In search of a detective game (part 1): Scotland Yard versus Scotland Yard Junior

We’ve been looking for a “detective” style deductive game for a while now to step up from family favourite Outfoxed. So when we saw Scotland Yardgoing cheap we had a bit of a retro moment and picked it up. By chance not long after that N was given a copy of Scotland Yard Junior, which provided a great opportunity for a comparison.

Scotland Yard won the Spiel des Jahres games award way back in 1983! Set on a map of London, it’s a game of cat and mouse as the detectives work together to try to corner Mr X who disappears and reappears across London’s public transport network. A gentle co-operative element plus some light deductive work and the added surprise of where Mr X will pop up next, makes Scotland Yard a great family game that can accommodate multiple ages. But with a recommended age of 8 we did find it a little tricky to play with a then 5 year old! However the game is adaptable for ages 6+, so read on!

How it plays:

Scotland Yard: full original game (Best for ages 8+)

In Scotland Yard, one player is the elusive Mr X. He remains invisible throughout most of the game only revealing his positions on set rounds. Mr X is the more complex role as you’re playing on your own, but it’s also the most fun as you get to disappear! To make sure he doesn’t lose track of himself, Mr X writes down his position (each space is numbered) then covers it up with a token indicating which form of public transport he used to get there. There’s a handy little holder just for this. Mr X is given a set number of token he can use to move about, and thereafter can use tokens in the discard pile from the detectives. The detectives however, have a finite number of transport tokens that are discard as they are played so they need to think wisely about what transport to take.

In each round Mr X always moves first, covering his written position with a transport token, and then either removing his playing piece from the board to go invisible or placing it on the current location if on a visible round. The detectives then move. If a detective occupies the same space as Mr X at the end of the round, Mr X must declare he’s been caught and the game ends. Otherwise they play on until the detectives run out of transport tokens or Mr X makes it to round 22.

The way of moving is really appealing. Using the underground (red line) will get you furthest around the board but it’s a risky move for Mr X because there are very few tube stops so easier to deduce where he/she is. In contrast there are always lots of taxi routes (yellow) from any given spot but you only move one space at a time and risk getting caught as the detectives close in.

Inevitably, the kids will want to be Mr X, but for younger players, keeping an eye on their invisible player without giving their position away through too many glances is a bit tricky. The full game is best then for ages 8+ but a slightly younger sibling could be occupied long enough as part of a detective ‘team’ for a game on a family night. However, the game does come with a suggested variant for younger players that works really well.

Scotland Yard: younger player variant (Best for ages 6+)

In the alternative play suggestions, play is reversed so Mr X is mostly visible throughout the game but goes into hiding on specific rounds. The use of the underground is also removed. Mr X has two additional invisibility tokens though, so he/she can choose to hide in a couple of extra rounds. This reversal makes it slightly easier for younger players to track where Mr X is on the board and start to deduce for themselves where he/she might have gone when Mr X does disappear. I particularly enjoy playing this with N when it’s only the two of us because I’m sure he has every chance of catching me if he’s the detective. When kids are playing as Mr X it can be a bit too easy for the adult detective to guess where they are though, but reminding N to use the invisibility token before or after an invisible round does up the challenge. The only problem we’ve found with this variant is that N really wants to use the underground (who wouldn’t!). So we’ve had to expand it to include the tube which upsets the balance just a little but it’s still totally playable.

What I like about this variant is that it still has the invisibility element that kids love, and it’s a great way to introduce the logical reasoning that’s needed for the full game – so a great stepping stone. If you get the game, definitely play this variant first to help kids understand how Mr X moves before going on to play the full version. The game comes with a card visor but any wide brimmed cap will really help cover those shifty Mr X glances. Scotland Yard officially accommodates 6 players but you could add a few more players as part of the detective team if needed.

Scotland Yard Junior (best for ages 4+)

On the whole I find junior versions of games totally frustrating for adults to play, partly because they tend to over simplify the games making it too easy for older players to win. The adult is inevitably playing a ‘kids game’ rather than playing a game with kids. We still do this of course, and have a big stack of these types of games but in part this blog is about searching for games that are also interesting for adult players or older siblings. ‘Junior’ games tend to be best for quick games that don’t require too much thinking, and often best suited for when kids want to play a game with other kids on their own (siblings/friends etc). Scotland Yard Junior is no exception to this.

In Junior, the board is simplified to a handful of routes and landmarks,and all players are visible and remain so throughout the game. Players are given 4 different types of transport token and must decide which one they will use while holding their hand under the table. Players then place their token, hidden in a closed fist on the table. When everyone is ready all players reveal the transport route chosen at the same time, moving their pieces and determining if anyone landed in the same space as Mr X. If no one has caught Mr X, he wins a token, otherwise the detectives get one. Between them the detectives only need 3 token to win, Mr X needs 9. The game accommodates 4 players.

Rather than a deductive cat and mouse game, the junior version is more like “rock , paper , scissors”. There are only ever three or four routes from any given spot, so as you get close to each other, detectives and Mr X are really only deciding if the other player will chose train, bus, boat or taxi. Disappointingly, the map has very little detail and only covers a few blocks from the Thames: Scotland Yard to Tower Bridge, and St Paul’s to the Imperial War Museum. In contrast the original spans far more of central London, with all major landmarks marked on from the Royal Albert Hall to Tower Bridge, and Battersea up to Kings’s Cross. So, Junior doesn’t have the complexity or long term game play of the original but the rounds are fast and a game will take only 5 minutes maximum so we usually end up playing multiple times with plenty of opportunity for players to be either a detective or Mr X. As a family game it’s fun, fast and you don’t have to think too much so it’s a good filler between more complex games or a few rounds before bed. But that’s the limit of it. It would make a good introduction for preschool kids to the idea of following routes and “catching” players by thinking about what they might do next. So best from ages 4+, but it will still entertain the kids for a good few years of quick game play.

Final thoughts

If the kids are 6+ and are regular game players, I recommend the original Scotland Yard version. There’s more room for the kids to grow into it and the cat and mouse vanishing chase really is very exciting. It also feels more like a ‘detective’ themed game than junior because there’s actual deduction going on. N also loves the sprawling, larger map but that might just be because we live in London and there’s more for him to recognise!

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2 thoughts on “In search of a detective game (part 1): Scotland Yard versus Scotland Yard Junior

  1. Thanks for detailing the differences between these two! That’s super helpful, and now I think it’s very likely we should go straight to the original for our 6-year-old. Outfoxed! is a favorite for us too so we’ll make this jump too! Thanks!

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    1. That’s great! I’ve just picked up Spy Club for Christmas which continues our search for something a bit detective like for our son. Not at all like Scotland Yard but it’s always so tricky to find the right level of deduction for kids this age, so fingers crossed.

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