A lot of us here at GeekMom are Castle fans, a fact that I’m sure has everything to do with the show’s excellent writing, acting, and cinematography and absolutely nothing to do with its two highly attractive lead actors that include geek icon Nathan Fillion. As with most successful TV shows, Castle has now spawned a spin off tabletop game thanks to Cryptozoic–the team behind The Walking Dead and Big Bang Theory games. I was curious about how the show would be translated into card game format whilst retaining the feel of Castle, and was lucky enough to receive a copy of the game to see what it’s all about.
The Castle Detective Card Game is a basic whodunnit with a group of suspects to work through in order to find the guilty party. You play as one of the main cast (Castle, Beckett, Ryan, Esposito, Gates, and Lanie), each of whom has a special ability that can be used once per “episode.” These abilities have nothing to do with the characters in the show and all relate to drawing and discarding extra cards. A basic episode is played using five suspects who are each assigned a token–four not guilty and one guilty. To challenge them and discover whether or not they are the guilty party you need to hold each of the three investigation cards listed on the suspect’s card. These investigation cards are color-coded and feature the general scenarios seen on the show: interviewing the victim’s friends, family and business associates, performing an autopsy, searching homes, or having a poker game consultation. You draw cards from the main deck until you have three that match a specific suspect, you can then challenge that suspect by flipping over their chip to discover whether or not they are guilty. Should the deck run out before you find the guilty party then your killer has gotten away. There are also some extra cards in the deck that perform other actions such as adding a new suspect to the pool or allowing you to take a card from another player–a set of three Murder Board review cards in this category were released as limited promos. If the suspect you challenge is not guilty you remove them from the pool, if they are then you win that episode and gain a solved token. It’s a very simple game mechanic, in fact as Castle would say, it’s a little bit too simple…
You begin with three cards, and if it so happens that those three match a suspect, you could immediately challenge them and possibly find the guilty party in under ten seconds of playing. We played around a dozen of these standard episodes and often they would be solved in only a minute or two; very few lasted more than a standard commercial break. In fact the rule book actually mentions that a single episode is great fun to play during the breaks when watching Castle on TV. The game is more about luck than any real detective work of the type you experience in Clue, and although the age rating is 15+, even my three year old could probably get to grips with the basics (match the three colors on that card, and once you’ve got them, flip the chip and if it’s red you win). I found myself left wanting a lot more from the game. After a few basic episodes we played a full “season” in which you play back-to-back games until one person wins three solved tokens–earned by solving an individual episode, but even this was completed in around ten minutes.
The game’s rule book includes two “expert” scenarios. First is a conspiracy setup which uses eight suspects and two guilty tokens; you must find both before the deck runs out. Although classed as an expert scenario, this game is barely different from a standard episode. It took us around ten minutes to play but that was because, as luck would have it, the second guilty token ended up being on the suspect we challenged last. It would have been entirely possible for us to turn over both guilty tokens on our first two suspects and have the game finished in a few minutes. The second expert scenario involves seven suspects but you don’t know whether one, two, or none are guilty so you must work through them all. This variant includes the seemingly pointless rule that all suspects must be confronted before the deck runs out, even if both guilty tokens have already been overturned.
My biggest problem with the Castle Detective Card Game is that there is no detection involved at all; the game is almost entirely based on luck. The Castle theming is so thin that the entire game is played out with no reference to the characters or locations from the show, you aren’t even aware of who the victim is; at least in Clue you know their name. The suspects are identified only as basic stereotypes (the thieving accountant, the scheming business rival, the spiteful sister). I tried building up a story about the victim as we worked through them but, as the suspect cards are drawn randomly, it can be very tricky, one of our victims ended up with three spouses. The game itself is nicely made with oversized chipboard cast cards to represent your character, proper poker chips used for the guilty/not guilty tokens, and large photographic investigation cards featuring moments from the show (and something has to be said about having lots of shiny pictures of Nathan Fillion around you as you play), but it’s just not enough to make up for the lack of actual gameplay and Castle theme. On the flipside, we took the game along when staying with my mother, a recent Castle convert still working her way through season one and a lifelong casual gamer. She loved the game because she could instantly understand what was going on and didn’t have to ask us what to do on every turn.
If you’re a huge fan of Castle and are looking for a quick, easy game to play, then this will provide you with a few minutes of light entertainment. It could also be a good game to pull out when playing with non-gamers who would struggle with the more complex games we take for granted. However if it’s a full on Castle experience you’re after, I suggest pulling out your old copy of Clue instead and doing some good old-fashioned role-playing while you play.
A copy of Castle: The Detective Card Game was provided free for this review by Cryptozoic.