(2015 – Level 99 Games)
In 2012, rising publisher, Level 99 Games kickstarted a set of five, small card games entitled the Level 99 Minigame Library. Included in the collection were Blades of Legend, Grimoire Shuffle, Infinity Dungeon: Peril Without End, one of their most popular releases to date in Pixel Tactics, and the game I’ll be covering today, NOIR: Deductive Mystery Game. Designed by owner of Level 99, Brad Talton, Jr., NOIR is now getting its own separate re-release in the form of NOIR: the Black Box Edition.
While the original Minigame Library edition of NOIR included three 2-player game modes and a free-for-all Spy Tag mode, NOIR: the Black Box Edition includes a set of two additional card game modes (FBI Vs. Mafia mode, and The Heist mode), as well as in increases the number of players for the Spy Tag mode. All of these modes revolve around similar elements of deduction using a grid-based play area. Three of these modes keep to a 2-player versus format, while the other three modes expand into larger team based play that can accommodate as many as 9 players total. In all of these modes, players will use hidden identities and special actions to move around the board, attempting to complete a specific goal, whether it be to find the opposing player’s identity or kill a number of suspects before the opponent can complete his goal. In the following review, we’ll take a look at all six modes of play, the setup and gameplay involved in each one, and then I’ll share some of my thoughts on the set of modes at the end.
Mode #1: The Killer Vs. The Inspector
In this 2-player game, the Inspector player will attempt to capture the Killer, before the Killer is able to either kill 14 suspects or kill the Inspector himself.
On a player’s turn, he can perform one action as listed on his Summary card. Both players can perform a movement action, though the other two actions are specific to their role. Let’s take a look at these various actions:
During the game, some of the player’s role actions are dependent upon the suspects that are adjacent to their personal character. Therefore, players will need to move and adjust the play area in order to move their character around. This can be done in one of two ways, “shifting” or “collapsing”.
To shift, the player will move all of the cards in a single row or column in a singular direction until one card is no longer part of the grid. This card will then replace the empty spot at the beginning of the column or row. It’s important to note that a player is never allowed to take a shift action that will immediately reverse the shift action of the previous player. It must be a alternative new shift, elsewhere on the board.
Killer Specific Actions
The Killer player has two actions available to him that are specific to his side; a “disguise” action, and a “kill” action. When the Killer decides to disguise himself on his turn, he will draw the top card from the Evidence deck and check to see if that suspect is still alive. If it is, the Killer will assume this new identity and places his old identity onto the old character’s suspect card to show that they were actually innocent. If the drawn Evidence card represents a character that has already been killed, the disguise attempt is considered a failure.
By taking a Kill action, the Killer can murder a suspect that he/she is adjacent to (diagonally included). This can potentially give the Inspector information on the Killer’s possible whereabouts, but remember that once the Killer has murdered 14 suspects, or the Inspector himself, the Killer has won the game. When a Killer murders a suspect, the Inspector player must state whether he is currently adjacent to that murdered suspect.
Inspector Specific Actions
The Inspector player also has two actions available to him that are specific to his side; an “accuse” action, and an “exonerate” action. When the Inspector decides to make an accusation, he must accuse a suspect that is adjacent to his current location (he can even accuse himself to mess with the Killer player). If the Inspector accuses the Killer’s identity correctly, the Inspector player wins the game.
Taking an exonerate action will not only help the Inspector eliminate some of the characters as suspects, but it will also allow him to search for the Killer. When the Inspector chooses to exonerate a suspect, he will draw the top card from the Evidence deck and add it to his hand. He will then choose a card from his hand and play it in front of him. If the character played matches a suspect that is still alive on the grid, the card is placed on top of that suspect (otherwise it is discarded from play). If this is done, the Killer must then state whether he is adjacent to this newly exonerated suspect.
Since Barrin is currently alive, this evidence card is placed on top of Barrin’s suspect card in the grid. The Killer player must now state if he is adjacent to Barrin. He is in fact adjacent, and now the Inspector is one step closer to nabbing his nemesis.
As stated before, the Inspector wins if he is able to correctly accuse the Killer before the Killer has either killed 14 Suspects or killed the Inspector himself. Otherwise, the Killer wins.
