The next in an irregular series of board game recommendations for programmers. Of course, you don't have to be a programmer to enjoy these games, but if you are a programmer, then I think there's a pretty good chance that you'll like them.
O frabjous day!
My favorite deduction game, Black Vienna, has long been out of print, but now you can give it a try online, thanks to the efforts of Greg Aleknevicus. Go check out Black Vienna Online. It's free and easy to use. The user interface isn't going to win any awards, but it gets the job done. I'm thrilled that this game can now reach a wider audience.
Most deduction games are for two players, but Black Vienna handles three to six players. Your goal is to figure out the members of the infamous “Black Vienna” gang. There are 27 suspect cards, labeled A-Z and Ö. At the beginning of the game, three of these cards are chosen randomly and set aside. Those are the members of the gang.
The remaining 24 suspect cards are dealt out evenly to the players. (With 5 players, one of the players gets only 4 cards.) These are the cards of suspects for whom you can provide alibis.
On your turn you conduct an investigation. There is a pool of available investigation cards, each showing three suspects. You choose one of the available investigation cards and place it in front of another player. That player marks the card with plastic chips, according to how many of the suspects are in her hand. For example, if I have the cards BGMTXY and somebody plays the BQT card on me, I would mark it with two chips (for the B and the T). Other players would then know that I had two of the three suspects, but not necessarily which ones.
The turn then passes to the player who was just investigated.
One nice thing about Black Vienna as a game is that every player is involved on every turn. Even if you are not actively part of the investigation, you still need to update your information with the results of the investigation, and follow any chains of deductions to their conclusions.
Some deductions are obvious. For example, if I played two chips on the BQT card, and you have the Q card in your hand, then you know that I have the B and the T. Other deductions are less obvious. Here's an actual example from a recent game. Call the other players Caitlin, Monica, Drew, and Dom.
Monica played one chip on GPX, but I had the X, so I knew that she had either G or P (but not both). Similarly, she also played one chip on DHR, but I knew Dom had the R, so Monica had either D or H. Finally, she played two chips on LNV.
Drew played one chip on DVY and zero chips on FÖY, so he had either D or V. Between Drew and Monica, they had at least 4 of the 5 cards DHLNV and at least 5 of the 7 cards DGHLNPV (possibly more if Drew had any of GHLNP).
Meanwhile, I knew all but two of Caitlin's cards. The only possibilities for those last two cards were DGHLNPV. Monica and Drew together had at least 5 of those 7 cards, so Monica, Drew, and Caitlin together must have all 7.
This tells me that none of these 7 cards are in the gang, and none of these 7 cards are in Dom's hand. It also tells me that Drew does not have any of GHLNP.
Finally, I can be more specific about Caitlin's cards. One of her two cards is G or P, and the other is one of DHLNV.
The online implementation is asynchronous. You do not need to be logged in at the same time as other players. Instead, the system emails you whenever a turn is taken with the results of the investigation. When it is your turn, you can log on and take your turn at your leisure. This means that a 45-minute face-to-face game can take days or even weeks when played online, but it also means that you can play the game with odd minutes here and there, instead of having to carve out a solid chunk of time. An additional benefit is that it is easy to play with friends in different time zones. For example, I frequently play with friends on the other side of the country.
However, the greatest benefit of the online implementation is that it does away with the greatest weakness of face-to-face play—player errors. Not errors in deductions, which would be your own fault and would only affect you, but errors in answering investigations. If a player carelessly puts out, say, one chip when he should have put out two chips, it ruins the game for everyone. Even if the player notices the error a few turns later and tries to correct it, it's far too late. By then, the other players have already updated their notes with deductions made from the faulty answer, and typically have no way of backing out of those deductions.
Addendum: I've played in several three-player games recently. It's ok with that number, but I think it's significantly better with four or five players. (I haven't tried six yet.) With three players, the deductions are less interesting, and there is a greater chance for one player to get lucky.