It is still surreal to think about the legacy of the infamous game that is Deadly Premonition. When it originally released on the Xbox 360 in 2010, it became the stuff of gaming legend. A third-person action game that looked and played like a rip off of Resident Evil, but then slowly unraveled into an absurd horror-comedy murder mystery. An experience so divisive that it holds a Guinness World Record for being so critically polarizing.
Yet through its utterly bonkers plot of raincoat-wearing serial killers, FBI Agents with bizarre social and mental quirks, and gas-mask wearing eccentric landowners the game has developed a passionate cult following. A following that lead to the game getting a Director’s Cut re-release on PlayStation 3, and an embarrassingly lackluster PC release.
Now through the power of Kickstarter, we have Deadly Premonition: The Board Game.
First for the sake of transparency, I proudly backed the game on Kickstarter out of my own pocket and received a Special Edition version of the game, so this look at this adaptation is coming from an out and proud fan of the source material looking at it with as critical an eye as can be allowed with such circumstances. With that out of the way, let’s start the investigation.
The set-up for the game is simple. Two to four players take up the roles of detectives in the town of Greenvale, trying to catch a serial killer. And one of the players is that serial killer in disguise. Each player is given six Suspect Cards, each one based off actual supporting characters from the video game. The objectives for the Agents are simple: Prove the innocence of the suspects under your investigation, then figure out who the killer is. As for the secret killer? Kill a certain number of suspects without getting caught by the others.
To achieve these goals players will use cards from both the Investigation deck. Evidence Cards are used to prove innocence or incriminate suspects, and Action Cards can range in use from protecting suspects from death or scrutiny, getting to draw extra cards, or preventing players from performing certain actions. Finally, there is the Weather Deck, packed with cards used to kill suspects and bring trouble to all players.
In concept, the game is a pretty standard social deduction experience like Coup. A game that isn’t just about playing the cards you are dealt, but also about social manipulation. Throwing blame, double speak, lying through your teeth to throw off the trail, all are not just allowed but encouraged.
Deadly Premonition: The Board Game understands this, and manages to make it hard to truly point a finger at anyone thanks to some savvy design. Any player can play Evidence Cards to challenge another player’s Evidence, whoever plays more appropriate cards wins not just the ability to clear the name of a suspect (or keep an opponent’s suspect in the red), but gets to draw two more cards from the Investigation Deck, opening up more moves. The only way for a player to accuse someone of being the killer is only when all of their suspects are proven innocent, but not all of them have to be alive, leaving a great temptation for players other than the killer to take a chance with the Weather Deck. Each Action Card has two different actions on them, one of them has to be declared when playing it, and they can be as tactical as “discard hand and draw five new cards” or as antagonistic as “swap hands with another player.” Finding the killer isn’t as simple as swapping hands with a player and seeing a bunch of cards that just pull from the Weather Deck, and just because someone has half of their board knocked off isn’t a complete guarantee they have a bloody axe in their closet.
It’s this kind of tight system that helps make Deadly Premonition: The Board Game a top notch experience before you even consider how well it expresses its very niche, bizarre theme. By its very nature as a Kickstarter project, this was something backed by fans for fans, and it shows in everything from the card descriptions to the overall production quality. Markers look like Red Seeds, the backs of the cards look like something straight out of a David Lynch film, and there are multiple flat out shout-outs in cards like “F K In The Coffee” and “The Sinner’s Sandwich.” Some versions of the game even include FBI cards for the players to use in order to “roleplay” certain characters from the game like Agent York or George Woodman, an interactive “what if” scenario if done with the right people.
The only thing that can be seen as a problem is that the game is mostly meant for board game veterans. Speaking personally, the few games I had with mostly newcomers to the genre wound up going north of an hour long mostly due to an adversity to using the Weather Deck and general impish behavior. But once the rules are established, games can become thirty to forty minutes of tension, excitement and hilarity.
In many ways, Deadly Premonition: The Board Game is a pitch perfect adaptation of its source material. It isn’t as in-depth as stuff it borrows from, the tone can go from nerve-wracking dice rolls to bouts of laughter within minutes, and while the logic can feel like it’s from the moon it ultimately works. If you are a major fan of director Swery65’s cult hit and want to mix up game night with your friends, this is a trip to Greenvale worth taking.