Putting a Face to the Crime – Noir Black Box Edition Review

One minute you are an inspector attempting to deduce the identity of a killer, the next you are working to crack the safes of a casino, and after that you revealing the identities of rival spies. Noir: Black Box Edition offers you six games for the price of one. Using the components of this new edition of Noir, you can play six quick, radically different light deduction games with a neo-noir feel and art style.

Although each game plays differently, they do share a few things in common. All the scenarios create the game board by laying out a five by five grid of double-sided character cards (six by six or seven by seven for larger player-counts). One side of these cards is yellow and shows that character still active, while the other side is red and shows that character captured or killed. Players also create an evidence deck by picking the blue evidence cards corresponding to the cards in the grid and draw from that deck to determine their secret identities. They then go back and forth doing one action at a time, until one player completes their goal for that  scenario. Actions often rely on adjacency (which included diagonals): for example, killers need to be adjacent to the characters they kill, while inspectors accuse characters adjacent to their own. Players can also generally shift the board, which allows you to move all cards in one row or column one space, with one card looping to the other side. In scenarios that focus on killing or capturing other characters, players can also collapse the board, which removes killed or captured cards from the grid. These actions allow player you to gather more information and set up future moves, but also forces you to give more information away.

How to shift. The whole row moves to the right one. Yvonne would then end up in the empty space.

How to shift. The whole row moves to the right one. Yvonne would then end up in the empty space.

Besides those similarities, the various play modes are all extremely different. The first scenario, Killer vs. Inspector plays two players in about fifteen minutes. The Killer hopes to kill fourteen suspects or the Inspector (turning over fourteen character cards), while the Inspector wants to accuse and capture the Killer (deduce the other player’s secret identity card). Each person draws their secret identity card, but the Inspector draws four cards, choosing one and designating the rest as his starting hand. The Killer is able to kill any suspect that is adjacent to her secret identity. By killing a lot, the Killer may reveal too much, but she can perform the disguise action. For this action, she draws one evidence card and becomes that character if that character is still alive on the board. The Inspector can garner some information based on who the Killer kills and which evidence cards he has access to as there is only one copy of each evidence card. To gain more information, the Inspector can exonerate, for which he draws one card and places one card from his hand on its corresponding character, forcing the Killer to say if she is adjacent to that revealed card. If the Killer then kills an exonerated suspect, the Inspector must say if he is adjacent to that character. The Inspector ultimately wants to accuse the Killer by naming someone adjacent to his own secret identity. If he guess correctly, he wins; if not, the Killer gains more information.

The second scenario is Hitman vs. Sleuth, which plays two players in fifteen minutes. In this scenario, the Hitman needs to eliminate all the characters on a hit list or all the Sleuths chasing her, while the Sleuth has to capture her. The players form a five by five grid of suspects and an evidence deck using the corresponding 25 cards. The Hitman places four evidence cards face down to form the hit list. She turns over the first card in the hit list and then draws one card to be her secret identity. The Sleuth draws three cards, choosing one to be his Secret Identity. In this scenario, both sides can perform the shift and collapse action. The Hitman can kill by turning over a character that is adjacent to her own. If the killed Suspect is the face-up card in the hit list, that card is discarded and the next card is revealed (if the next card is already killed, that card is also discarded). If the killed Suspect is the Slueth’s secret identity or one of the cards in the Sleuth’s hand, the Sleuth must discard that card, choosing a new identity if necessary. If the Sleuth is killed with no cards in hand or the hit list is depleted, the Hitman wins. The Hitman can also evade, by attempting to disguise herself, but the Hitman must also add an extra card to the hit list. The Sleuth can exonerate like in the previous scenario, forcing the Killer to reveal if she is adjacent to that card. Finally the Sleuth can accuse, winning if he’s right, but if he’s wrong a card is removed from the Hit List.

How to collapse: 1: Have at least one deceased character in every column.

How to collapse:
1: Have at least one deceased character in every column.

