Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Mord im Arosa

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Mord im Arosa would be classified as a dexterity game. Strictly speaking it's a listening game. You stack up eight box tops of different sizes to form a building. There is a small square hole at the top of each box. Logically thinking, when you complete the building, the holes are all lined up, so if you drop a cube from the top of the building, it should fall through the air well all the way to the bottom box, landing on the table surface. However the air well is narrow, and human hands are imprecise, so the cube will tend to bounce around and land between the 1st and 7th floors instead. The premise of the game is you need to listen to the sound of the cube bouncing inside the building - the Arosa Apartments - and guess where it has landed.

The Arosa Apartment has eight floors, the Ground Floor, plus Levels 1 to 7.

To investigate a specific floor, you lift it up this way to reveal the cubes there.

The backstory is a murder investigation. As part of the game setup process, every player seeds the building with a few of his own cubes. Two red cubes - the murder victims - are also added. The first few rounds are played to find where the victims are. Once they are found, their locations are marked on the investigation sheet. These are the crime scenes. The proper game can now start.

On your turn you have two options. You try to find evidence incriminating other players, or you try to destroy evidence incriminating you. To do the former, you pick a floor, and then declare who among your opponents have cubes there. This can be more than one opponent. You then open up the floor to reveal all cubes there. For each opponent whom you have correctly accused, he must add cubes from his supply to the investigation sheet. For each opponent whom you have incorrectly accused, you need to later add one of your own cubes to the building as a penalty. This means in future it will become easier for others to find your cubes in the building. You then take all the cubes that you have found in your hand, put the floor (and those above it) back, and finally drop those cubes back into the building one by one. You also add those penalty cubes at this time. Everybody will be eagerly listening to where each cube lands.

If you decide to cover your tracks (i.e. destroy evidence), instead of trying to find your opponents' cubes, you need to find your own. Similarly, you need to specify a floor first, and then you check whether you have any cubes there. If you are right, you get to remove cubes of your colour from the investigation sheet. They must be from the corresponding floor, of course. If you are wrong, the penalty is, again, adding one of your cubes into the building at the end of your turn.

So the whole game is about forcing your opponents to place evidence (cubes) onto the investigation sheet, while keeping your own off it, or removing them from it if they are already there. The game ends when one player has 10 cubes on the investigation sheet (he is probably screwed), or when one player has used up all his cubes. Every cube on the investigation sheet is evaluated to determine how strong an evidence it is. Cubes (or clues) at the crime scenes are worth 3pts. Cubes on the floors immediately above or below the crime scenes are worth 2pts. All other cubes are worth 1pt. Whoever has the most points is the murderer. Whoever has the fewer points is the winner.

The crime scene is on Level 6. Both victims (red) were found there. At this moment I (white) am the key suspect, because many eye-witnesses have reported seeing me loitering on Levels 5 to 7. Chong Sean (blue) has also been seen at the crime scene.

The Play

In theory you are supposed to tell where a cube has landed by listening. In practice it is quite impossible to be precise. You can roughly tell whether it is on a higher floor, a middling floor or a lower floor, but you need to rely on some guesswork to find it. Memory can help. If a floor has not been investigated by anyone for some time, chances are some cubes have landed there.

The game mechanisms are a little unusual, and it takes a little getting used to at first. It's not complex, just unusual. I'm quite impressed with how this simple concept of listening to a cube fall inside a cardboard structure has been developed into a detective game, a story about a murder investigation. I think this backstory is crucial in making the game work. It gives a context to players, so that everything makes sense, and it's not just a bland mechanism about listening to a cube fall. Certainly investigating a murder case and manipulating evidence sound much more exciting than dropping cubes and listening to how they fall.

There is a little push-your-luck in this game. When you investigate a floor, you can make a bigger gamble by accusing every other player. If you find cubes belonging to all of them on that floor, you will be forcing all of them to add cubes to the investigation sheet. However, for every player wrongly accused, you are penalised and you need to add your own cubes to the building. Bigger risks, bigger rewards, bigger penalties.

Chong Sean was betting on the 6th floor. This was still the early game - no evidence cubes on the investigation sheet yet.

Game end. Chong Sean (blue) was the murderer. Previously there was evidence found at the crime scene which implicated me (white), but somehow they went missing. Don't look at me like that.

The Thoughts

Mord im Arosa is simple and fun. The setting is a little disconcerting for a children's game, but I think it works very well as one. Maybe change the crime from murder to theft when explaining the game to children. It's a good family game, and it will work well with casual gamers too. It's a little gimmicky, but it does have some meat and can still sustain interest after the novelty wears off.

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