Full disclosure: A review copy of Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen was provided by Lucky Duck Games.
Hey, a new series. Lucky Duck is localizing Crime Zoom in the States, so, trying this out next before I try to delve into Tranquility. Though I’ve been playing that to death on Board Game Arena, already, so I currently have a few thoughts on that as we speak. But I’ll save those for another review. I’ve been kind of on three kicks, lately: Hanamikoji mini-expansions, Button Shy games, and escape room / mystery games. It’s been a nice time to review stuff. So let’s see how Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen measures up to the others!
In Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen, a lady’s been murdered! You’re the detective on the case, and a few things aren’t adding up. You’ll need to solve all the classic Murder Questions (who / why / how / why now; pretty sure that’s from Only Murders in the Building) if you want to crack the case and be named the Detective King or whatever they do to tell you you did a good job. You’ve got a special ability that you’re calling the “Crime Zoom” technique that allows you to … look closer at scenes to get more information about what’s there, and this superpower of Basic Investigation will serve you well on the case. Hopefully. Can you solve this murder?
None, which I appreciate. There’s a deck of cards, and the core “Setup” card will give you the premise and what to do next!
In Crime Zoom, players are investigators trying to solve a mystery! This actually plays a lot like something between Chronicles of Crime and a point-and-click adventure game. Here, you’ll decide as a group to go through a crime scene and investigate different aspects of it, choosing what to look into to determine the culprit, the motive, and the murder weapon. In big scenes, you’ll choose a card to “Crime Zoom” (hence the name / please shout it when you do so), looking closer to find clues. Those will lead you to other cards and folks to question, helping you unravel the mystery. Some cards are conditional on you having discovered other clues, and others will take you to entirely new locations! As you find them, spread them out on the table! It’s all evidence.
When you think you’ve got it, the rulebook has questions for you to answer! Some require that you have a specific card that you can cite as a justification, and are marked as such. If you want to look at the questions beforehand, nobody’s stopping you, but the questions themselves might be spoilery for some folks (since they’ll tell you which questions are specifically answered by a card).
After checking the solutions, you gain a point for each answer highlighted in blue that you have, as well as any five unflipped scene cards and cards remaining in the deck. Total your score and that’s how well you did investigating! You can read the epilogues if you want more information on the various characters.
Player Count Differences
You’re pretty much playing this one by committee, so it’s up to you! I tend to think it’s best to let each player take a “turn” making the next decision, so that everyone’s included, so if you’re a bit antsy about getting to pick where to go next, you may want to keep your game group a bit smaller, for this one. I don’t think there’s much more to it than that! Sometimes there’s not. I played this at two and it worked very well, so I’m inclined to not mess with a good thing, but I think even as many as four might be great. Unless you’re having one person drive and everyone else collaborate, I might stay away from five or six, just personally.
- As with a lot of mystery games, it helps to try and construct a narrative and see if clues you get contradict it. If enough do, it may be time to reevaluate. It’s good to have a hypothesis, but you have to stay flexible. Don’t ignore evidence that contradicts your guess; just incorporate it and see how your thoughts shift around! There can be a few surprises, especially where murder and mysteries are concerned. Don’t just assume that you’re correct; you need to explicitly prove that you’re right.
- Remember what your goals are! If you’re not sure what your goals are, you may want to check the questions near the end of the rulebook. Just keep in mind that the questions, by their very nature, will tell you things about what possible information exists in the cards. If you want to remain totally unspoiled, don’t look at the questions until you’re absolutely sure you’re ready to solve the mystery and end the game. But if you’re stuck and not sure how to progress, checking the questions is one possible way to reorient yourself.
- You don’t need to know everything to solve the mystery. You just need to answer the game’s questions! The epilogue will tie up a few loose ends, so don’t worry too much if you’re not sure where every major player is at the conclusion of the mystery. Sometimes there are things that you don’t find!
- You also don’t need to exhaust every card to solve the mystery. And you may not want to! You’ll get more points if you don’t. I’d definitely side-eye a detective trying to go for the most “efficient solve” of a mystery, but hey, that’s what you score points for, here, so try not to worry too much about the ethical ramifications of not checking everything at a crime scene or talking to every potential witness. Does that make you a bad detective? Almost certainly. A bad person? I’m not qualified to make that assessment. I’m just a reviewer.
- If you’re not sure what to do next, look for cards you haven’t flipped over or paths you haven’t explored. The game has some cycles and multiple paths available, so it’s possible one unexplored pathway is what you’re missing to enter the next big cycle of the game. Honestly, it reminds me a ton of various point-and-click adventure games I played, growing up, so that’s probably why I’m so fond of it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fairly portable! It’s one of the smallest mystery box / puzzle games I’ve owned, at least. Decktective is a similar size, so, that’s nice. Having a few you can take with you can be handy, though, I haven’t traveled enough places lately that it matters. I think I still enjoy portability from a game just because the idea of having a bunch of games that I can take with me, once I can resume travel again. At some point.
