Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

There has been a murder.  Someone in the room did it and they didn’t do it without help.  The possibilities are many, but can the wonders of forensic science help the investigators solve the crime?  And can the witness live long enough to testify?  Erm … maybe.

PRACTICE:

  • comparing and contrasting
  • vocabulary (common, everyday items.  Oh, and numerous causes of death)
  • present speculation
  • making accusations
  • agreeing and disagreeing
  • making a persuasive argument
  • passive for emphasising an action when the actor is unknown
  • giving a brief narrative

WHO IS IT FOR?

  • Upper-Intermediate learners and higher (CEFR B2-C2)
  • Ages 15+

THE RUNTHROUGH:

I’ve played this a few times with different aged students and the younger ones always seem to like it the most.  It’s really good at forcing students to use language of speculation and with a little effort, passive and narrative tenses too.  I made quite a few little classroom-friendly tweaks to the gameplay, so this section is a bit longer than some of the other games I’ve written about.  Power through!

In Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, players have to work together solve a murder case based on some clues that they are given.  The kicker is that one of the players will be the murderer! In fact there are a total of 5 different roles available, and these are randomly allocated at the outset with each role playing quite differently:

  • 1 x Murderer – decides how the crime was committed and must deflect attention away from themself to avoid being caught.
  • 1x Accomplice – knows how the crime was committed, as well as who did it, and must save their own skin by helping the murderer get away with the crime.
  • Investigators – the majority of players will have this role and they will cooperate to try and solve the crime.
  • 1 x Witness – knows who the murderer and accomplice are (but not who is which), but does not know how the crime was committed.
  • 1 x Forensic Scientist – knows who committed the crime and how, but is forbidden from saying more than “yes” and “no”.  They must try and communicate the solution through special tiles from which they can select clues to guide the investigators to victory.
deception-roles
Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2568526/deception-murder-hong-kong (Jolly Thinkers)

At the set up, each player is given their role, a police badge and a number of evidence cards.  There are two types of these: Means cards and Key Evidence cards.  These particular components really come into their own as they are beautifully (albeit sometimes gruesomely) illustrated.  Each card also has an English word and what I assume is its Cantonese translation.  The number of cards each player receives depends on the level of difficulty you want.  I found 3 of each card type (the ‘easy’ setting) offered an acceptable challenge level.

deception-means

deception-evidence
Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2568526/deception-murder-hong-kong (Jolly Thinkers)

The game is really straightforward and the rule book is very well written.  However, to avoid blatant plagiarism, I will now have to somehow summarise this for you, step-by-step.  Each game starts with a scripted event where the forensic scientist instructs all the players to close their eyes.  The Murderer and Accomplice are instructed to open their eyes and the Murderer then chooses and silently points to one of the Means cards and one of the Key Evidence cards that are placed in front of him or her.  These are the items that the Forensic Scientist is going to have to guide the investigators towards.

  • TWEAK #1 – As learners are going to be dealing with new language, I give the Forensic Scientist a folded piece of paper and encourage her or him to take a note of the names of the cards that had been chosen.  They can then refer to this as and when they wish without blatantly staring at the cards in question – that tends to be a bit of a giveaway.

In the next stage, all players once again close their eyes and the Witness is instructed to open their eyes.  The Forensic Scientist then silently indicates the Murderer and Accomplice.  All players then close their eyes once more, the Forensic Scientist wakes everyone up, so-to-speak and then everybody is ready to start the game.

  • TWEAK #2 – At this stage I’d openly tell the Forensic Scientist to spend a moment thinking about a story which could result in a murder being committed using whatever Means had been chosen, and leaving whatever Key Evidence had been indicated.  In the meantime, ask all the other players to speculate about how some of the more obscure Means cards could have been used to commit a murder (e.g. death by trowel anybody?)

