The Cult of the Old

Scotland Yard

Words by Giles Bennett

20 February 2023

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Those of us who are not above trawling the odd charity shop in the hopes of finding boardgame gold will, over the years, have noticed that if there's one thing you can bank on (othere than the ubiquitous copies of 50 Shades of Grey that every charity shop is legally obliged to stock), it's that in amongst the copies of Monopoly, Scrabble and other family favourites, more often than not you will find a copy of Scotland Yard tucked away.

This is testimony more to the sheer quantities of it than have been printed, than it is to the quality of the game. Whilst it rocks up at a relatively middle-of-the-road rating 6.5 out of 10 on BGG, it's a surprisingly good game. And if you see one lurking on charity shop shelves, generally for around a fiver or so unless you're in one of those charity shops which now wishfully price older games based on researching eBay's asking prices, rather than its sold listings and you don't already have a copy, then you should definitely pick it up.

Its mechanics are straightforward, and have been played out both before, and after, in a variety of guises (older and more experienced games should think 'Letters from Whitechapel' but with fewer dead prostitutes), or Fury of Dracula, but for a more family-friendly audience.

"[t]hink 'Letters from Whitechapel' (but with fewer dead prostitutes)"

The board is a straight-forward map of London, with locations, marked by numbers, linked by one or more taxi, bus or Underground routes. Mr. X has committed a crime, and has to evade capture from up to five police officers, who must work in conjuction to track him down.

Both Mr. X and the detectives move around the board, and as Mr. X moves each time, he reveals his method of transport, and at four points during the game, he must also reveal his location. If he can evade his pursuers for 24 rounds, he wins. Whilst the detectives are rationed to their starting supply of travel tickets, as and when they use them up, they pass them to Mr. X, who therefore has a practically unlimited supply.

In addition, Mr. X also has two 'double move' cards which he can use to - as the name suggests - move twice to the detectives' once. If used at the right time during the game, this means that no sooner does he have to pop up into view than he can disappear straight out of it.

He also gets one 'black' ticket for each detective he is competing against, allowing him to record a move but without showing what travel method he used. Whilst every space is connected to its neighbouring spaces by a taxi, bus routes are around three spaces apart, and Underground spaces even further apart.

With cunning play, Mr. X can appear on a spot on the map which has all three, and then travel away using a black ticket, leaving the detectives with a baffling array of locations that he could have gone to.

For my money, this is almost the perfect family game, particularly if your family is comprised of a variety of ages. Older children will not struggle to take on the role of Mr. X, as it's not demanding (and comes with a useful visor so that the detectives cannot see where Mr. X's eyes are roaming as they scan the map). And younger children can be assisted, as detectives, by adults without the former having to take control of everything for them.

It's short - maybe 45 minutes or so for a game - but deep enough to get your teeth into. It's lively, and whether you're playing as Mr. X or one of the detectives, as the game clock ticks down, you cannot help but feel the excitement build as you either smell the sweet smell of freedom, or the stench of sweat as your slowly detectives slowly encircle Mr. X.

Giles Bennett has no boardgaming claims to fame other than that he once accidentally purchased a copy of Keywood. He's a web developer who spends most of his time tied to his computer squinting at code.
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