As long as I can remember, I have been a fan of mysteries. Growing up, I was always the kid begging to play Clue when board game nights rolled around and spending countless hours with HER Interactive’s Nancy Drew PC games. Naturally, when the opportunity to review Agatha Christie’s Death on the Cards arose, I jumped at it.
Agatha Christie’s Death on the Cards
Designed by Dr. Thomas Rawlings
December 20, 2019
Sidequest was provided with a copy of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Cards in exchange for a fair and honest review.
As one of the bestselling authors of all time, Agatha Christie’s works have been adapted into movies, television shows, a series of video games for PlayStation, Xbox, Wii, and PC, and even a board game, though Death on the Cards is the first Christie-themed card game. Published by Modiphius Entertainment, Agatha Christie’s Death on the Cards is, as the name implies, a card game with a twist. It’s designed for 2-6 players aged 10 and up, and the deck consists of 80 illustrated cards which are divided among character, event, secret, and “Not So Fast!” cards. The final card, the “Murderer Escapes!” card, is placed at the bottom of the draw pile. The goal of Death on the Cards is to discover the murderer among the players before the cards run out and the murderer escapes. The game begins with the player whose birthday is closest to Dame Agatha Christie’s (September 15, if you were wondering).
Death on the Cards is incredibly simple to set up—each player begins the game with three secret cards and five mechanic cards, which could be any mix of detectives, events, and Not So Fast! cards. Each turn, players can play an event card or a set of detective cards and may discard and draw as many cards as they like at the end of their turn. The quick play-discard-draw cycle makes for a pretty fast-paced game, even with four people, though it doesn’t inspire chaos or require a lot of strategy.
Central to the “hidden traitor” element is a murderer card, which is shuffled into one of the players’ secret cards. Players work cooperatively to puzzle out the murderer and uncover the other players’ secrets. Uncovering all of a player’s secrets, if they aren’t the murderer, plunges them into social disgrace and renders them unable to continue their investigation. Though nobody fell into disgrace during our game, I found this concept utterly delightful. The art and flavor text on the cards was also highly enjoyable, capturing the whimsical undertones often present in Christie’s stories.
Character cards, based on Agatha Christie’s detectives, are what help players to uncover other players’ secrets. In sets, they allow players to take special actions and investigate further. Though I enjoyed seeing these characters (which include less-known detectives Tommy and Tuppence Beresford) it was difficult to collect enough detectives to make a full set; only one player was able to achieve it during our game.
The detective cards were just one of the mechanics we didn’t really use throughout the game. Some of the other event cards (like a card that initiated a card swap and one that delayed the murderer’s escape) never felt necessary to use. Because there isn’t a ton of variety in the mechanic cards, there was a high chance you’d just end up with a card you were already holding in your hand. For this reason, none of us felt as though we needed to extend the length of the game, either. Death on the Cards also has a setup mechanic where three cards are placed face-up next to the draw pile. Again, this was a mechanic we never used because the cards weren’t particularly engaging. As a result, the gameplay was quick but not quite varied enough to hold the interest of four twenty-somethings.
The Not So Fast! cards were the one mechanic card that ended up playing a big part in our game. Unlike other cards, which have to be played in turn, Not So Fast! cards can be played after any action. When played, they cancel out a previous player’s action, which is a handy card if you aren’t ready to reveal one of your secrets. Since players can play them at any time and they stack, this eventually turned into three players throwing down Not So Fast! cards with increasing volume and excitement. For a fleeting moment, our game turned into the Spider-Man pointing meme, which was extremely funny.
I think that if I was closer to 10 than I am to 30, I would have found this game an utter delight. However, with three other adults, the game got repetitive rather quickly. I would have liked to see more varied art and mechanics on the cards, which I think would make Death on the Cards feel more balanced for any age group.
However, this isn’t to say there’s nothing good about the game—I think it’s perfect for elementary-age kids, especially ones who enjoy reading and mysteries. It’s a game that parents or other adults could pick up and play with a child with relatively little fuss, and simple enough that I don’t think kids would have much trouble playing amongst themselves. Plus, it comes with aid cards that clearly delineate the steps of a turn.
Parents may also enjoy that it moves quickly and doesn’t require a laborious setup. I remember games of Clue seemingly lasting hours as a kid, which almost certainly won’t happen with Death on the Cards. The cards and instructions fit neatly into a 4×6 inch box, making it easy to tuck into a backpack or even a purse.
Though the gameplay may not be varied and chaotic enough for a bunch of adults to play, Agatha Christie’s Death on the Cards would be perfect if you need to entertain a kid for half an hour or so. Young mystery fans will likely enjoy the fast-paced play and whodunnit aspect of the game, while parents and Agatha Christie enthusiasts will likely enjoy the nods to the Queen of Crime’s characters and stories in the rules and cards. I think it would have been easy to create a game that focused solely on Hercule Poirot, Christie’s most well-known detective, but Death on the Cards goes out of its way to embrace Christie’s extensive body of work and include lesser-known recurring characters. Ultimately, it was this attention to detail that made the game enjoyable to play and something I would share with young mystery fans.
Madison Butler is Sidequest’s self-proclaimed jock editor. She co-founded the blog Critsumption and once got really into powerlifting via Fitness Boxing for the Nintendo Switch. She tweets at @_maddilo.