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Deduce or Die!

Designer: Larry Levy
Players: 3-6
Equipment: 3 standard card decks, two with identical backs.

If you're a fan of deduction games such as Code 777, Clue, Sleuth or Black Vienna, here's an original design you may want to check out. I actually find it more challenging than any of the games I've listed, a statement that will be greeted with delight by some and with horror by others. If you're still with me, be prepared to sharpen both your pencils and your little gray cells. The game is afoot!

Background: You're a successful trial lawyer and this year you've decided to take a cruise for your vacation. Unfortunately, a terrible storm sinks the ship and you and a few others find yourselves stranded on a conveniently located tropical island. The good news is, there's enough food, fresh water, and shelter to keep everyone alive indefinitely. The bad news is that the chances of you ever being rescued are slim and none. The really bad news is that everyone else on the island is also a trial lawyer!

But the worst news is that you all woke up this morning to find one member of the group dead, obviously murdered by one of you. Since no one relishes the thought of spending the rest of their life with a murderer, and since, after all, you are lawyers, a trial has been set up in which everyone takes turns interrogating the others. If a sufficiently good motive can be established for one of you, their execution can be swiftly arranged. It would be nice if you could be the one who makes the accusation; your little group will need a leader and nothing impresses lawyers more than a winning argument. Of course, if the true murderer can make a good enough case against someone else, they will have successfully gotten away with murder. And the person they accuse could very well be you. Counselor, you are on trial for your life: call your first witness.

Summary: Deduce or Die! is a deduction game in which the players are trying to find out who among them is a murderer. The actual murderer is as anxious as anyone else to determine the facts of the case, as that will allow him or her to pin the blame on someone else. The first player who can correctly accuse another player of the crime wins the game.

Number of Players: 3 to 6.

Equipment: 3 decks of ordinary playing cards (two with identical backs and preferably the third with different colored backs), pencils, and a deduction sheet for each player.

Preparation: Take the deck of cards with a differently colored back. Form a deck using the Ace through Nine of Spades, Hearts, and Clubs. These 27 cards make up the Motive deck. Shuffle the deck well and place two cards face down to the side, making sure that no one sees what they are. These cards are called the Evidence cards. Then deal the following number of cards to each player face down:

  • Three players - 8 cards
  • Four players - 6 cards
  • Five players - 5 cards
  • Six players - 4 cards

All the cards are dealt out in a five player game. Otherwise, there will be one card left over. Expose this card, let everyone take note of it, and then place it aside, out of the game. The players can now secretly look at the cards dealt to them and make any notes they like on their deduction sheets.

Now take the other two decks of cards and remove the same 27 cards from each deck. Shuffle these 54 cards together and place them in the center of the table. This is called the Interrogation deck. Randomly choose one player to go first.

Determining the Murderer: The murderer is defined by the two Evidence cards. Once these cards are known, they identify a third card. This third card is called the Murder card, which is used to determine who the murderer is and who can be accused of being the murderer.

Here's the procedure for using the two Evidence cards to generate the Murder card. The rank of the Murder card is equal to the sum of the two Evidence cards. If this sum is greater than nine, subtract nine from the total to determine the rank. If the two Evidence cards are of different suits, the suit of the Murder card is the third suit. If the two Evidence cards are of the same suit, the suit of the Murder card is the same as the Evidence cards' suits.

Here are some examples. If the two Evidence cards are the 5 of Spades and the 7 of Hearts, the Murder card would be the 3 of Clubs (5 + 7 = 12, 12 – 9 = 3, and Clubs is the third suit).

If instead the two Evidence cards were the Ace of Hearts and the 8 of Hearts, the Murder card would be the 9 of Hearts (1 + 8 = 9, don't subtract anything because the sum isn't greater than nine, and the suit is Hearts because both Evidence cards are Hearts).

Normally, the player who holds the Murder card is the murderer. However, if the Murder card is one of the Evidence cards or is the exposed card, then the player holding the card which is one rank higher and the same suit as the Murder card is the murderer. If this card is also one of the Evidence or exposed cards, then the player holding the card two ranks higher than the Murder card is the murderer, and so on, until a card which is held by a player is found. Ranks go around the corner, so the Ace of Clubs is one rank higher than the 9 of Clubs.

The objective for each player is to deduce the Murder card, determine who holds it (or, in the cases outlined above, who holds the card one or two ranks higher than it), and accuse them of the murder. However, the murderer's objective is to accuse an innocent player. If a player figures out the Murder card and realizes it is in his hand, he needs to find the player who holds the next higher card of that suit that isn't in his own hand. Again, if this card is an Evidence or exposed card, the card of that suit of the next higher rank is used.

