Why does Terence have several passports? What’s the significance of Helen’s necklace? Is Carlo’s restaurant engaged in something shifty? Each character in this game has 3 Secrets—can you figure them out?
What Is 3 Secrets?
3 Secrets and 3 Secrets: Crime Time are cooperative puzzle-solving games for 2 to 8 players, ages 14 and up, and each takes about 15 minutes to play one scenario. They retail for €10.90 (about $12USD), and can be ordered directly from the publisher dv Giochi, or ask at your local game store. While the gameplay is similar to 20 Questions and is easy to learn, the theme and content—which can be gruesome or disturbing—is best for teens and up.
3 Secrets Components
Each of the 3 Secrets game boxes comes with 50 large cards (about 3.5″ x 4.5″) and a rulebook in a small box. You’ll also need a timer of some sort, though I highly recommend using the free 3 Secrets app because of the particular way the timer is used.
Each card has an illustration on the front that shows some sort of scene; each scene is in black and white, except for three items that are highlighted in a color. (The color itself corresponds to the difficulty level of the puzzle: from easiest to hardest, the colors are green, yellow, orange, red, teal, blue, purple.) There’s also a name at the bottom of the card.
On the back of the card is the dossier: a thumbnail of the illustration with the name, a short story about the character, and then a list of the three secrets, each paired with a clue (and a thumbnail of the associated colored item from the illustration). In the Crime Time version of the game, the back is designed to look like a computer interface of some sort, with a mouse arrow, USB ports, and scroll bars. Thematically, Crime Time involves time travel and this is your supercomputer, but the games are functionally identical otherwise.
How to Play 3 Secrets
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to work together to figure out a character’s 3 secrets before your time runs out.
Choose a player to be the “undercover agent.” This player knows the story, but can only communicate with the rest of the team in very limited ways. The rest of the players are detectives.
Choose a card from the deck; be careful not to let anyone see the back side (with the information). The undercover agent reads the back of the card (and can refer to it at any time). The rest of the players may only look at the illustration side of the card.
Set a timer for 5 minutes.
The detectives ask the undercover agent “yes or no” questions about the scene. The undercover agent may only respond with “yes,” “no,” “not exactly,” or “irrelevant.” The undercover agent should try to answer truthfully, while guiding their team toward the secret as much as possible.
Each secret has a clue associated with it. If the undercover agent feels that a clue may be helpful, they may read the clue out loud, but this uses half of the remaining time!
If a secret is guessed, the undercover agent indicates that the secret was found, and starts a new timer for 5 minutes.
If the timer runs out before a secret is guessed, the undercover agent reads one secret of their choice out loud, and starts a new timer for 5 minutes.
The game ends when all three secrets have been revealed (whether by the detectives or the undercover agent). Your team’s score is based on how many secrets the detectives guessed:
- 0 stars: The criminal got away, and the agent’s cover is blown!
- 1 star: The criminal escaped!
- 2 stars: The criminal is arrested after a lengthy manhunt.
- 3 stars: The criminal is captured without incident.
The 3 Secrets app has buttons for using clues or guessing a secret, automatically halving the time appropriately or giving you a few seconds to read a secret when the timer runs out before starting up another 5-minute timer. It also has a list of the characters and keeps a record of how many stars you earned and how much time was used.
If you don’t have the app, you can use a 10-minute timer for the entire game; every 3 minutes, the undercover agent may read one clue out loud. The timing is a little bit different, but the core gameplay is the same.
You can also play with two teams of detectives using the app; the competitive rules were provided with Crime Time but may be used with the original set as well. One player still plays as the undercover agent (or HAL the supercomputer, in the Crime Time version); the rest of the players split into two teams.
Teams take turns asking questions, and may consult with each other about what to ask. The agent indicates which team earns a star based on which team guesses a secret. If one team is too slow asking a question (or is intentionally stalling), the agent may end their turn and pass to the next team. The agent/HAL wants all three secrets to be guessed if possible. If one team guesses two of the secrets, they win. If time runs out, the team with more stars win.
