Everyone’s A Suspect
Everyone's A Suspect is a game by Krin Irvine, in early release (found on DriveThruRPG here). I got to play it at Games on Demand at Origins 2019 with Krin running. The pitch sells itself. Basically: There’s been a murder, and one us has done the deed. We don’t know who until the end of the game, but every scene we play we try to look as guilty as possible. Inspired by those wonderful whodunnit murder shows, I found the game wonderfully easy to learn, play, and teach.
I’ve heard from a few folks have played it in prior years, and from what I’ve heard the mechanics have been simplified and distilled to a beautiful core. I’ll take their word on how the game has transformed, but can attest to how streamlined the game is and runs.
Some beautiful things about this game
The game is GMless, requiring just someone who can facilitate the rules, which are fairly simple. There are no dice requirements, as this is a card-based game that involves some story scene prompts, and some cards used as a player voting mechanic to determine who looks the most suspicious (which reminds you of mechanics from some party and group games like Apples to Apples or Dixit, but a little different as you know who you are voting for).
My favorite first thing you’ll find is the utter simplicity of world and scenario building. It is distributed across a number of cards titled, The World, The Small Town, The Murder Victim, etc. and involves a short list of 5 questions for each of these categories. We take turns passing this list of questions around, with everyone providing extremely simple answers to things like “What year is it?” or “What was the cause of death?”. By the time you’ve gone through these 4 cards, you’ve established a shared world and scenario. The questions do not require any sort of extravagant answers, and you can choose which of the still available questions you wish to answer, so the pressure on a player for any given question is extremely low, making this great to new role players and story gamers.
There are similar easy methods for building your characters, and then you dive into scenes that are broken up into 4 chapters. The chapters have their own set of cards and story prompts, giving you great guidance in setting up little scenes. Again, what’s lovely about the game is it provides two methods for setting scenes: Role Play or Narrate. A Role Play scene is what you’d expect from games like Fiasco, or Fall of Magic or other games where you frame and play out little encounters and situations. A Narrate scene is a short vignette that you perform, telling us what we see of the character, as the viewer. In either case, the person who sets that scene gets to call it when they think the scene is over, and also has the job of trying to look as guilty as possible.
The game is very much one where you discover the story and characters through play, as we don’t know who murdered the victim and why. As long as you don’t try to get too wrapped up in the details and are open to that discovery, it flows very easily.
The voting mechanics are a cornerstone of play, where at the end of each chapter (series of scenes), we secretly vote for people with point cards, based on how suspicious we find them (without voting for ourselves). This helps determine the play order for the next rounds, and eventually, helps determine the order we choose cards at the end of the game that determine the actual murderer… but it’s still a choice and there’s always uncertainty. We really don’t know who the murderer is until it’s revealed during the very last epilogue of the game.
Origins play through
At Origins, Krin facilitated this for 5 of us players (the maximum amount the game supports). We played in the early to mid 1900s, small town Arizona (or somesuch), where the owner of an antique shop had been shot and found in the desert.
I remember being very much into the sometimes silly, but also dark tone that we had in-game. Although I was never the most suspicious of the group, I never felt like I was “losing” the game, as the overall narrative, and my character’s arc, where very satisfying to play with.
One thing I vaguely recall is that with 5 players we more often had ties in regard to the amount of suspicion points during voting. There was a way to adjudicate this that Krin performed, which had something to do with who had the highest numbered card in their set of votes, however it’s something that needs to be added to the written ruleset, I believe.
After ordering the cards online - you can get it as a print-and-play, but I could afford to get the nice cards, so why not! - I decided to run it for my partner J and two friends Christian and Gemma. We decided on a small town in the forested mountains of the Canada / Alaska border in the 1990’s, where a professional tracker is found in his remote cabin, having been murdered days ago, with his body in a strange configuration. We had lots of secret relationships revealed, and the number of love triangles started to make further strange geometric patterns. In the end it turned out to be Molly, our murder victims coworker in the “radio shack” (definitely not a store, just a radio station).
The rules are remarkably simple to follow, and the game was, as mentioned and I suspected, easy for everyone to get. Because some of us have played story games in the past, it’s easy to forget that the goal is to look guilty as hell in the scene, so that’s something I’d definitely remind everyone before starting into the first scene. I say this as I myself forgot to do this in my first scene!
Another thing to keep in mind is to feel free to make and use NPCs in and among the scenes. None of our characters were law enforcement, so when scene prompts calling for “arrest” or “questioning” came up, we created Officer Lafreniere and Officer Gretzky, and these were some of our favorite scenes and characters.
(NOTE: I have since written to Krin and they are still working on how to break ties, so that’s at least one part of what is being finalized about the game; but I guaranty that whatever method you choose would be OK, and not severely affect the game.)