The third scenario is Spy Tag, which is a game for three to six or eight or nine Players in under 30 minutes. In a six, eight, or nine-player game, the players are split up into teams of two or three players each. The goal of this scenario is to capture a certain number of trophies depending on the number of players. You gain trophies when you correctly guess the identity of another player. You set up a grid according to the player count, and secret identities are distributed. Everyone has the same actions this scenario, including the standard shift or collapse actions. Players can also canvas, which allows a player picks a character adjacent to his/her own, forcing all players who are adjacent to that space must indicate that they are. This action gives all players gain more information. Players can also capture other characters, by asking if anyone is a certain character. If someone is, the player that guessed correctly gains a trophy, if not nothing happens except for giving away more clues. The player whose spy was captured draws a new secret identity and play continues.

The fourth scenario, Master Thief vs. Chief of Police, is for two players in under an hour. Players lay out a five by five grid, form the evidence deck, and place a treasure token on each suspect. Master Thief draws three secret identities and chooses one to be her active identity; the others remain in her hand. The Chief of Police draws one secret identity, and places two more identities face-up on the board to represent his uniformed officers. In this scenario, the Master Thief wants to steal from all 25 suspects, while the Chief of Police wants to capture the Master Thief “red-handed.” Both sides can perform the shift action. The Thief can also steal the token from any character adjacent to her secret identity (including her own identity). She can perform the quick change action, which allows her to pick up her secret identity and switch identity cards from the cards in her hand (she can choose the same character). If she steals all 25 tokens, she wins. In addition to shifting, the Chief of Police can deputize, by drawing a new card from the evidence deck, and, if he wants, replacing one of the uniformed officers with the newly drawn card. After the Chief of Police performs this action, the Master Thief can immediately steal one treasure token from anywhere on the board. The Chief of Police can also perform the accuse any suspect adjacent to his secret identity or any of his uniformed officers. If the Chief of Police guesses the Master Thief’s current Identity, he wins.

3: Bring everything down.

2: Remove those characters and bring everything down.

The fifth scenario is FBI vs. Mafia, a team-based game for six or eight players in under 45 minutes. Players split into teams and form a grid of cards Each player gets a secret identity and a role. Players can show their teammates their secret identities, while roles are known to all players. In order to win, the FBI players need to capture four or five Mafioso depending on the player count, and the Mafia players need to kill 18 or 25 suspects depending on the player count. All FBI players shift or collapse the board and accuse adjacent suspects, but each role also has individual abilities. For example, one role can also force Mafia players to reveal when they are adjacent to a selected deceased character and can potentially switch identities, while another can potentially protect certain characters from dying. Whenever a Mafioso is Arrested, her character card is placed face down on the board, impossible to be killed and counting as a point for the FBI team. The Mafia player then draws a new identity. All the Mafia players can shift or collapse the board, and they all can kill but each in different ways, and each role has special actions. For example, one role can move a row or column one or two spaces, kill adjacent Suspects, and potentially switch identities, while another role can place bomb markers on characters allowing for future chains of bomb killings. Whenever a Mafia player kills an FBI agent that counts as two kills, and if a Mafia player accidentally kills another Mafia player, that counts as a suspect captured for the FBI.

The Final Scenario is Heist, which features four to six Thieves working against one Chief of Security Player to rob vaults in a casino and which plays in under 30 minutes. Players set up a seven by seven grid, with a vault token placed in each corner. The three by three block of cards adjacent to each corner of the board are considered to be different quadrants, with each connected to one vault. Each Thief player draws a secret identity card and a role card out of the eleven roles. Both the secret identities and the role cards are hidden from all players. The Chief of Security then places three uniformed officers on the board and draws one secret identity. In order to win, the Thief players need to rob all four vaults, and a vault can be robbed when three Thieves perform a steal action on that vault. The Thieves have both hidden and exposed actions. The Chief of Security takes an actions after each Thief player do sequential secret actions or after each time someone does an exposed Action. The Thief team can shift a row or column. This action is normally secret, but it is an exposed if there is a uniformed officer in that row or column. Thief players can also perform the exposed action steal, by placing their Steal Marker in their vault in their quadrant of the board. Three steal markers are needed to open a vault. Each role also has a unique ability, which is usually an exposed action. On the other hand, the Chief of Security shift any row or column, swap the position of any uniformed officer with any adjacent Suspect, accuse a suspect adjacent to one of his uniformed officers or his secret identities, or perform the surveillance action, which forces Thieves to reveal if they are in a designated four by four block. Everytime the Chief of Security successfully accuses a Thief player, that Thief must draw a new secret identity and a new role. If the Thief player cannot draw a role because that deck was depleted, the Chief of Security wins the game.

