Bad news: you’ve just died. But the good news is: the Paranormal Detectives are on the case. If you can tune in to their psychic abilities, you might just be able to tell them what happened!
What Is Paranormal Detectives?
Paranormal Detectives is a mystery party game for 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It retails for $39.99 and is available now directly from Lucky Duck Games, or check with your local game store. The game does involve solving mysterious deaths (many, but not all, are murders); 6 of the story cards involve drugs or sex and are marked with a “Parental Advisory” icon, but even the ones that don’t may still include violence, so parents should use discretion if playing with kids.
Paranormal Detectives Components
Here’s what comes in the box:
- Main board
- 5 Detective screens
- 5 Investigation sheets
- Quill Pen sheet
- Ghost sheet
- 6 Dry-erase pens
- 2 Hangman’s Knot ropes
- 3 Ghost Meter markers (my copy had an extra)
- 10 Wound markers
- 5 Talking Board markers
- 28 Story cards
- 3 Ghost Interaction cards
- 35 Detective Interaction cards (7 per detective)
- 17 Tarot cards
The components represent a mix of different tools the detectives can use to commune with the deceased, and there are a lot of fun details throughout. The main board includes three things that are actually used to provide information: the chalk outline of the body, the Ouija board, and the ghost meter. The rest of it is just ornamentation but helps to create the ambience for the game.
The character portraits were, in my opinion, perhaps the weakest element. Each portrait on its own is pretty good—a cartoony style that would fit in a comic book or animated show. But when you place them side by side, you can see a lot of similarities between two of the women, and between the two men. (And then there’s the one black nun.) Having the shared poses would be more interesting if the characters themselves were a bit more varied, but this just serves to emphasize their similarities. What’s also odd is that the character icons on the cards are from the box cover, not these player screens, so some players were confused at first when trying to find the cards that matched their characters.
The tarot cards aren’t a full deck—there aren’t numbers and suits, but instead it’s a selection of the Major Arcana cards like the Fool, the Wheel of Fortune, and the Chariot. They’re illustrated with yellow on dark blue, and have a nice stylized look that will come into play later.
The investigation sheets, quill pen sheet, and the ghost sheet are all slick cardstock that you can write on with the dry erase pens. The investigation sheet has a table at the top listing the five elements you’re trying to deduce, and then the rest looks like scrap paper for you to take notes as you please. The investigation sheet is in portrait orientation, but the screens are wide, so detectives should just try to keep their eyes on their own work.
The Hangman’s Knot “ropes” are actually two long cords with wires inside, so you can bend them into various shapes—though it’s not easy to do.
The components are of decent quality, but not outstanding. I noticed the main board in my set is a little warped, not so much that it prevents me from playing the game, but enough that it’s noticeable when you place it on the table.
How to Play Paranormal Detectives
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The ghost wins if any detective figures out the five key elements of their death: who, where, why, how, and the weapon. A detective wins by deducing all five elements, or by having the most correct guesses when the game ends.
Choose one player to be the ghost, and the rest of the players are detectives. Each detective takes a screen, an investigation sheet, and a pen, along with the interaction cards marked with their character portrait. At the bottom of the cards is a player count—remove the cards that don’t match your current player count.
The ghost receives the ghost sheet and a pen, the three Ghost Interaction cards, and a randomly drawn story card. Lay out the board and the rest of the components near the center of the table.
The ghost reads the back of the story card carefully—on the left are listed the five key elements (often with multiple words that all qualify as a match), and the right there is text that fleshes out the story of what happened, with the key elements noted by icons. (The top right may have a Parental Advisory stamp for stories that involve sex or drugs.)
At the bottom of the card, there’s a body outline matching the one on the board, along with the gender of the deceased and a brief description. The ghost places wound markers on the board to match the card, and also places a wound marker indicating the gender. Finally, the ghost reads the description of the body shown at the bottom of the card to the detectives.
