You’ve got to wonder what it’s like to be a designer asking a reviewer to check out your game. It’s like in ancient times where the Vikings would sacrifice a lamb to the gods. Did I just compare myself to god? Look at the ego on this guy, after one person asks me to review their game, I act like I’m a doctor. If you didn’t get that, it’s because you’ve never heard the joke: what’s the difference between a god and a doctor? The god doesn’t walk around thinking he’s a doctor. Anyway, this is my round-a-bout way of providing a disclaimer that Get Adler! was provided for free.
Get Adler! is a 4-6 player deduction game, designed by Randall Thompson. It’s set in the golden age of villainy – 1930’s Britain. With Sherlock Holmes dead, twice, and James Bond not yet born, villains were running amok. A rogue MI6 agent named Adler – and probable grandson of Irene Adler – being just one of them.
In this game, players sit around a table trying to figure out who among them is Agent Adler. They do so by using the epitome of 1930’s police techniques; asking one another the colour of their eyes. The good guys win if they can find and capture Adler, and Adler wins if he escapes with a key piece of intel.
How to Play
The game breaks into two major phases which we’ll call the investigation phase, and the capture phase. Starting in the investigation phase, everyone is handed seven action cards, a character appearance board, and a role card to look at in secret.
Turns stay the same between the two phases. Beginning with the player picking up a card from the draw deck, they then play a card to the discard pile, performing the action associated with the discarded card.
During the first three rounds of the game, the investigators are not allowed to make any arrests. Instead they can ask yes/no questions about a person’s appearance, listed on the appearance board. Questions, like is your hair blonde? And not like why do we dream? The player must answer truthfully, unless they’re a villain – then they can lie, in fact then they can do anything they want. Without morals or compassion for human life, the world is your oyster.
On the fourth round, the arresting commences. An arrest card played on a friendly agent results in both players losing a turn. Otherwise, if targeted at a villain, then everyone reveals their identities, and the game moves to the capture phase, beginning with a confrontation.
The confrontation is the agents attempt to capture or kill Adler. They do so by matching any cards that Adler plays, either: guns, or transport. Although Adler also has a few tricks up his sleeve to stop the confrontation outright. Upon failure to capture Adler, play resumes as normal, until the next arrest card is thrown out and a new confrontation begins.
If Adler can slip through the greasy arms of the law, and make it until the end of the 7th round, carrying a key piece of intel. Well, the rulebook doesn’t make it clear what happens, but we know the bad guys win. Otherwise the good agents win, and its tea and biscuits all around.
During the investigation phase, the agents need to identify Adler through yes or no questions about each other’s appearance. Does the carpet match the drapes? However, they also need to start stacking their hands with arrest, escape, and gun cards. At the same time still, they must prove their innocence to the rest of the group, through actions, not words. For Adler, he cannot hide forever, and will eventually be found out. When this time comes he also needs to be prepared with gun, escape and intel cards.
Not being able to communicate during this phase isolates you from the rest of the table. It doesn’t allow you or anyone else to succumb to groupthink, or protest your innocence. Everyone needs to figure out who Adler is by themselves. This is made harder by Adler, who can do a lot to deceive other players – there’s also a lot the agents can do to deceive each other as well. For example, having too many arrest cards as an agent clogs up your hand, Adler also doesn’t want them. So, when you discard these cards, the question arises – did they have too many, or are they Adler? Alternatively, Adler can ditch intel documents, if he has more than one, or a powerful escape card giving the impression that he’s a good guy.
After Adler has been discovered, and identities are revealed. The game changes from peaceful rumination to slapping down cards with the smuggest grin you can manage. It captures that feeling of Yugioh’s trap card activation over and over again. This cat and mouse between the agents and Adler is exciting, and gets more and more intense as the end of the game nears.
You’d think starting confrontations would be a straight forward decision; it’s not. Adler may be waiting for you with more guns than the Punisher, or more escapes than Houdini. In which case it’s better to examine, and manipulate his hand, rather than taking a long shot at capturing him.
