- For ages 13 and up
- For 2 or more players
- Variable game play length
- Active Listening & Communication
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Explore the mystery to solve the crime
- Gamer Geek mixed!
- Parent Geek mixed!
- Child Geek rejected!
French inventor, Blaise Pascal, said “All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room.” In this game, players will be tasked to solve a dark and oftentimes disturbing mystery. The more questions you ask, the more you learn, but the facts may remain elusive. Evil deeds of men come in many forms and are done for many reasons. The deeper you dig, the darker it becomes.
Dark Stories, published by Holger Bösch and published by Z-Man Games, is comprised of 50 Dark Story cards. Each card is larger than your average playing card and slightly more durable. The front of the cards have a small illustration, title, and introduction to the story. The back of the card lists the facts of the incident and another image that corresponds to the solution. As a point of interest, this game was released with the title Black Stories in Germany and other parts of the world.
Note: Some of the images on the cards might be disturbing to younger players. For example, there is one image of a man with a hole in his head from a bullet and look of surprise as blood spills out. There is also an image of a box with a removed human limb. Nothing overly graphic, mind you, but it’s worth pointing out that this game deals with the darker side of humanity. This goes for the stories, as well, which depict 31 different crimes, spotlight 49 corpses, detail 11 murders, go over 12 suicides, and offer players 1 deadly meal. You have been warned.
Game Set Up and Play
Dark Stories is very similar to the game Twenty Questions, where players ask questions and the Master (the person holding the Dark Story card) responds with a “yes” or “no”. To begin, one player becomes the Master and randomly selects 1 Dark Story card. They read the front of the Dark Story card out loud, making certain that none of the other players see the back of the card. The players will be given just enough information to set the scene of the crime, but not enough to solve the mystery.
The players now attempt to solve the mystery by asking questions one at a time and working together. Each question asked will give more information, but not necessarily lead the players in the right direction. If the Master likes, they can suggest that the players are asking irrelevant questions or they can string them along. For example, if the players ask about a dog, but there is no dog in the story, the Master could suggest that the question is irrelevant. Or they could simply answer the question.
The Master is also unable to answer questions that cannot be responded to with a “yes” or “no”. If such a question is asked, the Master must insist the player rephrase their question. The Master’s one and only job is to keep the players on the right path, but to never give any hints or clues or show them the way.
The Master has all the details to the mystery and when they feel that the players have guessed correctly, the mystery is solved. There is only one solution to the mystery and that is detailed on the back of the Dark Story card. A new Master is then selected, along with a new mystery to ponder.
As there is no time limit or scoring, the game need not end until the players decide.
To learn more about Dark Stories, visit the game’s web page.
Only the oldest Child Geeks were allowed to participate in this review and even then not all the Dark Story cards were used. Some of the stories really are very dark and disturbing. From those that were hand selected and shared, the Child Geeks found them to be difficult to solve. According to one Child Geek, “The first part of the story gives you just enough to make wild assumptions and you need to rethink everything to get it right.” Another Child Geek said,”I think some of these are impossible because the solution is so improbable.” Truth is stranger than fiction, but fictional truth is stranger still. All the Child Geeks understood how the game was played, how it was meant to be won, and felt they made little progress for most of the game. When they did solve the mystery, there was loud cheering and high-fives. Regardless of their joy, the Child Geeks did not feel that Dark Stories was for them.
The Parent Geeks were not fans of Dark Stories from a family game perspective, but none of them really thought it was intended to be such a game to begin with. According to one Parent Geek, “Some of these stories are really horrible. There’s no way I’d feel comfortable playing this with my kids.” But as a game with just adults, Dark Stories worked great. As one Parent Geek put it, “It’s a dark party game of sorts, isn’t it? I like that. Perfect for Halloween or when you host a Murder/Mystery party. A neat concept.” Game play wise, the Parent Geeks understood exactly what was needed and how the game was won. They solved many of the mysteries and were stumped by even more. When the last case file was closed, the Parent Geeks gave Dark Stories a mixed level of approval.
The Gamer Geeks found the game’s concept to be interesting, but the game play to be a bit boring. According to one Gamer Geek, “All I’m doing is asking questions and getting answers. Eventually I’ll piece it together, but not nearly fast enough to make it interesting.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Like all games with hidden information, you cannot really tell how close you are to the goal until you find it. I never felt excited or elated while playing, but I did feel bored.” The Gamer Geeks felt the game should be played in very small doses. One even suggested it be used as filler game or a drinking game, which met with wide approval. After all the corpses were buried and the criminals imprisoned, the Gamer Geeks gave Dark Stories a mixed level of approval.
Dark Stories is the perfect example of the perfect game to play with the perfect group of people who want the perfect mystery to solve. The problem is, that type of group is really hard to come by for many of us. I can think of only 2 people out of 20 I could easily play Dark Stories with, while playing with all the others would have a mixed level of success. The fault is not the games. Dark Stories is unique, provocative, difficult, and challenging. It can also be a bit dry at times; especially when none of the players can solve the mystery.
Dark Stories is also highly thematic and gripping right from the start. This is where I think the game really shines. Each Dark Story really is dark and that plays well when the evening’s theme deals with horror, murder, mystery, espionage, and dirty deeds. It’s not a game you play before Candy Land and it most certainly isn’t a game you play around the Holidays. But then again, why not? Murderous deeds and ill luck befalls us all, 365 days a year.
Personally, I love this game. It reminds me of the mystery books I read as a kid. But I’m also a big fan of Deduction games, which would suggest I would naturally gravitate towards any game that challenges me to solve a mystery. Despite the level of enjoyment it provides, the game has two flaws in my opinion. The first is the large number of mysteries that are inappropriate for kids. This is a real shame, as I cannot imagine a better game to play with the family than one where everyone gets to solve a mystery together. The second is the game’s limited replay value. Once you solve a mystery, you can never play with that Dark Story card again for as long as at least 1 previous player remembers it. There are 50 Dark Story cards, but all that does is buy you time until you hit the inevitable wall.
This is a unique game that will test your deduction skills, critical thinking, and memory. Each Dark Story introduction gives you just enough to think you know the right way to go, but be cautious. Every hint of truth could be smokescreen and the most unimportant detail could be the key to solving the mystery. If you enjoy mysteries, working together with others, and can stomach some really bizarre deaths and murders, then do play Dark Stories. Don’t be surprised if you get lost in the gloom.
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.