Scotland Yard is a game of deduction and secret movements where one or more players take on the roles of London detectives and attempt to locate the mysterious Mr. X, played by a single player. The game was first published in 1983 by Ravensburger. It was also published by Milton Bradley a couple of years later and this is the version of the game that I have played. It was designed by a group of six German people who met secretly every Wednesday evening in a basement under a shop that sold school uniforms. I just made that last part up, but it sounds interesting right? The part about the six Germans is true.
Scotland Yard can be played with up to six players, so that’s five detectives and one Mr. or Ms. X. Play can take up to an hour and I wouldn’t play this with children younger than 8 or 9, unless you are just going to play their turns for them, but more on that later. The game has been reprinted and updated a few times, but in most versions of Scotland Yard you will find the following:
- player figures, usually clear plastic so the location is still visible
- starting location cards for the detectives
- transportation tickets, including some special options only for Mr. X
- travel log for Mr. X
- board featuring a map of London
I’ve heard that many versions include a visor or baseball cap for Mr. X so that the detectives cannot tell where he is focusing his attention on the map. This may seem silly, but it’s actually important.
During the course of the game, Mr. X will secretly note his movements in his travel log and then cover the location using a ticket that represents the method of travel used to get from point to point. Detectives will also move from location to location using their tickets. Everyone has a limited number of tickets of each type at the beginning of the game, including Mr. X. The ticket types are taxi, bus, and underground. Taxis will take players short distances and the bus and underground allow for longer distances. Player tickets are handed over to Mr. X, so while the detectives will have fewer options for travel each turn, Mr. X will accumulate more as the game progresses. Occasionally, Mr. X will have reveal his location, but for most of the game the detectives have to use his previous location coupled with what they know about his method of transportation to try and get their pieces to what they believe is his current location.
I’m pretty sure I played this back in college at some point. I’m not usually a big fan of deduction games, but I think the chase adds some excitement. The cartoon-like map of London in the old version is great, but I think they have updated this with a more realistic map, which does nothing for me.
I like this game and I wouldn’t mind having it to play with my family, but this game, like other cooperative games, can suffer from a commanding player. The detectives are supposed to discuss their moves so that they can surround and ultimately capture Mr. X, but if you have a more experienced and vocal player telling other players what to do then the game quickly becomes a match between Mr. X and the controlling detective, leaving less experienced players or quiet players to just do as they are told.
I don’t own a copy of Scotland Yard, but I was happy to get to play this again after so many years. If you like deduction games that have a chase element, then I would first recommend Mr. Jack; however, that is a two-player game. If I can find an inexpensive copy of the version from the 80’s, then I just might add Scotland Yard to my collection. It would be a real change of pace to play something like this with my family. I’m not sure what they would think of it.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1983 winner, Scotland Yard, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.
On a somewhat related note, this post made me wonder about the origin of the name Mr. X and I was fascinated to learn that it comes from an article published under that pseudonym by a state department official in 1947. If you are interested, you can start with the article entitled, The Sources of Soviet Conduct.