#324 – Automata NOIR

Box

Base price: $18.
2 – 4 players. Depends on the game.
Play time: 10 – 30 minutes. Depends on which game you play.
BGG Link

Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 10 of various games. 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Automata NOIR was provided by Level 99 Games. 

Alright, let’s talk deduction. I’ve mostly moved on from the social deduction genre, as arguing with randos is no longer my idea of a good time, and that’s fine. Instead, I’ve gotten really enthused about the standard deduction genre, recently popularized by games like Fugitive or The Shipwreck Arcana. I try to seek them out when I can, so I was excited to get a chance to try Automata NOIR, a new deduction title from Level 99 Games, publishers of Millennium Blades, one of my all-time favorites.

The streets are dark and full of … robots in Automata NOIR, but you’re hot on the trail of a killer, a spy, or a conspiracy. Honestly, it’s hard to tell. Sometimes, you’re the killer, even, and you’re trying to evade the cops. Concentrate on your goal, focus up, and try to solve the mystery before it solves you in one of four games packed into this collection. Will you be able to figure it all out?

Contents

Setup

Generally, the setup for this game is always the same no matter what version you’re playing. You’ll want to take the tiles:

Tiles.jpg

Shuffle them and make a 5×5 grid. Also shuffle the cards:

Cards

Once you’ve done that, you’ll get into game-specific setups, which I’ll talk about in Gameplay.

Setup

Gameplay

Four Game Rules

So there are four games in this one, and I’ll talk about each in turn.

Killer vs. Inspector (2 players)

Killer Inspector

This is the standard game, so, that’s helpful. It’s two players; one is the Killer, the other is the Inspector, trying to deduce the Killer’s identity. Each player has their own set of available actions, which I’ll get to in a second.

So those are all the actions. The game-specific setup is that the Killer draws a card; that’s their Secret Identity for the game. They then draw another to be their Disguise. They can look at either card at any time, but they should be kept face-down.

The Killer must immediately perform a Kill action, now. More on that in a second.

The Inspector draws 4 cards; they choose one to be their Secret Identity, and the other three form their Evidence Hand. Naturally they cannot be the person that just got murdered.

Now, for actions:

Shared (Killer + Inspector)

  • Shift: Move all cards in a row or column one space in the direction of your choice (horizontally or vertically, respectively). The columns and rows wrap around, so any tiles moved out of the 5×5 should be added to the opposite side of the board (to fill the now-vacant space). If any player shifted during a previous turn, you cannot “undo” their shift.
  • Collapse: If possible, remove one dead suspect from each row or each column and then collapse the board to fill in the gaps. If the Inspector had cards in their hand matching deceased suspects that are no longer on the board, remove those cards from the game and draw an equal number of new cards to replace the ones you removed.

Inspector

  • Accuse: Choose a suspect adjacent to your Secret Identity (unlike other game effects, this can include your Secret Identity). If the killer’s Secret Identity is the suspect chosen, they must reveal themselves and you win the game. If not, gameplay continues.
  • Exonerate: You may play a card from your hand onto its matching tile (living or dead) on the board and Canvas for the Killer asking your opponent if their Secret Identity is within one tile of the now-exonerated character; they must answer honestly. If the suspect is dead, remove the card from the board. Either way, draw a card to replace it.
  • Solve: You may attempt to guess the Killer’s Secret Identity and Disguise cards. If you’re correct, you win; if you’re wrong, you lose. Pretty simple.

Killer

  • Kill: Choose a living character one space away from your Secret Identity (diagonal is fine); flip them to their Deceased side. If you kill the Inspector’s Secret Identity, they must reveal themselves; you win the game. If you kill 10 Suspects, you win the game. If you kill your Disguise, you … can’t use Change Disguise anymore. If you kill an Exonerated Suspect (they have a card on them), you can Canvas for the Inspector by asking your opponent if their Secret Identity is within one tile of the deceased character; they must answer honestly. This skill does not wrap around the board.
  • Change Disguise: Spend an action to swap your Secret Identity and Disguise cards; you now treat your Disguise as your Secret Identity for gameplay purposes.

The game begins with the Killer’s turn, and ends when a player has won!

Buddy Cops (3 players)

Buddy Cops

Buddy Cops is nearly identical to Killer vs. Inspector, but there are two cops now; one is Undercover and the other is the Profiler.

For setup, unlike previous games, all three players draw three cards. The Killer gets to have two disguises, this time, and then immediately kills a character again.

Both cops need to pick a living suspect as their Secret Identity, and then the Undercover Cop should check the Profiler’s Secret Identity (but not vice-versa) and then pass the Profiler the remaining Evidence Cards in their hand; this will form the Profiler’s initial Evidence Hand.

Shared (Killer + Undercover + Profiler)

  • Shift: This works the same as the previous game. Move all cards in a row or column one space in the direction of your choice (horizontally or vertically, respectively). The columns and rows wrap around, so any tiles moved out of the 5×5 should be added to the opposite side of the board (to fill the now-vacant space). Again, if any player shifted during a previous turn, you cannot “undo” their shift.

