- Please note that Chronicles of Crime is an interactive deduction game that could be seriously compromised by spoilers. This is a spoiler-free review, and whilst I have used two pictures from early scenes in the game, neither of these scenes require a puzzle’s solution to reach, so any player will see them immediately upon beginning a mission. I will not provide any detail about the cases that could constitute a spoiler within the review text.
If you’re a fan of cooperative investigation games like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (which was one of the first tabletop games we reviewed at Big Boss Battle) then Chronicles of Crime is likely to blow you away. With the only things included in the box constituting a few decks of cards, a central board and a few location cards, more than fifty percent of the game is delivered via a mobile (phone or tablet) application. App-driven games aren’t new, as such, but Chronicles of Crime uses QR codes and augmented reality (AR) in ways that are fairly unique and highly engaging.
Overview and turn structure
Chronicles of Crime is essentially a whodunnit simulator, for lack of a better description. One or more players (it doesn’t really matter how many, but I’ve tested it at one, two and three) can enjoy it by sharing a single mobile device as and when needed. The board is set out on the table between the players and the app provides them with an opening scene — usually a meeting with one of the two or three police chiefs who feature in the game. The location is represented by a large, fairly thick card that is placed beside the board, whilst each of the people in Chronicles’ stylised vision of London is presented on a standard-sized card.
Every location and every character, as well as the deck of smaller items of interest cards, has its own QR code and these QR codes work differently from one mission to another. For example, a card used in the first mission as a victim might later be used as a witness or as the murderer, depending on how the mission is scripted. I’m unsure if some of the setup for each mission is randomised, although I think that it would be technically possible in some missions, but not others. The latter examples are those featuring an AR scene that clearly shows faces, objects or areas of interest that must clearly match one of the cards to maintain continuity.
On the subject of AR, there are a couple of interesting ways Chronicles uses its app to enrich the traditional experience. For starters, when you scan one of the characters in their current location, that character will engage in conversation — this may result in the option to ask questions about objects, people or locations (which again, you achieve by scanning them). Some characters know more or less than others and much like Consulting Detective does, Chronicles provides you with a team of experts (forensics etc.) to provide support if you feel you’ve been stumped at any point.
Moving around the game world by scanning the locations you’ve unlocked or speaking to people in the world of Chronicles all takes time, which is represented in the top corner of the app screen. This, essentially, acts as the turn timer for the game — with different actions or movements taking up different amounts of time. Player(s) are scored based on how quickly (and of course how comprehensively) they solve each case. Whilst it hasn’t happened to me, I expect it’s possible for time to run out before the player is able to solve a case.
When it comes to actually solving cases in Chronicles, the player(s) are free to take their findings to the police chief more or less whenever they want, however there will always be several questions to answer, which all affect scoring. You’ll generally need to understand why a person was murdered, by whom and using what — all of which involve scanning the relevant cards in response to questions. Wrong answers or a failure to answer could result in a worse score or a failed case (which did happen to me). Since it’s either a solo or cooperative experience that essentially has an unlimited player count, all players either win or lose simultaneously in Chronicles.
Thanks to the non-traditional structure of Chronicles, there’s probably a bit more to say here than usual. Firstly, let’s talk about what actually comes in the box — I’m referring to the base game and the optional AR glasses only, here, but I should also mention that there are already a number of additional expansions available for Chronicles. Each expansion adds new elements to the app, as well as new locations, characters and objects of interest to the decks of cards. On that note, the base game’s box that feels a little empty at first, but that’s simply because the high-quality plastic insert is equipped to receive expansion content from the outset.
If you buy only the base game, you will receive a board, an instruction manual and the character and object-of-interest decks of cards I’ve mentioned a few times now, as well as a set of glasses that hook nicely onto a mobile phone to provide an immersive virtual-reality experience. All of these components are undoubtedly of a high quality, with the card stock thick and smooth in the hand and the board well laid out and clear. The manual is fine, but in all honesty I didn’t need to use it to learn the game — I simply booted up the app and dived straight into the included tutorial.
Before I move to the app itself, I’d like to comment on the artwork, which is consistent between physical and digital components and overall, is very nicely done.
