It’s always strange to think about the present from the hindsight perspective of the future, but it certainly feels like we will look back on today as being a part of a golden age of gaming. Designers and players are pushing the limits well beyond the boundaries of fantasy-based tabletop behemoths and creating their own shared experiences in exciting new ways. An Exquisite Crime is the latest game contributing to the evolution of tabletop gaming as a social adventure.
An Exquisite Crime puts players in the metaphorical shoes of Paranormal Detectives working together to solve a crime in a surreal world. Designed by talented duo Banana Chan and Sen-Foong Lim, and showcasing the amazing art of Julianne Griepp, An Exquisite Crime doesn’t require a gamemaster as the players dictate the outcome of the story through drawing and embellishment mechanics.
An Exquisite Crime Mechanics
What makes An Exquisite Crime stand out in the tabletop space is the innovative use of the exquisite corpse mechanic. For those who have never heard of this, exquisite corpse is a surrealist drawing technique developed around 1930 that essentially boils down to collaborative drawing. Everybody is working together to create a single drawing, but the catch is that everybody else’s portions of the drawing get folded up so that the overall composition remains a mystery until the final reveal.
The game also features Zener cards, designed by perceptual psychologist Karl Zener in the 1930s to (inaccurately) test people for ESP. These provide a pseudo-randomization for the players’ traits as they develop their character in the game. What I really like about this is that it’s an avenue for improvisation. You never really know what your character is going to be like until you start playing the game!
For example, one potential trait is: “You recently lost your psychic abilities. Now you’re on thin ice with the boss.” What kind of character could this create? Will they be a hot-shot, quick to provide theories on the nature of the crime, hoping that something sticks? Or will they be more timid and melancholy, knowing that they had better be correct if they want to keep their job?
There’s also an interesting ad-lib mechanic that helps establish the fiction and the Messages From Beyond. Again, the players fill these in together and begin to create the world where the crime takes place. You’re encouraged to really let your imagination run wild as you play this game, as the boundaries of reality are determined by how zany the players want to be.
The last component to help direct the table is the deck of Vision cards. These are beautifully-illustrated, abstract and surreal images that will guide players as they collaboratively describe the Victim, Scene of the Crime, Motive, Suspects, Means, and potential Witnesses. I’m instantly reminded of games like Mysterium and Dixit, which use a similar component to get the players thinking.
And that’s exactly what makes this game fun; the combination of inventful imagination and outlandish surrealism creates an experience where players are invited to place breadcrumbs and subsequently eat them. You get to play off what your fellow players are saying and drawing, watching the narrative unfold as the game continues.
An Exquisite Crime Initial Thoughts
The game comes with several Scenarios that will put the Paranormal Detectives in different Crime situations. I love the names of these: A Murder Most Fowl, Something is a Foot, Ms. Fishmonger in the Library with a Candlestick. They’re playful and establish that this is a game where you’re meant to get outside the box and have some fun.
Some people may be turned off by the drawing mechanic under the assumption that you need to be a gifted artist to have a good time with the game. And that’s definitely not true at all. The joy in the drawings comes from the reveal when you finally see the ridiculousness that everyone collectively put together!
Think about the Vision cards and how abstract and outlandish those can be. In a similar vein, by keeping things simple, out of proportion, or ‘unclear’, you are actually contributing to the theme. Plus, there are options for playing this game online, where you can utilize image searches to even create collages. I’ve played enough A Fake Artist Goes to New York to know that the excitement and fun is derived from the journey and the reactions of the table.
Without playing through the game, I can’t speak to specifics regarding the gameplay. But this certainly feels like a game that gets better as players get comfortable with letting their creativity take control. It’s very roleplay-centric, so make sure that’s established up front before play begins.
I also really appreciate the various safety tools that are utilized in the game, like the “X” and “O” card. Safety tools like these are important in any game that you play, especially in those that involve themes that might not be comfortable for all players. Being aware and considerate of people’s tolerances is key to a positive gameplay experience as well as being necessary for healthy relationships.
I really like everything I see in An Exquisite Crime! Like I mentioned upfront, tabletop gaming is in the middle of a renaissance period where the space is being expanded in new and interesting ways. I can connect the dots and see why An Exquisite Crime will create memorable moments at your tables, and leave you with exquisite keepsakes to look back on.
Be sure to check out the Kickstarter for An Exquisite Crime, which is being run by Hunters Entertainment. The campaign ends in about two weeks, and this is one train that you’ll want to board before the deadline!