Designer: Jose Antonio Abascal
Publisher recommended age: 10+
Player count: 3-5 players
Estimated play time: 20/30 minutes
Favouritefoe score 7/10
War. Espionage. Intrigue. Cats. Dogs……. Wait. What?
Come on now. Everybody knows the Cold War was ended by the K-nine super sleuths sniffing out copy-cats running counter-intelligence ops across the German border between East and West Berlin.
Ok, so that categorically was not what happened during the height of the geopolitical tensions between the Soviet Union and the USA. But the super fun cartoon styling on the card game Checkpoint Charlie sort of makes me wish it had!
Instead, Checkpoint Charlie from Devir Games is a quick, light, deduction card game in which players are using their own detective skills to work out which cunning cat is the chief of spies.
Everyone wants to be top-dog and they are going to put their noses to the ground to sniff out the spymaster and his moggy minion! But will the game prove to be a cracking case or an unsolved mystery?
In a 5 player game, each person picks a K-nine investigator card together with their corresponding token, and then takes a randomly selected clue token from the bag. Each clue is double sided and will show whether the chief of spies has a particular attribute (hat/no hat, glasses/no glasses, newspaper/no newspaper, raincoat/jumper, and whether they are a ginger Tom or a grey Siberian).
It is down to every player to then decide which feature the chief of spies will have, and once decided, their token is slipped under their respective investigator card –a rivalry amongst the competing kitty catchers!
The suspect cards are then shuffled, and players take it in turns to reveal a card from the deck. If the card they flip over matches the clue they know about the identity of the chief of spies, the card remains face up in front of that player. If it does not, it is discarded in to a pile. The process is then repeated by the next player.
When any player thinks they have worked out which cunning kitty is the chief of spies, they can place their own investigator token on that suspect card, whichever player it is located in front of. The round ends when all bar one player has selected their no. 1 clandestine-cat!
After all 5 clues are revealed, the player who has correctly identified the chief of spies gets to pick a gold token (worth 3,4, or 5 points) at random. The player who worked out 4 of the 5 clues gets a white token for spotting the assistant (worth 1 or 2 points) and the player who did not throw a wild accusation of skull-duggery at all receives a black token (worth 0, -1).
Scores remain a closely guarded secret until somebody confirms that they have 10 points altogether whereupon they are declared the best spook sniffer-outer in the biz! Alternatively, if nobody has blown enough kitty covers by the end of the fifth round, or a particular colour token runs out, the detective with the most points at that point is declared the winner.
[NB: set up is slightly different in a 3-4 player game – with the unused detective(s) providing open source intelligence about the chief and their assistant as and when those unused cards which have been shuffled into the suspect deck are revealed– but overall the game play is the same.]
Overall, we found this to be a quick, entertaining, light game which got us testing our doggy-deduction skills.
Shining at 5 players, Checkpoint Charlie is a great little social game which pits players’ abilities to remember and resolve information against one another in a mental agility race.
The tableau of cards in front of each player which grows as the game progresses works well to gradually reveal the clear link between sassy suspects but the memory test element (in the form of trying to keep track of the clues you think you have deciphered as more cards are revealed) is still enjoyably challenging.
Decision making on the flip of every card also gives Checkpoint Charlie momentum. If you aren’t eliminating possible suspects in your head on every turn, then you are going to be more bumbling Bloodhound than winning Weimaraner!
There are also several variations to the base game in the form of Café tokens (which enable a player to steal another player’s token of the same colour on any round) and a Stasi officer (who will force-reveal the recipient player’s clue in the next round for the other cat chasing canines to see). But the game plays well with or without the extra spy antics!
Plus the secrecy surrounding the score per round is a unique feature which can work to keep players feeling like they are still in the game, as their opponents may still be far from the key 10 points even when tokens are being won left, right, and centre.
The cartoon styling is also really fun. With each investigator showing their own particular hound-dog demeanour, and all the spies having their own names, it feels more engaging.
We did find that, depending on the level of competitiveness in play, it was sometimes a bit of a scrap to be the first to lay a token on a popular card – bringing an almost dexterity element into the game play – but, with a little courtesy (and maybe a house rule), that small niggle can be nipped in the bud. Although, having said that, some players might like the snap sensation as hands rush to be the first to slam their token down! The lower player count rule also reduced the challenge a little, with one or two clues being on show for all to see, but it’s still an enjoyable filler game for 3+ players.
If you like quick, light, family deduction games then Checkpoint Charlie is a fun choice and our own in-house mini meeple, who is a huge Guess Who fan, gave it a thumbs up after playing a few rounds* There was certainly plenty of laughter around our table as we rushed to accuse some kitty cats so as to avoid being the only investigator with no suspect!
*At 5 years old, we reduced the memory testing element slightly by letting him write down the clues he had solved (bonus writing practice – double win for parents!).
[please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review but any opinions expressed are my own]