Why You Should Play 3 Secrets
First, you should know that the secrets in 3 Secrets aren’t like “I cheated on a math test” or “I called in sick to work so I could go see a movie.” Many of these secrets involve actual crimes: theft, murder, prison breaks, and so on. If your gaming group prefers happy endings to true crime, then this may not be a good fit for you. However, if you don’t mind dipping your toe in the river of human depravity, then this one might be right up your dark, creepy alley.
I’ll admit that the premise is a bit silly: why it’d be okay for a team of detectives to question an undercover agent but only get “yes” and “no” responses seems a bit odd, and I’ll be surprised if we’re still using USB-A cords when time machines are finally invented. But that’s not really the point: it’s just an excuse to play a specialized version of 20 Questions with a criminal flavor, and the game itself is a lot of fun.
I’ve played through a bunch of the cards in both sets with a gaming group that’s a mix of adults and kids as young as 12; when I first introduced the game, I figured it would make a nice filler before we broke out a longer game, but we ended up just playing several in a row. First, everyone wanted a turn to be the undercover agent, but then we just didn’t want to quit. I’ve played dozens of times since bringing the games back from Gen Con this summer. The one caveat I’ll give is that if you let kids play as the undercover agents, then you don’t have an adult previewing the secrets to check if it’s age-appropriate. Some you can kind of tell by the illustrations, but we’ve run into some that went in a really dark direction that we hadn’t anticipated, so be aware of that.
The three secrets on each card may not always be directly related to each other, which can make things tricky. The highlighted items are also not always specific. For instance, if a hat is highlighted in color, it may be because that particular hat is somehow tied to the secret, or it might be that the person is in disguise (and the particular hat isn’t important), or it might be that they got a bad haircut and are covering it up.
As far as the difficulty level goes, what I found from playing several cards from different color groups is that what makes the harder ones hard isn’t necessarily the type of secrets you’re trying to guess, but how direct the clues are. On the green cards, the clues are pretty straightforward and will point you in the right direction for guessing the secrets. On the purple cards, the clues are a lot more oblique, so they give you a hint but you have to figure out what exactly they mean. So the difficulty level is mostly applicable if you’re relying on the clues, which we don’t always do.
Being the undercover agent can be really tricky: since your responses are limited, you have to figure out when a “not exactly” will encourage your team to keep getting closer to a secret, or when it might just lead them down a wild goose chase. Knowing when to say “that’s irrelevant” is very important, as it can cut off inquiry in the wrong direction… but only if the detectives take the hint! And, of course, it’s important for the undercover agent to study the story and really know it well, because 3 Secrets doesn’t work if that player is answering incorrectly.
The original 3 Secrets is set in modern day; the Crime Time version takes place in a variety of times and places (including just a few that appear to be set in the future). Although there are some that look like they may be inspired by real figures (a woman on a movie set named Marilyn, a helmeted warrior named Spartacus), it seems like any connection to those actual figures is pretty tenuous, so you’re not trying to figure out a story that somebody may simply know because of history. My kids generally preferred the original version because they found it difficult to try to figure out different cultures (particularly those set in ancient times). I also felt some of the Crime Time cards relied on stereotypes of different cultures, so that’s something of a drawback.
We all preferred the cooperative mode to the team mode, though if you need a bit of competition you could give it a try. Usually when we play, the questions are coming rapid-fire, and it’s hard to imagine teams taking turns—not only asking questions, but talking to each other to discuss what question to ask. Time’s ticking, folks! Gotta catch that criminal!
Despite the occasional card that’s especially grisly or prurient, we’ve had a lot of fun trying to suss out the secrets. It’s a simple concept when it comes to the game rules, but the game itself is a pack of 50 whodunits to solve. Each character can only be played once (at least by any given set of detectives), but that’s still a lot of gameplay for a low price. If your gaming group wants a crack at being detectives, I recommend giving 3 Secrets a try!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.