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Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen

A body is discovered in an office building in Paris. It is up to you to follow leads, question witnesses, and explore crime scenes in order to get to the heart of this mystery.

Published by Lucky Duck Games and Aurora, Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen is designed to be played in one hour and supports 1-6 players.

Gameplay

The game is played with a deck of cards. You lay out the initial crime scene that is made up of nine cards. You set the rest of the deck aside to form the lead deck. Players will be working together, and there are no turns.

At any time, you can flip over one of the crime scene cards to look closer at that particular area of the location. This will typically reveal new leads, giving text to explain what you discover and listing numbers you can look up in the lead deck. For example, you might find an object that you can then analyze for fingerprints, or you might find someone to question.

When a lead is given, you do not have to look it up. But if you wish to, you take the card from the lead deck whose number matches the number given for that lead. Once you draw a lead card, you must flip it over and read it. This will sometimes give more leads. Sometimes, in order to follow a lead, you must have already collected a specific other card.

Sometimes you can also go to another location. When you do this, you lay out the cards listed for that location to form a new image. You can explore these new locations in the same way as you explore the main crime scene.

Once you believe you know what is going on in the mystery, you flip to the questions page at the end of the rules booklet. You read through the questions and attempt to answer them. Some of these will be multiple choice while others are open-ended, and some will ask you to point to specific cards to back up your claim. There are main questions which deal with the core mystery and there are additional side questions that cover background elements to the story.

You may either try to fully explore the entire game, figuring out every bit of the story, or try to solve the mystery by flipping over as few cards as possible. For each set of five cards in the leads deck you do not look at, you earn one point. Players also earn points for correctly answering each question.

Once you have read through all the answers to the questions, you then get to read a final epilogue that wraps up the case.

Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen Components

Review

Crime Zoom: Bird of Ill Omen does an excellent job of supporting two different play styles. You can absolutely dive deeply into the game, following every lead and digging out every scrap of information to get the fullest picture possible, or you can try to maximize your points and challenge yourself to solve the case as efficiently as possible. It will really all come down to which one appeals to your group the most.

The core gameplay is nice and simple. There are not a lot of rules and you’re quickly into the game and playing. It feels intuitive and accessible. You can also have a lot of fun taking turns reading the clue cards, especially if players really lean into the witness statements and acting them out.

All of the clues feel fair. We didn’t feel like there were any leaps of logic that players couldn’t follow, and the story told was cohesive and interesting.  During the solution at the end, the game lists every card that backs up the pieces of the mystery.

Some of the character artwork on a few of the cards could have been improved, but overall the production of the game is well done. We liked the individual scenes you can visit — these do an excellent job of making the game feel bigger while still packing everything into a single deck of cards.

The game is rated for ages 14 and up, which feels like a fair rating, as it does deal with some adult concepts. Nothing is overly graphic, but some of the ideas involved are more mature, and you’d want to be sure of the group you played it with given that fact. Gven the length of the game, it felt as if not all of those concepts could be fully explored in the context of the mystery and so they didn’t entirely feel justified or necessary.

Despite that, there is some real ambition in the storyline, and more nuance than you sometimes find in mystery-in-a-deck games. Not everything is black and white, and even at the end it felt as if some threads of the story were up to interpretation even once you had the facts.

It’s best to play Crime Zoom games with a smaller group of players, and Bird of Ill Omen is no exception. As there are no turns, there’s nothing to ensure that all players will feel involved and have their voices and opinions heard, so it’s easier to keep everyone in the game when only playing with two or three. It does also make for quite a pleasant solo experience, although you will miss out on the fun of discussing theories.

Playing Bird of Ill Omen really does feel like stepping into a mystery TV show to solve the murder of the week, from the clues you follow up on to the story itself. Once you have solved it, you’re not going to be able to play it again, but you can pass the game on to friends — which is always a nice option. If you enjoy murder mystery games, Crime Zoom has a unique flavor to it and does a good job of feeling like it’s bigger than its components might suggest. For the right players, it’s sure to be a hit.

Pros: Ambitious story, mechanics to introduce multiple locations, very thematic, extremely light on rules

Cons: Mature themes, some character art could be improved, not at its best with larger player count

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