Note: This is a spoiler free review.
It’s no secret that cop shows have done well. Ever since the 1960s with the first police dramas on television, cops, detectives, and various officials in the criminal justice system have taken to the small screen week after week to allow viewers to vicariously flirt with the criminal element. It’s not far-fetched at all to imagine there’s an armchair Columbo, Lennie Briscoe, or Catherine Willows somewhere in each family.
What is also gaining some popularity now are printed crime dramas prepackaged for home play. There are a couple of companies producing prewritten investigation kits delivered to the doorstep. Everything players need to dive in is included. They can be accomplished solo or with a group for a solid 1-2 hours pouring over case materials. The one reviewed here is from Unsolved Case Files. The current case, named for the victim, is called “Harmony Ashcroft – Case: A03-05081998”.
There isn’t a lot to explain about the gameplay. Players will receive a packet containing a fictional case file that has a twist: the original case convicted an innocent man, and it’s up to the players to prove his innocence. Each case will likely have witness statements, coroner reports, other notes, and clippings. There are also photos included of all relevant persons and places. With the case file provided, there were also 3 envelopes with additional questions should the main goal be achieved.
If players figure out the answer to the main question, they can open an envelope to see the result. This might lead to a new query and more investigation. Success is determined by answering all questions successfully with an online questionnaire.
Overall, the quality of the case materials is excellent. The included documents are presented well with everything fairly easy to read and understand. For the case received, an age range of about 13+ is appropriate, depending on a family’s level of tolerance for hearing stories of violent murder.
In addition, the website for solving the case is also very well done, with one exception. There is no way to get a complete explanation of the solution without emailing customer service. There are hints provided via the web site for players who really need them, but if there is still some confusion, there is no page to go to. It’s not entirely clear why this is the case.
Another interesting aspect of the case presented is that the difficulty does ramp up throughout the case questions. The easiest aspects were questioned first and the further players dig into a case, the more elusive some answers might be. By the end of all questions, a true “story of the crime” unfolds.
Finally, one small criticism is that all the photos from the case files are seemingly taken from stock photo companies online. This is to be expected given the price for the product, but it definitely loses some of the immersion. When players get a picture of a nicely lit, well-balanced portrait and are told this is a homeless man, something definitely doesn’t fit.
Unsolved Case Files is a pretty standard entry for the genre. The material quality is on the higher side and it can provide a nice evening away from the screen with discussion similar to the half-way point in Law & Order. The case materials are well written even if the photos look a little too perfect for rough police files. All in all, the cases are exciting to try out and the details interesting. However, players who need a full explanation of how the case works will need to do extra legwork and go online to customer support.
Final Score: 3.5 stars – A family bored of watching CSI or Law & Order reruns will have fun for one or two evenings with cases like these.
• Some easy answers
• Photos are too polished