I stumbled upon Queen’s Ransom, from designer Kevin L. Jones, when looking for stocking-sized games at Christmas-time last year, and I’ve never looked back. A relatively straightfoward 2-5 player card game of deduction, Queen’s Ransom sends players on a quest to find out who has snatched the Queen, and where he has stashed her. The first player to correctly accuse an abductor and name his location wins the game.
There are three Suspects in the game, three possible Locations, and a Jester who knows all. Each Suspect and Location card has two pieces of evidence: a +2, a -2, a +1, and/or a -1. Players can pay the Jester a bribe of varying amount per turn to give a piece of information, allowing them to peek at one of the evidence cards. Special cards also allow players to see evidence cards without paying the Jester’s often ruinous bribes, as well as give them the ability to throw the occasional roadblock in the path of other players.
Players’ memories can also present problems, as it can be difficult to keep track of which Suspect had +1 and +1, and which had +2 and +1, once the evidence begins to mount. The Suspect and Location with the highest totals (which may be +2 or +3, depending on the spread of the particular game) must be ferreted out, and then identified by the successful sleuth who would claim victory.
The game is very easy to learn. The instructions are given on a two-sided, one-sheet folding pamphlet that is well-written and easy to use. We didn’t have any difficulty getting started flat-footed using just that. We’ve taught this game to several people, and each time it has gone smoothly and quickly. That said, this is one of those delightful easy to learn, not so easy to master games. There is no one strategy to winning this game. You can try something different each time, and there’s definite psychology involved, as you don’t necessarily want to solve one side and immediately move to the other side, lest you make it stunningly clear which one you’ve just identified as being the correct card on the first side. There’s enough friction provided by the special cards and also by the simple fact that other players are investigating and learning just as fast as you are, that the game avoids being a multi-player solitaire.
I’ve played this game eleven times now, and I plan to keep playing. I don’t feel I’m anywhere close to exhausting the replay value of this game. I try a new strategy each time, and I often tailor it somewhat to my opponent. The lay of the cards also dictates changes in strategy as you go, of course, because sometimes the first pair of evidence cards you look at tells you what you need to know, and sometimes you have to look at five cards to figure it out. Of course, sometimes you also have to look at one more than once, because you’ve gotten them mixed up, or because a special card has been played to switch them around.
As with many games, this is a game where players can choose their own level of depth of theme. There’s going to be some theme no matter how you play it. The Suspect and Location cards are right there with illustrations to remind you what you’re researching. You pay the Jester to get information. That said, there are places where you can choose to embrace the theme, or ignore it. The Evidence cards have their number values, but also have text. For me, as a very word-centered person, apart from making the game more interesting, the text is invaluable in remembering which card was where. One +1 Suspect Evidence card, for example, says, “Handmaiden Overheard Suspicious Conversation.” This provides body to the story of the Queen’s abduction, preventing, if the player wills it, the game from becoming more an abstract game than a themed one.
I honestly think this is a fantastic game. As a game, it hits all the high notes. It’s fun and is fun to play together. It WORKS as a game, with excellent flow, so players can focus on just playing it, and not worrying about mechanics. I have a great time playing it, it fits well into different game-time needs, and it’s easy to teach. This is a game that will stay in active circulation in our collection for a long time, I suspect. I have given this game twice now as gifts, because I believe in it and am happy to put my name to it as a recommender. My only regret is that this game has somehow not gotten the attention it deserves, which is both a loss to the designer, and also to the gaming public.
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Who is this Suzanna person, anyway?
Suzanna's passions are gaming, dogs, and writing. She also loves reading, travel, and cranberry juice. Above all else, she would have it be said that she is compassionate, funny, and too clever by half.
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