Full disclosure: A review copy of Rear Window was provided by Funko.
Boy howdy, is it difficult for me to get games that require 3+ players to get played. But here I am, triumphant, mostly. It only took … the entire time post-Gen Con to get this done. The miracle of eventuality. Plus, like I’ve mentioned in other reviews, this is where we get to a particularly weird part of the year where I start just reviewing as many games as I can, to get ahead of everything. I like to start the year a month ahead or so, just so I’m not trying to power through reviews during the holidays (and so I can go to OrcaCon with a cleanish conscience). I’m definitely not there as of writing, but we’ll see how much time I can take off between now and then, I suppose. I digress, as is usually the case for this paragraph. Thanks for reading. Let’s check out Rear Window!
In Rear Window, players take on the role of photojournalist L.B. Jefferies, convalescing after an injury. While he does so, he becomes a bit too obsessed with what his neighbors are doing and starts … watching them in his free time? Nobody has been able to explain to me why this isn’t super weird, but I also have no taste as far as classic film is concerned. As all this paranoia sets in, it becomes difficult to separate the truth from the fiction he begins to create. Are the shadows moving in a sinister dance, or is it all in his imagination? One player plays as the Director, whose conducting will set the whole event in motion. Can you trust what you believe, is the Director leading you astray, or is the murder you’ve “seen” happen across the way only in your mind?
Not too bad, though it takes a bit of work. First up, give the Watchers their player screen:
Then, the Director gets theirs:
The Day Boards get placed between them, facing the Watchers.
The Solution Board should be placed behind the Director Screen, matching the Day Boards’ orientation:
The four Watcher Placards can be placed near the Day Boards, with the Pointer and Investigate token near their relevant placards:
The Director does a bit of extra prep. They need to shuffle the Window Cards, making a deck:
Then, they should take one of each of the Resident Tokens:
They should take the four black wooden cubes and the three Cut Tokens and set the Trunk Box nearby:
The Watchers should collectively choose twelve of the sets of Attribute tiles, taking all five tiles of each of the twelve sets:
The purple attributes are more complex, so, live your best life. Either way, take one of each tile from the twelve sets and mix them with the Murder tile, making a set of thirteen tiles. The Director shuffles them and chooses four at random, placing one on each of the four Attribute spaces on the Solution Board. If one of them is a Murder, do not tell the Watchers! Place the remaining Attribute tiles in the Trunk Box. Then, the Director selects four Residents of their choice, placing one in each of the Resident spaces on the Solution Board. If there are any purple Attribute tiles on the Solution Board, select an additional Resident token for each purple Attribute. The Director draws eight Window cards, and you should be ready to start!
Over the course of four rounds, players in Rear Window work as the Director and the Watchers to figure out a mystery. The question is, how much can the Director be trusted? Are they hiding something? Only one way to find out!
During the Window Phase, the Director places eight cards to try and give the Watchers information in any order they like. Whether that information is good or not is harder to say. They cannot communicate otherwise. Each Day, the Director may place two of those eight cards face-down. This may be useful if they don’t want the Watchers to see that card or if the Director just has a card that isn’t terribly useful. Similarly, three times per game, the Director may place a Cut Token back into the box to discard as many cards as they’d like (face-down) and draw the same number back into their hand.
As soon as the Director places their eighth card, they draw eight new cards and the Deduction Phase begins.
During the Deduction Phase, the Watchers discuss the eight cards the Director played, review previous days, and try to make decisions about what tiles to place on today’s Day Board. Then, they fill in the Day Board accordingly. No playing the same Attribute or Resident more than once per day, though! Certain Attribute tiles are purple: they require a Resident to be played on them.
To help the Watchers, there are also Watcher Placards with their own abilities. You may use as many as you want during the day, but each Watcher Placard can only be used once per game. After using one, flip it face-down.
On Day 4, the Watchers might believe the Director is hiding a Murder! To accuse the Director, place the Murder Attribute tile on the appropriate Attribute spot. It can only be placed on the fourth day.
To finish up a round, the Director scores the Watchers’ guess for the day. The Director compares their Day Board to the Director’s Solution Board. Each correctly-placed Resident earns 1 point, and each correctly-placed Attribute tile earns 1 point. Note that for purple Attributes, both the tile and the Resident on it must be correct to earn the point.
End of Game
The game has different ending scenarios if there was a murder or not.
If there was no murder, the Director and Watchers win if the Watchers guess all eight Residents and Attributes correctly!
Now, the Director and the Watchers have different ways to win!
- The Director wins if the Watchers guess six or seven spots correctly, but do not correctly guess the Murder tile.
- The Watchers win if they guess seven or eight spots correctly on Day 4, including the Murder tile.
Continue playing until either some group wins or Day 4 ends!