Mode #2: Hitman Vs. Sleuth
This is the second of three 2-player games included, in which one player will take the role of a Hitman, attempting to knock people of his list before the Sleuth player has the chance to investigate him.
Grid setup for this game is done exactly the same as the Killer Vs. Inspector game which results in a 5×5 grid of 25 suspects and the 25 Evidence cards matching those suspects. Each player also receives a summary card depending on which role they have taken.
As with the Inspector in the previously discussed game, the Sleuth player will draw three Evidence cards, choosing one to place face-down as his hidden identity, keeping the other two in his hand.
One a players turn, they can choose to take one action. As with the Killer Vs. Inspector game, each player will have the shift/collapse movement action and two role specific role actions to choose from.
Hitman Specific Actions
Other than taking an action to shift or collapse the grid, the Hitman player can either take a “kill” action or attempt an “evade” action. The kill action works exactly the same as previously discussed in which he can choose to kill a character that is adjacent to his location. If he has killed the specific character on his list (face-up in his hit-list row), he will reveal the next character on the list. If this revealed character has been previously killed, he reveals the next, and so on until his reveals a character that is alive. Once the final revealed character has been killed, the Hitman has won the game.
If the Hitman happens to kill a character that is in the Sleuth’s hand, the Sleuth player must reveal that card face-up. He is not allowed to draw a replacement card in his hand. If the Hitman happens to kill the character matching the Sleuth’s current identity, the Sleuth must place a new card from his hand to become his new identity. If he has no more cards left to do this, the Hitman has won.
Sleuth Specific Actions
A Sleuth can also shift or collapse the grid as an action on his turn. In addition to this, he has the option of “investigating” or “exonerating”. Exonerating works that same way as it did with the Inspector, where the Sleuth player will draw a card from the Evidence deck, add it to his hand, then play a card face-up in front of him. If that character is still alive, he’ll place the evidence card on top of the matching suspect card in the grid, and the Hitman player must announce if he is adjacent the that character.
If the Hitman is able to successfully finish off every character on his list before the Sleuth is able to investigate him, the Hitman player wins the game. Otherwise, the Sleuth player claims victory.
Mode #3: Master Thief Vs. the Chief of Police
This is the final 2-player game included in NOIR, and is quite lengthier than the previous two. In this game, the Thief player will attempt to rob all 25 characters on the board, while the Chief will attempt to capture him before he’s completed this goal.
As with the previous two games, the play area is set up with a 5×5 grid that includes 25 randomly drawn suspect cards and a deck of matching Evidence cards. A treasure token will be placed on each suspect card in the grid. Each player also receives a summary card matching their corresponding role.
On a player’s turn, he can choose to take one action. As with the previous two games, each player will be allowed to shift the grid as one of his actions, however since the Thief will never kill another character, no one will have the ability to collapse the grid. The other two available actions are specific to the player’s role.
Master Thief Specific Actions
The Thief’s main goal of the game is to pickpocket and steal all treasures from all characters on the board. As an action, he can choose a character adjacent to his current identity and steal the treasure token off of that character’s card. Although thematically inconsistent and quite humorous, the Thief at some point will need to steal from himself to collect all 25 tokens, and is allowed to do so with this action.
To keep the police off of his tail, the Thief can also perform a disguise action on his turn. As opposed to the previously discussed disguise action, the Thief will not draw a new card when performing the action here. Instead he is limited to the other two cards in his hand. When taking this action, he’ll add his current face-down identity to his hand, then must place a card from his hand, face-down in front of him as his new identity (or even the same if he wants to mess with the Chief).
Chief of Police Specific Actions
One of the actions the Chief will be allowed to take is making an accusation. Since the Chief player essentially controls three characters (the undercover officer and the two uniformed officers), when making an accusation, he can choose to accuse a character adjacent to any of these three officers. If he correctly accuses the current Thief, he has won the game.
However, since the grid can not be collapsed in this game, and with the Thief’s disguise ability, it will be much harder to move the officers around and chase the Thief. Therefore, the Chief is given the option to “deputize” a new officer on his turn. To do this, he will draw the top card from the Evidence deck and place it on top of the matching suspect card on the grid. He’ll then have to discard on of these three face-up uniformed officers. This will allow him to move more freely amongst the characters on the board, however when he performs this action, the Thief immediately gets to take a treasure token off of the grid, no matter his current location (he doesn’t have to be adjacent to the treasure taken).
