Hidden movement is a rarity in physical board games, mostly because it’s inconvenient for players to keep track of their location and record their moves. That’s too bad, because as Battleship and other games proved long ago, hunting a hidden opponent is lots of fun. Fortunately, computers do hidden movement well, and that’s given a new lease on life to games like Ravensburger’s Scotland Yard.
In this classic game first published in 1983, a team of detectives chases ‘Mr. X,’ a notorious criminal lurking somewhere on the streets of London. The map on London has 200 locations on it, with players traveling from location to location via taxicabs, buses, and Underground trains.
Get cartographic on the villain.
Mr. X wins by avoiding the detectives for 24 moves. The detectives have to figure out where Mr. X is and land on his space. Catching him isn’t easy, even though he reveals his location every five turns and (usually) tells the detectives whether he’s taking a taxicab, a bus, or the Underground when he moves. To win, the detectives must deduce Mr. X’s most likely location and coordinate their own movement to surround him.
The iOS version of Scotland Yard plays exactly like the original board game, but with more flexibility in the number of players. A single player can choose either side and count on the computer to provide a competent opponent. A group of players can divide up the Mr. X and the detectives as they like, giving more pawns to experienced players and fewer pawns to novices. The computer will play any unclaimed pawns.
The interface is easy to use and consistent across pass-and-play, online multiplayer, and local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth games. Voice chat and text chat are built in, so the detectives can work together even if they’re scattered all over the world. It’s always clear where the pieces are and what moves the players can make.
Game over, Mr. X!
The size of the board is a little inconvenient, because when you zoom out to see the entire board, it’s hard to see the details of each location. That’s an unavoidable drawback of translating a large game board to a 9.7 inch screen, and the ease of zooming in and out helps a lot. There’s even less room on the iPhone screen, but Ravensburger says an update to improve usability is on the way.
The game has already been updated to remove a bug that allowed detective players to track Mr. X’s exact location. Since secrecy is Mr. X’s greatest weapon, this gave the detectives an overwhelming advantage. Version 1.0.1 fixes this problem, and players with the 1.0 version will need to upgrade to join online multiplayer games.
Now that Mr. X is properly hidden again, Scotland Yard is an excellent game. The detectives have to figure out where Mr. X is moving with a minimal number of clues, while Mr. X has to constantly think a few moves ahead to avoid getting herded into a corner. The resulting battle of wits never gets old.