Suspects: Claire Harper Takes the Stage
“Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department,” said Holmes, with a smile, when the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had ended in the slam of the front door. “What was the fair lady’s game? What did she really want?”Sherlock Holmes
Step aside, Sherlock, a new detective has taken the stage. Inhabiting the fairer sex that even Sherlock himself famously could not solve, Claire Harper is the protagonist in this mystery adventure.
Suspects: Claire Harper Takes the Stage is a three-mystery box from French publisher Hachette, under the imprint Studio H. Suspects is rated for any number of gamers age 10+, and each mystery says it takes about 90 minutes.
Were we vexxed by the cooperative challenges inside? Let’s look.
Each of the mysteries in the box are self-contained. There are some narrative references in later cases to earlier ones, but there is no need to go through them in a particular order.
Suspects is a card-driven game, and the box smartly arranges the decks for each mystery so there is no question which the group will need.
Take the deck and the two supporting documents for the case you want to play. You’ll want some pens and paper for taking notes (trust me). Leave the solution envelope in the box for now. One player reads the introduction, and it’s time to get solving.
Documents and cards will have one of three general concepts:
- Questioning Someone
- Going to a Location
- Examining an Item
The cards all work the same way, which is similar to the way many card-based escape rooms function. Cards may direct you to draw other cards, which might have further instructions.
Some cards, as part of a “puzzle and key”, may include green lines that extend off them. Pairing two cards up will tell you if your connection is correct.
Do those shoes fit this person? Does this key fit that lock? There are many questions you will ask as you unravel the mystery.
Closing the Fist
You solve mysteries in Suspects by answering key questions. You’ll score points depending on when you solve them. The information card includes these questions and the card threshold for different numbers of points scored.
Work through the entire deck, tracking what your answers are at each threshold level. They may change! Once you’ve worked through the entire deck, break out the solution and see how right (or wrong) you are. The solution page includes the result depending on your final score.
When we first had the opportunity to look at Suspects we were provided a short “Sample case”, separate from the main box. Playing this, after playing a number of EXIT and Unlock boxes, was a rude awakening.
Suspects is hard. If you expect a casual experience that drives you through puzzles in order, you’re not in the right place. Although the form factor suggests that experience, you should come at Suspects with a more Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective expectation. Frankly, after our initial experience, we were daunted by the difficulty in the box.
But we shouldn’t have been. Every time we played Suspects I liked the game even more. We played the Murder at Allister Manor case with another college-educated couple who both like logic puzzles. Although we blew well past the 90 minute time on the box (more like three hours) we felt like the process of working through cards, discussing potential theories, and pausing at 30 and 45 cards to record potential answers worked extremely well.
Searching for answers to the “puzzle and key” challenges was surprisingly tense. As we brought the cards together to line up the edges, matches would cause all of us to erupt in applause and high fives.
We didn’t end up answering all of the questions correctly, but that’s ok. This is very much a “journey and not destination” game.
We played The Final Act with our kids. Once again, the conversations and mechanics of the game were seamless and simple to understand, but with an 8, 11, and 14 year old, there was a bit less of an attention span. Kids would drift away and come back as the conversations got more excited, and it was really an excellent family experience, because despite the length (about two hours this time), nobody felt chained to the table. We did a little better in this mystery, and successfully apprehended the criminal.
These are murder mysteries. Someone dies. There’s nothing gory on the cards, and everything is handled very tactfully. I could definitely see mysteries like this taking a dark turn, but through the first two, we haven’t seen that happen. Even in the brief experiences of examining the victim or the scene of the crime, nothing disturbing appears. If your family is sensitive to death this is something to consider, but otherwise, you will be fine.
There is some crass language as well (e.g. “b*st*rd”) but nothing that wouldn’t make it through filters on television. Parents can easily do the reading and edit these rare instances on the fly.
I’ve departed from my trepidation of Claire Harper’s mysteries. As a bit of a completionist, I love that Suspects pushes players through every single card. It may be possible – and even likely – that you won’t see enough by the first card threshold to nail the criminal to the wall, but you know by the end that you’ll have had the opportunity to see everything.
I surprisingly love Suspects as a family game. We all know children learn by working through problems themselves, but they also learn by watching adults work through problems too. Puzzles in escape room boxes can be fun, but once you get the idea, it’s just iteration to a conclusion. The art of deduction in human interactions has so much more flavor, and it’s something our children rarely see in action. The writing of these puzzles is brilliant – you can never be too sure of your conclusions based on a single card.
It’s also a ton of fun with a group of adults. Theories will fly back and forth and you’ll blow past the expected time on the box as you enjoy the company of your friends, pause to grab some snacks, and dive back in with a few drinks.
No matter who you play with, when you read the solution, it’s inevitable someone will jump up and say “I knew it!” on something the group got wrong. Suspects does a great job getting people invested in a game where they think they know what’s happening, but nobody is quite sure.
Hachette provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Suspects: Claire Harper Takes the Stage
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Suspects: Claire Harper Takes the Stage
Age Range: 10+
Number of Players: 1-6
Playtime: 120+ minutes each