Catching Mister X: A Review of Scotland Yard

Scotland Yard

Scotland Yard is a game that first became popular way back in 1983, when it won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in Germany. At the time, I was only interested in rattles and building blocks, so it escaped my attention. I heard about it much later but knew very little about it until we recently received a review copy of the new 2013 edition from Ravensburger. To set the mood for my review, how about a stellar Milton Bradley commercial from 1985?

Gameplay

In Scotland Yard, one player takes on the role of the elusive Mister X, a criminal on the run in London. All other players are Detectives who are working together to find and capture Mister X before he can escape their grasp. If there are fewer than 4 Detectives, "Bobbies" (cops) are added to the game to serve as dummy players who are controlled by the group.

At the beginning of the game, the location of the Detectives and Mister X on the map are determined by drawing a start card for each. Then, up to 22 rounds are played. For each round, Mister X secretly makes a move, followed by each of the detectives and Bobbies, in any order. Detectives can move one space along a subway, bus, or taxi route by discarding one of the corresponding tokens, which are limited. Mister X can move along any route for free, but he must disclose which form of transportation he used — the actual location he moves to remains secret.

At 5 specific points during the game, Mister X must disclose his location to the Detectives by placing his pawn on the map. This gives them a chance to regroup and move to trap him. However, Mister X has some special moves that only he can make. One is a double-move ticket, which allows him to make 2 moves consecutively during a single round. Another is a black ticket, which allows him to choose any mode of transportation, including a special ferry option, without revealing which one he chose. When played strategically, these special moves can assist Mister X to escape the Detectives, even after his location is known.

If a Detective or a Bobby finishes his move on the same space as Mister X, the game ends immediately and the Detectives win. If Mister X remains uncaught after all 22 rounds have ended, Mister X wins.

Scotland Yard components

Review

Despite the corny 80s commercial, Scotland Yard is actually quite a fun game. The dual roles of Detectives vs. Mister X offer a completely different experience from one another. The detectives openly work together to strategize and contemplate the possible locations of Mister X, while Mister X acts completely alone, mastering a secretive escape plan. The game even comes with a visor for Mister X to allow him to look at various spaces on the board without his eyes being seen by the other players.

While the Detectives may collaborate together, they risk providing information to Mister X that he can use in his escape. Perhaps because of this, we found it quite difficult to pinpoint Mister X's location. We found out at the end of our first game that we were incredibly close to capturing him but didn't realize it at the time, and he slipped away before we could get him. With a little luck (or less collaboration), the outcome may have been different.

It is very helpful to the Detectives to know Mister X's location at regular intervals during the game. However, players must already be close on his tail in order to trap him when this occurs, as the possibilities of his location after subsequent moves will grow exponentially, leaving the Detectives lost and possibly frustrated. This is especially true if Mister X makes use of his special movement tokens.

Mister X always has tough decisions to make, and always on his own. For instance, the type of transportation he chooses from a particular point is very important in his escape. While choosing a subway or bus will get him further, it also narrows down his possible location to the Detectives, since there are fewer subway and bus stations than taxi stations.

The game is suprisingly simple to learn, yet difficult to master. It would take several plays to develop a good strategy as a Detective — but even then, Mister X's strategy might change during each game, leaving players on their toes. It may not be for everyone, however, as it puts a lot of stress on Mister X as he faces the collective strategy of the rest of the group. For this reason, it is a good idea for the most experienced player to take on this role, at least at first.

The components included in the new 2013 edition are very nice. The board is large and sturdy, the tokens and pawns are good, and Mister X's travel log is very effective at keeping the game flowing — it allows him to secretly write down and cover his location with a transportation token and also indicates when he is supposed to reveal his location.

In the end, Scotland Yard is an intriguing game that has earned a well-deserved spot in our Recommended Games list.

Pros: Challenging game, well-designed gameplay and components, has maintained popularity for several decades

Cons: May not be for everyone, especially in the role of Mister X

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.