Somebody has stolen an artifact from the museum! Is the culprit still in the museum, and do they have any accomplices? Time to investigate!
What Is Museum Suspects?
Museum Suspects is a deduction game for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It retails for $21.99 and is available in stores and directly from the publisher. The game is kid-friendly but provides enough of a puzzle for older players as well.
Museum Suspects was designed by Phil Walker-Harding and published by Blue Orange, with illustrations by Maxime Sarthou.
Museum Suspects Components
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 24 Suspect tiles
- 1 Emergency Exit tile
- 32 Clue cards (4 cards each in 8 criteria)
- 48 Investigation tokens (12 each in 4 player colors)
- 4 Detective tokens
- 4 Notebooks
- 4 Pencils
The suspect tiles show various animal suspects, and the illustrations are a lot of fun. The characters—foxes, turtles, octopuses, and seagulls—all have expressive faces, and each one is named. Given that there are five options for each criteria (animal, hat, shirt, accessory, and museum room), there are actually 1,024 possible animals, but you don’t actually need that many for the game. (However, if you make up a specific combination and decide to look for it, odds are it won’t be there. Math!)
The clue cards each depict either one of the character traits mentioned above or a position on a grid: row, column, or quadrant. These will be used to eliminate suspects during the game. It’s a good idea to show everyone the cards or have them look carefully at the small clue images printed in the notebook to ensure people don’t make mistakes. For instance, the “turtle” card just shows a close-up of some green skin with spots, and we had one player see that card and assume it was the green museum room card. The cards that indicate locations on the grid are illustrated to look like they’ve been torn from a spiral notebook, indicating which side is up—players should make sure they’ve got those facing the right way, or they’ll eliminate the wrong suspects.
The included pencils are like small golf pencils, but with erasers, and the notebooks are slim notepads that show all of the criteria cards along with an empty grid for your own notes. Each one has 30 pages, and they’re printed on both sides, so you could play 4-player games sixty times before you run out.
The detective tokens come in four colors and are labeled A, B, C, and D, with a matching set of investigation tokens for each color. The investigation tokens have numbers on one side, a colored magnifying glass and footprints on the other. We found that the blue and green tokens were a little hard to distinguish on the back, though it was easier to tell them apart on the number side. One quirk is that you can’t just have everyone pick their favorite color, because each color has a slightly different set of numbers to account for turn order advantage. If you really like blue but there are only 3 players, that’s too bad, I guess.
The whole thing comes in a smallish box with a plastic insert that holds everything just right. (There’s just barely enough room for the pencils and tokens in the well provided, though I suppose it will get roomier as you sharpen the pencils.)
How to Play Museum Suspects
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by placing the highest sum of investigation tokens on the thieves.
Shuffle the suspect tiles and make a 4×4 grid of face-up tiles, returning the rest to the box. Place the emergency exit tile nearby. Separate the clue cards into the 8 different criteria. Shuffle each criteria separately and randomly draw one card from each criteria without looking at them. Return all the unused cards to the box. Then, shuffle the eight selected clue cards and place them along the two sides of the grid, face-down.
Give each player a notebook, pencil, detective token, and investigation tokens. (Make sure to give A to the first player, B to the second player, and so on.) The investigation tokens should be turned face-down so other players cannot see the numbers (but you can look at your own).
On your turn, you must first investigate a clue, and then suggest a suspect.
To investigate a clue, you must have a token equal to or higher than the highest token currently on the card. Look at the card secretly and mark it in your notebook. Each card serves as an alibi and any suspect that matches the card is innocent. Use the grid at the bottom of your page to cross out suspects that match the card. Then, return the card and put one of your tokens that is the same or higher than the other tokens on the card, face-up so that other players can see the number. (If none of your tokens are high enough to pay for any of the remaining cards that you haven’t seen already, then you skip the investigation.)
To suggest a suspect, place an investigation token face-down on any of the suspect tiles. Or, if you think all of the suspects are innocent, you may place a token on the emergency exit tile instead.
The game ends after 6 rounds. In most cases, everyone will be out of tokens at this point.
One by one, reveal the clue cards. As each clue card is revealed, flip any matching suspects face-down and remove any tokens on them. Once all the clue cards have been revealed, you may have:
- one suspect remaining—it’s the thief!