If the Master Thief is able to steal all 25 treasure tokens before the Chief of Police and his officers have nabbed him, he wins the game. Otherwise the Chief player wins.
Mode #4: Spy Tag
Spy Tag can either be played as a 3-5 player free-for-all game, as a 6 or 8-player team based game consisting of teams of 2 players each, or can be played as a 9-player team based game consisting of teams of 3 players each. In each game, players are all spies attempting to uncover and reveal the opposing spies. The player or team that has uncovered the most spies by the end of the game, wins.
Gameplay is Spy Tag is quite simple. The goal is to try and successfully uncover an adjacent spy to your own. Players all have the same three actions available to them, and each player can choose one of these actions to take per turn. As with all of the previous games, one of the actions available to a player on his turn is to either shift or collapse the grid.
The second action that a Spy can take is to attempt to “capture” another spy. On his turn, the player will select a specific suspect card in the grid that is currently adjacent to his own identity and ask if anyone is that Spy. If he has guessed correctly, that suspect card is flipped to its dead side and the player who was killed will give the current player his face-down Evidence card as a trophy. The player whose Spy was killed will then need to draw a new identity from the Evidence deck. In a team-based game, if a player takes a capture action and the identity he is guessing is on his own team, that teammate does not have to reveal himself.
The final action available to Spies is to “canvas” the board. The player will select a character adjacent to his own on the board and declare that he is taking a canvas action. All other players will then need to state whether they are adjacent to this character or not. This is performed by all players whether a free-for-all or a team-based game is being played.
In the free-for-all 3 player game, the first player to collect 4 trophies is declared the winner, whereas only 3 trophies are needed in a 4-5 player game. In a 6 or 8-player team based game (multiple teams of 2), 4 trophies are needed to win, whereas in a 9-player team based game (three teams of 3), only 3 trophies are needed.
Mode #5: The FBI Vs. The Mafia
This is a 3v3 or 4v4 team based game in which one team takes the role of FBI agents while the other team plays as the Mafia. Each player has a personal set of special abilities that they can use during the game to help assist their team.
In a 3v3 team based game, a 6×6 grid is built using 36 randomly drawn suspect cards and a deck consisting of the 36 matching Evidence cards. A 4v4 game will consists of a 7×7 grid and 49 cards.
The Mafia team will begin a Round, with the Killer player going first. Then team’s will alternate turns back and forth until all players have taken a turn. Let’s take a look at each side and their role’s specific abilities, beginning with the Mafia team:
The Bomber – The Bomber can take a shift/collapse action, a bomb action, or a detonate action on his turn. When taking a Bomb action, the player can place a Bomb token on himself or any character card adjacent to him. When the player takes a Detonate action, he can choose to kill any character that currently has a Bomb token on its card.
The Killer – The Killer can take a shift/collapse action, a kill action, or a disguise action. Kill and disguise actions work similar to the way described in the Killer Vs. Inspector game, however when the Killer takes a shift/collapse action, he can choose to shift a row or column 1 to 2 spaces instead of the regular 1 space.
The Psycho – The Psycho can take a shift/collapse action or a swap action on his turn. When taking a swap action, the player can choose to switch any two characters in the grid. At the end of his turn, no matter which action he chose to take, he can place a Threat token on up to 3 characters within three spaces of the Psycho character’s location. At the beginning of the Psycho’s turn, any characters that have these Threat tokens on them and are adjacent to the Psycho character are immediately killed.
The Sniper – Only available in an 8-player (4v4) game, the Sniper has the same shift/collapse ability that the Killer has in which he can shift up to 2 spaces instead of 1. He also has a Sniper action and a Setup action. When taking a Snipe action, he can kill a Character up to 3 spaces away in a straight diagonal line. When taking a Setup action, he can move a Bomb token, Threat token, or Protection token (discussed in a bit) from one Character and place it on an adjacent character.
The Detective – The Detective can take a shift/collapse action, an accuse action, or a canvas action. The accusation action works the same as in the Killer Vs. Inspector game, however the Detective can accuse any character within 3 spaces of himself (either horizontally or vertically), instead of one directly adjacent. With the canvas action, the Detective player will draw two cards off the Evidence deck, choose one (placing the other at the bottom of the deck), and place it on the matching character card in the grid. All Mafia and FBI players that are adjacent to this character must then state so.
