The Amberden Affair Game Review

amberdenaffair_top

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 3 to 6 players
  • Approximately 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading & Writing
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Semi-Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Self-confidence
  • Imagination
  • Reflex & Speed
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Welcome to the party! Try the hors d’oeuvres! I hear they’re to die for…

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

It’s a well-known fact that the Amberden’s throw the best parties. The guest list reads like a “who’s who” of society’s elite. So renowned are these parties that it’s common for an individual to make or break their fortune by simply attending. But for you, this is of little concern. The glitz and glam of the event pale in comparison to your passionate goal of permanently removing some of the party attendees. A few drops of poison should do the trick…

The Amberden Affair, designed by Michael Domeny and Kelsey Domeny and published by Two Penny Games, is comprised of 1 game board, 32 Order cards, 6 Identity cards, 28 Item cards, 10 Time tokens, 18 Rumor tokens, and 6 Player pawns. Not included with the game, but necessary to play, is a pen or pencil and a piece of paper for keeping track of players’ scores and writing down names. The component quality is above average and the game’s artist, Michael Domeny, does a fair job of capturing the game’s theme and narrative by illustrating the party from a bird’s-eye view.

Note: Be careful with the game board the first time you play the game. The folds are so tight that the board will not sit flat at first. If you attempt to level out the board with too much force, you will break it. Yes, I’m speaking from experience here…

Preparing for the Party

To play the game, first place the game board in the middle of the playing area. It’s very important that all the players be able to place and move their Player pawns easily from where they are sitting. It will also benefit the game play if you can space the players out as evenly as possible around the game playing area. The game board has a central room area where the party is taking place. Within the room are specific locations. Each Location space has a corresponding card location on the outside of the game board. There are also several special guests in the room. These Guest spaces are like the Location spaces and have a corresponding card location on the outside of the game board.

amberdenaffair_board

Second, grab the Item cards and separate those that have the “?” on from those that do not. Set the Item cards with the “?” to one side for a moment. Take the other Item cards and separate them by their Location type. These are “Door”, “Desk”, “Table”, “Coat”, and “Bar”. Place each pile face-down on the matching Location card space found on the game board. These represent the items that are in their correct place or purposely placed there to begin with. These items will always start the game in these locations, but might not be there when the player looks for them.

amberdenaffair_item

Third, take the remaining Item cards with a “?” and shuffle them. Then deal 2 of these Item cards to each Location card space. These represent the items in the game that are always randomly placed throughout the room, including the very poisons the “Miscreant Impostor” needs to find, as well as a few other useful items.

amberdenaffair_itemquestion

Fourth, shuffle the Item cards in each Location card space and place them back face-down, making certain that none of the players see the cards.

Fifth, take the Identity cards and select 1 for each player, making certain that the “Miscreant Impostor” is included. For example, in a 5-player game, 1 of the Identity cards would be the “Miscreant Impostor” and the other 4 can be any of the other Identity cards. The names on the cards are unimportant and have no impact to the game play. Nor should they be used during the game. Shuffle the Identity cards and deal 1 to each player, face-down. Players should keep their identity hidden until it’s time to reveal them. Identity cards are not considered part of the player’s hand and can never be looked at by an opponent.

amberdenaffair_butlers

Sixth, give each player 1 Player pawn and 3 Rumor tokens of the same color. The Player pawn goes to the center of the game board next to the Head Butler. The Rumor tokens remain in front of the players for now.

Seventh, take the Time tokens and place them in the “Time Remaining” Location space on the game board. Feel free to stack them, but I highly advice you to not do so. In this game, players will be moving their hands and arms around and across the game board quickly. The odds are very good that a tall stack of tokens will get knocked over as a result of the frequent motion over the game board.

Eighth, take the Order cards and shuffle them. Deal 1 to each player, face-down. The player should take this card into their hand along with other cards they will collect during the game. Place the remaining Order cards face-down in their designated space on the game board.

Ninth, assign one player the title of “Time Keeper” and another “Master of Scores”. The Time Keeper will handle the Time tokens and the Score Keeper will be recording players points at the end of the game.

