Position to Murder – A Kill Doctor Lucky Mystery
Kill Doctor Lucky was sent to me Greater Than Games for a fair and honest review
Way back in the 90s, I’m making myself feel old just writing that, a company called Cheapass Games tried something new. Instead of producing boardgames with loads of components where they would have to print 1000s of copies at a time to make money, they made very small games that could fit in a largish envelope. The print quality wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. You had to supply your own dice and tokens for any of the games that required it. That said the games lived up to the company name. They were cheap. £5-10 cheap.
I owned several of their titles including the very first one Kill Doctor Lucky. Released in 1996 and designed by James Earnest, this game styled itself as the pre-cluedo boardgame. Rather than finding out who the murderer was, you are taking up a variety of implements and stalking the halls of the mansion in order to Kill Doctor Lucky. You really hate that guy.
A few years ago Kill Doctor Lucky came back on the market in a new 19.5 anniversary edition. I received a copy in 2020 and then, well you know. I finally got it to the table recently and I think it’s about time to revisit this game from my early hobby games history.
How do you go about murdering an old man? Should be simple. Grab a knife, stab, done. This is a murder mystery, or at least the preamble to one. You can’t just go around stabbing folk, you’ll get caught! Thankfully Doctor Lucky walks a set path through his house, so you can plan you time to strike when no-one else can see you.
This is really the core of the game. You manoeuvre yourself around the mansion, trying to get yourself into a position to shuffle the old codger off this mortal coil without anyone seeing you do it. Cards allow you to move a little faster or even teleport to rooms. Presumably this is in the form of the secret passages that are such a feature of a Cluedo board. You know how murder mansions are.
Finally you have him alone. Time for some killing. Now you can just try and strangle him with you bare hands. You start out with a base strength of 1 and that can be used to murder him how ever you see fit. What is a murder without an odd weapon though. These add strength to your attempt. Surely nothing can go wrong?
When you attempt to Kill Doctor Lucky, everyone else can throw in cards to thwart their attempt. Luck symbols on cards used for this have to match the strength of the attempt and then Doctor Lucky will just shuffle off around the mansion, oblivious to the mortal danger he is in. Failure cards are just used to thwart attempts, but you’ll find luck symbols on move and weapon cards as well. Even if your attempt fails you get to learn, gaining a strength permanently for your next attempt.
When you aren’t attempting a murder you can snoop around and gather cards, building up your arsenal of weapons and failure cards. The core of the game though is getting into a position to murder. Dr. Lucky’s set movement pattern adds a tactical wrinkle. If he moves into a room with a player, they get to have the next turn, regardless of the turn order. This potentially allows you to accompany him around until you are both safe and alone with no-one around to see how you used that shoe horn to do him in.
This version of Kill Doctor Lucky is a definite improvement on the original. I’ve sourced the original rules to the 1996 version and there are some important changes. Luck used to only be on failure cards, but is now on many of the cards in the deck meaning there is at least some element of choice when it comes to thwarting your fellow murderers. The game offsets this by it being a little hard to gather cards than it was in the original game.
A double side game board adds some variety to the cat and mouse play of the game. Alongside this there are several variants in the box along with their components. The game tended to work best at larger player numbers and many of the variants help out at a smaller count. The variants were expansions to the original game and are now packaged together.
All that said, I am not sure Kill Doctor Lucky is really worth it. I received the new edition which has since been replaced by the 24 ¾ Anniversary edition. As far as I can tell, it is identical apart from a cat and dog meeple being added for one of the variants. It is £30. I don’t often talk about price of games in reviews. It feels necessary here given the nature of the original game.
I can’t deny that the new edition looks better, comes with all the components you need, and a bunch of expansions that would have originally been bought separately. Does that massively enhance the gameplay? Not really. There are some solid changes to the rules for sure, but they don’t change the game drastically from being a quite incidental affair.
I had fun with the original game and I really enjoyed the nostalgia of revisiting it. When I bought it for only £5 it seemed like a good amount of game for the price. At £30 I don’t really feel like it has anything to truly recommend it. It’s basically a party game and there are better of those out there. Folks like Big Potato Games have that all sewn up.
Modern board games can be beautiful, lavish objects. Sometimes presentation and production can compensate for a gap in the mechanisms. I personally believe that charm can go a long way to making me like a game I might not otherwise. Kill Doctor Lucky doesn’t really have enough at the core to make the new production worth the effort. It’s a game that was of its time, and now looks tired and old just like Doctor Lucky himself.