Profiler

  • Accuse: Choose a suspect adjacent to your Secret Identity (unlike other game effects, this can include your Secret Identity). If the Killer’s Secret Identity is the suspect chosen, they must reveal themselves and you win the game. If not, gameplay continues. If the card you accuse is one of the Killer’s disguises, they must discard it (and do not get to replace it).
  • Exonerate: You may play a card from your hand onto its matching tile (living or dead) on the board and Canvas for the Killer asking your opponent if their Secret Identity is within one tile of the now-exonerated character; they must answer honestly. If the suspect is dead, remove the card from the board. Either way, draw a card to replace it.
  • Deputize: Choose a card from your hand and give it, face-down, to the Undercover Cop. This is their new Secret Identity; place the old one at the bottom of the Evidence Card deck.

Undercover

  • Accuse: Choose a suspect adjacent to your Secret Identity (unlike other game effects, this can include your Secret Identity). If the Killer’s Secret Identity is the suspect chosen, they must reveal themselves and you win the game. If not, gameplay continues. If the card you accuse is one of the Killer’s disguises, they must discard it (and do not get to replace it).
  • Fast Shift: Like shift, but allows you to move up to two spaces in the chosen direction. Basically Double Shift, but you can’t go forward then backward.
  • Disguise: Draw a card from the Evidence deck and pick up your Secret Identity. Choose one of these cards to give to the Profiler (who adds it to their Evidence Hand) and keep the other one face-down as your new Secret Identity.

 

Killer

  • Kill: Choose a living character one space away from your Secret Identity (diagonal is fine); flip them to their Deceased side. If you kill the Inspector’s Secret Identity, they must reveal themselves; you win the game. If you kill 10 Suspects, you win the game. If you kill your Disguise, you can’t Change to that particular Disguise anymore. If you kill an Exonerated Suspect (they have a card on them), you can Canvas for either cop by asking your opponents if their Secret Identity is within one tile of the deceased character; they must answer honestly. This skill does not wrap around the board. If you kill one of the cops’ identities, they have to switch roles. More on that in a second.
  • Change Disguise: Pick up your Secret Identity and 2 Disguise Cards. Shuffle them so that nobody can tell which one you picked, and then set that chosen one down as your new Secret Identity. The other two Disguises are set aside. You don’t have to actually change identities if you don’t want to.

When a cop is killed, they switch roles. If the Profiler is killed, they give their Evidence Hand to the Undercover Cop (now Profiler) and draw cards from the top of the deck until they find a suspect that’s still alive. They discard the rest face-up. If the Undercover Cop is killed, they take the Profiler’s Evidence Hand and find a living Suspect in their; that’s their new Secret Identity. In the event that either is impossible, the Killer wins instantly. Otherwise, the next time the Killer kills a cop, they win.

Continue playing until the Killer or the cops win!

Spy Tag (3 – 4 players)

Spy Tag

Now, all players are Spies in this 3-player (4 with teams) game.

To set up, each player is dealt a random Evidence Card as their Secret Identity. That’s it, beyond the normal setup.

Now, some new actions:

  • Fast Shift: Essentially just a better shift. You may now move a row or column 1 or 2 spaces in a direction. Nice.
  • Capture: This works similarly to the Accuse actions; you choose a suspect adjacent to you. If it belongs to an opponent, they give you their Secret Identity as a trophy and draw a new one; when that happens, you must also flip the suspect to the deceased side. If nobody is that suspect, nothing happens.
  • Canvas: Pick a suspect adjacent to you. Any players with a Secret Identity adjacent to that suspect must tell you that they are adjacent. They do not have to give any more information than a yes / no.

Play continues until a player has taken two trophies; they win!

If you’re playing at four players, you play in teams of two. The only changes are:

  • Whenever a player gets a new Secret Identity (including at the start of the game), they show their partner.
  • Your partner is exempt from your Canvas and Capture actions.
  • You cannot communicate secretly (other than showing each other your Secret Identity).

Dragnet (3 – 4 players)

Dragnet

Dragnet is the last one, so of course it’s wildly different. No Killer, no Spies; just a complex web of secrecy and suspicion.

For setup, give each player three cards. One of these will be their Secret Suspicion, the other two will form their initial Evidence Hand.

A new game, of course, means fun new actions:

  • Targeted Shift: It’s like a Shift, but you must play an Evidence Card onto the board and then shift the row / column containing that card. Otherwise, shifts as normal.
  • Rethink: Place an Evidence Card from your hand onto the board, then pick up your remaining card and your Secret Suspicion; choose one of them to play face-down as your Secret Suspicion again.
  • Question: Place an Evidence Card onto the board and pick up a different card from the board. Each Investigator must now answer if their Secret Suspicion is adjacent to the location of the card you just picked up.
  • Solve: Choose a row, column, or 5-card diagonal. Each player with a Secret Suspicion in that line raises their hand. If the total number of hands raised equals the number of uncovered cards, you win! Otherwise, you must skip your next turn, and every player who raised their hand can now swap their Secret Suspicion with a card in their hand (they don’t have to, but they should at least fake it).

