|Interaction||Components & Design|
Most games easily fall into genres. There is worker placement games, deck building games, memory games and a whole bunch of others. Games may not fall cleanly into one genre or the other, but you can generally describe them in terms of which ones they touch. Worker placement game with memory elements, for example. Some games create a genre, or at least make it popular with a wide audience, like Dominion did for non-collectible deck building games. But some games just don’t fall into any traditional genre and you can tell they are not going to launch a new genre, either. Not because they are bad games, but just because you can’t see how another game would follow in their footsteps. The right word to describe those games might be quirky.
Just about everything about Mord im Arosa – there is no official English title, but it’s Murder at the Arosa – can only be described as quirky in many ways: the completely non-standard box, the unique mechanics, the illustrations. However, the setting of the game is more serious than quirky: two murders have happened at the hotel Arosa. But that is where the quirky sets in again already: the goal of the game is not to identify the murder but to be the one looking least suspicious in the end, and to do that, you just have to avoid making any noise inside the hotel.
Noise means literal noise here. Not some abstract measure of noise like cards that have “noise points” or anything like that; the basic mechanics of Mord im Arosa revolve around real sound emanating from the hotel. If you’re wondering now how sound coming from the game board works, you’re thinking too two-dimensional. Mord im Arosa does not employ a game board as much as a game tower: each of the seven floors of the Arosa is a box made of sturdy paper, open at the bottom and with a square cut out at the top. Each floor is slightly smaller than the one below it, so the whole mystery tower looks like a steep pyramid when stacked up. The holes in the top of each box line up to a long, narrow shaft from the roof of the hotel all the way to the bottom.Everything you do in Mord im Arosa somehow involves dropping something down that shaft. And to get a murder mystery going, the first thing you need is a murder, so the first thing to go down the shaft is the victims. The two red victim cubes are dropped down the shaft, and the first part of the game is finding them. We know there has been two murders, but we don’t have the bodies yet – it’s not the traditional crime story, but I’m sure I’ve seen weirder things on CSI. In order to find a victim, all you do is announce which floor you’re checking on and then remove the part of the Arosa above that floor and see if the victim is there. If it is, the red cube comes out and goes to the investigation sheet. On the other hand, if the victim isn’t there all you did was leave a clue that points to you as the murderer. After putting the tower back together, you drop one of the 20 cubes in your colour down the shaft. If you stumble upon another player’s clues in the tower, for now all you do is drop them back in. If, however, you find them on the same floor as one of the victims, they start to look a wee bit suspicious; for every cube at the crime scene, the owner has to put one cube on the investigation sheet, then all the clues go back down the shaft. You get a pretty good idea about how the investigations are going to be already: all clues pointing to the player who found the victim conveniently disappear back down the shaft without leaving any sign on the investigation sheet.
After both victims are found, the investigations start. When it’s your turn, you either look for clues leading to another player or you try to cover your own tracks. To look for clues, you announce which floor you’re looking on and who you are suspecting. You can suspect any number of players in one turn, but you can only check one floor. Every player that was suspected has to place one cube on the investigation sheet for each of their cubes found at that floor. But take care not to suspect anyone that didn’t leave clues at that floor. That kind of sloppy investigation looks pretty suspicious and will get you noticed: for every player you suspected but didn’t find any clues, you drop one of your own clue cubes down the shaft together with everything you just found.
When trying to cover your tracks, you check for clues pointing towards you on a floor where such clues were already found (where you have cubes on the investigation sheet). For each of your own cubes you find, you may remove one cube on that floor of the investigation sheet. The cube from the tower still goes back in, there is no way to remove clues from the tower once they are in. If you didn’t find any of your cubes when trying to cover your tracks, you only made everything worse and put one more cube down the shaft.
The game ends when one player has ten cubes on the investigation sheet or does not have enough cubes to throw down the shaft when he has to. Now points are awarded for each cube on the investigation sheet: three if it’s at a crime scene, two if on a neighbouring floor and one anywhere else in the hotel. The player with the most points is arrested for double homicide while the player with the least points wins for either being more innocent or more of a sneaky bastard than everyone else.
The main point of Mord im Arosa is listening for where the clues land when they are dropped down the shaft, meaning that you want to play it in a more quiet environment – this is not a game to try out at a pub, as we learned. With little background noise, this works much better than we initially thought, and after a few rounds of practice you can tell where the clue went with some accuracy.There is still some luck involved since cubes may jostle others that were in the tower already further down and the sound of each floor does change slightly with the number of cubes there.
With two or three players, the tower feels a bit empty and the game is just not as much fun, but with five or six there is a lot more going on and Mord im Arosa becomes a bit of a memory game as well: after five people dropped down something between three and seven cubes each – our top result was thirteen cubes on one floor, which must be the equivalent of writing your name on the wall with finger paint after killing someone – you will be hard-pressed to remember how many of them you thought landed on the fifth floor and who is safe to suspect there.
Mord im Arosa is, as you can probably tell by now, not an incredibly deep game – except in a purely spatial sense. There is not a lot of strategy besides deciding if it’s better to suspect someone and award them points or cover your tracks to get rid of yours.There is also a tendency to punish players who fare badly early on – once you have a few more clues in the tower than everybody else, picking on you is just the safest option since the chances to find clues pointing towards you are higher. There is not much you can do when you find yourself in that situation since you can never remove clues from the tower. So don’t play badly early on.
None of this makes Mord im Arosa a bad game by any means. As a fun little filler game it’s a decent choice for any gamer that doesn’t take their hobby deadly serious, and playing something that is so completely different from other games is a great distraction on a long gaming night. For playing with your family it’s a fine choice as well – kids will love the unique mechanics and there is no advantage for more experienced boardgamers, so you can play without worrying about giving the young ones a fighting chance. If anything, I wonder why the recommended age of 10 years isn’t lower – maybe younger kids don’t have their hands steady enough to lift the hotel without spilling all the cubes, or the subject matter was just considered inappropriate at that age. Or maybe it’s just about the hooker on the ground floor.
Said hooker is only one of a plethora of shady figures populating the Arosa. The illustrations by Tobias Schweiger invoke the atmosphere of a seedy hotel that you really wouldn’t want to stay at in a cartoony, over-the-top way that goes well with the overall quirkiness. The game is also very well made and should provide the necessary stability to build the tower for a long time.
I know there is people out there that consider playing games serious business under all circumstances. You will hate Mord im Arosa because one thing it isn’t is serious. Everyone else will find a game that challenges skills completely outside of those you have been practising for years with other games. It won’t keep serious gamers entertained all evening, but it’s a good change of pace between two long and heavy games, like doing some yoga in between your weight lifting training. You may however want to avoid playing this game with professional musicians and people with bat DNA – both groups will know exactly what is going on inside the mystery tower and will consequently wipe the floor with you.