Here's an example to help clarify this. Suppose Sheryl has deduced that the two Evidence cards are the Ace of Hearts and the 8 of Hearts. Therefore, the Murder card is the 9 of Hearts. But Sheryl has the Nine of Hearts in her own hand, so she is the real murderer. So who can she (falsely) accuse of the crime? It's the player who holds the next higher Heart, the Ace of Hearts. Since the Ace is one of the Evidence cards, she needs to find the 2 of Hearts instead. Looking at her hand, Sheryl notices that she has the 2 of Hearts as well, so that means she really needs the 3 of Hearts. If she can deduce which player holds the 3 of Hearts, she can accuse him and win the game.

Initial Revelations: Each of the lawyers begins the confrontation with a brief statement. Their sharp-eyed fellow lawyers are able to use this to discern something of their current mental state. To reflect this, immediately after the cards are dealt out, each player, beginning with the first player and continuing in clockwise order, must truthfully reveal which suit has the fewest number of cards in their hand. If a player's hand has more than one suit with the smallest number of cards, he can reveal whichever one of these suits he wishes.

Interrogating Opponents: After the players have made their initial revelations, the first player takes her turn. She draws the top three cards from the Interrogation deck and exposes them. She then selects two of them and uses them to question one of her opponents. She picks one of the cards to be the lower one and one to be the higher one. Together, they define a range of cards. The range depends on the suit of the cards. If both cards are of the same suit, the cards being asked about are those of that suit from the rank of the lower Interrogation card to the rank of the higher Interrogation card. The rank of the cards extends around the corner, so that Aces lie above Nines. For example, if the lower card is the 3 of Clubs and the higher one is the 6 of Clubs, the range is the 3 through 6 of Clubs (the 3, 4, 5, 6 of Clubs). If instead, the 6 was declared to be the lower card and the 3 the higher card, the range would be the 6 through 3 of Clubs (the 6, 7, 8, 9, A, 2, 3 of Clubs).

If the two chosen Interrogation cards are of different suits, the range consists of the cards between the two ranks of all three suits. For example, if the lower Interrogation card is the 3 of Hearts and the higher one is the 5 of Spades, the cards in the range are the 3 of Spades, 3 of Hearts, 3 of Clubs, 4 of Spades, 4 of Hearts, 4 of Clubs, 5 of Spades, 5 of Hearts, and the 5 of Clubs. If the 5 was the lower card and the 3 the higher card, the range would include every card in the deck except for the three Fours.

The one exception to this rule is if the two cards are identical. In this case, the player has the choice of making the range either all the cards of that rank or all the cards of that suit. Thus, if the two Interrogation cards are both 2 of Spades, the player could make the range be either all three Twos or all nine Spades.

The active player chooses a lower and higher Interrogation card, picks an opponent, and asks how many cards in the range that player has in his hand. The player must truthfully answer out loud. The players record this answer however they like, after which the three Interrogation cards are placed in the discard pile. The player to the interrogator's left then becomes the next active player and turns over three new Interrogation cards. This process continues until the game ends. When the Interrogation deck runs out, reshuffle the discards and form a new deck.

After turning over the three Interrogation cards, a player has the option of not making an interrogation on her turn. Usually this will occur late in the game, when a player knows that no question can give her more information but might assist her opponents. If a player chooses not to interrogate, the three cards are discarded as usual and the player to her left takes his turn.

Once a game, each player may make a Secret Interrogation. After exposing the three Interrogation cards, the player declares that he will exercise this option. All three cards are discarded and instead, the player takes a slip of paper, writes down a range of cards, and hands it to an opponent. The range must be one that could be normally generated—thus, for example, a single card could not be asked. The opponent takes the slip, writes down how many cards she has in the range, and passes it back to the interrogating player. Neither player should give any indication what either the request or the response was. After receiving the response, the player ends his turn.

Winning the Game: At any time (not necessarily on his turn), a player can make an accusation. The accuser states who he thinks the murderer is and then writes down what he thinks the two Evidence cards are. To verify his prediction, the accuser first secretly looks at the Evidence cards. Whether or not his guess is correct, he asks the accused player to pass her cards to him. If the accuser correctly deduced the Evidence cards and the player he has accused holds the Murder card generated by the Evidence cards, the accuser reveals these cards and his written prediction and wins the game. Alternatively, if the accuser can produce the Murder card from his own hand and shows that the accused player has the next higher card in the same suit (skipping over any cards in the suit which are in his own hand, are Evidence cards, or were exposed at the beginning of the game), he has successfully pinned the crime on another player and wins. So for example, if the Murder card is the 5 of Clubs and the accuser shows that he has the 5 and 6 of Clubs in his hand, he needs to find the 7 of Clubs in the accused player's hand in order to win. If instead, the accuser's prediction for the Evidence cards is incorrect or if the accused player does not have the card which will allow him to accuse her, the accuser announces he is wrong (he doesn't say why) and drops out of the game. The game continues until someone makes a correct accusation. Players can still interrogate the player who made the incorrect accusation and he must answer their questions correctly, but he takes no further turns himself and can make no further interrogations.

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