A man walks into a restaurant and orders an albatross sandwich; he gets his order, takes one bite, swallows it, and goes outside and shoots himself in the head with a pistol. What is his story? These are the kinds of mysteries you encounter in Dark Stories from Z-Man Games, and despite their ludicrous nature, each of them is solvable for the diligent and discerning.
The concept of the game is simple: 50 such scenarios, only a few sentences long if that, each as strange and unusual, but each with a sensible solution. On the front is the mystery and on the back a solution. One person reads the card aloud for the other players and answers their questions with either a yes or a no. Players are only allowed to ask yes or no questions, and the holder of the mystery is only allowed to answer with a yes or a no or to correct them if they are wildly off course. (Was the man tall, for instance, might need correction if there is no man involved at all.)
The art walks the line between realistic and cartoony, reminding one of pulp detective comics
For those of you who enjoy mind puzzles and critical thinking, this game will be an absolute blast. It goes beyond your usual riddle, posing information selectively so as to give you enough clues to go on and solve the problem yourself. (Think now: why an albatross as opposed to a chicken sandwich? Why a pistol and not a revolver or nine millimeter?) As absurd as it sounds at first, patience and careful questions will lead you to a answer that, in retrospect, seems obvious. The scenarios are varied and guaranteed to push your mind’s reasoning power to its limits.
This is a great group game, letting multiple people play off of another’s deductions and fueling the energy of a room with intense thought. As a lighter game, this quality is crucial and not left out. The set-ups are strange, not for the purpose of needless spectacle but to excite players to new heights of creativity and deduction. The lengths of the mysteries vary by the players, of course, but they tend to be short enough to not grate on the nerves but long enough to feel like they have some value.
Nothing says family game night like falling to your death!
The game is not without fault, however. As someone has to know the secret to play, that person is inherently cut off from the game’s most powerful aspect: carefully and painstakingly unraveling the mystery. For the same reason the game’s replay value is harshly inhibited: there are only 50 scenarios in the game and once you go through them the purpose is essentially diminished. Also I am forced to admit that the underlying premise is not for everyone. I love testing my mind with these brain puzzles, but for many I know it won’t fit into their game nights. I see the best place for Dark Stories at a car ride or family game night, but to that end the game is hurt by its own marketing as a haven of the macabre. I can sympathize with parents not wanting to discuss suicide and death on their family car ride. In all fairness, the game is not nearly so dark as it seems, which only makes the marketing seem more out of place.
All the rest aside, the game is a fine value: a small price to ask for something you can fit in your pocket. You might be able to find similar mysteries somewhere on the web, but having them in one place without the need for electronics is always a nice way to keep people together. For those who enjoy challenge and mystery, this is a fine buy that will, for a time, keep a number of people thoroughly on their toes.
Published by: Z-Man Games
Players: 2 and up
Ages: 13 and up