For most people, indie games begin and end with the latest Kickstarter campaign. However, from self-published titles to hidden Game Crafter gems, there exists a vast wilderness of unique and innovating games to explore that never reach widespread commercial production.
We aim to alleviate this coverage cap. To assist us in this, Rob Cramer takes us into the wilds of Frontier Gaming.
Sometimes I worry about having too much stuff. I hold onto obsolete technology longer than should be allowed. Sentiment solidifies an object’s position in my house, guaranteeing it will stick around for some time. Every once in a while I try to purge possessions, but then something shiny will come along and undo all my hard work.
Now imagine that instead of pens, I collected stone arrowheads or nuclear warheads. It takes that craziness to a whole new level. That’s where we find ourselves in the game Obsession for Murder, a hidden role game that takes 4-6 players and turns them into high-class hoarders for the evening, pitting them against a murderer in their midst.
Will your collections keep you safe or be the reason you are dead?
Obsession for Murder must take place during an eccentric flea market for Bond villains, since items like Stolen Research Journals and an Apollo Lander are sold to any interested buyer. During the commotion of bargaining and auctions, a body is found among the wares. Even with news of this event, however, there’s too much good stuff to just leave behind, so people are still making purchases even with a murderer on the loose. After all, you have come to this black market for a very specific set of items and your focus may give away your identity.
Or perhaps you are the murderer, bent on killing every last one of these crazy rich people.
It is a strange premise, but I would be interested in seeing this crazy market in real life. Yes, I’ll buy the Stolen Art. Do you take checks?
The initial look of Obsession for Murder is basic, but it has drawn more interest than most other games I own. People repeatedly would dig past my other games to inspect what it’s all about. Obviously the game is about murder, but it is also about mystery. To that end, the box does a great job at grabbing attention in a crowd.
Too bad it has the grip of a coin-operated claw machine.
The first obstacle players come across is the rulebook. While not terrible, it alternates between being overly descriptive and glossing over important game play details. With only 5 pages, it could have used more clarification on certain aspects that needed to be repeatedly referenced. This isn’t simply a layout issue; it becomes even more important since players in the game have secret identities with different winning objectives. If you are the Murderer and aren’t exactly sure what to do, for instance, then it’s just as dangerous to ask questions (thereby giving away your identity) as it is to play incorrectly and mess up the game.
It’s like being an undercover cop and asking the mafia how an undercover cop should arrest them. “So do they just grab you or should I…I mean they… I mean…”, you stutter as Vinny pulls out an Uzi from a violin case. Then you’re dead.
Nominally, I like short rulebooks, but they have to be good short rulebooks. This one isn’t. Unfortunately, it’s also not the only time Obsession for Murder takes a good thing and goes too far with it.
At the beginning of the game, each player is given an Identity Card assigning them a winning objective and possibly a special action that can be taken under certain conditions. Most players want to collect numerous items in two different categories as well as discovering out who the Murderer is, while the Murderer only uses items as a cover to stay hidden since they want to be the last player standing.
For normal characters, the categories on their Identity Card are the only types of Items they can play during a game, which means right from the start players are limited in their actions. Obsession with Murder looks like it has variety, but many characters are so similar they are essentially identical in function. And yet there are too many characters to keep track of. Even if you could, though, you’re probably dead already.
There are four main types of cards in Obsession for Murder: Item, Action, Murder / Accusation, and Protection. On a player’s turn, they can take two actions, which are basically discard a card or play a card. When playing a card, you choose to either play it face up or store it for a later turn. Players can only play Item cards containing symbols matching their Identity Card, but Action Cards help gather those Items from the deck or other players.
Action cards have a few different effects, like searching the discard pile or draw deck for specific cards, swapping Items with other players, or even making your opponents give Items away. It’s not quite stealing, as players have a choice of what item to give up. Rather, it’s like a robbery where the robber wants you to hand over your wallet or your jewelry but doesn’t really have a preference.
That said, none of this is possible if a player has a Murder / Accusation card in their hand. If one of those (literally) bloody cards is in your hand, you must either discard cards until your hand is clean or play it for its Accusation power and accuse another player of being the Murderer. When accused, every living player votes on whether that player should live or die. If a majority is reached, the player is killed, no matter what.
I guess mob mentality takes over and can’t be stopped, which makes Obsession for Murder the grimmest flea market ever.
If the Murderer is correctly accused, then players check their individual win conditions; multiple players can claim victory in this way. If the player was innocent, however, then the players have just done the Murderers work for them. The dead player is now out of the game, eliminated from further play.
There are a handful of Protection cards in the game which can prevent Murders or Accusations, but there so few of them they rarely have much of an impact at all. Some Action cards can also be used to learn a little more about fellow players’ identities, but rarely is the information gained much to act on.
Once every player has taken two actions, it’s time for “Give Everyone A Card!”, the game show where these evil masterminds, who have stayed around in the midst of a killing spree, now distribute their own assets among the other market-goers…for some compulsive reason. This is when the Murderer has their chance to strike.
Each player passes one card of theirs to every other player, allowing the Murderer to pass Murder cards to their victims. The Murder cards are only effective when sent to the right people, though, since each Murder card is conditional to the items that you have. In this way, the Murderer in this game has poetic motives rather than just hacking and slashing.
For example, the Murderer can only kill a player with the ‘In The Back’ card if that player has a Weapon item. While potentially risky, most of the time this requirement doesn’t matter all that much since each Item is part of one of three categories. So chances are that a player will have the necessary item category to be eligible for murder.
Once everyone receives their cards from one another, each player’s cards are shuffled and revealed. Anyone with an activated Murder Card dies, falling victim to the Murderer’s machinations.
Strangely, there isn’t much room for talking about who the Murderer might be in this game, which is usually one of the main points in hidden role games. Instead, Obsession with Murder asks everyone to quiet down in the market rather than encourage debate and discussion.
There is some mild gamesmanship that happens in this game, however, as everyone is still trying to win while the murderer is on the loose. In fact, it’s even possible to have games where every player can know who the Murderer is, but players may not make an accusation because they don’t have enough of the correct Items to fulfill their own victory conditions. It does add a bit of a gamble to basic decision-making, but mostly it just seems bizarre to find a murderer in your midst, only to stick your fingers in your ears and turn back to looking at research journals.
At the very least it has the obsession part of Obsession For Murder down.
There might be even more room for deceit and deviousness, but players are restricted to only playing two cards each before the Murderer acts, so the chances to discover anything important is slim. Similar games I have seen do social deduction well are either bare-bones like The Resistance, where discussion is the main point of the game, or those that have systems in place where traitors can work under the guise of helping before striking, like in Dead of Winter. By contrast, Obsession with Murder gathers people together who have no reason to work together and expects them to cooperate, even though there are barely any tools to help each other out even if they wanted to.
In the end, Obsession for Murder is completely harmless. While the concept is certainly different, it ultimately didn’t elicit strong feeling one way or another. It certainly had the murdering part down, but there was very little mechanically to obsess over. With limited actions, it often feels like you’re simply going through the motions until you wind up dead. Sadly, in such an ever more crowded game genre, it simply doesn’t hold up very strongly against other hidden role games. If you are looking for a game of devious acts and identity issues, move along. Nothing to see here.
Rob Cramer is a regular contributor to the site and looks forward to exploring the hidden wonders of the indie gaming world.
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Photo Credits: Obsession for Murder images by WHE Games; One Fish, Two Fish cover From Random House Kids; Gollum of Lord of the Rings from New Line Cinema; South Park Officer Barbrady from Comedy Central.