That’s it for game set up. The guests are arriving…

The Game Within the Game

The Amberden Affair is a Semi-Cooperative Real-Time Deduction Murder Mystery game. While the players will be moving bits around the game board, there is a far more subtle game they will be playing at the table. A murderer is hiding among them. A veritable wolf in butler’s clothing, if you will. It’s the responsibility of the players to determine who the “Miscreant Impostor” is and bring them to justice. The problem is, no one really knows who is who since the Identity cards are never shown. However, a player who watches and listens will be able deduce who might or might not be the rogue butler.

During the game, players are encouraged to table talk as much as they like, but not give away too much information. Information, you see, is power. If you give it away for free, the player won’t get much of a benefit.

For the “Miscreant Impostor”, chaos and confusion is the very cloak in which they shroud themselves. Misdirection, false accusations, and bold face lies are tools of the trade. Do expect to use them and have them used on you. This is a game where you must work together, but nowhere in the rules does it say you have to trust one another. Between the lies and speculations is the truth. Find it and win.

A player is welcome to say whatever they like during the game, but whatever they say has no real value until they use a Rumor token. Rumor tokens are used during the game to do 2 things. First, they can potentially give a player points if they correctly guess who the “Miscreant Impostor” is. Second, they can serve as a smoke screen to cloud and misdirect other players. It’s all about timing, really, and players should not take the use of the Rumor tokens lightly. In order to play them to the Rumor Mill space on the game board, the player must give up some information (which might or might not be true). When the player gives up this information is just as important as when. But more to the point, by giving up information and playing a Rumor token, you are telling the rest of the players that you believe (to various degrees) what you are saying since you are putting points on the line that could determine if you win the game or not.

Let’s take a look at 2 possible examples.

  • After looking through a guest’s pile of delivered items, a player sees that the “Arsenic” Item card has been placed! Didn’t they see the opponent to their right just deliver a card to the guest and make a hasty retreat? Hmm. Now might not be the right time to play a Rumor token since all the player has is enough information to make one opponent a very likely suspect. They should attempt to learn more by looking for clues.
  • After looking through an opponent’s hand, they see they are holding nothing but drinks and some food. Giving the hand back to the opponent, the player takes their Rumor token and places it down in the Rumor Mill saying, “Yep! He’s caring the Arsenic. Not sure why since that’s not what the guest has ordered.” The opponent looks shocked and starts to mutter a response while the rest of the table gives them a hard look. All the while, the player who is really the “Miscreant Impostor”, sits back and makes plans for the Arsenic they are holding in their hand.

As you can see, the use of the Rumor token can be very powerful in terms of persuading players to look and interpret other players a certain way. A player is never required to have real information to back up their claims, but it must always be on topic and within the game’s narrative.

A Private Note to the Impostor

The role of the “Miscreant Impostor” is to sow discord and mistrust among the players. Knowing that someone at the table is looking to mess things up causes everyone to sit up and take notice. Even more so when the players know that they can earn lots of points from flushing out the culprit. As such, it behooves the impostor to go about doing their dirty work in a way that cannot be detected. The constant motion of the room serves as an excellent distraction, but be cautious. When actions are taken, they result in certain effects. If the results look off or are in any way suspect, you can bet that an opponent will move to the location to see what is going on. Of course, this also means it’s pretty easy to bait individuals and redirect suspicion.

The “Miscreant Impostor” will collect points for completing legit Order cards, but their main focus is poisoning the guests. Each special guest has a special poison that must be delivered in the same way as a normal Item would be. These poisons are scattered about the room and must be found and secretly placed on the correct target. At the very least, the “Miscreant Impostor” needs to poison 1 important guest or they will earn zero points for the round.

While the “Miscreant Impostor” player role can be a difficult one, it can also be the most rewarding. Take delight in throwing off suspicion and redirecting rumors so as to further remove yourself from blame. In the end, the impostor will succeed only if they have guts and guile. You will need to push the envelope because there isn’t much time, but faster step means greater risk of detection.

That being said, let’s get this party started…

A Deadly Soirée

A single game consists of 3 rounds. Each round will have no more than 10 turns, which are tracked by the Time tokens. During each turn, players will simultaneously be playing. While going about completing actions and turns, players should keep a close watch on each other. Hidden among them is an impostor who plans to poison each of Lady Amberden’s most distinguished guests! You don’t have proof who it might or might not be, but it’s your duty to find out!

A single game turn is summarized here.

