Games: The Great Museum Caper

About five years ago, when my husband was working at the Salvation Army, one of the youth activities he scheduled was a Game Night. Al was in kindergarten, so he and I spent our time playing games like Chutes and Ladders or Candyland. Zach, who was in middle school, spent the entire time playing Clue: The Great Museum Caper with a friend, and wished he could have played again.

For a long time I kept an eye out for the game at stores and at yard sales, but with no luck. Then this March, when I took part in a Toastmasters speech contest, Al and I found the game as an item in a silent auction to benefit a Toastmasters club held in a nearby prison. (Two members of other clubs participate, but the meetings are led by the inmates, and our division governor tells us that they have excellent speakers, at least as good as any other club in the area. The one difficulty they have is money to pay for dues, as the inmates don’t earn very much at their prison jobs – thus, the silent auction fundraiser.)

I had though Zach might like to play the game with Al while he was home for the summer, but I guess it no longer has the appeal to him that it had back then. This evening I finally agreed to play with Al. (Up to four can play, and according to the review at boardgamegeek.com four is the best number, but it only requires two, unlike the traditional Clue board game.) It took a while to read through and understand the instructions, but once we started playing it wasn’t as complicated as it had seemed.

Unlike most board games, where each player has the same role/abilities/goals, in this game one person is the thief and the other(s) play characters from Clue who are trying to catch the thief. Having to take turns being the thief is one reason I hadn’t cared for the game to begin with. My follow-the-rules personality is such that I dislike taking the role of a lawbreaker even in a game. But once we got to playing, it turned out to be fun.

The characters are at a disadvantage, despite the presence of security cameras and motion detectors, because the thief does not move a pawn on the gameboard. Instead, he records his moves on a pad of paper (printed to match the board layout) hidden behind a cardboard screen. (The honor system requires him to be honest about where he is currently located when circumstances would allow him to be seen or captured.) You try to guess which way he is moving, but it seems that he is always just out of sight of the characters and cameras.

He also has the advantage that he can disable the cameras, and – twice in the game – disable the motion detectors (which require him to tell what color room he is in when a characters uses them). The characters close in on him mostly by following the pattern of paintings which, one by one, go missing from the museum. He has always moved on before the painting actually is removed from the board, however, so the characters can only guess at approximately where he might be. Of course, the characters could just get lucky, as I did when I moved to the spot where Al was and he had to admit he had been caught.

The goal is to steal as many paintings as possible, without getting caught, with each player taking a turn as thief. So the thief has to decide whether to escape after stealing only a few or to keep trying for more, knowing that he may get unlucky and be spotted – in which case he has to put a pawn on the gameboard and play in plain sight while trying to make his escape. Doors and windows have locks, some of which are locked and some are unlocked, and he has no idea until he tries to open one whether it will work. I tried a locked door first, but was lucky on the second, and made good my escape with five paintings just a step ahead of Professor Plum. (Or was it Mr. Green?)

There really is nothing linking this game to Clue except the marketing. Originally called Heist, the name was changed when it was licensed to Parker Brothers, who decided to take advantage of the popularity of Clue. The museum is arranged like the Boddy Mansion (though the rooms are unnamed and unfurnished, except by paintings), and the colored pawns correspond to the characters in Clue. You could remove the name Clue, however, and call the pawns simply “Blue,” “Green,” “White,” etc. and it would not affect the game in the least.

I suspect we’ll probably be playing the game again soon. Maybe we’ll even get Zach to give it another try.

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