The detectives take turns playing interaction cards to ask the ghost questions. You must ask questions that are not “yes/no” questions. Each card you play restricts the way that the ghost can answer: some use specific tools like the talking board or tarot cards, and others allow the ghost to point at items in the room, make noises, or pantomime. All answers are given publicly so all the detectives can see the answer, except for “Ghost Touch,” in which the ghost draws an answer on the detective’s back.
Each card may only be used once, and then it’s out of the game.
After each query, the detective may choose to guess the five elements—but you only get two guesses over the course of the game, so don’t waste them!
If you make a guess but you didn’t get all five elements, the ghost secretly writes down on your sheet the number of elements you got correct. This number is also recorded on the ghost sheet, so that the ghost can tell the order that detectives made their guesses and how many elements they got right.
After an incorrect guess, the ghost may also use one of their three interaction cards to provide an additional clue. The trick, though, is that the detectives don’t know which of the five elements the ghost is hinting at!
If any of the detectives guesses all five elements, the game ends and that detective and the ghost win the game.
Otherwise, if the game ends because all of the detectives have run out of cards to play, then the detective who guessed the most elements wins. In the case of a tie for most elements, the detective who was the first to guess that many elements wins. (This is where the ghost sheet is used to compare guesses.)
Why You Should Play Paranormal Detectives
Paranormal Detectives reminds me a little bit of Mysterium, another game in which the deceased is providing information to a team of psychics, but this time the detectives aren’t cooperating—each one wants to be the one to solve the case. I like the various tools at your disposal, and the ways that they challenge the ghost and the detectives to puzzle things out in different ways.
For instance, the ghost meter allows the ghost to put three “sliders” onto the tracks, choosing between things like heavy and light, loud and quiet, old and young. Some of the acting-based cards let the ghost make noises (but no words), pantomime (but only for three seconds!), or mouth a single word: the restrictions make it very challenging to get information across, even if you can figure out a way to be concise.
Some answers are easier to obtain with specific methods, which makes sense. Motive—the “why”—can be tricky to express with a drawing or the ropes, so that’s where something like the talking board might come in handy, because the ghost can spell a word. Well, part of a word: you get five markers, placing them at the groups of letters, and hope that the detectives can unscramble what you were trying to tell them. ONSYT? ASTYN? ESTYT?
As with most games with one person providing clues or answers, there’s a lot riding on that player’s ability to interpret the story and come up with good responses. If the ghost doesn’t put the five key elements into the context of the story, the detectives will have a much harder time discovering the correct answers. Or, if the ghost’s answers are just terrible, nobody will be able to solve anything.
That said, the detectives also need to be smart about how they use their questions. I like that each player has a different mix of cards, representing the detectives’ varying skillsets. I like word puzzles, so I want a detective that can use the talking board. If you like pictorial clues, then you might want somebody who can use the quill pen or hangman’s knot. But it’s also worth thinking about what questions pair well with the type of answers you’re looking for: drawings may be good for the murder weapon, but pantomime might be better for the “how.”
Paranormal Detectives can be quite difficult. Although most of the times I’ve played so far have ended with one player figuring out all the answers, we’ve had at least one failure (with 4 out of 5 correct) and some close calls. The stories vary widely in the way the victim died, and even when you feel like you’ve figured out most of the story, one of the elements might remain elusive.
It’s a clever mix of deduction and a party game—the ghost especially needs to be willing to be a little silly, and even if the subject matter is grim, the question-and-answer process can lead to a lot of laughs. The restrictions on communication reflect the imperfect connection the detectives have with the supernatural, and it works really well.
You can only use each story card once with any given group of detectives, because if you remember a story then you’ll have a huge unfair advantage, but that’s still 28 plays before you need to start looking for more content (which I’m guessing we’ll see eventually if the game does well). And I suppose it’s possible that budding mystery writers could create some of their own stories to use, too!
If you enjoy murder mysteries (with a good dose of silliness), put Paranormal Detectives on your wish list!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.