Designers: Mandred Burggraf, Dorothy Garrels, Wolf Hoermann, Fritz Ifland, Werner Scheerer and Werner Schlegel
Artist: Erika Binz-Blanke, Rene Habermacher, Franz Vohwinkel, Thomas Weiss, Torsten Wolber, Ugurcan Yuce
Publisher: Ravensburger, Funskool
If there is a classic I need to play but haven’t, it would be Scotland Yard. It has been on my wish list for almost 20 years. This is such an old Spiel des Jahres winner but the premise for the game still seems so intriguing and novel even by today’s standard. Where is Mr X on the map? How can a group of London Scotland Yard detectives narrow the search grid to corner the elusive fugitive? This is an interactive Euro before Euros evolved into its heads-down non interactive form. To my knowledge, there has only been a few other games that uses this mechanism and one of which is Fury of Dracula. I am sure there are others but none as simple or as illustrious as Scotland Yard. That the game is still in print by numerous publisher is a testament of its staying power.
In case you don’t know, Scotland Yard takes place in downtown London which is dotted by different transit routes by taxis, buses, subway and also by riverboats on the Thames. For some unknown reason, Mr. X has been spotted in the city and is trying to escape. He can move around the city transit by taking any of the modes of transport listed above. Taxis moves between city stops and represents the shortest distance between stops. The bus stops are spaced further apart but there are fewer stops available, but if Mr. X takes a bus, he would move a much further distance on the map. The same is true for the Underground where Mr. X would be able to escape to another station even further away if cornered. Finally, there a couple of stop on the Thames where only Mr. X can hitch a boat ride.
The hook here is that the detectives have some information on Mr. X’s movement by the type of transport he uses. As the player moves Mr. X from station to station in secret, he scribbles down the station number in secret but also reveals the tickets he uses to get to the location. Every so often, 4 times times during the game, he must reveal his location after moving. This will tip off the detectives as to his exact whereabouts and from the type of tickets used, figure out the possibilities of his hidden location from subsequent moves. From this information, the detectives will quickly converge around the last known location, hoping to catch him in a particular location and win the game. It’s important to note that the detectives are also limited in their movements as they are supplied with a set number of tickets for each mode of transport. If you use em all, you cannot replenish your supply.
At first glance, the game seems awfully challenging for the detectives especially at low player counts. This is probably true because the detectives need a good coverage to lockdown the possible escape routes. The game recommend each player control more than one detective at low player counts. For me that always feels inferior. However, with at least 4-5 detectives, the game swings against Mr. X especially if the detectives are really good at analyzing and accounting for all the possible hidden movements. This means that Mr. X really needs to know his strengths and also how to best position himself with maximum number of escape routes after his reveal. Without knowing that, I think it’s challenging to play Mr. X.
Yet, Mr. X does get plenty of help. He is the only person that can travel by boat on Thames. He also has at his dispose, 5 black tickets to mask his movement. Instead of using a regular taxi, bus or Underground ticket, Mr. X can use the black tickets to throw off the detectives. These black tickets are crucial and must be used wisely. In addition, Mr. X can also do a double move twice. Move and then move once more. This double move in combination with the black tickets are effective means to obscure movement. Since Mr. X is revealed four times in total, I’d assume the tickets are normally used shortly after each reveal for maximum effect.
I have a feeling the game will play differently depending on the skill level for players, particularly for Mr. X. I think a skillful Mr. X will make for an interesting and challenging game. I am unsure for example, how much of the game depends on a clever Mr. X. If the detectives really hunker down and plot out all the possibilities, I think it is not hard to roughly approximate the location of the fugitive and tightened the search area. So, a clever Mr. X is a must and that probably takes some experience.
Playing Scotland Yard makes me appreciate how interactive the game is. There are no special cards, no super powers or rule breaking moves (except for Mr. X). To play well, the detectives must talk amongst each other to reason out possible paths of escape for Mr. X. No way out of this but to interact. Although the alpha leader issue is not eliminated, the detectives must coordinate movement to ensure there are minimal exit routes for Mr. X. This is definitely a far cry from the modern crop of Euros which value individual boards and personal progress in lieu of player interaction. In some ways, Scotland Yard is a precursor for all the co-ops out there even though technically, this is more an all-against-one type game.
Even though the game has been out for decades, I am sure there is still an audience out there. Perhaps for veteran gamers who now pine for the nostalgia of childhood games or the newbie who received a gift from an uncle or grandma, I think Scotland Yard deserves a second look. If anything, the mechanism is still pretty unique and refreshing given the myriad deck builders and worker placement games in the market. If you are like me and haven’t tried Scotland Yard, you just might be surprised at how well this game has aged.
One word about production quality: don’t get the Funskool edition. I was incredibly disappointed at the extremely poor quality of the game. The punchboards are awful as the sheets are not properly scored and the pieces tear easily when punched. The game board is warped and does not even fold properly along the edges. The graphic quality is ok as not much of the game’s original design has changed. But overall, the production quality is inexcusable. Get the Ravensburger edition.
7 years: Scotland Yard is great and I wanted to involve my child. She understood the basic premise and the movements involved Mr. X. I’m afraid the logic for the detectives movements still elude her as she is just not as interested in sitting around the table hashing out the possibilities. I don’t think at the moment, Scotland Yard is right for her. Perhaps in a year or two. Plus this game isn’t great when your detective counts are low. The game is more fun if you have more detectives on the board. Sure, you can play with 2-3 detectives each person, but I think that takes out most of the fun and is tedious. As it stands, I like the game for my kid, but this isn’t a great game if you have a small family. There are better co-ops out there.