I thought I had her pegged. She’d been elusive up to this point, slipping in amongst the other suspects and eliminating them one at a time. I’d thought for sure that I had her cornered before, and yet she managed to evade my grasp. This time I was sure that I had her. I just needed one more move to get into position and slip the handcuffs on her. That’s when I felt the knife in my back and knew that the tables had turned. She had managed to turn the game on its head. She had outwitted me, deftly morphing from prey into predator, and now the game was hers.
Noir: Black Box Edition, designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. and published by Level 99 Games, is intense and exciting and offers great value in its small package. Consisting of just a few decks of cards and a small selection of tokens, Noir offers tight, thematic game-play, game-play variations that keep it fresh and interesting, and the flexibility to play with up to 9 players straight out of the box. While the two-player games are really where Noir shines, the game is a worthy purchase for anyone who likes deduction games.
Noir‘s biggest strength is found in its three two-player games, Killer vs. Inspector, Hitman vs. Sleuth and Master Thief vs. Chief of Police. Players take on the titular roles in each of these games and work in direct opposition of one another in an attempt to accomplish goals as laid out by that particular game.
Killer vs. Inspector sees one player take on the role of the Killer, attempting to kill either the Inspector or any 14 other suspects on the board while evading capture. The Inspector’s job is to try to track down and arrest the killer by exonerating suspects in order to narrow down the list of potential identities that the Killer could be.
Killer vs. Inspector uses a 5×5 grid of cards and limits the Killer to killing only other cards that are adjacent to their secret identity. Likewise, the Inspector is also limited to attempting arrest on adjacent suspects. While this may initially seem limiting, both players are allowed to shift the rows and columns of cards in the grid in effort to move their character card around the board and into a more advantageous position. The Killer also has the option to Disguise themselves, slipping from one identity to another, drawn randomly, which allows the Killer to flit around the board and can allow them to slip away from the Inspector at the last possible instant.
The Inspector isn’t left without tricks of their own though, with the ability to Exonerate suspects and prove them innocent. Exoneration also allows the Inspector player to Canvas for the Killer, forcing them to reveal whether they are adjacent to the Exonerated suspect or not. Killer vs. Inspector has a wonderful cat-and-mouse vibe as the Killer attempts to evade the Inspector and eliminate suspects even as the number of possible Disguises decreases as the Inspector proves more and more suspects innocent.
Hitman vs. Sleuth is a variation on the Killer vs. Inspector theme and sees the Hitman player attempt to kill four suspects, with the identity of the current target known to both players. The Hitman player needs to be even more careful in this game as the current target is known to both players, which limits the number of spaces in the card-grid that the Hitman can strike from. The Hitman does have the option of slipping into a disguise, as in Killer vs. Inspector, but using this ability adds another suspect to their list of targets. Balancing whether to don a disguise and slip away against having to kill yet another suspect to win can be an agonizing, if not unavoidable choice.
The Sleuth player does not have the option to Canvas for the Hitman, so the Sleuth player must be careful to pay attention to who the current target is and the Hitman’s possible angles of attack on that target. The Sleuth player has the option of Exonerating suspects, but each Exoneration also decreases the Hitman’s target list by one suspect. These limitations mean that Hitman vs. Sleuth has a more move-and-counter-move feel to it where being sly and elusive and planning ahead are much more important than in Killer vs. Inspector.
The final two player game, Master Thief vs. Chief of Police, tends to run quite a bit longer than the prior two and offers a non-violent option for players who may not wish to be placed in the shoes of a Hitman or a Killer. This game tasks the Master Thief with stealing 25 treasures from the board, one from each of the 25 cards that make up the 5×5 grid. The Master Thief will have 3 possible Disguises that they can quick-change in order to hop around the board and avoid the Chief of Police. The Chief of Police uses a hidden plain clothes officer and two uniformed officers, known to both players, to try to track down, corner and arrest the Master Thief. Master Thief vs. Chief of Police really puts pressure on the players and smart play is crucial for success for the Master Thief. Attempting to loot as much treasure as possible while avoiding giving away any of their secret identities is tough and the tension really mounts as the Chief of Police tightens the noose around the Master Thief player.
These three games really form the meat of the game and are the backbone behind my recommendation. Noir: Black Box Edition also has three multiplayer games in the box that, while they do increase the value of the game further, aren’t as tight nor as fun as the two player games. The first of these games, Spy Tag, is the most simplistic of the bunch. Spy Tag can be played with 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 or 9 players and pits each player in the role of a Spy attempting to capture the other players. Spy Tag essentially boils down to players moving around the board Canvasing suspects. Each time a suspect is Canvased, all adjacent players, including the Canvasing player, must raise their hands. Players need to suss out who’s who while doing their best not to give themselves away. Spy Tag can be played with player elimination or to a set point total but really doesn’t offer more than a quick diversion, especially with higher player counts.
FBI vs. Mafia is a game for 6 or 8 players that is similar to a multi-player version of Killer vs. Inspector. The Mafia players are attempting to kill a certain number of citizens while the FBI player is tasked with capturing Mafia members. Thankfully, each player has a unique role with their own ability set, which changes it enough from the Killer vs. Inspector to make it interesting. There is no player elimination in this mode although the sheer volume of players means that the tight, tense conflict of the two-player games is lost in favor of a more chaotic, disorganized scrum.
The final game on offer, Heist, is a one-vs.-many style game for 5-7 players. This game is interesting in that it sees a team of criminals face off against a single Chief of Security player. The thieves must rob 4 vaults, placed at the corner of the card-grid in order to win. The Chief of Security will win if he manages to capture enough thieves that they run out of Role cards. The thieves have to coordinate openly with one another in order to rob the vaults while simultaneously avoiding the Chief of Security’s officers. The thieves also have to take care which actions they chose to use as certain actions can leave them open to being exposed. This game requires a high degree of coordination from the thief players which can be difficult for groups of 5 and 6 players.
A note on “chrome”: The cards in Noir: Black Box Edition are excellent quality and have a great linen finish. The art really sells the theme of the game and the box itself, while a somewhat understated black-on-black, is eye-catching nonetheless. The tokens are all good quality and the rules are easy to read and understand.
The bottom line:
Noir: Black Box Edition is a great value. The 1950’s style ‘gumshoe’ theme really works well with the game and plays up the game’s cloak and dagger feel. The three 2-player games are really where Noir shines, but the option to play with up to nine players really adds a lot of value and flexibility to the game box. Players who enjoy deduction games, especially one-on-one deduction games where players attempt to outmaneuver, outwit and outsmart their opponent, should definitely pick Noir: Black Box Edition up. I would recommend players look at it as a primarily two-player game with the option to play with larger groups simply icing on an already great cake.
Get this game if:
You enjoy deduction games.
You enjoy asymmetrical player roles.
You like low profile games that you can take anywhere.
You enjoy games with a ‘cat and mouse’ feel.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer direct player conflict to more subtle move and counter move style games.
Rules for Noir: Black Box Edition can be downloaded here.
The copy of Noir: Black Box Edition used for this review was provided by Level 99 Games.
Noir: Black Box Edition is a great deduction game for 2 players. The different game variations are fun and interesting and the amount of flexibility in the box is great.