Step 1: Ready, Set, Serve

Make sure that all the players are ready before starting the next turn. Give players a moment to collect their thoughts and organize any cards they might have in their hand. The game goes pretty quickly, but for new players the game’s speed might feel a bit rushed. Since this is a Deduction game, you want to give players enough time to think things through. But not too much time. After all, this is a party and the guests are demanding.

Step 2: Take 3 Actions

During a single turn, each player can take up to 3 actions. All actions are taken simultaneously, so do expect a bit of a traffic jam at times when 2 or more players are attempting to do the same thing at the same Location. Whoever gets there first goes first followed by the next player and so on. Do not take actions in order! The real-time game play simulates the frantic nature of the party as the players go about serving drinks, delivery coats, and offering appetizers. It will seem hectic and that’s part of the fun.

The actions available to select from are as follows:

Draw One Order Card

The players start with 1 Order card each at the beginning of each round, but they my gather more. Located at the center of the game board is the Head Butler. The Head Butler is in charge of making certain everything runs as smoothly as possible during the party. When located in the Head Butler space at the center of the room, the player may draw 1 Order card. Order cards are considered part of the player’s hand, but there is no limit to the number of Order cards a player can have during the game.

There are 2 Order card sub-types. Each are summarized here.

The “Follow a Hunch” and “Investigate” Order cards gives the player a one time ability to look through an opponent’s hand. An opponent’s hand will be made up of Order and Item cards. At no time should the player have their Identity card in their hand! Once the “Follow a Hunch” and “Investigate” Order cards are played, they are discarded. If the player prefers, they can keep the “Follow a Hunch” and “Investigate” Order cards for 10 points.

amberdenaffair_hunch

The “Fulfillment” Order cards instruct the player to pick up a specific Item card and delivery it to a specific person. This is done by traveling to a specific Location space noted on the Order card, looking through the Location’s associated Item cards, moving to the specific guest noted on the Order card, and giving the requested item to the guest by discarding the Item card to the Guest card space.

For example, let’s go through the actions necessary to complete the following Order card.

amberdenaffair_full

  1. Move Player pawn to “Desk” Location space on the game board
  2. Pick up, look through, and collect the “Invitation” Item card if it’s there.
  3. Move Player pawn to “Govern’s Wife” Location space.
  4. Give (discard) the “Invitation” Item card to the “Governor’s Wife” Guest card space.

Move Player Pawn

For 1 action, the player can move their Player pawn to 1 adjacent or 1 diagonal Location space on the game board. There is no limit to the number of Player pawns that can be located on any space at any time. It’s important to note that a player cannot pick up, look through, or deliver cards to a specific location until after their Player pawn is at that Location space. For example, if the player wanted to deliver an Item card to the Baron, they couldn’t place the Item card in the “Baron” Guest card space and then move their Player pawn to the “Baron” Location space. Order and timing is important.

Take One Item Card

If the Player pawn is currently located in a space that is associated with a section of the room that contains Item cards, the player may pick up those cards and look through them. From the cards, the player takes the Item they want and places it in their hand. Players CAN take Item cards that they don’t have an Order card for. The maximum number of Item cards a player can have is 2.

The player need not actually take an Item card if they don’t want to, but it still takes an action to look through the pile. This is a very good way of seeing if the poisons the impostor requires are still safely in the cupboard or possibly making their way to a guests’ drink!

Once the player has looked through the cards, they should be quickly shuffled and placed back, face-down.

Give One Item Card

For 1 action, the player can give one of their Item cards to a guest by discarding it face-down to the Guest card space. When they do, the player can pick up the cards and see what has (or has not) yet been delivered. At no time can the player take cards from the pile, however. When the player is done, they give the pile a shuffle and place it face-down. A player can place an Item card not requested by the guest if they so wish. Player can also place cards to other Locations and to Guests who they do not have an Order card for.

Once players have completed 3 actions, they can sit back and closely observe the other players still working through theirs. This is a great time to ponder who could be the impostor.

End of the Turn

A turn can end one of two possible ways. After all the players have completed their 3 actions, the Time Keeper takes one of the Time tokens and sets it aside. The number of turns left in the round can quickly be determined by counting the number of Time tokens left on the game board. Each round is played as described above. However, if the total number of Rumor tokens is equal to or higher than the noted limited (which is determined by the number of players in the game), the round ends after the players have completed their turn. No additional turns are played for the round.

Accusations and Scoring

If the round ended due to the Rumor Mill being at capacity, the Accusation step now takes place. This step only occurs if the round ended with the Rumor Mill being full. If not, skip immediately to Scoring.

