Grab a friend or three, don your fedora and shoulder holsters, then dust off your magnifying glass. Wizkids brings you Deadline, a board game designed by AB West and Dan Schnake in which you strive to unlock clues and use deductive reasoning to solve one of a dozen crimes.
To play test the board game Deadline, I grabbed…my parents. They admittedly have not played a game since Monopoly except for Cards Against Humanity (that one’s on me), so I figured they’d be the best play testers of all time, being that they’d be unfamiliar with literally every aspect of the game besides the concept of “their turn” and could weigh in on the game without bias.
I was right and it was great.
The gameplay of Deadline is simple enough: One player begins as the Chief Detective (a title that rotates with each turn thereafter). A Clue Card is attempted–and if it is unlocked–it is read and shines some light on the crime and the persons of interest.
Clue Cards are unlocked by using symbols on Lead Cards to create an “investigation chain” in which all symbols shown on the Clue Card are matched by symbols in the chain. A failure means the loss of one of your three bullet tokens. Any failures past those three tokens results in the permanent loss of a clue each time!
When there are no more additional Clue Cards (either because you’ve unlocked them or lost them), the investigation ends and you and your detective team answer questions from the Case Questions book before consulting the Solution Book to see how right or wrong you were!
You also unlock Hot Tip tokens that can be cashed in for new Lead Cards or the removal of Plot Twists which up the difficulty of play. You pick a Detective card at the beginning of play, each of which has a unique ability that can be used only once per case.
Deadline: Game Components
The twelve cases come individually wrapped in resealable baggies that are labelled appropriately. They rely upon an adhesive strip for the closure instead of a sandwich bag styled zip closure, though…and as thematically tied as the rest of the components are to the game, I wish they came in small manila envelopes with the clasp closure or even the string one.
All the Clue Cards contained in each case have a neat style with a handwritten title across the top and a typewriter font clue as if the detective had already begun typing up his or her case file.
The art on the back of the Lead Cards looks like the messy desk of an overworked gumshoe (which I particularly liked as you’ll end up shuffling and sorting these cards multiple times during a single case, so the art matches the use!). The card front hosts various black and white polaroids of people and places.
The cardboard elements (Chief Detective badge, Hot Tips, and bullet tokens) are very sturdy components with art on both sides. I thought it was pretty neat that the back of the badge actually looks like the back of a badge instead of just like the front!
And the Case Book and Solution Books look appropriately enough like typed reports while the Case Questions book sports the look of a sort of moleskine-like notebook with handwritten questions as if the Detective jotted them down right out there in the field.
Playing With My Parents
We played through two cases: one at my request and the second at their own. That should well be considered praise enough for the game, in my opinion, but I’ll keep going in the interest of a real review!
During our first case, we unlocked clues with no problems and didn’t lose a single one. About halfway through I said, “Um, I know this is an easy case, but I must have botched a rule somewhere because this seems too easy.” I was right! I misread the utility of the blank spaces on Lead Cards. Oops.
We attained the rank of Master Detectives; getting all the questions right and failing 3 or fewer clues. I asked my folks what they thought.
Dad: As a 57 year old man, I give that an A+ even though we haven’t played it right yet. And I liked the pictures.
He really did love the pictures on the Lead Cards. More than once we had to remind him it was his turn because he was paying more attention to the card art and captions than to the turn rotation! A laughable turn of events given an earlier quote of his: Hey, I may suck at police work, but I know when it’s my turn!
Mom: It really encourages communication!
She’s right on two fronts here. You have to talk to one another during every phase of the investigation; not just while working through the Case Questions! And on top of that, when the time does come to crack open the Case Questions and later the Solution Book, you’ll find yourselves visiting and revisiting clues to solve the crime or figure out why you might not have.
Deadline is not a game you’ll play in silence.
Then we played our second case; another easy one. Baby steps! With the revised rule (the correct one, that is!), the game played more like I expected it to…but a whole lot less like my parents did! We actually lost bullets (and later: lost clues!), leveraged our Detective abilities, and cashed in Hot Tips, all things we did not have to do in our first case.
The biggest change was selecting which Clue we wanted to try to unlock each turn. It became a little less about which lead we thought we wanted to follow next and more about which we thought our cards might let us do!
I personally liked this way more. While it did lower our success rate, it also raised the tension and played a lot truer to what I’d imagine a real detective’s experience to be. We didn’t have every single clue to work with, but we still had to provide some answers!
After that second, much trickier case, my parents still wanted to play. That sold me all by itself. They so thoroughly enjoyed the game that the two of them even adopted voices at times!
Deadline had them hooked.
As someone with more gaming experience under his belt, the board game Deadline plays simply (mechanically speaking) but doesn’t feel like a simple game. That is a sweet spot! My only real concern is the number of cases (12). That is a fairly limited number of play-throughs since you have to read the actual solution (and therefore know the solution; even to a case you epically failed to solve!) to sort out how you fared. But that’s nothing an expansion or two can’t solve!
You can preorder Deadline. It releases in August 2017.
[Disclosure: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Deadline for review.]