The app is where you’ll spend a lot of your time and unlike in a lot of digitally enhanced board games, this isn’t an unnecessary companion app that adds a little extra — it’s as fundamental as any other component. Broadly speaking, the app is split into two or three sections — summary screens that show the current time and location, then interview or discussion screens that show the character you’re talking to, then the actual AR sections themselves. In the case of the latter (which is the most exciting bit of the game), you can choose to either use the glasses or not. In either case you will have about a minute to explore a three-dimensional landscape, then scan clues from the deck of objects-of-interest cards to check if what you saw was a match. Wasted guesses, unsurprisingly, cost time.
The AR sections are static in that you can’t actually walk around within them, but they are visually impressive when used with the glasses and the visuals are impressively detailed. Outside these scenes, the app feels relatively sedate, both figuratively and literally, since there’s no movement and the interviews themselves are usually fairly brief, without reams and reams of text to wade through. As a result, I can’t say that the script in Chronicles is amazing, since each scenario is so brief and the amount of text rarely expands beyond pointed details. There’s an upside to that when multiple players are involved, though, because it’s very easy for one player to deliver whatever message they’ve received in maybe five or ten seconds. The main thing is that the app is really easy to use and works flawlessly, at least on my iPhone 6 (which is hardly state of the art).
On a slight downside, the base game of Chronicles only comes with three scenarios in it, each of which weighs in at about an hour or so of gameplay. The AR glasses do come with an additional bundled scenario, which makes four in total. I did find this slightly confusing in the app if I’m honest, since there are two or three scenarios that seem to direct me to locations I don’t have. These aren’t marked in any way, so going into them left me feeling a bit confused, since I had no reason to believe that they were part of an expansion.
I think it would be useful if the app could be updated to let players select which physical-expansion content they have, similar to how some of the Fantasy Flight Games do. There is also some purchasable (or unlockable) DLC that may or may not need additional physical components, but at least you can’t start one of those up without buying it first. It’s worth bearing in mind that the base game of Chronicles is less than thirty pounds, whilst the AR goggles are around ten, which is pretty cheap for what you get.
As a concept, I absolutely love the use of applications to drive and enhance board games, especially when they maintain the heart of what makes board games good fun — the focus on what is happening around the table, and not what happens in the app. Chronicles leans more strongly towards the app than some games, but it does so in interesting ways that integrate fully with the components on the table and the conversation around it. I don’t think the cases in the base game are overwhelmingly tough (even the hardest), but I do love the fact that all of them prompt discussion and interest in almost anyone, whether or not that person enjoys board games.
In the more elaborate last case (and undoubtedly in some of the expansions) the board will be quite full with different clues, locations and people. With all of the AR scenes explored, the players will shift focus to the table and form their case from the pieces laid out, discussing and arguing about different theories. For the solo player, the tableau created in Chronicles makes for a good-looking, well-laid-out puzzle and the timing mechanic kind of forces players to study the offline elements just as much as those within the app. It sometimes makes sense to phone one of the specialists or visit a witness to check that clue you’ve just found, but when time is short you’ll really need to think about whether it is worth it or not.
I do think that I’d like to see more content in the base game, although considering the price point and how slick the delivery is, this is really less of a complaint and more the idea that I’d be willing to pay more to get more. And in fact, I will — I’ll be buying the expansions for Chronicles without a shadow of doubt, which I think says a lot about how much I like it. I’ve played cases both solo and with friends and since I had already completed the cases on a couple of occasions, I was able to observe my friends enjoying the game just as much as I do, so I feel that Chronicles has that rarest of things — mass appeal.
Given its low price point, exceptional presentation and ability to bridge the gap between analogue and digital gaming with minimal fuss, Chronicles is a very interesting prospect. I also love the fact that it can be expanded to a considerable extent in terms of gameplay by adding relatively few physical components, which is a huge boost to the chances of it being expanded further. Given that the app is promising two whole new campaigns, it seems certain that Lucky Duck Games will keep supporting Chronicles for as long as people remain interested in playing it, which is also great news.
Currently, I can’t think of another game that integrates digital and analogue content in as smart or enjoyable a way as Chronicles of Crime does. The Christmas period is when board games are traditionally purchased by friends and family for others on a whim — if you’re in the position of considering what game might make a good purchase for someone who isn’t necessarily a hardcore gamer, Chronicles is high on the list of games I’d consider. Similarly, if you’re looking for an expandable and versatile game to play solo or in a group, then it’s just as good a choice.
A copy of Chronicles of Crime was provided for review purposes. You can find out more about it on the website of publisher Lucky Duck Games.