by P.J. Cole-Regis
Murder of Crows
Published by Atlas Games
Designed by Thomas Denmark and Eduardo Baraf
Art by Thomas Denmark
Time: 20 minutes
In Murder of Crows, players attempt to reveal a (light-hearted) murder
story by playing the right combination of cards to spell out MURDER in
their play area.
Every card will have one of the letters from the word MURDER. Players
begin with a hand of five and draw one card from the common draw pile,
then play one from their hand. Players can also opt to simply draw two
cards in lieu of playing one. A player is victorious when she or he
spells out the word MURDER and reads the single sentence narrative of a
murder when all the flavor text of the cards is read in sequence.
The Rs are interchangeable and repeating a letter you had already played
will simply stack above the previous version, which remains below as a
contingency. This is not a moot decision as players will be harassing
your hand and letters using various effects.
Card effects are unique to each letter. M causes the Misplace effect,
which allows the player to steal a letter played by another from their
MURDER and bring it into their hand. Playing a U causes the Uncover
effect, which allows you to look at all your opponent's hands and steal
one card into your own, and so forth.
Players are not defenseless, however, as every card also depicts a
number of crows from 1-3 along with its letter. A player need only
discard a matching value of crows on the card being played to negate the
effect from happening to him or her. If I were to play an M with three
crows for Misplace you could discard any other letter with a value of
three crows to prevent the effect from happening to you.
Lastly, there is the Wild Crow card that can be played as any letter and
will defend against any letter. Players can only use one of these cards
in their MURDER to complete the narrative, however.
Components and Packaging
The box quality is above average and the information on the back is
accurate in capturing the theme and game as a whole. I'm not a fan of
the split deck storage, especially when it's all one deck – but I think
that this was probably deliberate in order to create the space needed
for the information and graphics explaining the game on the back of the
The single one-sided instructions are clear and concise, which is great
for learning and teaching others. The quality of the paper itself is
decent and being printed in color adds to the quality as well. My only
preference would have been a smaller double-sided sheet. The cards
themselves are what one would expect from a higher end production
quality company, good material with a coated finish.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the components is the artwork
itself – the art is FANTASTIC (if they can use all caps for MURDER in
the instructions, I can use all caps too). Each individual card has a
unique piece of artwork that ties it to its flavor text. Particularly
funny are those belonging to letter E which depict the delivery and
method of death to the victim.
After reading the instructions and looking through the art, I was very
excited to try Murder of Crows. My first few plays were two
player games and they sadly fell flat. The interaction quickly turned
into a back and forth exchange of playing a card, applying the effect,
and defending it, with no one player ever really gaining the advantage
until the first player lost tempo from an inability to defend or
vice-versa. There was never really any threat of losing cards from your
hand, so at almost every effect one was able to defend with the
appropriate number of crows.
The game was much better with three players. Players were instantly more
conservative in selecting moments in which to defend against the effects
of others as the ratio of turn to opponent turns changed 2:1. The R
cards (Reap effect lets a player draw another card in the turn)
instantly became more meaningful in maintaining your hand instead of
overflowing it. Decisions on whom to target for specific effects also
became a factor, and the play in general was much more thought
provoking. The game is definitely worth checking out, though I highly
suggest playing it with more than two players.
Related OgreCave podcasts:
OgreCave - GNU (Thomas Denmark/Studio Denmark) - interview on the upcoming RPG, Warriors of the Red Planet. (recorded at KublaCon 2014)