The Suit – The Suit player can perform the same special shift/collapse action as the Killer and Sniper, in which he can shift up to 2 spaces instead of 1. As with the Detective player, he also can make an accusation on his turn. What truly makes the Suit special though, is his ability to perform a “protect” action.
The Undercover Agent – The Undercover Agent has a total of four different actions he can take on his turn. In addition to the normal shift/collapse, accuse, and disguise actions, he can also perform an autopsy. On his turn, the Undercover Agent can choose a previously killed suspect that he is currently adjacent to. Any Mafia players also currently adjacent to this dead suspect must state so. FBI players are not affected by this action (though since the Undercover Agent can only choose dead characters he is adjacent to, he somewhat reveals his own location).
The Profiler – The Profiler is only used in an 8-player game (4v4) and begins the game with four Evidence cards from the draw deck. He can take the normal shift/collapse and accuse actions, as many of the other roles can, but he also has the ability to take a “profile” action.
Profiling works similarly to taking a canvas action, except the Profiler has more options in choosing who to canvas, and will only canvas for Mafia members and not reveal the locations of his own team members. When taking a profile action, the player will place a card from his hand on top of it’s matching “alive” character in the grid. He will then discard any remaining evidence cards in his hand that match characters that have previously been killed, keeping only the cards that match “alive” characters. He’ll then draw back up to four evidence cards. Any Mafia players adjacent to the character that was profiled must state that they are adjacent.
After completing these steps, Ryan will discard the Hubert and Ivan evidence cards from his hand, since they were previously killed and he can not play them, leaving him with only Irma’s card in his hand. He’ll then draw three more cards from the evidence deck, bringing his hand size back to four.
To win, the FBI team must successfully accuse and capture 4 Mafia members (5 in an 8-player game) before the Mafia kills 18 characters (25 in an 9-player game). The first team to reach their goal wins.
When the Mafia kills a character, the character’s card on the grid is flipped over to show that it is dead. If that character also happened to be one of the FBI agents identities then the FBI player will hand the Mafia team him his evidence card. This counts as an additional kill, therefore killing an agent counts as two kills for the Mafia instead of one. However, if the Mafia accidentally kills one of their own, it counts as if that Mafia player was caught by the FBI team, and counts as one of their four needed captures.
Mode #6: The Heist
The Heist is a 5-7 player game in which on player takes the role of the Chief of Police and all other players are a team of thieves attempting to break into casino vaults. Basically, Andy Garcia Vs. Danny Ocean’s 11. If the team of Thieves can successfully steal from all four vaults before the Chief captures a Thief (and that player can not take another role), the Thieves win.
Setup for the Chief player works identically to his setup in the Master Thief Vs. Chief of Police game, except that he is given an additional Uniformed Officer. Therefore, he will draw 7 cards from the evidence deck, choosing 1 to keep face-down as his Undercover Officer and places 3 face-up on their matching characters in the grid as Uniformed Officers. The remaining cards are shuffled back into the draw deck.
Some actions by a Thief will expose him to the casino’s security system. When a Thief has been exposed, the Chief player immediately gets to take his turn. On a Thief’s turn, he can perform a Shift action (the grid can not be collapsed in this particular game) and a Steal action. When performing a Shift action, if a Uniformed Officer was moved during the Shift, the Thief is considered exposed. Taking a Steal action will always expose the Thief.
Each Thief begins the game with Steal token of his color. These will be used when the Thief performs a Steal action and attempts to break into a vault. To perform a Steal, the player will simply place his Steal token on one of the four casino vaults near the corners of the grid.
Beyond these two normal actions, each Thief has a special action depending on their role card. Let’s briefly take a look at the level 1 and level 2 role actions:
Level 1 Thieves
The Cleaner – The Cleaner can perform a Disable action on an adjacent Uniformed Officer. This keeps the Uniformed Officer from being able to take Accuse or Shift actions. As soon as he performs this action, he is exposed and the Chief player will take his turn.
The Decoy – The Decoy has the ability to Vanish. When taking this action, the player will shuffle the evidence card representing his character back into the deck and then draw a new identity. He is exposed after taking this action.
