A man lives on the twelfth floor of an apartment building. Every morning he wakes up, gets dressed, eats, goes to the elevator, takes it down to the lobby, and leaves the building for work. In the evening, he goes through the lobby to the elevator, and, if there is someone else in the elevator (or if it was raining that day) he goes back to his floor directly.
However, if there is nobody else in the elevator and it hasn’t rained, he goes to the 10th floor and walks up two flights of stairs to his room. Why?
The man is a midget. He can’t reach the upper elevator buttons, but he can ask people to push them for him. He can also push them with his umbrella.
If you grew up in America in the 70s and 80s, and went to Scholastic Book Fairs at your school, you probably recognize the little mystery vignette above. It (and hundreds of others) were compiled in a series of kids books called (usually) One Minute Mysteries or something like that. They weren’t published by just one publisher and the format changed over the years. These were books that presented a vignette to the young reader, presenting only the information that he or she could read on the page. They then had to arrive at the solution to the problem presented, given what they knew or could infer. The little 10 year old me loved these, and bought many at book fairs or used book stores. Of course, I was sharp enough to know the authors were trying to be educational, but they did it in a very entertaining way.
Flash forward. I’m in a FLGS in Falls Church, VA a couple of weeks ago (shout out to the Compleat Strategist). I am browsing by the check out counter, just being there to pick up some card boxes and some Armada dice. I see a box called DARK STORIES. This is a Z-Man Games reprint of a much older (circa 2004) German game called BLACK STORIES*. The premise of the card game is pretty simple– this isn’t a game per se, it’s an activity. On one side of an illustrated card, the card leads you through a description of a vignette. On the reverse, the card describes the story behind the vignette. The “Stories” that are created are really a rehash of a classic “one minute mystery” for a modern age– and this version is designed to be interactive. You get a series of facts, plus a moderately helpful illustration. One person plays the role of moderator– this is pretty crucial as a role. The other people are detectives. The moderator answers questions with a firm YES or NO, but not anything else. I added “IRRELEVANT” after watching a Youtube review later (this helps people from going down blind alleys and useless tangents). I sometimes will also add “THE CARD DOES NOT SPECIFY THIS, BUT I INTERPRET THE ANSWER THIS WAY BASED ON WHAT I KNOW”. That’s actually a bit of gamesmanship, it’s a lot more impressive than saying “Man, you got me, it doesn’t say!”
I’m being coy and showing the French version of the cards, I don’t want to spoil anything. If you’re French, whoops! Sorry, Frenchies.
My experience with Dark Stories so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We have only played three cards so far, and I find it is perfect for a short drive somewhere local. One card alone provides almost an hour’s worth of entertainment. I have older kids, but they enjoyed it tremendously– they love puzzles as much as I do. The material is far more adult and “darker” then the one minute mysteries of my childhood, but very well written and engaging problems. So far. I have to admit I have exerted self control and NOT read them all the way through, to prevent spoilers for myself (and by extension, you!). My family likes games like this, with a small footprint and maximum mental participation from everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it for very small children (younger than 12, perhaps, it depends on the child), as there are some very dark subjects on the cards, murder being a recurring one. If you can get past that, you’ll really enjoy Dark Stories if you love mysteries and logic puzzles.
At 9.95 a box and a little under an hour a card, that’s a lot of entertainment crammed into a tiny space. There are at least 3 expansions, apparently each with 50 cards included.
* The original title was “Black Stories”, under the original German publisher, Moses.