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Friday, 17 September 2021

Friday Filler: MicroMacro: Crime City

The winner of the 2021 Spiel des Jahres award is MicroMacro: Crime City. Published by Edition Spielwiese, it combines crime and detection with elements of storytelling and even a little bit of time travel, all played out co-operatively on a massive map of a city that the players have to search for clues. At its heart the game is Where’s Wally? (or Where’s Waldo?) meets the crime-riddled streets and alleys of downtown Crime City. Designed for one to four players, aged twelve and up, the game has the players searching a big poster map of Crime City, first locating crime scenes and then backtracking the victims as they went about their day and interacted with the other citizens of Crime City.

Open up the box for MicroMacro: Crime City and the first thing that a player finds is a ‘Spoiler Warning’. Given in multiple languages, it warns him not to look at the reverse of the cards, not to open the card packets before instructed to do so, and be sure to read the instructions first. The second is the instructions, and they just run to just four pages. Below that is the City Map, some one-hundred-and-twenty Case Cards, sixteen envelopes, and a magnifying glass. Bar touches of red to highlight text and elements of the game, everything is done in black and white. The City Map is huge. It measures thirty-by-forty-three inches and depicts a European city, bustling with men, women, and anthropomorphic animals going about their very busy lives. This enormous map is drawn in meticulous cartoon detail, but it is not a city that is static. Its citizens can be seen again and again moving about the city and everywhere a player looks he will find someone doing something interesting—being shocked by a painting at an exhibition, buying something from a dodgy street dealer (his trench coat held open to best display his wares), a women shocked by another man opening his trenchcoat, and more. There is so much going on in this map that it is easy to get lost in the details and start imagining who these people are and what their lives are like.

The cards represent the sixteen cases the players have to investigate and solve in MicroMacro: Crime City. These grow in complexity and length and need to be divided into their respective cases and stored in one of the envelopes which comes with the game. Starting with ‘The Top Hat’—the game’s introductory case, each case, whether ‘The Car Accident’, ‘Dead Cat’, ‘Hairy Tales’, or ‘Carnival’, begins with a start card which asks the players to search for the crime scene. Once the victim has been found, the players begin looking for where the victim appears elsewhere nearby on the map, and prompted by the cards, then backtrack through the victim’s day, looking for who he might have encountered and thus might be perpetrator of the crime. Along the way, the players will see the city around their crime victim and the criminal, in the process discovering lives both ordinary and criminal, the latter perhaps, hinting at crimes that the players might have to solve in a future case.

The initial cases in MicroMacro: Crime City are small, but others stretch across the city, forcing the players to extend their search for clues and the perpetrator. Some of the inhabitants of Crime City have nothing to do with the cases in MicroMacro: Crime City, but may appear in MicroMacro: Full House, which together with MicroMacro: Crime City form part of the four titles in the series. Each entry represents a different district and ultimately, there will be cases which can be solved by following the clues across the four districts. It should also be noted that as funny and an anthropomorphic as the artwork is in MicroMacro: Crime City, it does depict a moderately adult world and that means that some of the crime cases and some of the things going on in Crime City may not be suitable for some younger players.

MicroMacro: Crime City requires a big table for its map of Crime City and plenty of good light. This is not a game which can be played without either plenty of light or plenty of space. Although the game comes with one magnifying glass, the addition of another will probably help play too.

Physically, MicroMacro: Crime City is decently produced. The map is done on sturdy paper, though its size does mean it requires careful handling. The fact that it is a paper rather than a mounted map means that having any drinks nearby is inadvisable. The rules are clearly written and easy to understand and the cards are done on decent stock. A nice touch is that there is an extra mini-case on the game’s front cover. This neatly gives the potential purchaser a taste of the game inside.

However, once played, MicroMacro: Crime City has little to no replay value. It does not have the Legacy option of the game being changed through play, but rather each case is essentially a puzzle and once solved is difficult to play again with the same level of anticipation and interest. Finding the crime scene, investigating the clues, and following the lives of both victims and criminals is definitely fun, but once solved… At that point, the best thing to do with MicroMacro: Crime City is either to put it away for the next expansion and wait to see if its crime cases tie in, or really, to let someone else play it who is completely new to the game.

Ultimately there is one question which has to be asked about MicroMacro: Crime City, and that is, “Is it a game?” And the answer is both yes, and no. MicroMacro: Crime City is a game in the sense that it is played, has multiple players, and they are all trying to achieve an objective. In this, it is very much like other detective or crime games, such as Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game or Chronicles of Crime, but on a much simpler level, or the games based on Escape Rooms. Yet MicroMacro: Crime City is not a game so much as a puzzle intended to be solved collectively, and once solved, it cannot be solved again. Further, where a detective or crime novel can be reread to enjoy the story and the deduction again, the simplicity of the game’s design works against any possibility of a replay being enjoyed.

MicroMacro: Crime City is a very simple, but clever design, with its cases built around cartoonish artwork that is witty and engages the players in the lives of the citizens of Crime City. Best played with two or three players, MicroMacro: Crime City is perfect for fans of hidden object games, puzzles, and detective fiction.

A taster of how MicroMacro: Crime City plays can be found here.

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