Having only seven rounds time boxes the game so unlike my mother-in-law it never outstays its welcome. It also creates a sense of urgency for all players. Especially since the agents have only four rounds to catch the villains – three if the villains use the bomb.
Finally, a small detail that I’m enjoying from current games is giving each role a name and personality. It makes the game much more personable than having to play as Anonymous Agent #1. The artist here has done a brilliant job with the characters, as their identities leap from the card art.
Graphic design is a balancing act between providing all the relevant rules and information, and having as little impact of the player’s experience as possible. Whenever a rule needs to be looked up game flow is interrupted, taking time away from the players having fun with their friends. Get Adler! has an issue where it’s a wide game. There are a lot of situations, and a lot of rules dealing for each situation – collateral damage from breaking the game in two. The problem is that they’ve opted for no card text; none. This puts the pressure back on the players memory on all the rules, considering how many there are. You can see why this is an issue.
In their defence, they added a cheat sheet on the back of the appearance board – the most crucial information in the game. This leads to players constantly flipping the sheet over during their turn to find out what their card does. Not only does this damage the rhythm of the game, but also, the cheat sheet is missing information. An example: Question cards can be discarded for new cards in the capture phase.
There is a litany of other small issues that could be resolved with card text and graphic design. Escape cards for instance don’t identify themselves as Escape cards, leading players to ask – what card is this? Likewise, the role cards don’t identify which characters are villains.
The rule book is fine until the 5+ players section, and then it’s like trying to get the rules from someone watching football, in that they give you a couple of vague statements and then wave off any questions you have. The designer said he’s currently in the process of fixing this. So, fingers crossed.
The worst part about this game is that there isn’t enough card manipulation to overturn bad luck. There will be times when Adler has all the escape cards in the game, or times when you have all arrest cards but nothing else, or worse still, times when you know for certain who Adler is but don’t have an arrest card – and must sit in silence.
When it comes to the deductive element, there’s an issue of attire. Two out of the three agents – in 4-5 players – wear blue hats. What does this mean? That navy looks good on most people? Well yes, but also it limits the deductive reasoning required to find Adler. Because of the blue hats it only takes two questions to determine who someone is, or rather who someone is claiming to be. Reducing the deductive element further is a rule that says Adler can’t use arrest cards. When there’s three good guys, and someone makes a false arrest, then the third good guy immediately knows who the traitorous bastard is.
Despite the relative ease of locating a villain, it seems that the balance of power is still in their favour. From four to five players, you double both the number of bad guys, and the number of bombs at their disposal. Meaning that theoretically, you have six turns collectively to catch both bad guys. This is a huge spike in difficulty from having to catch one bad guy in nine theoretical turns. It’s like playing the beginning of Super Mario 3D World, and then playing the end of Super Mario 3D world; Champion’s Road can suck eggs.
The last thing I want to add is that setup was a bit of a pain. I played this in the lunchroom at work where we don’t know how many players are going to turn up each day. For every extra player Get Adler! adds 14 cards. From four to five player that’s a >20% increase in deck size, a bigger increase than what I’m offered from spam emails. Adding and removing cards takes more effort than it should of this size of a game.
Get Adler! has all the bearings of a cult classic. You can put that on the back of the box. This game has a lot of rough edges, although if you wade through a bog of poor graphic design, a rulebook that doesn’t answer all your questions, and memorise a few niggly rules, you’ll have a great time. So much so, that if these issues were fixed tomorrow I would instantly buy a new copy; international shipping be damned. However, they weren’t fixed in my version, which lead me to teeter on the edge of recommendation. Ultimately, I am recommending it as the two phases, the non-communication, and race to the finish, are all innovations that worked, and worked well. Then there’s the intangible quality of my group wanting and asking to play Get Adler!. To me, that says more than all my criticisms combined. If Trainspotting has taught me anything it’s not the about quality of the substance, but how quickly you can get it into your veins.
Does make me a corporate shill now? Probably. Anyway, as always thanks for taking the time to read my reviews – if I don’t say it, I imply it. If you want to do me a flavour, leave a comment, join up to our mailing list, share it with your friends, or if you have no friends, share it with your mum. Mum’s have feelings to. Till next week!