#831 – Crimes & Capers: Lady Leona’s Last Wishes

Base price: $35.
4 – 6 players.
Play time: ~90 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 1, as is befitting a mystery / puzzle game. 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Crimes & Capers: Lady Leona’s Last Wishes was provided by Renegade Game Studios.

Important note: This review contains a mechanical spoiler for the second half of Lady Leona’s Last Wishes. Tried to avoid it. Couldn’t. There aren’t any puzzle spoilers, but this is probably some kind of a twist, so, wanted to get it out of the way up front. Read at your own risk.

I managed to hit a window a while back where I could play a few four-player games, so those are starting to trickle out over the next few weeks-to-months. Always more games. This time, I’m covering one of the two initial titles of the Crimes & Capers series, new from Renegade Game Studios. Haven’t tried these before, but they’re labeled “A Cooperative Mystery Puzzle Game”, so that all seems pretty firmly up my alley. Let’s see what happens!

In Crimes & Capers: Lady Leona’s Last Wishes, Lady Leona has died. Nobody is particularly sad about that. She was a menace. But she did love one thing in this world, and it was money. Also puzzles, incidentally. So you’ll have to deal with the latter if you want the former. She’s hidden her vast wealth somewhere, and it’s up to you to get it! Will you be able to work with the other heirs to find it? Or will the treasures remain lost forever?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton. Set aside the chest, for starters:

Inside of the Opening Materials envelope, you’ll find a few documents:

One thing you’ll find is the six journals of the various characters that players can take on. Each player should choose (or have chosen!) a character. Set aside the Envelopes; you’ll not open them until the game explicitly tells you to do so:

Read the initial bits of the story, introduce your character to the group, and read Lady Leona’s note to get the game going!

Gameplay

Lady Leona is dead, and her will has been locked away! You need to crack the code behind that chest if you want to get in, and that requires solving three puzzles, each of which will give you exactly one number to do so. Get into character (if you want) and work with your coplayers to solve the mystery and figure out the combination!

What happens after you crack the chest? You’ll have to find out!

Player Count Differences

The game is most viable at four, but given that there are characters and story information for up to six, I’d probably recommend having the full player count.

Strategy

  • It will help if you share all the information you have available to you. There are many times where this will be critical, as you’re going to be needing to answer some key questions that require you to know what happened, where it happened, who it happened to, and potentially how many times whatever happened happened. Letting every player into that circle of knowledge will just speed things up.
  • Keep in mind that perspective matters, and just because something happened doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone saw it happen or saw it happen in the same way. This mostly matters at the beginning, but this is why it’s helpful if you share all the information! You’ll be better off if you’re able to view a single event from all available perspectives to see what truly happened and who saw what. The characters have their own biases and your information is filtered through them.
  • You never truly know what will be relevant until it is. Don’t really dismiss anything as useless or unhelpful until you have a clearer sense of everything you need to know. There may be additional clues or hints lurking in innocuous details.
  • Give every player some chance to contribute! Their insights are valuable (and often necessary). This is particularly important. Players have access to fairly asymmetric information, so letting everyone speak their piece and asking players questions about what they know about certain events might be critical to making sure you understand the full landscape of what happened.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • If you’re looking for an excuse to have a murder mystery party, this is it. I mean, you can really go all out on this one, if you want. There’s plans and instructions, you could probably come up with some recipes, work on your accent work, et cetera. There’s enough in the box for this to be the lynchpin, and I imagine you could push this to a two-hour event if you really leaned into the roleplaying. Or don’t! We didn’t, partially because we weren’t prepared for it.
  • They also go a bit above and beyond and suggest outfits for characters (or styles, if you’d like to take them on). That’s a nice touch, I think, and it also helps you get a sense of who these characters are. I’d have loved some more information and backstory on the characters, but this is a good start.
  • I think there’s going to be some folks who get really into this series. I think Renegade has a good sense of who they’re marketing to (at least, once the box is opened). The designers were smart to add additional features like outfit options and online play instructions.
  • I do love the box color. It’s a very pleasant blue.
  • There are instructions in the box to support virtual play. This is kind of critical, these days, but it also helps get the game played, which I appreciate. I’m a big fan of more and more games offering instructions for how to support online or virtual play (or offering TTS / BGA / Tabletopia / etc implementations). It made reviewing games possible for me during the middle days of the pandemic.
  • The asymmetry of information given to the characters is interesting, especially because there’s always enough information to solve the case, even at four players. I think it takes some solid design chops to be able to weave separate storylines with their own information together while still providing useful information to every player asymmetrically. It’s good writing and good game design, and it’s nice to see both of those things at play, here. It does mean that you need everyone on the same page, so it also encourages communication and conversation, hopefully in-character (if you choose to play that way).
  • I also appreciate that the characters’ notes are taken in their particular style, giving each of them a distinct voice and presence. That was just a fun extra bonus. The logical person’s notes are reminiscent of a lab notebook; another person writes in dialect; a third person is, unsurprisingly, too into himself and his notes convey that impression as well. Narratively, there are a lot of fun things happening.
  • It’s replayable, as well! They have instructions online for how to repack the game, and ideally, you won’t have drawn on anything or torn them.
  • There are a few fun narrative twists, which I did appreciate. I wouldn’t say that they’re … particularly surprising twists, to the point that if I mention even what they’re about, you can likely guess more than half of them, but tropey murder mysteries are still kind of fun in a kitschy way, and I appreciated most of the twists in this game.

