Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/10/09/tabletop-review-a-taste-for-murder/
One of my all time favorite board games is Clue. The fun in using different tactics to try and deduce the killer, location, and weapon in a grisly murder is something I can never get enough of. Interestingly enough, the film adaptation of that game is one of my favorite movies. If you haven’t seen it, do so now. You won’t regret it.
I mention this because the description of A Taste For Murder instantly reminded me of the classic board game. It involves a character getting murdered, and various characters going around trying to figure out who the culprit is. Of course, as I would discover upon reading the book, there is a lot more to it than that.
A game of ATFM is meant to be a one off game that you play to have some fun. Once the killer has been caught, the game is over. There is no combat, leveling, stats, or overly complex mechanics to get in your way. There are, however, a loose set of rules on how to get the game going.
First, you need a character. You merely need a name, gender, and general personality during setup. Then, you need to establish a relationship with the other player characters. These don’t need to be too specific, but you can have fun with them. For example, the book shows a gardener whose relationship to the lady of the house is “blackmailing her”. These relationships should be designed to create instant talking points. It isn’t enough to say “such and such is this person’s daughter”.
After initial setup, everyone is given six dice, all six-sided. These are then distributed on the character sheet however the player wishes. These are called “influence dice”, and are used to determine how many dice you roll when influencing a specific character. So, in a game with four people, each person would need to distribute their six dice to the other three characters in order to represent their influence each of them. You can do this however you like. Two on each? Sure. Six on one and none on the others? That’s fine as well.
Gameplay then moves forward into the first act, where the characters each get a turn to influence one other character. The two players involved roleplay a situation in which one player would try to get the other to do something they wouldn’t normally agree to do. There are two dice, called the “black die” and the “white die”. These “dice” are actually diagrams that have several terms listed on them. The black die has more negative terms, while the white die has more positive ones. For example, the black one has bloodletting and wanton destruction. These dice are awarded to players that exemplify the marked term during the roleplaying session. So, if one player acts in a way that causes wanton destruction, the other players could award him/her the black die.
What do these dice matter? Well, the success of an attempted influencing is determined by dice rolls. Each player rolls when determining this outcome, even the ones not participating in the exchange. The “attacker”, so to speak, rolls the number of influence dice that they have over that character, while the defending player counters with their influence over the attacker. The other players do the same as the attacker. Whichever player has the highest single die roll decides if the attempt was successful. If the attacker wins, he/she steals an influence die from the defender. If the defender wins, the attacker must move one of his/her influence dice over to another player on his sheet. Thus, a successful attempt grants you more influence over a player, while a failed attempt gives you less.
After everyone is given a turn to gain influence, it’s time for someone to die. Yes. One of the player characters will become the murder victim. Interestingly enough, the players vote on who the unfortunate one is. That person decides how they died and where they were found, and then surrenders their characters sheet and all dice. They’re not out of the game, however. Instead, they become the inspector, who will try to solve the case in the second act.
The second act has each player trying to gain influence and/or investigating other players. Influence attempts work the same way as before, but investigations are different. The roleplaying is still played out, and the dice rolls work the same. However, a successful investigation reveals some clue about that player’s motivation for murder. For example, the gardener’s relation to the lady in my above example was that he was blackmailing her. If she is killed, and he is successfully investigated, new light is shown on this fact. The group then decides on the new bit of information. They could decide that he was blackmailing her because he was her illegitimate son and she wanted to keep it secret. New information is meant to be more shocking and scandalous than the piece that came before it. When a person has been successfully investigated three times, they are a final suspect. When two players have reached this point, the game progresses.
So what does this inspector do? Well, he doesn’t get any influence dice, but get gets two investigation dice. He also participates in each roll, and gets a chance to investigate one player each turn. A successful investigation gives him an extra die to work with. This makes him a powerful player in the game.
When the two suspects have been decided, the game moves to its conclusion. The suspects give one last plea to their innocence and are awarded the black/white dice if they fit those categories. Everyone rolls the appropriate dice, and the winner decides who the killer is. That person goes to jail, and the game is over. It’s kind of anticlimactic, but it brings a decisive end to the game.
ATFM is really about creating a fun roleplaying environment where improvisation is required to make the game interesting and score those elusive bonus dice. There are a number of examples throughout the book to inspire you. In addition, the setting for the game is 1930′s England, and there are many pages dedicated to helping you set the tone. There are pages dedicated to understand social hierarchies, sex relations, and what would bring about the most scandal. The book even includes authentic English recipes and instructions on how to brew a proper cup of tea. It’s true you could use the gameplay mechanics and use them for another setting, but I wouldn’t recommend it. After all, goofing off in English accents and acting foppish in general is one of the most fun parts of roleplaying this game.
Overall, this is a pretty fun game. The key here is that players not take things too seriously. It’s meant to be funny and almost random. The group deciding key events helps keep things moving, and reacting to a bit of scandalous information is a big draw here. There’s no way to “win” really, unless you don’t want to be called the winner. There is still strategy though. You can forgo investigating people and instead attempt to gain more influence, thus making is less likely that you will lose future investigation attempts. You can also target players that have low influence on you to give you a better chance at winning dice rolls. Or, if you want to be the killer, you could do the opposite.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a fun one off roleplaying game that doesn’t have a lot of complex rules and mechanics, this one can definitely fit the bill. If nothing else, the book itself is an entertaining read. I found myself laughing out loud at several points just reading the examples. This is a pretty sweet party game.