- multiple suspects remaining—they’re all thieves working together!
- no suspects remaining—the thief escaped!
You reveal any tokens on the remaining suspects (or the emergency exit if the thief escaped). Players add up all of their tokens, plus 1 point per suspect they suggested if there were multiple suspects. The highest score wins! (If nobody had tokens on the correct answer, nobody wins.)
Museum Suspects is a 2022 GeekDad Game of the Year Finalist!
Why You Should Play Museum Suspects
Museum Suspects is a little bit like Clue (clue cards eliminate suspects) and a little bit like Guess Who? (suspects have shared characteristics), but with its own spin that takes it in a new direction.
I’ve always enjoyed deduction games—despite the sometimes frustrating roll-and-move aspects of Clue, it’s still a solid introduction to deduction and the process of elimination. I like games that have puzzles to solve, clues to interpret, whittling down a large list of suspects until you find the culprit. The Guess Who?–style suspect list is certainly a handy way to start with a big group of possibilities (rather than a short list of specific individuals, as in Clue), and has been used to great effect in games like 5-Minute Mystery. It gets kids thinking about which characteristics are shared or not, and there’s just something satisfying about being able to cross a bunch of them off the list with one good clue.
Where Museum Suspects really changes things up from your typical whodunnit game is the fact that there can be multiple culprits or no culprits at all. Because the alibi cards are randomly drawn from the various criteria—and because the mix of suspects used is also randomized each game—there’s no guarantee that you’ll have exactly one suspect left once everything is revealed. That uncertainty about the number of solutions adds to the challenge: do you double down on a suspect so that you’ll get more points if you’re right? Or do you spread out your accusations among several suspects to cover your bases? (And don’t forget to put a vote on the exit if you think there are no thieves in the building!)
The one other game that I’ve played that has a similar uncertainty is Sherlock Express, in which players flip alibi cards (hats, accessories, backgrounds, animals) and then try to slap the correct suspect card quickly. In that one, you always wait until there is at most one suspect so you never have multiples, but there is a central card to slap if a card eliminates all of the remaining suspects. It has a similar flavor, but that one’s a quick-reaction game (which my kids didn’t enjoy quite as much) and has fewer criteria and therefore more overlaps.
There are eight different criteria in Museum Suspects, but since the game lasts six rounds, nobody will ever get the full picture until the game ends and all the cards are revealed. You can try to figure out what cards other players may have seen based on their votes, but so far none of my gaming group has really come up with a great system for that. Presumably everyone’s votes are getting more and more accurate as the game continues, so later votes should be more useful to you than the earlier ones, which are just stabs in the dark. I did come up with my own notation system for tracking who looked at which cards and what they voted for … but I’m not sure it’s actually helping me interpret things any better! I like the challenge of trying to figure out what the other players are doing. You can also bluff with your votes—maybe put a low value token on a character you know is innocent, in the hopes of drawing some votes from other players? Just remember that you only get six votes total, though.
Another wrinkle is the way that you have to pay for the clue cards that you look at. If you find a clue that eliminates a lot of suspects all at once—say it’s a turtle and you happen to have a lot of turtle suspects on the board this time—you could put a high value token on it, forcing anyone else to spend a lot to look at it. That cuts down on the total number of points they’ll have to spend on suspect votes (but it costs you, too.) Of course, you could also bluff here as well: if you put a low value, does it mean the card isn’t worth looking at? Do you put a high value on a card that didn’t really help, in the hopes of some other players wasting their time?
Choosing how to budget your investigation tokens is part of the strategy. It seems obvious to me that you’d want to save your few “6” tokens for your last couple of guesses because they’re worth more points if you’re correct, but maybe you could use them to raise the price on a clue card instead? I also personally try to use most of my higher value tokens as votes as much as possible, saving some to pay for clue cards, but that only works if other players don’t raise the price too much either.
I’ve played Museum Suspects several times with my 9-year-old as well as with some adult friends and we’ve all had fun with it; it’s a game that works well with a mixed group, partly because there’s a bit of luck involved in the early votes. Older players may enjoy the bluffing aspects a bit more, while younger players are more likely to just play it straight. I’m giving it our GeekDad seal of approval, because I think it’s an excellent entry in the deduction genre with some fresh ideas!
For more information or to order a copy, visit the Blue Orange website!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.