Player Count Differences
Functionally, no major differences. Like some similar team vs. team games, there aren’t really major differences between having two players as the Watchers or having six. I personally wouldn’t recommend six, since I think it just slows the game down, but hey, that might be your kind of thing. There’s probably more configurability than the game generally recommends, though. I could imagine a team of players as the Director or only one player as the Watcher, though I probably wouldn’t recommend one Watcher since the cross-talk actually helps the Director (especially if they’re attempting to betray the Watchers). With only one Watcher, you don’t really get that cross-talk; it’s all internal monologue. But that’s why the game is 3 – 7 players. With six, I really can’t imagine the Watchers being able to get a ton done; it just seems like a lot of debate for a fundamentally committee decision. So I’d probably lean more towards three or four players. I’d be interested to try it at two and see if it’s workable, though.
- If you’re the Director, make sure to use those Cut tokens! The Cut Tokens are critical! They let you discard useless cards from your hand and draw new ones, rather than being forced to play cards you have no interest in using. For the more nefarious Directors, they can also be helpful if you have too many useful cards in hand and need to blame your “poor” card choices on something external. Either way, it could happen.
- Don’t jump to conclusions; the Director might be fully on your team. Sometimes the worst thing that the Watchers can do is psych themselves out of an answer or an outcome because there’s a small chance that the Director may not be on their team. This leads to suspicion, which leads to mistrust, which leads to bad choices. Sometimes you really do just need to take the Director at face value and figure things out from there. If they’re on your team, then there’s no problem.
- That said, if things aren’t making sense, the Director might … not be on your team. If you’re continually having trouble with a couple Attributes or Residents, it might start to become suspicious. Surely the Director has been able to find useful cards? It’s not always possible, but it is generally increasingly less likely as the game progresses. If you’re starting to notice that you’re zeroing in pretty quickly on everything but a few spots which are frustratingly vague (or contradictory), it might be worth starting to consider using that Murder tile in the fourth round. Just make sure that you’re … sure. Otherwise everyone loses.
- There’s a real tendency to make the left card indicate the Resident and the right card indicate the Attribute. Nobody explicitly requires it; I just think it ends to happen that way? It’s one of those explicit overloadings of information. There’s no actual guide to doing it this way; it just seems to be a natural consequence of the orientation of the available spaces on the Day Board. The Resident Tiles are on the left, so the hint for them is usually on the left as well. That said, not everyone plays this way, so don’t necessarily expect that when you play with new players. And don’t … tell them to do that, either. Let players discover their own methods of communication.
- It’s called the Deduction Phase for a reason. You’re going to need to think pretty hard about the clues you’ve been given, as well as the previous clues on those spaces in the past. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be logical about this and test your assumptions. You have some useful information every round: namely, what you got right in the previous round. Assume things, test those assumptions, and try to expand the amount of information you can narrow down. Eventually, you should be able to zero in on a conclusion if the cards are good and the Director and Watchers are on the same team. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of pieces of information on each card, so don’t just fixate on one part; take the entire card in and consider the larger context of it.
- The Watcher placards are a very useful boon for the Watchers. Use them! Some abilities are going to be more useful than others, but at the very least, the YES / NO token Watcher Ability will either completely lock down or eliminate one option, which can be used in conjunction with deduction to usually yield some pretty useful results. Try to find times where you can use those abilities to their maximum efficacy.
- If there’s a murder, the Director may want to focus on trying to just bamboozle players out of one or two Attributes. I find that Attributes are easier to long-term confuse than Residents, just because the Attributes are so subject to interpretation (especially the purple ones). You can easily string players out for the entire game just between “The Heartbroken” and “Looking for a Relationship With”, among others. You really want players to lock down all the other cards, anyways, save for the Murder; that’s how you win. If you spend too much time sowing confusion into every facet of the game, you’ll end up with players who aren’t sure of anything and you’ll lose, too.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style is a lot of fun! I like it a lot! Bold colors, easy-to-see details in the cards, and a lot of information on every card in terms of both the pieces there and the stories they tell. They’re also particularly subject to interpretation, which I like! Sort of a moodier take on a Dixit card.
- This reminds me a lot of other fun games I’ve played before, and the multiple moving parts work really well together! I was surprised that I was so taken with this game, since there’s that occasional traitor element, but I’ve found that even that works very well! I like the deduction aspect a lot, especially since so much of it revolves around deriving meaning from abstract cards. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve played as both Watchers and Director and don’t have a strong preference, either, which is rare for games like this. There’s lots to do for players on either side, especially when the potential for a Murder emerges!
- I appreciate that the unclear semi-cooperative nature of the game adds a lot of intrigue. Intrigue, I think, is the ideal word, here. You’re not necessarily being betrayed, but watching players behave differently under the suspicion of a possible betrayal is even more interesting. Worst of all, it’s not even the Director’s choice! The tiles are randomly chosen, so they may be adversarial through no fault of their own, which is entertaining. I think the game would be a bit too straightforward if the Director were guaranteed to be on the Watchers’ team, so having the potential for that level of betrayal opens up a lot of interesting metagame consequences.
