Should you buy… Scotland Yard?

Scotland Yard Mister X Board Game | The Boarding Kennel | Ravensburger

Board games are a funny old beast. We’ve hit what’s being termed a ‘golden age’ in the past few years, where a flurry of fresh, modern games has pulled in a stream of excited new players like birds being sucked into a jet engine. I got sideswiped by the Game of Thrones board game last year, and every day since I’ve been drawn deeper into the cardboard rabbit hole. The beauty of board games, though, is that there’s also decades-worth of older games which easily hold their own against the new mob. So where do you start? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Scotland Yard.

Scotland Yard is a gloriously simple game which pits a team of up to five police players against the nefarious Mister X, who has outwitted justice and is on the run in this nation’s fair capital. The shady so-and-so is briefly visible at the start of the game before slipping quietly away, with only the mode of transport used to escape revealed to the police team as they attempt to corner their prey.

A game of cat and mouse ensues, with every player taking it in turn to use taxis, buses or the tube in order to close the net around Mister X and bring the ne’er-do-well to book. The master criminal is forced to surface every few turns before disappearing once more, desperately trying to fool his or her pursuers through doubling back, judicious use of limited secret move tokens and occasional trips on the quaint Thames water bus, which for some reason the cops are unwilling to risk.

It’s a satisfying pleasure to watch a team of amateur sleuths poring over Mister X’s potential movements, debating how the police moves should intertwine and desperately arguing for their own plan because they ‘just have a hunch’ where Mister X has fled.

Yes, it’s only a game but the stress of keeping one step ahead of the police team is palpable for the criminal player, despite the advantage of their actual position generally being a secret. Sitting there sweating as the cop team gradually narrows down your location and works to cut off your best escape route, the speedy London Underground, is as nail-biting as the sweetness which comes from a well-timed slip through the net on a Number 8 bus, causing groans from your pursuers as you surface mockingly on the other side of the board. What’s stopping the police players from ascertaining the rough position of Mister X by watching where the criminal player’s eyes fall on the board? Only a griefing VISOR my friend. This was a notable omission from the edition we first road tested, hence this improvisation with a book of Virginia Woolf short stories:

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Scotland Yard won the hugely well-regarded German Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award way back in 1983, and was rebranded as Mister X in 2009 with the chase transferred to mainland Europe. It also won something called Der Goldene Pöppel in 1983/84, and if that doesn’t sell it for you I don’t know what will.

The game is simple but elegant, quick to set up and easily over within an hour, and generally a triumph of asymmetrical game design. It’s fun with friends, can be played while really quite drunk and is exactly the sort of game which should be busted out at Christmas instead of the family groaning and arguing their way through another round of Monopoly. Buy it!

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