The Hacker – The Hacker has the ability of placing a Steal token on a vault from outside of the vault area. When taking this Hack action, he can place his token on a vault where his character is adjacent to that vault’s area. Therefore, if he is in the center space of the grid, he can place it on any of the four vaults. He is exposed after taking this action.
The Insider – The Insider can perform an Inside Job, which allows him to switch positions with any Uniformed Officer. He is exposed after taking this action.
The Runner – The Runner has the special Shift action described in the previous games in which when taking a Shift, can move a row or column up to 2 spaces instead of the regular 1. He is exposed after taking this action.
The Safecracker – Instead of having a separate action ability, the Safecracker has an ongoing effect in which he is not forced to remove his Steal token from the grid at the beginning of his turn. Since he does not have to take an action to trigger this effect, he is not exposed when his ability is active.
Level 2 Thieves
The Infiltrator – The Infiltrator has the ability to swap places with an adjacent character on the grid. He is not exposed when taking this Swap action.
Master Safecracker – The Master Safebreaker has two Steal tokens for his Safebreaking ability, in which he can place a second Steal token on the same vault where his first token was placed. He does not have to remove his first token from play at the beginning of his turn. He is exposed after taking this action.
The Silencer – The Silencer is limited the using his special ability only three times per game. By using his silence ability, he can kill an adjacent Uniformed Officer. Once this occurs, the Uniformed Officer’s character card is flipped to it’s deceased side and a new Uniformed Officer is randomly drawn from the deck. The Silencer is exposed after taking this action.
The Sneak – Unlike the Runner, the Sneak has the ability of taking a Shift action without exposing himself.
As mentioned before, the Chief player will always take his turn after a Thief player has taken an action that exposes himself. While the Chief can take normal Shift and Accuse actions, he can also perform a Swap action, allowing him to switch the location of his Undercover or Uniformed Officers with an adjacent character.
As a 4th option, the Chief can also take a Surveillance action. This allows him to scan a 4×4 perimeter of his choosing. Any Thieves located in this 4×4 perimeter must state whether they are present in that section.
When the Chief player takes an Accuse action and successfully captures a Thief, that Thief player discards the evidence cards representing his identity, along with his current role card. He’ll then draw a new identity from the evidence deck and a new role from the role deck. Once all level 1 roles have been drawn, Thief players will begin to draw level 2 roles. If the Thieves run out of new roles to draw before being able to open all four of the casino vaults, they have lost the game to the Chief player. If however, they can open all of the vaults before running out of roles, they collectively win the game.
First off, it should be noted that NOIR: the Black Box Edition is quite versatile when it comes to providing the “filler” role on game night. Instead of including a single card game that has the ability to adapt to a range of players, NOIR instead provides a variety of games modes that cater to a set range of players. This works, not only because the game can be enjoyed by 2-9 players, but because doing so doesn’t require shifts and alterations to the game’s ruleset. Each game is built around the number of players it supports, not the other way around. There are three game modes for those wanting a 2-player game, and three different modes for those that will use it for a larger group of people.
While I find some game modes more enjoyable than others, each of the modes essentially contain the same basic ruleset, albeit with variations on the actions available to players, and the required goals needed to win the game. Highlights have been the two-player Sleuth Vs. Hitman mode, as well as the Ocean’s Eleven-themed Heist mode. There’s a interesting risk/reward element in the Sleuth Vs. Hitman mode in which you can unintentionally make it easier for the other player to succeed by failing to accuse the correct suspect. Heist mode is the most thematic mode, and makes the most of the All Vs. One feature. While all of the game modes work well, the free-for-all Spy Tag is the only one that feels a bit loose to me. A bit more chaotic than the others, Spy Tag seems to work a bit better with a larger amount of players, if only because it feels more like a party-style game than any of the other modes.
Altogether, NOIR: the Mystery Deduction Game is a wonderful collection of deductive card games. Anyone looking at this as a first purchase, should definitely go the route of grabbing the Black Box Edition, if only for the extra two modes, the Heist being one of them. There’s enough in here to accommodate a 2-player session with a good amount of variety, as well as providing numerous Vs. and team-based modes for 3-9 players. Level 99 Games has gained a reputation of creating simple yet creative and enjoyable card games, and this is yet another one.