The Black Box Edition of Noir is a deductive mystery game with six different games in one box. There are Killer vs. Inspector, Hitman vs. Sleuth, and Master Thief vs. Chief of Police for two players; Spy Tage for three to nine; FBI vs. Mafia for six or eight; and Heist for five to seven. The games range from 15 minutes to an hour.
Noir is designed by D. Brad Talton Jr., illustrated by Fábio Fontes, and published by Level 99 Games. It has a suggested price of $24.95 and can be found online for about $17.
How it works:
While each game plays differently, some things are the same.
Cards with pictures and names of characters are placed in a grid on the table.
Cards with the same characters are shuffled into the evidence deck. Players choose a card that will be their hidden identity. The card matches one on the grid, which is their location.
Bad guys have an objective — “kill” a certain number of suspects by flipping cards adjacent to them, for example; or placing a certain number of tokens in an area of the grid before getting caught.
Inspectors often accuse suspects, but they can only do so when the suspects are adjacent to them.
Players “move” by shifting rows or columns of cards. If there are enough dead suspects, they can also collapse the board, making it smaller.
Why you might like Noir:
The two-player games are fantastic.
For the bad guy to do anything, he has to reveal something about where he is. Often, the good guys have to do the same. Hiding is important, but so is meeting your objective. That can get you found out.
The tension builds as the inspectors narrow down where the bad guys are.
The team games are also fun, and they require team members to communicate without giving information away to their opponents.
There’s opportunity to bluff, but lying is not allowed.
Once you know one of the games, it’s easy to pick up any of the other five.
In many hidden movement games, the possibilites can feel endless, and the character that is hiding reveals her location at prescribed times. In Noir, the hidden character never directly reveals her location.
Each of the six games comes with a card for every player explaining that player’s moves. That makes the game easy to explain and have people playing quickly.
Why you might not buy Noir:
For more than two players, the strongest games require at least five players. (Spy Tag plays with three to nine, but it didn’t work as well with the groups I played with.)
The game involves stealing, killing, and setting off bombs. There’s nothing graphic in the language or the art of the game, but that might be a turnoff.
Of course, if you want a game with lots of blood and battle, Noir won’t fit, either. Killing is simply turning over a card. The “dead” side has a red “X” over the character’s picture.
The game is primarily about moving cards around, trying to get your character where you need to go while not being so obvious that your opponent knows what you’re up to.
I’ve been frustrated with other hidden movement games (particularly Scotland Yard) because I’m really bad at it. I can’t calculate the possibilities, and one mistake can end the game.
Noir narrows the choice of locations a character can be, but it allows for different actions. In even the simplest game, the killer has a choice of three actions every turn. And if the inspector is getting too close, the killer can try to take on a whole new role.
The only game of the three that wasn’t a hit was Spy Tag, so I wouldn’t buy this game if I wanted to play often with three or four people. But I would buy it on the strength of the two-player games alone.
I’d also buy it for the games for five to eight players because they add several interesting roles, where each player gets to take different actions.
The price is fantastic, and there are lots of ways to play.
Full disclosure: I got a review copy of Noir from Level 99 Games. I wasn’t required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.