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Mystery Express from Days of Wonder

By Tim Kidwell
Published: July 14, 2010
Mystery Express box top
Product: Mystery Express is packed full of items that make for a good murder mystery, including a long board-map of the Orient Express, five character figures, a conductor figure, ticket wallets, deduction sheets, 72 crime cards (detailing motive, time, location, modus operandi and suspects) and a rulebook.

Gameplay: Tagged as a “whodunit on rails,” Mystery Express quickly won the nickname Clue Advanced among our review group. And while a number of aspects resemble that venerable and well known game, such as secretly picking cards to create the crime, adding time and motive to the who, how and where, DoW’s game is a much more satisfying exercise in deductive reasoning.

Rather than players just meandering about the board until someone finally has eliminated all of the possibilities, Mystery Express puts a time limit on players in two ways.

First, there are only five turns (one for each leg along the route from Paris to Istanbul) in which players can do their best at figuring out the murder’s details. Second, each leg of the journey has a set time limit (either four or five hours).

Players endeavor to observe and eliminate crime elements, but can do so only by visiting different train cars and performing the action associated with that car. Furthermore, each action takes a certain amount of time. Players can travel to multiple cars and attempt the actions, but can’t exceed the time constraint for that particular leg of the journey.

For example, the first leg of the trip lasts four hours. The dining car allows the active player to choose to see one card from another player’s hand, but it takes one hour per card. So, assuming he hasn’t used any time, the player could look at four cards, or he could choose to look at one card and move to a different car and try something else.

Determining the time of the murder proves to be one of the most challenging parts of game. Three times during the game, the time cards are revealed slowly to everyone at the table. It is the players’ job to figure out which card out of 24 is not present.

After the fifth turn, the train reaches Istanbul and the players announce their final assumptions and reveal the cards that make up the crime. The player who most closely matches the crime wins.

Marketing: There is a lot of play value in Mystery Express, with very tidy game mechanics, ceaseless player interaction, a beautiful gameboard and wonderful player pieces. Also, with the number of crime elements and investigative choices, it lends itself to repeat play.

Parker Brothers Clue is a touchstone game for a lot of people. Who doesn’t remember declaring that Colonel Mustard committed the murder in the library with the candlestick? The quickest way to introduce customers to Mystery Express is to tell them it is Clue for adults. Heck, make a sign or shelf talker that says as much.

There are a lot of railroad themed games out there, such as DoW’s Ticket to Ride series, Rio Grande’s TransAmerica, or Mayfair’s Empire Builder. When a new game like this is released, it is the perfect opportunity to showcase your entire selection. Build a display that includes a variety of railroad-themed games. To spice it up even more, run an HO-scale train around the perimeter of the display. If nothing else, to your shoppers, the train set is an eye-catching display piece. On the other hand, if your store carries train sets and games, this may be a way to cross-merchandise two product lines that rarely intersect among hobbyists.

Product: Mystery Express
Maker: Days of Wonder
Stock No.: 8001
MSRP: $50
Availability: Alliance Game Distributors

Fun and family friendly
Interesting gameplay dynamics
Opportunity to show off other railroad games

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