- I like the concept of the game a lot. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this review, it has a very point-and-click adventure game feel to it, which is a game type that I grew up on and one that I, as a result, have a soft spot for. There are branching paths, “zoom”-able locations, and a variety of other fun features that really make you feel like they mapped the experience to a card game better than most other games I’ve played. Honestly, it just makes me want to go back and play Pajama Sam again.
- I particularly like that the game asks you questions and tells you when you need to have a card available to answer those questions. It’s a pseudo-hint system for some players and a great pre-ending check for others. It helps frame the questions ahead of time. You can do the same thing in Chronicles of Crime, but you have to be at the station to do so, which can waste valuable in-app time.
- While the ending is sort of a fixed point in the game’s timeline (or, more accurately, a locus of all possible branching points), I really liked that the players could explore along whatever trajectories they found most interesting. Since you don’t actually need a complete picture of the game to get to the ending or solve the mystery, you’re really only limited by your interest in the narrative’s branches (or your desire to score points). You do need a few pieces of information to solve the case, though; you’d not really make it as a murder detective if you couldn’t figure out who did the murder and why.
- I find their use of publisher-themed examples in the rulebook to be endearing. The examples in the rulebook are all about the game’s publisher, rather than using actual cards from the game(s) and risking spoilers. I not only appreciate the attention to detail, but I also think it’s an amusing way to tell a bit more about the company and the people who made the game.
- In general, I also really like the concept of the epilogue. It ties up the loose story ends and gives a closure to the narrative. Smartly done. One exception, but I think it’s a nice way to let the story progress a bit past the “you solve the mystery part”, which I don’t often get a lot of. Usually it’s just a paragraph of “you solved the mystery and they named you Lord of Detectives” or however these games end, but the game ties up most of its loose ends after playing, if you’re interested in those sorts of things.
- Is it stupid to say “CRIME ZOOM!” before flipping over a scene card? Yes. Did I do that every time? Well, most times. It probably annoyed my housemate, but it was so much fun. That’s what you’re doing when you zoom into a location. You’re doing a Crime Zoom. That’s the name of the game. It’s fun to say. I don’t really know how to drill much deeper into it than that.
- The points system isn’t too bad, either. I think it’s generous, with some opportunities to score additional points if you’re keeping a close eye for details. That sort of thing is nice in a mystery game.
- I do prefer reusable mystery games. The mystery’s solved, but nothing’s destroyed. Feels less wasteful.
- All the cards in my deck were upside-down, which was weird. Just odd! It wasn’t that the deck was upside down so much as every card was in the correct order, just flipped. Given that I was supposed to look for a Setup Card, this was a bit confusing. Easy enough to fix, but mildly baffling.
- A content warning applies for this one, so the game content may not be for everyone. Me personally, I could have done without the slur in the epilogue, all things being equal. I’ll use ROT13 to obfuscate my main issue (n ubzbcubovp punenpgre tbrf n ovg sne va n gvenqr hcba trggvat neerfgrq), to keep things spoiler-free for those who are interested. That said, the content warning in particular deals with hate and hate crimes, so if that’s not something you want to deal with in a game, you should know up front. I think there’s some difference between describing someone who hates another person for an aspect of their identity (race / sexuality / gender / et cetera) and going so far as to have one of the characters use a targeted slur, even if it’s not at a main character. Didn’t love it; could do without it.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, my first experience with Crime Zoom has been pretty positive! I’ll be interested to see how the other Crime Zoom game affects my opinions on Bird of Ill Omen, but I think this is a pretty great jumping-off point for a new series. I can’t really get enough of these mystery / puzzle games, anyways, so the more, the merrier, to some degree. I’ll be interested to see how the “difficulty” of the game might shift or change my opinion, since I experienced a shift of favor for The Key (in that I started to increasingly prefer more difficult games in that system), but I generally stay around the middle of the road for the EXIT series. I think what distinguishes Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen in an otherwise fairly-crowded market is its fairly-faithful replication of a point-and-click game and, strangely enough, its fairly mundane modern setting? Like, Bird of Ill Omen isn’t about bird crimes or 17th century aviary robberies or something. It’s just a murder. In Paris. Haven’t seen one of those in a while, and it’s actually mildly refreshing? The game itself is as difficult as you want it to be, since you always have the option of going through every card in the game via long-form discovery, but trying to optimize for points is kind of a fun challenge, as well. It’s always hard to rate the staying power of a fundamentally ephemeral game, you know? This isn’t a game that’s staying in my collection by sheer virtue of me already knowing the answer. I’ll pass it along to a friend or something. But I guess, the question is, given the choice, would I want to return to Crime Zoom in the future? And that’s a resounding yes.
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