Educational gaming’s most elusive thief is at it again! Carmen Sandiego and her gallery of rogues are stealing some of the world’s biggest landmarks, and it’s up to you gumshoes to throw them all in jail. Two-to-four players take part in this competitive deduction game where you’ll arrest members of her crew while aiming to be the one who wins the game by arresting Carmen herself. Can you track her down before she slips away again?
Making up the game’s components are a die, a deck of cards, a set of dry-erase note cards, and dry-erase markers. There are three types of cards; one for villains, one for loot, and one for locations. Players will get a set of each placed face-down in front of them, and a single set of cards is placed in the middle. Unused cards are then placed aside and will act as the draw pile.
On your turn, you will roll the die with sides that correspond to each card type. For example, if you roll locations, you can see a location card in your tableau. At this point, you will want to make notes on what’s in front of you, as this information will be key. After seeing all of a type in your hand, you can then view cards of that type in other people’s hands, making note of what they have as well.
Your immediate goal is to issue an arrest warrant. By correctly identifying a matching location and loot (for example, New York and the Statue of Liberty’s torch), you can then arrest a villain and remove all of those cards from the game. You also have the ability to swap one card from your tableau and replace with one from the hand at the centre of the table. If you’re able to get a matching loot/location set of cards in the middle hand, and successfully identify where Carmen is, you win! However, if she’s accidentally pinned on a crime that isn’t in the centre table, everyone loses!
It’s essentially a memory game with a few neat wrinkles. You’re always engaged with the game, as you’re constantly adding and removing notes from your card as the landscape changes. Make sure you take great notes, as not knowing where certain cards have moved can cost you the game. I also liked the process of eliminating smaller criminals from the game. If you can finagle your way into getting a matching loot/location pair in the centre, you’re golden. But doing so can be really difficult until the options start to dwindle.
As a kids game, I think it’s a pretty neat concept that works well for the most part. However, we ran into a few game-breaking quirks in its design that did put a damper on things. Though the likelihood of getting a starting spread with no matching cards is slim, it happened to us on our first game. The only way out of it was for someone to issue a false warrant, causing the cards to be shaken up a bit and giving the next player an advantage.
We also ran into another game-ending quirk right at the end of the game. With only two mismatched pairs left – two cards in one player’s hand and two in the middle – I realized that we’d essentially hit a stalemate. If I decided to swap the cards, my opponent would win. But if I did that, there were no more matches to make and everyone would lose. Both of these outcomes seemed like they wouldn’t happen that often, but they did happen when we played.
I do take issue with a few of the game’s design holes, but when it does work, it’s a neat deduction game that encourages observation and good note-taking. For families with kids, it’s a nice diversion that will flex your brain muscles a bit while maybe having a few opportunities to talk about the locations and landmarks featured on the cards. Otherwise, you can probably scratch that deduction itch with something a little more age appropriate and without the game design flaws.
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