- The multiple win conditions are also fun! I appreciate that the presence of the Murder token essentially splits the game into a situation where only one group of players can win, but from the Watchers’ perspective, their overall goal has not changed: they want to get pretty much the entire board correct. Whether or not the Director is working against them in that regard doesn’t chance their goal. It’s a really neat study in asymmetrical gameplay, and, frankly, a very smart design.
- The insert has some nice storage options, which is appreciated. Everything fits very nicely and is stored in such a way that it’s easy to remove and use for play, which I really appreciate. It makes my life so much easier, especially when I’m focused on things like doing photography and scattering all the pieces everywhere.
- I really like that there are more than twelve Attribute types. The game opens up a lot when you’re not just picking the same Attributes every time, especially because the available Attributes and their combinations can cause some challenges for players. You can’t necessarily assume that some card or some symbol always means one thing! It might mean an entirely different Attribute, based on what’s in play (or it might conflate two, which can be unfortunate). This makes the game more contextual, which, for me, makes me want to replay it.
- Also, the more complex Attributes are fun! They make for some interesting game types. I love the complex Attributes, both because they make the game so much harder and also because they’re just … fun and interesting, from a complexity standpoint. Some players may find the game a bit too easy after the first few plays, and the complex Attributes can really throw them for a loop, since they require the correct Attribute tile and the correct paired Resident tile. There’s a lot of additional information required, so players have to be much better at optimizing how they guess and what they check. Try it once you get really good at the game!
- It’s smart that the Director needs to still have the Watchers get most of the scene correct, in order to win. If not, the Director could just place cards with no rhyme or reason and the game would fall apart. Forcing them to walk the tightrope of giving the Watchers help and assistance but not so much that the Director’s subterfuge is exposed is very interesting (and very challenging). Like I said earlier, a particularly smart design.
- The layout of the Day Boards is odd, just because we generally go left to right and then top to bottom, and the Day Boards go top to bottom and left to right. I’m sure there’s a reason for this, but it escapes me. Just makes the boards a bit confusing to use during the game.
- The theme of the game amuses me, since we’re what, just using binoculars to watch our neighbors? I haven’t seen the actual movie, but I assume that the concept of “just watching your neighbors in their apartments because you have nothing else going on” either aged extremely poorly or became very relevant again during the height of the pandemic. Either way, I’ll be keeping my blinds closed during the day from now on, thank you very much.
- Naturally, there’s some randomness involved, so you may end up in a problematic state if you can’t get the cards you need. This is a useful thing to claim if you’re the Director and there’s been a murder, but more seriously, sometimes you just can’t draw the cards that you need for a specific Resident or Attribute (we’ve found The Gardener to be particularly difficult to clue, for instance). Them’s the breaks, but it doesn’t always feel great from a player standpoint.
- There’s some management required on the Watcher side — one particularly loud player can steer the other players off the rails. This is a challenge with any team-based guessing game, but it’s still worth mentioning just because there’s no in-game fix for it. Should there be? Probably not; that risks overengineering the Deduction Phase, but you may need to set some guidelines if you see a player starting to pull control of the guessing away from the group as a whole. Just a thing worth keeping an eye on.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I was very impressed with Rear Window! I’m not usually much for social deduction games of any sort, but what I like about this one is that the social deduction isn’t necessarily guaranteed. By wrapping the game up in a semi-cooperative game of trust and intrigue, you let the players experience the very same paranoia as the character. It’s a pretty ingenious way to embed what made the movie thrilling in the gameplay, and Rear Window still manages to do that while making an otherwise fairly approachable game. I really like that the Watchers can’t fully trust the Director, and the Director cannot succeed by fully misleading the Watchers. This makes their alliance tenuous, at best, and even when the Director is wholly on your team, there’s bound to be a voice that doesn’t trust their intentions. Deciding to commit at the cost of the game? That’s a trade-off, and an exciting one to make. I think that that core idea makes the entire game work surprisingly well. There’s a bit to set up, granted, but I think all the moving parts work quite well together, with the right groups. Since there’s a team dynamic, there’s always that risk of one player taking control and not letting every voice be heard, but that’s likely more of a group dynamics issue than a game design issue, in my opinion. I also appreciate Rear Window’s aesthetic; it’s a striking game, and even the rulebook does a great job preserving that aesthetic without compromising its utility. It’s a solid rulebook, which is great. I think Funko has been working very hard in a particularly interesting segment of gaming, trying to grow the hobby by using interesting IPs to draw folks in and exciting gameplay to keep them around, and Rear Window is a resounding success, on that front. I was impressed! If you’re looking for a game of deduction and cooperative information, you want to potentially hide something from your friends, or you’re just a big fan of the movie, I’d recommend checking out Rear Window! It was a very nice surprise.
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