So we had just finished playing the fully-colored Paizo edition of Kill Doctor Lucky when I received an inquiry from Cheapass Games: would I be interested in reviewing a new edition of the game? Well, with that timing, how could I not?
But instead of just reviewing what was in the box they sent me – and let’s be upfront about this, it was a playtest version with “the finest placeholder art available” – I thought it might be helpful to compare the two editions. So the “really pretty” version you see below in my hastily-taken-in-poor-lighting photos is the older Paizo (aka Titanic Games) version; the “slightly less so” version is the currently-at-Kickstarter 19.5th Anniversary Edition.
The game in a nutshell: It’s Clue (Cluedo) before the murder. You all want Doctor Lucky dead, but everyone wants to do the man in. Follow the codger around as he wanders the halls and try to kill him without being spotted.
Let’s start with the board itself: there have been a few structural changes to stately Lucky Manor since we last tried to knock off the old coot. There are stairs leading up from the Dining Hall to the left and right, opening up sight lines from the Lancaster Room through the Dining Hall to the Lilac Room. Every room is now numbered, which means that the doctor will be stopping in every room, instead of skipping past places the White Room and Wine Cellar. Although he’s taking a slower route through the mansion, the mansion scales with players: playing a three player game? Close both east and west wings (the rooms along the left and right sides). 4 to 5 players? Close one wing.
Foiling the murder attempt with luck for the doctor doesn’t just happen with Failure cards; any possible card can have luck icons on them. Each time you fail in a murder attempt, instead of grabbing a Spite token, you keep one of the luck cards played on you as a “Reason”, but they’re pretty much the same thing.
There’s a few other tweaks: You only draw cards when you aren’t seen by anyone. You don’t count hallways as steps (which means you can go from the Dining Hall almost anywhere in the house – even all the way to the Hedge Maze). Weapons add to your basic murder value of 1. Doctor Lucky is now a cat person instead of a dog person.
So, how does it play?
It is a bit different. Faster for certain. The Paizo version’s game is really one where you bleed the Failure cards out of your opponent’s hands to make that one sudden murder attempt that nobody can counter. That version feels a bit like Munchkin in that way, with the “can anyone stop this guy?” moment and the sheepish looks around the table that heralds the end of the game. But in the new version, the luck symbols are on (nearly) every card. There really isn’t the long first half of the game where you’re actively attempting small murder attempts in order to weed out the Failure cards. Well…there is a slight bit of that, but that phase is significantly shorter due to luck being scattered throughout the deck.
That scattering of luck also adds some strategic planning: you can stop a murder attempt by spending a two-luck card, but when that’s a Move-2 card that could also get you across the mansion, do you really want to? Even with that, the new version is quicker than the earlier version and hits the fun spot a lot more sooner.
The game is more about skulking around the mansion than drawing cards. You’ve got to be hidden from everyone – including Doctor Lucky – to draw cards, but you also want to position yourself to deny the next player an opportunity to kill off the old man. But do that, you don’t get to draw cards yourself. I kind of like that, but I’m disliking how the new mansion feels smaller: more open sight lines, closing rooms down, and having the hallways open – wide open – to let people move around the mansion easier, and folding room cards into the move ones makes it decidedly harder to hide and get those card draws. When playing with three players (which is the size of my family group), there’s half the board you aren’t using. This is tempting me to try out the 19.5th Anniversary Edition rules on the Paizo board, just to see what happens.
Should you back the Kickstarter? Well, if you like Kill Doctor Lucky and have at least four players: yeah, it’s a no-brainer. The game is faster, funner, than before. Three or fewer players? I doubt this will hit the table as often because there’s that half of the board you can’t use just sitting there, game after game. Mocking you and your tiny widdle gaming group. There’s a two-player variant that is included in the playtest rules that introduces two dummy players and opens up one wing, but that’s a very playtest variant and might make it into the final rules.