Accusations are made in secret. If the player has at least 1 Rumor token in the Rumor Mill, they take a piece of paper and write down the name of the opponent who they believe is the impostor. Or, in the case of the “Miscreant Impostor”, any other opponent’s name. The pieces of paper are collected, shuffled, and then read out loud. All the player’s now reveal their Identity card to determine who really was the impostor in their ranks.

Scoring is now done by laying all the cards in the players’ hand face-down on the table. If the Accusation step did not occur, keep the Identity cards face-down.

  • Points are awarded to players who have completed Order cards. This is done by taking that guest’s cards and matching the Order card with the Item card.
  • Players still holding Order cards that have not been fulfilled receive negative points since they failed to deliver the guest’s requested item.
  • Unused “Follow the Hunch” and “Investigate” Order cards give the player who is holding them points, as does holding the “Gold Coin”.

The “Miscreant Impostor” scores additional points.

  • Points are awarded for poisoning guests. The more that are poisoned, the more points are earned. If they didn’t poison anyone, they receive no points for the round for completed orders.

If the Accusation step was taken, even more points are now scored.

  • The number of correct guesses earns points, but incorrect guesses reduces points.
  • The “Miscreant Impostor” doesn’t receive any points during the Accusation step, but does stand to lose a great deal if they are correctly identified.

Next Round and Ending the Party

After the round ends with scoring, a new round begins. Set up the next round in the same way you set up the game. Players keep their Player pawn and Rumor tokens. A new “Miscreant Imposter” will be assigned, although it’s technically possible that a player could be the “bad guy” more than once per game.

The winner of the game is the player who has the highest score after all 3 rounds of game play.

Game Variant

The rules suggest that new or inexperienced players avoid being given the “Miscreant Impostor” Identity card. I disagree, but that’s not important. What is important is getting players to relax and enjoy themselves. Being the “Miscreant Impostor” is a role that requires a lot more sneaking around and a cool head to pull it off. The subtle game play necessary to stay both on and off their opponents’ radars might be a bit too much to grasp at first for new players. If such is the case, give the “Miscreant Impostor” Identity cards only to experienced players (I’ll let you decide how best to do that) or remove the Identity card altogether. The second option is actually pretty interesting as the game is no longer a murder-mystery, but a race to see who can complete orders the quickest.

To learn more about The Amberden Affair, visit the game’s  web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks had a difficult time playing as the “Miscreant Impostor”, but only in the sense that they were too careful. Rumors, tricks, and false accusations were not a problem for any Child Geek, although a few feelings were hurt. The fact that the Child Geeks so quickly and easily fell into a game where lying and manipulation was required made a few Parent Geeks nervous. Which is hilarious. One Parent Geek said after a family game, “Yeah. my kids are too good at this. Way too good.” And in response, the Child Geek said, “The best part about this game is not going about giving people stuff. It’s finding out who the bad guy is.” And on that note I should point out that none of the Child Geeks really liked playing as the “Miscreant Impostor”, in the same way the fox doesn’t much like his situation when being chased by hounds. As a pack, the Child Geeks did a great job of watching for the impostor and identifying any and everything that was a possible misstep. Of course, this just clouded the water most of the time since the Child Geeks often misinterpreted what they did or did not see. One Child Geek said, “This game is hard when the impostor is really sneaky. I have to remind myself to deliver things, even though I just want to watch everyone.” When the party was over and the dishes cleared, all the Child Geeks agreed the game was a good time.

asdf

The two brothers stare at each other, attempting to determine the real identity of the other…

The Parent Geeks found The Amberden Affair to be a delightful game full of arsenic and old lace. One Parent Geek said, “This game does a great job of pushing you to go about your business and investigate at the same time. I know I’m supposed to be a butler, but I feel like an undercover police officer.” And who is to say that the player’s aren’t? It’s a simple narrative to adjust within the game. What wasn’t so simple is staying hidden as the “Miscreant Impostor”. It took a game or two, but the Parent Geeks quickly figured out how actions taken adjust patterns in the game. There are certain “tells” that can be seen if you know what to look for. Of course, the impostors know about these “tells” too which can make things difficult. As one Parent Geek put it, “The best part of this game is being the impostor. You have to play 2 games at once if you want to win. The one where you deliver items and the other where you deliver death.” But one Parent Geek found another aspect of the game more important than any other during our playing sessions. According to this Parent Geek, “Rumors are the single most important thing. What you say, when you say it, and how can mean the difference in points or not, being caught or not, and slowing people down or not. That’s challenging.” Yes, it can be, if you are playing with others who are thinking the same way. Speaking of which, all the Parent Geeks were thinking the same thing when they decided to fully approve the game.