Mehs

  • I understand the logistics of making games not cost-prohibitive, and we didn’t do this, but it seems like it would almost be just as easy to tear the lock off of the paper chest as it would be to crack the code. It’s a slightly-heavier-cardstock chest, so you could just grip and rip. Though, in my opinion, a funnier thing to do would be to replace the lock with a four-digit combo lock and gift the game to a friend and watch their confusion. Mean prank, but hey, it’s late and I’m writing and it seems funny. Nonetheless, it does gently break immersion, since yeah, anyone could pretty easily just rip the lock clean off the crate.
  • This is likely a casualty of us playing the game before it fully releases, but the website to check your combination for the locked chest doesn’t work as of September 5, 2021. There’s a site that will tell you which of the numbers is wrong so that you don’t second-guess yourself for 20 minutes, but the only three numbers the website would give us were 404 (because the website didn’t exist; it’s a very funny HTML joke). There are always some hazards to reviewing games before they fully release, I guess. EDIT: It’s actually just the wrong site in the rulebook. This is the site for getting hints for unlocking the chest. Kind of weird, to me, that they just haven’t had the other link point to this one, but what can you do.
  • It really does show you how far in advance games are signed and planned and released, since we’re still nowhere near the place where I’d want to have a bunch of people over to my home for a murder mystery party (as of writing). Hopefully, as of publishing, the situation in the US has improved, but, yeah, it was very challenging to even find four people to play this game. Since writing this, we’ve gotten booster shots and that’s been helpful, but we definitely had a bunch of trouble getting a group sat for this one.

Cons

  • Yeah, don”t label a game as “Cooperative” if it has a shift to a team-based competition at the halfway point. This is the spoiler, by the way. My particular gripe is that the game is explicitly labeled “A Cooperative Mystery Puzzle Game”, and, at the midpoint, the game suddenly demands that players shift into teams and only share information / solve puzzles with their teammates. This is an issue on a few levels, especially because I now am not sure if that’s true for the other game in the series, either, and there’s no way to find out until you start playing. We were pretty frustrated in the moment when this shift happened, and I’m not sure why this was seen as a good idea. I imagine that, for some groups, this might have been a fun little twist, but for our group it fell pretty flat pretty quickly, as multiple members of our group aren’t really into competitive puzzle games. Like it fell flat immediately. I’m certainly less interested in High School Hijinks as a result of this, but I’m hoping if I get a chance to try it that this “twist” is limited to this game only.
  • The puzzles were fine, but not particularly challenging. I’ve been working on a bold axis of “Puzzle vs. Narrative” in the escape room game space, and I think this would be considered “medium narrative, low puzzle”. There were a handful of puzzles (fiveish? six?) that each player needed to solve, but they also weren’t terribly challenging. I think this game is probably positioned less for the escape room crowd and more for the “let’s have a murder mystery party!” crowd, but I’m not in the latter crowd enough to tell you how this would compare to other offerings on the market. I’d say it’s probably in a similar league to the Hunt a Killer series, but Hunt a Killer has higher narrative to outweigh its lower puzzle (and I think they navigate their narrative more successfully than this does).
  • I’d go so far as to say that roleplaying is essentially required, for this game. We weren’t in the mood to roleplay, and so the game went much faster because we weren’t explicitly leaning into our characters’ roles. It probably would have been more fun, but we weren’t really playing with a roleplaying group (nor were we prepared to roleplay / costume), so that definitely took us out of it, a bit.

Overall: 5.5 / 10

Overall, that whole “secretly a team-based competition” thing kind of messed up our experience with Lady Leona’s Lash Wishes. I think the game wasn’t positioned particularly well, to me, and I’m not totally sure what happened, there. When I first heard about it, I had thought it was going to essentially be an escape room puzzle game mixed in with some murder mystery elements. It seems like the opposite might have been true; there were far more mystery elements than there were escape room puzzles. There were … maybe two puzzles that were escape room-esque, in nature. Two puzzles per player, yes, but that doesn’t exactly give the game additional replay value when the collective overlapping hints of the puzzle result in the single correct solution. The major allure of the game, then, is the murder mystery party element, but weirdly, that seems to be the part that’s least emphasized on the box! Just “A Cooperative Mystery Puzzle Game” that … isn’t that cooperative and doesn’t have that many puzzles. I think, my major issue is that a lot of what bugs me about this game ends up being wrapped in taxonomy. I expected a game based on the tagline and the pitch, and the game I got is not what I expected (and subsequently, not the right fit for my gaming group). Thematically, I think High School Hijinks will be more my group’s speed, and we should have a better sense of what to expect, this time, but this wasn’t quite what we were looking for. That said, if your group is particularly inclined to put on fancy clothes and argue about some rich nightmare’s will, then you’ll probably love it! And there are clever aspects to its design. I really like the first half of the game’s presentation! There’s gossip and perspective and figuring out how to crack the first code is a great avenue for roleplaying. As a puzzle, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly interesting, but if players want to roleplay, it can be a super fun experience. And that’s kind of where I end up on Lady Leona’s Last Wishes. The game had some fun elements, but it lacked enough compelling puzzles to make it high up on our list of favorite puzzle games.


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