When it comes to games, we normally review digital games for console, PC, and mobile. However, there are plenty of board games that are a lot of fun and can help with that rising screen time we’re all seeing due to the pandemic.
Our Unsolved Case Files review takes a look at a murder mystery game that has you and your family or friends freeing an innocent man and catching the real killer. Read on for our full review!
Unsolved Case Files: Harmony Ashcroft has a pretty basic story:
On May 8th, 1998, the small Indiana town of Riverdale was shocked by the brutal murder of one of its most beloved citizens on the night before her wedding. The victim, Harmony Ashcroft, was murdered in the parking lot behind a restaurant during her own wedding rehearsal dinner.
Bones McBride, a local vagrant, was framed for the murder and has spent over 2 decades behind bars despite being 100% innocent!Unsolved Case Files website
It definitely reads like a Law & Order or other popular police TV show, and that’s not a bad thing. As most people are familiar with that sort of show or episode, the game feels somewhat familiar as soon as you open it up and dive in.
When you first open the box and start pulling things out, you already feel like a detective getting ready to dive into a cold case. The included documents are contained in a file folder with a name — ASHCROFT, Harmony — and a case number.
Opening up the file folder are three sealed bonus envelopes, a package of photos, an autopsy report, some newspaper clippings, a map, an evidence form, five suspect files, and a checklist of everything you should have (about 50 items in all). Each suspect file contains a mugshot, Person of Interest form, Witness Statements, and a Suspect Interview. If you are missing something, you can go to the website and request one missing document. This is to prevent piracy, but if you are missing more than one, you can contact the company, and they’ll get you what you need.
The documents are pretty well done. Newspaper clippings look like they were cut out of a newspaper. The photos are printed on thicker card stock, while the rest of the documents are color-coded and printed to reflect the type of document they are.
To start the game, an objective is stuck to the inside of the file folder. In the Harmony Ashcroft case, you need to prove that William “Bones” McBride is innocent. To do so, you’ll need to start by reading the evidence in the folder. Once you think you know why he’s innocent, you head over to a webpage and select two documents that prove his innocence. Once you submit your choices, the website will let you know if you were correct. If you were incorrect, it would tell you that either one or neither of the documents is what you are looking for. If one is correct, it doesn’t tell you which one, so it’s back to the drawing board. You can also ask for a hint if you are really stuck. Once you find the correct documents, the website will confirm you are correct and tell you why. Curiously enough, we did have the right documents for the first objective but weren’t 100% sure on the reason, so it was nice to have that clarification.
Once you’ve finished your first objective, you’ll be directed to open Bonus Envelope A. This envelope contained the next objective, as well as a new piece of evidence. Once that objective is completed, you move on to Bonus Envelope B, and then finally Bonus Envelope C. Each envelope contains a new objective and some more evidence. The last envelope is a confirmation of you solving the case.
At first, the game started off a little slow with no real direction. When you think about it, that’s probably not far off from a real investigation as you have to piece everything together. There were four of us playing, myself, my wife, and my kids. The game is suggested for ages 14+, so we were good there. We took turns reading out some of the initial documents before the game took a course of its own. Each of us started thinking internally, asking questions out loud, and grabbing individual articles or documents to read over certain portions again.
The best part of the game is the “AHA!” moments. On the second objective, we were about to hit the hint button when my son blurted out: “Look at this <redacted>! It matches the information found on <redacted> which means this suspect was lying!” Sure enough, entering those two pieces of evidence moved the game along, and he had a huge beaming smile from having solved that part of the mystery.
We did use the hint button on the last objective, but it just reaffirmed that we were on the right track. After a bit more digging, we could button-down what we were looking for and solve the case.
As mentioned, the game is suitable for those aged 14 and up. You could play it alone if you wanted, but, as we found, more heads are better. Four seemed like a good number, but you really could play it with as many as you want for more brainpower. With the four of us playing, it took us around two hours to solve the mystery.
At US$29.99, Unsolved Case Files is pretty reasonably priced. While it’s downfall is that you can only play it once, the game is well done and can last a couple of hours or more. When you compare it to other one-time activities that you could be doing with your friends or family, like heading to a theatre (when that was a thing), it’s much more affordable.
Unsolved Case Files is an entertaining game once you get going. At first, you may feel a bit lost, but once you start diving in and connecting the dots, it is a rewarding experience.
It was nice to sit around the table with a physical board game again and use our critical thinking to solve the mystery. There are a total of six Unsolved Case Files to solve, with two more on the way. I have no doubt we’ll be picking up a couple more at some point to solve them as well.
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Unsolved Case Files: Harmony AshcroftUS$29.99
- Really puts you in detective mode
- Decent amount of documents provided
- Pretty rewarding when you do figure something out
- Can be played with just about as few or many people as you want
- Reasonably priced
- Can be a bit confusing as to where exactly to start
- One time play through