to withhold the solution, even if they have it, preferring to prove themselves to be brave and bold investigators, rather than successful detectives.

In each round of the game – the least brave of the investigators will attempt to steer the game in their direction, by deciding what happens next.


  • One eight-sided die
  • 7 room tiles (I used ones from Advanced Heroquest to prototype – but any space indicator can be used – table mats for example)
  • 26 ‘Means’ cards (Clubs from 2 packs)
  • 26 ‘Motive’ cards (Diamonds from 2 packs)
  • 26 ‘Opportunity’ cards (Hearts from 2 packs)
  • 13 ‘Hindrance’ cards (Spades from 1 pack)
  • 148 courage counters (glass pebbles, tiddlywinks or similar)

Set up

Shuffle all the cards to form a main draw pile. Give each player 6 courage counters and arrange the room tiles however you like. Roll 2d8 and place that number of courage counters and the same number of cards off the top of the main draw pile face down in the first room.  The youngest player goes first, with the player with the least courage counters going first in subsequent rounds (tie-break – youngest of tied players). In the first round, the players start by investigating the first room – subsequent rounds run as below.

Order of Play

  • Current first player decides whether to reinvestigate current room or move to a new one (see above for how to set up a new room).
  • Players investigate (bid for the number of cards they will turn over), starting with first and moving clockwise, until no one is willing to make a higher bid or total number of cards in the room has been reached.
  • Winning bidder turns over the bid number of cards until:
    • ‘Hindrance’ card is encountered – turn stops and card instructions are followed
    • Player turns over bid number of cards – player takes that number of courage counters from the room and takes the final card into her hand.  If that is the last card in the room the player takes ALL courage counters.
  • Drawn cards (including hindrance cards but not cards taken in hand) are placed back under the main draw pile.
  • Rooms with no courage counters left are turned over to indicate they have been fully investigated.
  • Cards in hand MAY be used to solve the crime – a player must lay down at least one of each Motive, Means and Opportunity to do so.  At that point the game ends. If no player chooses to solve the crime, the game will  end anyway when all rooms have been investigated
  • The winner is the player with most courage counters when the game ends.

Variation (not included in one minute explanation)

To bring an element of complication (memory) into the game, the turned over cards from a room can be placed back under the room pile rather than under the main draw pile.  This means that the ‘last card / take ALL counters’ rule will not apply, but players who can remember the order in which cards have been drawn will have an advantage when reinvestigating a room.

Materials prep

Ruin a suit of spades from a cheap pack of cards by writing the following on them to make the ‘Hindrance’ cards: (Alternatively you could print out the following list and refer to it when a player draws a spade)

2 – Leave one of your courage counters in this room

3 – Leave two of your courage counters in this room

4 – You must solve the crime if you are able to do so

5 – Choose a card to give to the player to your left

6 – Choose one – Take one courage counter from each other player or attempt to complete your bid draw

7 – Leave half your courage counters in this room (round down)

8 – Choose a number between 1 and 7 and roll 1d8.  If the number rolled is greater than the chosen number, you must leave the chosen number of courage counters in the room.

9 – You must solve the crime if you are able to do so

10 – Give one courage point to each player (starting to your left)

J – Player to your left takes one card from your hand at random

Q – You are unable to bid in the next round

K – Leave all your courage points in this room

A – You must place your whole hand at the bottom of the main draw pile


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