The Gamer Geeks found The Amberden Affair to be less impressive than their Parent and Child Geek counter parts. According to one Gamer Geek, “I like the hidden identity idea, but the real-time completion of actions creates what I think is an unnecessary level of confusion. It removes the need to be crafty when you are automatically hidden by the hustle and bustle of the game.” At which point, the Gamer Geeks more or less broke the game. Since there is no time limit for each turn, the players spent a few just being really slow, not wanting to move until others moved. Or, worse yet, moving so quickly as to cause an opponent to require the player to redo their turn. One Gamer Geek said, “Certainly the game designers intended all us to play at the same time and at the same pace, but if you don’t force a player to do so, they have no reason to.” A good point. As for the rest of the game, the Gamer Geeks weren’t that impressed with the rule book and how there were certain aspect of the game play completely missing. As one Gamer Geek put it, “If I have to guess what I need to do in the game, the game is already losing points.” One aspect of the game the Gamer Geeks did enjoy was the Rumor tokens. They liked that, thematically speaking, once there was enough chatter about who did what, the party closed down and the accusations started to fly, but it simply wasn’t enough. When the party was over, The Amberden Affair was found to be a game of mediocre importance and forgettable by the gaming elitists.

I don’t personally see The Amberden Affair as a “gamer’s game”, but it’s most certainly one designed by people who know games. It’s evident that much thought was put into the meta game and the sleuthing required to determine who is who. Unlike other Murder Mystery games, The Amberden Affair provides nothing to the player’s in the way of clues. Instead, players must go about conducting their own investigations and evaluations. In the process of doing so, assumptions will be made resulting in misleading accusations. Or, in some case, spot on.

But then you have this strange game of picking things up and delivering them for points that feels like a third-wheel. It works and drives the player’s the deliver items, but it feels at times like the game is in conflict with itself. As if it really doesn’t know what it wants to be. The Game Variant that removes the “Miscreant Impostor” altogether is further proof of this and leads me to ponder what the end goal was for the designers. Was it to create a Murder Mystery game with semi-cooperative game play? Or did they intended to create a game where strategic and tactical logical thinking was necessary to maximize potential points while reducing odds of penalties? Or did they truly intend both and the end result is the game we have before us? Certainly the delivery of items shrouds the placement of poisons, but the fact that the “Miscreant Impostor” gets points for delivering legit goods feels odd.

I would like to point out that it’s possible to mess with other players by picking up Item cards and depositing them in different locations, but the player puts themselves in a difficult position by doing so. First, if the player has to give their hand to an opponent to look through when they just so happen to be carrying an item that they shouldn’t be, they will immediately draw suspicion. Second, players can only hold 2 Item cards at a time and carrying about anything other than what you really need means giving up possible points. There will be times where you will want to pick up an Item that isn’t being asked for or needed, but they are far and few between. Long story short, when something goes missing, it’s often for a very good reason.

The most important question to ask is “does the game work”, and that is a solid “yes”. While some of the design decisions leave me questioning the game’s intent, I have no problem playing the game. I think it’s a perfect fit for the Parent Geeks and for families. I was surprised to see how quickly the Child Geeks took to it, but in hindsight it makes sense. The Amberden Affair is streamlined just enough to make it obvious what you should do and open enough to allow the player complete freedom to do what they want.

Finally, I would like to tip my hat to the game’s designers for adding a bit of humor to this game that many of our players missed. I’ll give you a hint: who is often blamed for murders when mansions and bodies are involved?

The Amberden Affair is an interesting game with an even more interesting meta game below the surface. Who you choose to trust or not ultimately doesn’t matter if you can score enough points, but everything comes easier if you do. If you enjoy games where hidden roles and objectives are part of the fun, where how you spend your energy determines the size of your reward, and where table talk is all important, do sit down and enjoy a game of The Amberden Affair. While I don’t believe it’s a game to die for, it will certain leave you feeling well served.

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....
Tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply