Deduction Card Games

Awkward Guests: A Deduction Game That’s Far Better Than Clue

I’m really excited to tell you about this one! Awkward Guests is a great example of the type of game we want to highlight with this site. It’s superior to a game many people know and love… but you’ve probably never heard of it.

Awkward Guests is the game by which all other murder mystery themed games will be judged; it simply does everything right. For me, Awkward guest completely replaces Clue, and I hope when we’re done talking about it, you’ll be excited to give it a try!

Overview

Awkward Guests is a deduction game for 1-8 players by Magacorpin Games. The game was originally released only in Spanish, with the English version coming a couple years later. The game plays in about an hour and has an ingenious method of providing thousands of possible murder mysteries to solve. Magacorpin calls this method the Brilliant Deck system, and it’s well named — I’ll get into how all of that works later in the post.

In the game you are an investigator trying to solve the murder of Mr. Walton, who was killed in his study. You start the game with six pieces of information and must trade information with the other investigators in order to solve the case. What you trade and when is up to you, but you have to trade information that is at least as valuable as the information you’re getting. The game is very well balanced and plays as well with two players as it does with a crowd.

Awkward Guests Gameplay

Setup

To setup the game you choose a case either from the rulebook or using the companion app and gather the 70 numbered cards for that case without looking at them. The cards in Awkward Guests all have numbers on the back and the box is designed to allow you to easily keep them separated in stacks of 50.

Magacorpin Games calls this “The Brilliant Deck System” and I have to say, it works really well. It allows the game to present you with 1,000 of possible cases so you “never play a similar game twice”. It also allow the publisher to continue designing new cases and make them available to players by updating the app.

Once you have assembled and throughly shuffled your case deck, give each player a tracking sheet, a pencil, a screen, a case solving token, and deal them six cards and you’re ready to go.

Inquiry Phase

During the round each player takes a turn being the active player and making and inquiry. They can ask about rooms or suspects. They are allowed to ask about two things per turn, it can be two suspects, two rooms, or one of each. This is very cleverly facilitated using a map of the house located on the back of the rulebook, and the provided arrow tokens. Simply use the arrows to point at the things you’re asking about.

Offer Phase

The other players can then offer cards from their hands that reference those things. Notice I said they can offer this information. This is where things get really interesting. Each card has a point value assigned to it between one and three. This represents how valuable that piece of information is. Cards that eliminate multiple possibilities have a higher point value,

Players can offer multiple cards if they choose, placing them facedown on the table and putting a token on the cards that indicates the total value of the information being offered. The active player must trade cards from their hand with the which have a point total at least as high as the information being offered.

The smaller number on the token tells you which number is on the other side.

Exchange Phase

The active player can trade cards with as many other players as they can afford to trade with. You don’t look at the new cards until you have made all of your trades so the cards you trade must come from your hand.

A player is not forced to offer information they have related to the inquiry. They may choose to keep information they feel is important to themself. There is a balance here however, because if you’re not trading cards you’re not getting any new information.

If no one offers any information, the active player gets to draw three new cards from the deck.

Solution Phase

At the end of the round, once all players have had a turn investigating, it’s time to see if anyone thinks they can solve the case. All player place their case solving token on the table and cover it with their hand until all players simultaneously reveal them. Light side up means you want to take a guess, dark side up means “I’m still in the dark, let’s keep investigating”.

Discard Phase

If no one guesses correctly, each player discards down to three cards and all players are dealt three new cards from the case deck. This adds new information to the game, but the discarding also allows player to potentially bury information only they have seen.

You then move to a new starting player and begin a new round with the inquiry phase. Play continues until someone has solved the case!

What We Like About Awkward Guests

The Brilliant Deck System

The Brilliant Deck System is the heart of why I love this game so much. The game comes with 243 cards containing different clues, but you only ever use 70 of them at a time. Each card is numbered and when you setup a new case, the app tells you which cards to include in the game deck. This allows for thousands of possible cases and near infinite replaybility.

The Brilliant Deck System also allows for cases with increasing levels of difficulty. Think of it like a sudoko puzzle; if you want to make it harder you remove more numbers. The puzzle is still solvable but you have less information to go on. By building Awkward Guests around this system, the publisher is able to give you a case that has more gaps in the information, but still gives you enough information to solve it. Unlike it’s Clue, where you are basically just trying to determine which cards are not there by process of elimination, the Brilliant Deck System allows for cases where there is information you can ONLY determine by deducing it.

The Game Scales Very Well

I was incredibly impressed by how well this game scales. We’ve played it with two players, six players and solo. There are some rule changes for a two player game, but the game plays just as well with low and high player counts. We wondered if there would be too much downtime with six players, but since any player can offer information to the active player, and the active player can make as many trades as they can afford, you are often getting information when it isn’t your turn. This keeps everyone engaged and you don’t feel like you’re just waiting around.

Also, you have to deduce some of the information; when you don’t get new information you’re re-examining the information you have. No one in our six player game ever felt like they were out of the action.

Multiple Levels of Difficulty

Another great thing about Awkward Guest is the game has seven levels of difficulty you can move through as you improve. You can play on:

  • Beginner
  • Very Easy
  • Easy
  • Medium
  • Hard
  • Very Hard
  • Perfect Crime

We would recommend playing your first couple of games on Easy and then moving to Medium pretty quickly. At Medium difficulty and higher, there is the possibility that the murderer had an accomplice. You must also determine if there was an accomplice, who they were, and what their motive was.

The Inquiry Board/Arrows

This is a small thing, but it makes a big difference. On the back of the rule book is a map of the house and the game comes with little arrow tokens you can use to signify which people and/or rooms you are asking about. In a deduction game like this it’s common for people to be lost in thought at times, and having a physical representation of what was requested keeps you from hearing “What did you ask for again?” all game.

Tracking Tips

Each card tells you how to track the relevant information on your tracking sheet. I found this to be immensely helpful especially when I was first learning the game.

You’re tracking a LOT of different information: the number of people in a room, who was with who, motives, movement, etc. It’s a lot to keep track of, and the game helps you to keep it all straight. It’s a nice touch.

The App

The companion app is exactly what it needs to be and no more. It provides access to thousands more cases than are in the rulebook and has the added benefit of allowing a player who guesses the solution incorrectly to keep playing. When you’re playing a case from the rulebook and someone makes a guess they, of course, see the solution. The app however, just tells you if you’re right or wrong. The penalty for a wrong guess is that you can’t make a guess next round, but you’re not out of the game.

Criticisms of Awkward Guests

Setup Time

Admittedly, as fantastic as the Brilliant Deck System is, setup and teardown of a case takes a little time. I personally think this cost is well worth the benefit. It takes you 10 minutes to set it up and another 10 to break it down, so what? You’re getting thousands of cases across 7 levels of difficulty! I’ve played far worse games that take longer to setup.

It’s Not Purely Deduction

There are some deduction game purist out there that don’t like that the game involves hand management and allows players to withhold information. There may be cards you never see because an opponent tried to keep the information to themselves. This is true, that’s why this is a game and not a puzzle. If you prefer a something that is purely a logic puzzle, checkout The Search For Planet X. The Search For Planet X is also fantastic and will suit you much better.

The fact that Awkward Guests is not purely a logic puzzle it part of the fun. There is also a built in balance for this. A player not offered any cards gets to draw three cards from the deck. Yes, you can horde information, but allowing someone to draw is giving them a HUGE advantage! They could get nine points of information they haven’t seen yet FOR FREE. Also, if you’re not trading, you’re not getting new information yourself.

I sometimes try to bury one 3 point card and that’s it. At larger player counts the deck will likely be shuffled and the information will come back around anyway – at best you’re delaying it.

I get what the purists are saying, I just don’t think it’s a problem.

The Artwork

I’ve heard several people criticize the artwork. I think it fits perfectly with the theme, but even if I didn’t, I’d still play this game. The game is so much fun you could remove the artwork and just have the clues in plain text “Cards-Against-Humanity-Style” and I’d still play it.

Awkward Guests Rules Clarification

Can the suspects in Awkward Guests double-back?

We reached out to the publisher to get an answer on this one. The murderer’s path to the crime scene will always follow the arrows and they will not use the same arrow twice. They will always leave a room through a different door than the one they entered through. There are also no rooms with more than three arrows, so you can be sure they never pass through a room twice.

Does the murderer always start in one of the four white rooms?

All of the suspects start in one of the four room pictured in white on the floor plan (near the bottom of the sheet). You can also count on the fact that the murderer did START their path from the room they claim to have been in at the time of the murder.

If I don’t want to trade with anyone, can I draw three cards from the deck?

No, you are only allowed to draw from the deck if no one offers you any cards. If you can’t afford or don’t want what was offered you don’t get to draw cards.

Does Awkward Guests Have A Solo Mode?

Awkward Guests does include a solo variant that you can play using the mobile app. I generally don’t try out solo variants, but I’ve recently begun to think that as a board game blogger I really should give them a try. This implementation actually works quite well. During solo gameplay you are given a total of 90 points that you can trade for information. You ask the app about two rooms or suspects and it will offer four sets of cards at varying point totals.

Once you’ve chosen which set of information you want, the app tells you which cards to pull from the box. Just like in a multiplayer game it is possible to be given the same cards multiple times, so be sure to vary your point values.

It would be a nicer game experience if the app just displayed the information instead of making you rummage thorough the decks, but I understand the reasons against it. If the app worked this way you could potentially play the solo mode without having bought the game (especially since Megacorpin makes the track sheets available for download).

It’s worth digging through the decks in solo mode if it keeps the app free. I’d love an in-app purchase that unlocks an app only solo mode (If you’re reading this Megacorpin Games, maybe give that some thought 🙂 ).

Honestly though, digging through the decks was strangely kind of fun. Since it is possible to be given the same card more than once, there was a bit of anticipation going through the deck and wondering if the card was going to be there. It had a bit of a kid-on-Christmas-morning kind of vibe to it, I don’t know, maybe I’m weird.

My solo play was also pretty balanced. I was down to just 5 points left of my 90 when I finally solved the case.

Awkward Guests Strategy

I am not an expert by any means (yet), but here are some tips to help you figure out who committed the crime:

  • If you can determine that a suspect has no motive
    • The people they say they were with at the time of the murder are also innocent
    • If the staff say that either they or someone else may have passed through a room it was the other person
  • The murderer is the only suspect who moves through the mansion
  • The cards that reference the Study are typically high value cards that eliminate possible weapons
  • Trade cards in the early game, it’s the best way to get new information
  • The suspects may be lying to you, but you can count on non-suspects to be truthful
  • In games where there is an accomplice, the accomplice is ALWAYS “seen conspiring” with the murderer but that alone is not enough, the accomplice must also have their own motive.

Can I play Awkward Guests Online?

The game does have a companion app, but it’s not a replacement for the physical game. I am not aware of anywhere you can play Awkward Guests online. If you’re looking for a try-before-you-buy option the publisher does make one full case available as a print-and-play game. Just head on over to their site and download the cards and tracking sheets.

Honestly though, I’ll be shocked if you don’t buy the full game.

Can you Play Awkward Guests With Two Players?

Awkward Guests actually plays very well with two players, but there are a few rule changes at this player count (which are included in the rulebook). The main differences are:

  • You ask about four things instead of two
  • After you trade cards those cards are discarded (so you don’t keep trading the same cards back and forth)

Is Awkward Guests Worth the Money?

Awkward Guests is absolutely worth the money! You should be able to find it for less than $50 on Amazon pretty much year-round. We’ve already discussed how replayable the game is, it plays well at both low and high player counts, and you can increase the difficulty as you improve your sleuthing skills. The player tracking sheets are consumable, but they are double-sided, and you can print them for free from the publisher’s website.

Final Thoughts

I love this game! I am a fan of deduction games in general, but this is the best murder mystery themed deduction game I’ve played. Putting a point value on the information and making players “pay” by sharing some of their own information is incredibly clever. I found the trading to be very well balanced. The game does of good job of forcing you to decide what to share and what to hold back, and rule allowing drawing from the deck makes sure someone always offers something.

Combine all of this gameplay with a deck system that provides thousands of unique cases across multiple levels of difficulty and you have a game that in addition to being fun, is incredibly replayable. I also love that it allows for up to eight players without getting bogged down.

I really don’t have anything bad to say about Awkward Guests, it does everything right. I don’t expect this game will ever leave our collection. I am very excited to show this to new people, and I’m very happy to have shared it with you.

Whether you download the print and play version or pickup a copy at Amazon, I hope you give this game a try. You’ll be happy you did!