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Sleuth

Designer: Sid Sackson
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Players: 3-7
Time: 60 minutes
Reviewer: Caleb Diffell

Sleuth is a card-based game similar to Clue designed by the legendary Sid Sackson. Players attempt to discover the identity of the "missing gem" card by interrogating other players to determine what cards they hold. The first player to correctly identify the missing gem card is the winner.

Components

The game comes with 2 decks of cards: the gem deck (36 cards) and the search deck (54 cards). Blank copies of the information sheet (used for recording findings) and a rule pamphlet round out the components. The cards are coated and actually rather nice; the information sheets are rather small (not "king-size" as the back of the box claims). There is also a plastic tray to hold the cards that is not deep enough to accommodate the search deck, so the cards slide all over the place in the box. Not Avalon Hill's best effort, but not unbearably shoddy either.

Game Play

Players divide up the gem deck among them, each player receiving a number of cards based on the total number of players. Before dealing, one card is removed. This is the missing gem card whose identity the players are trying to deduce. Any cards not dealt to the players are placed face up and all players record them.

The gem deck cards each feature a different combination of three elements gem (diamond, pearl, or opal), type (solitaire, pair, or cluster), and color (red, blue, green, yellow). Thus, the 36 cards in the deck (3 x 3 x 4). Each card is described by its three elements, for example, the "green diamond cluster."

After each player has examined his gem cards and made notes on the his information sheet, 4 search cards are dealt face up to each player. The search cards determine what actions a player can perform on his turn; effectively legislating how he may conduct an inquiry of another player. There are two main types of search cards: one-element and two-element.

When playing a one-element card, a player may interrogate one opponent by asking him to state out loud how many gem cards he holds which feature that element. For example, playing the search card "Greens" will require the other player to state how many green cards he has in his hand.

When playing a two-element card, the interrogator asks the other player to pass him all gem cards he holds featuring that combination of elements. The opponent passes the cards face-down, while stating to all players how many cards he is passing. The interrogator records the identity of the cards and returns them to his opponent. For example, playing the search card "Blue Opals" requires the target player to pass any blue opal cards he has to the interrogator to be recorded.

There are two types of free choice search cards to enable more flexibility in the interrogation.

After a player plays his search card, he draws from the deck and play passes clockwise. At any time (not necessarily on his own turn) a player believes he can identify the missing card, play stops and he records his choice on a piece of paper and examines the card. If he is right, the game is over; if he is wrong, he is out of the game but must still answer inquiries. A variant allows for a second and third place finisher if the first place player does not reveal the identity of the card to the other players.

Comments

This is a pretty fun game. Not too taxing on the intellect, but good for a diversion. The unreliability of drawing a useful search card makes the methods of questioning more random than they are in Clue, since a player may be forced to use a search card he really doesn't want to and question someone he really might not need to. Players can skip their turn and exchange all 4 search cards for new ones, but I've never seen this actually done in a game. The information sheets provided with the game are useful for recording findings (like if another player shows you that he has the Blue Opal Cluster and the Blue Opal Pair), but they are not really too useful for recording conjectures and guesses (like if you note that a player has 3 blue cards). The backs of the information sheets may be used, but I found it easier to use a regular sheet of paper to record that kind of stuff.

All-in-all, Sleuth is a fun little game that has since been eclipsed by better games, but it can still provide enjoyment. And now, for the puzzle-minded of you, here is an example problem from the back of the box. All the info necessary to identifying the missing gem is here; brush off your deductive reasoning skills and go to work. If you can solve the puzzle with the information given, you have what it takes to play a good game of Sleuth.

  DIAMONDS PEARLS OPALS
Solitaire Pair Cluster Solitaire Pair Cluster Solitaire Pair Cluster
Red     own hand   shown at start        
Blue   own hand           own hand  
Green own hand shown at start     own hand own hand      
Yellow         own hand     own hand shown at start

Player A has:

4 Pearl cards
2 Yellow Diamond cards
1 Red Cluster card
2 Blue cards
2 Green Opal cards

Player B has:

1 Blue Pearl card
1 Diamond Cluster card
2 Diamond Solitaire cards
3 Blue cards
0 Green Cluster cards

Player C has:

1 Yellow Diamond card
0 Red Pair cards
1 Yellow Opal card
3 Red cards
2 Opal Solitaire cards

Solution

-Caleb Diffell

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