Suspicious photos were haphazardly plastered on the wall, their eyes watching me open a bottle of whiskey, their condemnation truly my own. I put out my cigarette, took a sip, and staggered to my ragged desk. Rami’s detective agency was going through tough times. All these suspects, all these crimes, but no leads and lots of alibis. Maybe I’ll just rest here for a bit. Think things through. Consider if this is really the line of work for me. And finish this bottle before one of us runs out.
Detective Rummy is a card game with territory management and story elements, featuring seven cases, a campaign mode, and individual variants. It is played by two to four players in about an hour. It was developed by Mike Fitzgerald and Ralph H. Anderson and published by WizKids.
After choosing a campaign (recommended for beginners) or a case, players choose a detective board that has a characteristic skill to start with. Players are dealt ten cards each and the central play area is determined based on the chosen case. Each game is called a hand according to the rummy card mechanism that runs in the game engine.
Typically, the central area is populated with locations for players to visit and a few suspects to investigate (or you can attach evidence to). During a turn, players prepare any items obtained in the previous round and then choose either “Recovery” or “Research”. “Recovery” is a way to heal and get more cards into your hand, while “Detective” is the main action.
There are four items that can be obtained: body armor, a gun, a magnifying glass, or a set of fingerprints. Each of them provides powerful one-time bonuses during the game. Players can gain skills to add to their starting skills to help strengthen their evidence cards. Skills can be “wounded” or disabled on dice rolls depending on the level of danger that increases over time.
During detective work, players can visit locations, perform actions, and manipulate their cards. Visiting a location allows players to obtain new items, new cards, and sometimes game-changing cards that provide unique benefits. At the end of the turn, if the players have emptied their hand, they get a bonus to add a detective token to the suspect, as well as draw additional cards.
Performing actions is the main part of Detective Ramy. Players can heal a single skill, research with their evidence cards, or use an item. During the investigation, the “Rami” card system is used. There are two types of cards: indirect and fingerprint. Circumstance cards contain two skill icons. These cards can be combined into groups of three (similar to a frame) to gain new skills and place detective tokens to control the area. Fingerprint cards require some skill to be ready and come in three different power levels that provide options for tokens and card draws.
The way to get the most points (called fame) is not only to have a majority over certain suspects, but also to have a majority over the suspect with the most detective tokens. There are objective tiles called quests that provide glory, as well as some game-changing cards. Cases may also make adjustments to these scoring rules.
In the campaign mode, certain aspects of the game are transferred to each case. A bad blood token on a suspect causes the player to roll wounds and may reappear in the future. Each case has a different overall motivation and a separate set of game-changing cards that contain plot elements for a specific narrative. These cases are loosely connected to provide a framework for player actions.
Things are not going well in our detective agency. Detective Rummy invites you in with its exciting art style and the promise of a narrative and campaign, but you end up feeling underwhelmed in almost every aspect. Even its release was hampered by a rulebook that needed updating and a player aid that didn’t provide a great flow. Thankfully, WizKids has provided bug fixes for most production copies, but it’s still a rough start for a game that needs more testing.
Let’s start with the central mechanism: match the three card icons. Matching playing cards that place a token on the suspect is really the main action in this game. It’s made more difficult by the inclusion of a skill system to follow with the fingerprint cards, as well as remembering your own base skills for added benefit, but the skill system isn’t as fun. Add to that a wound system that uses dice to punish certain players for skill choices.
So luck runs here. From card draws to dice rolls and game-changing cards. The control of the suspect zone is also controlled by the way the cards appear. Add to that the fact that you’re not actually trying to narrow down the suspects, but instead just create a guilty party based on your actions, and players don’t have much leeway here. Everything seems to be very complicated about how your turn should go.
There is also almost no narrative. The game-changing cards have a bit of a story, but the notes (game-ending summary) are one-sentence and don’t add much of a detective story. Our group collectively groaned at how much time we’d put into this thing for nothing at the end. It’s surprising how little attention has been paid to providing a more immersive experience. It’s almost like it was supposed to be a co-op design to make players work together on a solution.
I could go on and on about bugs and suggestions to make this experience more enjoyable. I want to point out a couple of elements that worked for us. The first is the only free will players have is to choose which items to take. While item activation is difficult and confusing in the game, it adds complexity and benefit to your turn. The other is a lawyer’s tile. They come into play with game-changing cards, require players to match an additional icon associated with an attorney, and put a little pressure on zone control.
I close the case Detective Rummy. It lacks player agency, has almost no narrative, and packs a lot of padding on top of a classic card game. It almost feels like the idea was created in a completely different realm and then the detective elements were inserted into the design. It’s over-engineered (the large player boards are also horribly spaced) and under-designed. Not the best combination, especially at this price.
Final score: 1 Star – Detective Ramy is a cryptic mystery with confusing rules and a lack of immersion.
• Illustrations for cards and boards
• Tile lawyer
• Rules and player assistance questions
• Theme disabled
• Gameplay on rails
• Insufficient campaign elements