With the preparation complete, the first of three rounds will commence.  Each round consists of 2 stages: Evidence Collection and Presentation.  In the Evidence Collection stage, the Forensic Scientist will take evidence tiles and silently indicate the best option on each tile as fits with the narrative which they’ve invented. Now, strictly speaking, discussion is supposed to stop when the sixth and final marker is placed, but …

  • TWEAK # 3 – With learners, if you want to maximise communication, you need to be a bit relaxed on this point.  They’ll be processing the information slightly slower, so allow an extra 30 seconds or so of chit-chat before moving on.

In the Presentation phase, the players then individually get a chance to air their suspicions.

  • TWEAK #4 – Give the learners 30 seconds thinking time to prepare how they want to ‘pitch’ their suspicion and draw their attention to the scaffolding provided (handout links below).  Then they present their ideas to the group.

At any stage, one of the investigators can trade in their Police badge to try and solve the crime.  As each player has only one badge, this limits the amount of guessing that can be done, although players should be encouraged to use them to eliminate options and work as a team.

Once a player has made an accurate guess and the crime is solved, Murderer and Accomplice will have a chance to take out The Witness and the winners are decided.

  • TWEAK #5 – As a final micro-stage, all the players (including the Forensic Scientist) can spend a moment speculating about what the story was, tying it directly to the evidence which had been given.  Groups can share their ideas.  This gives them an extra bit of practice consolidating the vocabulary which was used and also using passives ( e.g. “the victim was smothered with the pillow… “) as well as narrative tenses (e.g. “because his wife had discovered he was having an affair with the manny”).

BEAR IN MIND:

  • The theme is a bit … grim.  If any of your students have likely had the misfortune to experience any real-life tragedies, then this is probably not a great choice.
  • The box says 15-30 minutes.  Allowing time for the various tweaks above, you’re going to need at least 40 mins. for one round.
  • For the first playthrough, I’d recommend taking on the Forensic Scientist role yourself to avoid putting too much pressure on one student.
  • Unless you’re inadvertently sharing the room with a secret wannabe Dexter, then at least half of the vocabulary is going to be of limited use to them (well, one would hope so at least).
  • Even though it fits really nicely with the whole “Murder in Hong Kong” theme, because of the Cantonese translations, you may want to avoid using this with Cantonese speakers as this will distract from the English immersion.
  • Playing this with a group of twelve is tricky as it can be difficult for a player to clearly see each of the other players’ cards.  I’m often tempted to make mock-ups of the Cause of Death tile and then create two smaller groups, dividing the remaining Location cards equally between each group.  One group can have the lovely bullets and the other use chess pawns, meeples or something similar.  All the roles work just fine with six.
  • There are some special event tiles, but I’d avoid these as they just further complicate play.  They are fun, but they are going to slow the game down with new players.
  • Although it’s touted as a social deduction game, there is a strong storytelling part to this game.  The Forensic Scientist really needs to use their imagination in order to take the Key Evidence and Means of  Death cards and come up with a story if they are going to be really successful.  This didn’t really occur to me the first time I played it, but I give this aspect much greater emphasis in the set up now.

SUMMARY:

As far as social deduction games go, this one is a real peach.  It suffers from none of the disadvantages that Werewolf has, as there is no player elimination and there is always something to talk about.  The different roles work really well, although it will take some time for the students to build up the necessary guile to hide themselves if they are the witness, for example.  A lot of people online complain about the balance issue in that the murderer never wins.  In the classroom I found that this was rarely the case as the poor, unfortunate witness usually got bumped off before trial.

Seeing the students thinking, trying to make connections between the clues they are given (like suffocation) and the various items like pillow, belt or drugs is fascinating.  Sometimes they come up with the most hilariously implausible theories.  One of the nicest things about the game – and maybe I just got lucky with this – was the fact that Grey Fox sent me a load of plastic card protectors with my copy.  This was massively appreciated and makes me feel much less nervous when letting younger learners get their grubby paws on my kit.  I will use this game to supplement any crime-themed unit in any B2+ textbook and any time that speculation comes up.  It’s a staple.

– Pick up your own copy from Grey Fox Games

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