Once the Evidence deck is exhausted, every player gets one last Solve attempt. If nobody gets it, nobody wins!

For four players, simply play in teams of two. You may show your partner your Secret Suspicion at any time.

Player Count Differences

The major player count differences are just if you want to play in teams or not. Beyond that (and the games changing as some can’t support three or four players), there isn’t really that much of a difference in the way the game itself is played. I’m not a huge fan of team variants in games, so personally I’m just gonna play this game at the low end of all its player counts. If you like team variants, though, give it a whirl!

Strategy

  • Deduce. You’re going to want to keep track of everything, especially in the Killer v. Cop variants. What cards are consistently adjacent to cards getting killed? What kinds of shifts are getting made? Keep track of it and you can eventually corner the Killer. If you’re trying to catch cops, well, I wouldn’t bother working too hard. If you keep killing randos you’ll eventually hit one, in my experience. That said, if you can keep track of where accusations are coming from so you can try and narrow in on them, that might just work.
  • Changing Disguises uses a turn. Consider that. If you’re spending a turn swapping, you’re potentially missing out on an opportunity to gather more information (or worse, leaking some information by starting to do more with your new identity). I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to change disguises, only that you should be mindful of how often you do it.
  • I’m usually pretty sure that killing your Disguise is a bad move. Maybe don’t do that?
  • Spy Tag is essentially Deduction Whack-A-Mole. Keep track of what various players are asking about and your suspicions of where they are and just … you know, try to catch them. Every action gives a bit more information, which is super helpful.
  • For Dragnet, unless you get lucky, you’re going to need to get a row that only you’re in. Most players play a bit too conservatively and aren’t willing to Solve until they’re guaranteed to win; that seems pretty reasonable (especially if you’re playing with teams, but that also requires a lot of work and is pretty easy to mess up. If you see any groups of four with cards on them, try to break them up lest a player wins on their next turn.
  • Also don’t forget that Targeted Shift requires a card. It sure would be nice if it didn’t, but you have to have a card to push that row or column along. Make sure you plan for that.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • So much to do! I mean, if you are looking for content, there’s four full (and fairly different) games here. And it’s portable enough that you can fit it in a Quiver or something, which is nice.
  • If you like deduction, there’s so much deduction here. These games are fairly pure deduction. If you love Clue and are looking for a bit more deduction that can travel, this might be an excellent gift for someone. I have a number of friends who love deduction, so I may try to send this their way after I finish playing a few more games with it.
  • Asymmetric gameplay both keeps things interesting and is so hot right now. Seriously, asymmetry is so popular at the moment, and this definitely has that. Asymmetrical deduction games are a lot of fun! I haven’t seen one since The Neverland Rescue, and that both was a while ago and isn’t out yet, which is half the fun of Kickstarter.
  • Very neat theme. It’s noir, but with robots! Two things that I didn’t realize were a lot of fun together. The art here is also pretty nice, so that helps sell it a fair bit. Looks nice on the table.
  • The common setup is really helpful. Since you always need to have the grid, that’s one less thing you have to keep track of when you’re trying to get the game set up. A lot of games with multiple games in them have wildly different setups, which can start to get confusing. I appreciate the game’s sort of core aspects being fairly consistent.
  • The games are all pretty quick. Fast and portable are two of my favorite things in games, and this hits both of them quite nicely.

Mehs

  • Games with a bunch of different games are very tough to review in my format. This is a very specific complaint that really has no bearing on whether or not you personally would enjoy the game; this is just me being grumpy, which is fine.
  • Having a game with a bit more random effects / events seems like it would be fun. All of these are pretty straightforward, which I appreciate, but I’d love to see some stuff that goes a bit beyond the Moderate complexity listed in the rulebooks of the later games.

Cons

  • Differences in skill become pretty obvious in pure deduction games. A few of these games are just logic puzzles, and if you have a player who’s better at tracking game state than others, they’re likely gonna rise to the top. That can be frustrating for some players, and there’s no real way to nerf that without either adding in some random effects (there aren’t many in this game) or just asking them nicely to play worse, which is unlikely. I played a game of Automata NOIR with a friend who smoked me out in three turns. I don’t even understand how they won, but I got literally crushed.

Overall: 8.25 / 10

Overall, Automata NOIR is a lot of fun! I’m generally a pretty big fan of deduction games (although, as I found out, I’m not very good at them, oh well). The art’s neat, the theme is solid, and all-around it’s a fairly simple concept that relies on players to add complexity by shifting the board and messing with each others’ plans and predictions. The games gradually ramp up in complexity, which I appreciate, but there’s room for everyone to get their deduction on. Honestly, I think I’m most interested in seeing what a follow-up or expansion to this game will look like; it’s got some interesting parts to it mechanically (especially in that the games are similar enough around some core movements but distinct enough that I’d definitely enjoy playing any of them separately), so I’m hoping it continues to evolve. Either way, if you’re looking to take a neat deduction concept out for a spin or you just like a noir-themed game about bustin’ up some robots, Automata: NOIR is definitely worth checking out! I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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