Murder of Crows Game Review

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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publishers suggests 13+)
  • For 2 to 5 players
  • Approximately 20 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Learn the truth of a murder most foul!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek mixed!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Crows are associated with death and dying for a reason. As scavengers, they frequent battlefields, cemeteries, and busy highways looking for a corpse. The fact that a gathering of crows is referred to as a “Murder” has nothing to do with this bird’s macabre appearance or habit of picking over the remains of the deceased. Regardless, the crow remains to some a symbol off ill omen and death. Think about that the next time you see them flocking over your head…

Murder of Crows, designed by Eduardo Baraf, Thomas Denmark and published by Atlas Games, is comprised of 8 “M” cards, 8 “U” cards, 16 “R” cards, 8 “D” cards, 8 “E” cards, 5 “Wild Crow” cards, and 2 Player Aid cards for a total of 55 cards. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The illustrations provided by Thomas Denmark are excellent, further supporting the game’s thematic gloom and doom.

Note: The game’s theme and narrative pivots around the topic of murder for vengeance, petty jealousy, rage, and greed (just to name a few). None of the card images are particularly gruesome, but the players do end up spelling the word “MURDER” and crafting their own description of said murder. Again, nothing overly graphic, but parents should be aware of the game’s dark and violent undertones before plopping it down in front of their children.

Preparing for Murder

To set up the game, first separate the Player Aid cards from the rest of the deck and set them aside. Then shuffle the deck of cards.

Second, deal 5 cards to each player, face-down. Players should look at their cards but keep them hidden from their opponents until played.

Third, place the remaining cards face-down in the middle of the playing area. This is the draw deck for the duration of the game. Leave room for a discard pile.

That’s it for game set up. Hand the Player Aid cards to those who need it and determine who will be the first player.

Birds of a Murderous Feather Flock Together

Murder of Crows is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. A player can take 1 of 2 possible actions on their turn. Each action is summarized here.

Action One: Draw One Card, Play One Card

The first action the player can choose is to draw 1 card from the draw deck, add it to their hand, and then play 1 card. If this is first player’s first turn, they cannot draw a card, but can play a card from their hand.

Cards are played directly to the player’s Murder, which is a row of cards directly in front of the player, face-up. The goal is to spell the word “MURDER”, so the “M” card would be placed on the far left, followed by the “U” card and so on. Letters (and cards) need not be played in the correct order to spell “MURDER”. The cards can and should be shifted to accommodate new letters when played.

If the player places a card with a letter already in their Murder, they place it on top of the matching letter. For example, an “M” card would be played on top of another “M” card. This is referred to as “stacking”. This is a very good thing, since a player’s Murder can be attacked by an opponent. Having extra cards will ensure the player is able to take a hit without feeling it.

Once the card is played, it’s immediately resolved. Each letter has a corresponding action. The actions are summarized here.

M: “Misplace” – Take any 1 card from an opponent’s Murder and add it to your own (now we see the value in stacking cards!)

U: “Uncover” – All opponents reveal their hands and then the active player takes 1 card from any opponent’s hand, adding it to their own

R: “Reap” – Draw 1 card from the draw pile and add it to your hand (the “R” card will be used twice in the player’s Murder)

D: “Drain” – Choose 1 letter and announce it; all opponents must discard 1 card that matches that letter in their Murder if they have it

E: “Expel” – All opponents discard their hand and draw 3 new cards from the draw pile (the active player keeps their hand)

There are also 5 “Wild” cards referred to as “Wild Crows”. When placed to a player’s Murder, they take on the letter and the letter’s effects. However, a “Wild Crow” card can only be placed if there are no other “Wild Crows” visible in the player’s Murder. Once placed, it’s susceptible to all other card effects from opponents.

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Or, if the player prefers, they can play the “Wild Crow” card to their Murder and target an opponent’s stack, forcing the opponent to discard all the cards in that stack. Going this route does not allow the player to use the letter action, however.

Action Two: Draw Two Cards

The second action the player can choose to take is to draw 2 cards from the draw deck, add them to their hand, and then end their turn. No cards are played.

Once the player has completed their selected action, their turn is done and the next player in turn order sequence takes their action.

