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Mord im Arosa

Review: Eight floors, one guess. A novel murder mystery

In Mord im Arosa, the players take the roles of amateur detectives attempting to investigate (or at least doing their best to make sure that one of the other players is arrested for the two murders that have been discovered tonight at the Hotel Arosa. The night is dark, and the other sound is the rattle of clue-cubes between the hotel floors.

Reminiscent of the detective stories of old, players can imagine themselves enmeshed in an Agatha Christie story, running around the hotel, trying to piece together what they know with what other people find out to make sure that they're not arrested as the murderer at the end of the night.

First out of the gate, it's worth noting that this is fairly light lucky heavy game. In a sense perhaps even lighter than the classic deduction game Cluedo, but it makes up for it by being vastly more entertaining, in part because players are making visible guesses and suffering the consequences of those throughout.

The game's components are striking when set up. There's a mounted investigation board with illustrated boxes for each of the floors in the hotel. Players each receive a supply of 20 wooden cubes which will represent clues both in the hotel and recorded on the investigation board. Finally there is the hotel itself which is a cutely illustrated 25-cm high ziggurat-shaped building of floors that clip together. Each of the floors has a square hole in the centre, and is through these that the cubes will fall as they spread through the hotel.

At the start of the game, two red victim cubes are thrown into the hole at the top of the hotel,
following by two clues from each player in turn. During this, the players will be keeping a sharp ear out, trying to work out how many floors the different cubes fell, which they'll need for later.

Act I: Discovering the bodies

Following the sound of the murders, the players now take it in turns to try and figure out which floors the two victim cubes are on. Each turn, a player carefully opens one of the floors of the hotel. If they choose a floor without any red cubes, they must drop an additional clue of their colour back into the hotel as well as any other cubes they found.

If they found a victim, the victim cube is placed on the investigation board to mark  the crime scene and each other player who has clues on that floor places cubes from their supply on the investigation sheet to record their suspicious presence close to the body. Naturally, they will overlook any clues pointing to themselves. All the player cubes from the floor are dropped back into the hotel once it is reassembled.

Throughout the game, every player cube found on a floor of the hotel is returned to the hotel (plus any additional ones) by being thrown in the top again at the end of the turn. We found that the least tedious way to communicate which cubes were being dropped in the tower each time is for the dropping player to separate the cubes out by each colour and then announce each colour as they start dropping its cube or cubes.

Act: II The investigation

Once the victims have been located, the action moves to finding (framing?) a suspect, and it had better not be you! Each player on the turn chooses to either implicate the others or cover their own tracks.

To make an accusation, the player names one or more other players and opens a floor from the hotel. If any of the named players has cubes on that floor, they add the same number of clues from their supply to the investigation sheet. For each accused player who had no cubes at all on the floor, the current player has to throw a cube from their supply into the hotel at the end of their turn. This is the most common action and the ability to accuse multiple players can change the game. I've also seen people make a 3-player accusation at an empty floor two turns in a row which left them with a very large number of clues lying around the hotel.

Later in the game, when players have a lot of cubes on the investigation sheet, they can seek to cover their own tracks. They announce their intention and open a floor of the hotel. For each cube of their own that they find, they can take back a clue of their own colour from that same floor from the investigation board back into their supply. If they don't find any of their own cubes, their sloppy work causes them to drop an extra clue back into the hotel when they return the cubes.

The Final Act: Did the butler do it?

The game ends either when a player has 10 clues on the investigation board, or has run completely out of clues in front of them. Each player is now assigned a suspicion score depending on how many cubes they have on the investigation sheet. Floors with a victim and the adjacent floors are worth more points, but all cubes count. The player with the largest total is formally accused of the murder (and the player with fewest wins).

In theory it should be easy to listen and count the bounces of the victim cubes to figure out which floor the they have bounced down to, but in practice it's quite common for the subsequent clue cubes to dislodge them and push them to a lower floor. At best, players are making educated guesses, but often quite certain ones if you pick one of the unguessed-for-a-while floors where cubes have been accumulating.

Covering your own tracks is a sort of desperation move. It's quite rare to have enough cubes on a floor to make a large impact on your score (unless you're removing them from a floor with a victim) and it's often more effective to just accuse several other people to push them past you. It's useful as a delaying tactic to avoid the 10-cube end-game condition.

This game has a huge novelty factor. I've seen cube-towers before in heavier games like Wallenstein, but never before the combination of a multi-story openable tower with audible clues as to where the cubes have ended up. This and Igloo Pop are my own two audio-clue games. Looking at the simple components (8 bottomless cardboard box sections), I was amazed at how well the hotel works as a cube distribution device, particularly when cascades of the already-placed cubes are triggered.

I've found that the game work really well with four as a light filler, almost a party game, but with a certain amount of skill in judging where the cubes have gone and who is likely to be on a particular floor. There's no deep strategy here, but there's much entertainment at the groans when a sure-thing floor with three accusations turns out to be unexpectedly completely empty, or the sudden reversals as a player in the lead is caught leaving traces on the same floor as one of the victims. The re-seeding of clues into the hotel each move does a great job of keeping things dynamic, and the play-time (barely over 20 minutes) definitely makes up for the lightness. A good game to wind down an evening.