FBI vs. Mafia. You need some serious table space for this one.

FBI vs. Mafia. You need some serious table space for this one.

For what it is, I really enjoyed Noir. These are great quick, deduction games. First off the components are great. The rule book is very logical, the tokens are of a good quality, and the cards are very durable. Among the 50 included character cards, every letter of the alphabet (besides for one) is used twice as the starting letter of a character name, so in a five by five grid all the characters’ names start with different letters, allowing for easy identification. This is by no means necessary, but it is charming. The character artwork is fantastic and the box is one of the coolest looking boxes I have ever seen. The box is very small, allowing players to take it with you. However, if you want to throw it in your backpack, you need to put a rubber band around the box as it is rather loose and can open in your bag. This game sets out to be a quick, deduction game, and in that regard it absolutely succeeds. If you are interested in lightweight deduction games, I would recommend Noir – The Black Box Edition. However, you should not get Noir if you do not want a lighter game. That may seem obvious, but I tried to play this with some players who tried to make this game into something that it is not. They spent the entire game simply shifting the board, afraid to give away any information, and the game was anything but quick. In Noir you have to be willing to give away information to get information. If players are unwilling to play using a mix of deduction and intuition, as opposed to drawn out analysis, this game drags on. That is not a flaw in this game, it just means that this is a quick playing game and that it shouldn’t be played otherwise. Yet, there are still many interesting decisions to be had in a box so small.

You will certainly prefer some scenarios, and that is okay. For $25, you can get six quick-playing, well-balanced games, any of which could sell for that much. I personally believe that this collection shines for the three two-player games and for Spy Tag with three or four players. I think the three two-player games are the best scenarios because the deduction is strongest there as you only need to read (ie keep track of) one person. Those games all have a very nice back-and-forth nature between the two-players. Killer vs. Inspector is a great quick game that anyone can learn. Hitman vs. Sleuth is my personal favorite scenario because certain player actions could have short-term benefits, but they often end up helping your opponent. Master Thief vs. Chief of Security is a little long for what it is, but allowing the Thief to freely change between three Secret Identities is a lot of fun. Spy Tag is also just a lighthearted fun scenario. However, I think it works best with three or four players. With five or more players, it is chaotic. You are not deducing things yourself, but you opportunistically pounce on the work other people have made. Spy Tag is more rewarding with fewer players.

What a nice little insert.

What a nice little insert.

Spy Tag with higher player counts, FBI vs. Mafia, and Heist all share a common problem. With more players, the grid simply gets bigger, which means it is more annoying to constantly shift the cards, and the game loses its ability to be played whenever or wherever. In low-player counts, I didn’t mind moving the cards around, but with more players it felt more fiddly and cumbersome. FBI vs. Mafia and Heist certainly do some interesting things and are worth trying, and I do enjoy the idea of secret roles, but this collection shines for its quick, lightweight games. With more players to analyze and to respond to, these game lose the charm of fast playing games, and those scenarios can drag on. Some players will certainly love the scenarios FBI vs. Mafia or Heist, and I would play them, but I would recommend this collection for the scenarios with lower player counts. However, I would strongly recommend this collection for those scenarios. If you are looking to play a light, quick playing deduction game primarily with two, three or four players, I would highly advise checking out Noir: Black Box Edition.

Noir: Black Box Edition
Designed by: D. Brad Talton, Jr.
Published by: Level 99 Games
Players: 2 – 9
Ages: 10 and up
Mechanics: Deduction, grid movement
Weight: Light
MSRP: $25.00



Noir: Black Box Edition

Review Guidelines

If you are looking for a quick, light-weight deduction game that plays best with two-four players and has many ways to play, Noir is certainly a game to check out.

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