In the Protection of Crows

When an opponent plays a card, the effects oftentimes are harmful. A player can defend themselves and protect their Murder by discarding any card in their hand that has an equal or greater number of Crows found on the card’s upper left corner. Crows can be found singly, in pairs, and in threes. “Wild Crow” cards can be used for this purpose, as well. This stops the effects of the card played, but does not stop the opponent from playing the card or targeting other players.

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A Murder Most Fowl?

The game continues until 1 player is able to spell “MURDER” with their cards (including the “Wild Crow” card where applicable). The game is now over and everyone is treated to a rather macabre tale of murder. Starting with the “M”, the player who won should read the story that they created. If a “Wild Crow” is part of the “MURDER”, the player can select any card on the table that the “Wild Crow” represents to complete their story or make something up.

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“A rotting stench filled the air in a grove of weeping willows when Abigail LeStrange, over a bad real estate deal, used a frozen turkey to bludgeon Heidi Harmony.” Yikes.

If one game is not enough, another can be quickly started by using the set up steps noted above. The player to the left of the last game’s winner is the first player for the new game. The overall winner is the player who wins the most games.

To learn more about Murder of Crows, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

Due to the game’s theme and dark narrative, the Parent Geeks only allowed older and more experienced Child Geeks to play Murder of Crows. The Child Geeks who did play the game very much enjoyed it, finding the end story to be “odd” and “yucky”, but never horrible or creepy. According to one Child Geek, “This reminds me a bit of the game Gloom. At least, it has the same kind of feel to it.” Another Child Geek said, “The backstabbing and player attacking can get a bit out of hand and made the game feel more aggressive than I thought it would. I kind of liked it.” Larger groups of players can make a single playing session into a boxing match, but everyone gets a black eye. When all the games were over, the Child Geeks thought Murder of Crows was an interesting and entertaining game, was easy to learn and to play, and always resulted in a dark and memorable end.

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Some of the Child Geeks liked to cackle darkly when playing cards while opponents grimaced

The Parent Geeks, while not finding the game suitable for some of their children, very much enjoyed the game with their peers. According to one Parent Geek, “This is a great card game to play with a group of friends, especially if they like games.” Another Parent Geek said, “A neat idea and I think it plays very well. I look forward to playing this with my own kids when they get older.” None of the Parent Geeks liked that they had to continually reference the Player Aid cards to learn what their card effects were. As one Parent Geek put it, “I think they game will be even more entertaining when I memorize all the card effects, but for now, I feel like I’m spending way too much time looking at the reference.” Which was a bother for some, but didn’t ruin the game for anyone. When all the murders were completed, the Parent Geeks voted to approve the game.

The Gamer Geeks were torn. Roughly half found Murder of Crows to be an entertaining game that would work well as a filler or as a game night opener. According to one of these Gamer Geeks, “The game plays well, requires you to be smart, and cannot be won easily, taking only 20 minutes to play. That, to me, is a great example of a game that is worth playing as a filler.” Gamer Geeks who didn’t think the game was for them had their own reasons, as well. According to one of the Gamer Geeks who didn’t care for Murder of Crows, “The game has zero strategy and the player attacking and card effects makes the game drag on way too long.” In the end, the Gamer Geeks were mixed and didn’t want to compromise with each other.

Murder of Crows is an easy game to teach and to play. It’s also fun, but it can devolve into a senseless card game of “take that” when playing with 4 or 5 players. Not a bad thing if that is what you like, but for some, such a game seldom leads to an enjoyable experience. With smaller groups, say no more than 3 players, the game works beautifully. It has just the right mix of player interaction and hand management to provide fun for all. Do play the game with larger groups to get a sense of how competitive Murder of Crows can be. Then play it with smaller groups. You’ll find the perfect balance for you and yours.

The only other issues the players had was the game’s theme. Parent Geeks don’t much care to put games that depict violence in front of their children, especially when it’s so blatantly being presented. This did not stop them from placing the game in front of their older children, however, and all the adults and older Child Geeks found Murder of Crows to be a good time. Only the Gamer Geeks found a bit of fault with the game, but their endorsement was still mostly positive.

I rather enjoyed the game, finding it to be quick and entertaining. The letter effects and the tongue in cheek dark humor mixed with the unique set collecting game mechanism made each game unique. Yes, you are always after the same thing, but you are always going about it differently. This forces a player to think of new ways to meet the objective, react to an opponent’s attack, and shore up their own Murder to keep it safe from tampering. Do play Murder of Crows when time allows. It’s the perfect game with friends when you have some time to kill.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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