Thursday, February 27, 2014


I'm a huge fan of deduction games. I love Code 777. Sleuth is one of my all time favorites. I even enjoy a game of Clue. So I was excited to try a more recent, pirate themed deduction game: Plunder.

Players each have a three-part code, drawn from three different colored decks of cards. Everyone is trying to ferret out all the other players' codes. (The "codes" are represented by different objects, numbered for easy reference. So for example, your 2-2-6 might be a "spyglass, hook, cutlass.") Separate decks of cards represent multiple copies of all the different possible items in a code. On his turn, a player turns over the top card from each of these decks to establish the code he'll ask about. He gets one chance to reject one of the draws and replace it with a new one. Each opponent must then answer whether his code contains any of the objects presented in the example. You score points for guessing other codes (and more points, the faster you guess them). You lose points as people guess your code.

The trouble is, for a deduction game, there's an really unsatisfying amount of randomness here. I'm not asking for none; the three games I mentioned earlier all have different random elements at play. But here the lack of control seems to frustrate the deductive element.

The random draws of Plunder means you really don't have much control over what information you get to seek on your turn. Sleuth gives you a hand of questions to choose from. Code 777 turns things around so that you provide information on your turn rather than seek it. Clue gives you control over all the information you seek (although you do have to be in the room you ask about, so the die can be a factor there).

In Plunder, you don't direct your questions to specific players, so often your opponents are learning the same things at the same time you are. In both Sleuth and Clue, you can pitch your questions to people (and do it using information you have that opponent's don't), controlling how much opponents get to learn from your fishing. And again, in Code 777, at least you're getting information far more often than you're giving it, thanks to the inverted questioning system.

In Plunder, there's no way to conceal bits of information from anyone; you always just have to answer whether you have any of the questioning cards in your code or not. Clue only forces you to reveal one card when you have multiples in your hand, giving you a chance to conceal information. Granted, Sleuth and Code 777 also have no mechanism for concealing things, but the more complex matrices of those games make you feel less bad about what you are forced to give away. More importantly, you aren't directly scored on your hidden information! In Plunder, you lose end game points every time someone guesses your code correctly, and there's not a thing you can do to stop that from happening!

In Plunder, there doesn't appear to be anyway to go back and reference earlier information you got. In Sleuth, Code 777, and Clue, the discovery of one card often lets you recall back to earlier questions and concretely eliminate other options. But in Plunder, learning that an opponent holds one card does NOT mean he might not ALSO have one of the other cards in a question he answered positively for.

In short (too late), the game feels like a bit of a craps shoot. I suppose that might -- might -- make people less inclined to enjoy a deduction game give this one a shot. But I think it frustrates the true fans of the genre in the process. I give it a D.

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