A diceless, card-based story game about a detective and his hat. Perfect noir feel.
On Friday night I had the great joy of playing this game remotely with Camilla Zamboni, Kevin Kulp and Betsy Rosenblatt. We used the online version of the game which has been made freely availabile by the developers.
This is a game for exactly four players. You take on the roles of the detective, the detective's hat, the partner and the flame. The detective states what the detective says and does, but never says what he is thinking. The hat is the noir narrative of what the detective is thinking - but he doesn't always follow his thoughts! The partner has a business relationship and the flame has a personal relationship. the players of those two roles take up the roles of any supporting characters which turn up in the scenes.
The game is a deck of special cards, and the cards step you through the process of setting the game up and choosing what you are going to do. I like the approach, and it is very neatly done.
Once you've assigned the characters and introduce them, you choose one of four basic missions
- Track down a missing person
- Retrieve a stolen item
- Exonerate someone who has been framed
- Find the killer after a murder
There are a whole range of settings, each with a set of atmospheric locations and suggested supporting characters who would be appropriate. When I played we used the classic 1940's setting of New Hudson.
Other settings include the neon dystopia of Aftercity, the thriving modern city of Bridgewater, the remote 1800's island town of Grim Moor, the underwater domes of Atlantea City, the 1990's beach town of San Savio, the school of necromancy for homeless queer youth at Quietus College, early 2000's Suburbia, and finally the space settlement on one of the moons of Jupiter called Juno's Reach.
Phew! There are a lot to choose from, and I look forward to trying out other settings in future games!
Playing the Game
Each game has exactly 7 chapters and probably takes 2-3 hours to play. The themes in each chapter give you an idea of what is going to be happening, and there is a choice of quotes to steer the direction too. For instance, in Chapter 2, A New Case, the themes are:
- business as usual
- shared mistakes
and the quote is a choice from
- "This is your chance to redeem yourself"
- "Can you handle this case?"
- "You should let this case go"
The chapter card tells you who frames the scene, the scene comes to an end by mutual agreement.
After that, there are 'moments' - optional vignettees narrated by each of the players which flesh out their lives beyond the scene which has just played out. Sometimes responding to it, sometimes a flashback to something relevant, always adding depth and colour to their portrayal.
Why I like this game
I love the setup (I'm a sucker for noir style games) and giving one of the players the narrator role (as the detectives hat) is a stroke of genius. When I played, I took the role of the Detective, and Kevin took the role of the Hat, and his narration was so on-point. It gave me freedom to go with the direction of my inner thoughts, or sometimes to act contrary to what might seem to be my best interests, but it was all very much in the theme of a classic noir movie of the 1940's
The combination of the themes, prompts, setting locations and setting supporting characters suggests that there is a lot of potential replay value - and it could easily be extended if you wanted to create your own settings too.
Where can you find the game
I'd like to point you in the first instance to the publishers website. You can find the game here https://www.lessthanthreegames.com/fedora-noir.html
Would you like to see a story?
I took some rough notes during our game, and I've written them up as best as I can to give a feel for the game we played. It's all written from the point of view of Mike O'Shea, the detective; it misses out on the fabulous dialog in the game, but I hope it captures something of the feel of it.
Fedora Noir - “Robbing the Cradle”
- Alex - Mike O’Shea, the detective
- Kevin - the Hat
- Betsy - Bucky, the partner
- Camilla - Violet, the flame.
The Stolen Item
- a bassinet. it has been gone for two months
- the client - a femme fatale movie actress who is married to a leading man Rex Grayson. He is unaware so the client is the femme fatale, Scarlett Black.
- valuable because of the love letters within it which would ruin someones marriage
- who else is after the object. Tom Bennett, the Mayor of New Hudson (who was party to the affair). Sally Moore is after a scoop.
Mike O’Shea, the detective, is old and grey, wearing a shabby overcoat. He has nicotine stained fingers and alcohol on his breath. And a black fedora. He is looking to hand over the business to his junior partner after one more case.
Bucky, the junior partner and man-friday is short and stout, wears a suit two sizes two big, slicked back black hair. knows guys who know guys
Violet, the flame, is aging finely, like a good whiskey. She is a prosecutor, sister of Sally Moore the reporter. Tall, slender, always elegant and on point, looking put together. She has trouble relaxing and letting out, but secretly wishes to be more free and easy-going
Chapter 1- The Detectives Office
- I’m alone in my office. It’s the dead of night. I look out the window, but only my reflection stares back. Should I have taken this case? It’s too late for second guesses. If it was a mistake, I’ll find out soon enough. I need a drink...
- I empty the bottle into my glass, but I don’t touch it. I lean back into my chair and close my eyes. Do I trust the client? As much as I trust any of them. If I had to choose between having a client I trust and a paycheck... Well, money never hurts. I should try to get some sleep...
- Instead, I pull on my coat and head out into the night. I can’t stop thinking about someone from my past
- I walked up the street to the Uptown Heights where Violet lives. I looked at the doorman, wondering whether I should go in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained eh? I nod at him as I go in, and take the lift up to her floor.
- the hat thinks coming here is a mistake
- the detective knocks and walks away
- inside we hear Violet arguing with her sister Sally about a case
- Buck is playing poker with 6 gangsters and Mayor bennett
Chapter 2 - A New Case
In the detectives office.
- I was chewing Bucky out for not chasing down leads and bringing in new business. If he wanted his name on the door when I retired he had to be better than this. Better than I had been. “Cases don’t just walk through the door, son”.
- A single knock and she slid through the open door in her crushed black velvet dress and with her trademark red hair and red umbrella. I could smell the dame before I heard her shoes clicking into the room.
- She had long legs that went right down to the floor. She took a seat and crossed her legs as I leaned over to make sure she landed square.
- Bucky was agog, seeing his matinee idol, Scarlet Black, in the flesh; and who could blame him? But when I heard her sultry tones I couldn’t help thinking of Violet. How I missed that woman. I had a good thing and I messed it up.
- I was recommended by someone up at the city hall. Apparently a bassinet has been stolen. Two weeks ago. No police involvement and she don’t got no children so I’m not sure what the fuss is about. Clearly more than just a cradle at stake. Something hidden in there?
- She is eager to pay. Too eager. Half up front plus expenses? I could retire on this job. Of course I’d take it. Bucky fussed over her with the details and I looked out through the rain on my darkened windows. Thinking about Violet.
- Hat: flipping through the cash, thinking about the humiliation of paying off debtors and there may be a single ray of sunlight
- Bucky is in his room, a small coffee pot and a single burner. watching with a film projector ‘follies of 1937’ starring Scarlet Black.
- Violet is at court, but distracted from the case. she looks at a scribbled note that says ‘talk to him’
- Mike pulls a crumpled letter out of his pocket that had arrived this morning and reads it again . “this is your chance to redeem yourself” It’s a letter from violet.
Chapter 3 Heart to Heart
At Andy’s Diner. The sky is even darker. Mike and Bucky are there for their usual after work. Joe and BLT for Bucky, Whiskey for Mike.
- I’m talking over the days case when Violet walks in. My heart quickens a little. “Andy, get the lady a highball” asking for her favourite drinks. “We’re just a diner here, Mike” he replies, but I tell him to cut the crap and get the drinks from under the counter.
- Bucky excuses himself - he needs to go to the gents. Violet slips into his seat, her thigh brushing lightly against mine. My heart skips a beat but I keep my voice steady.
- She asks me about last night, was I really at her door. I had been, but I left when I heard raised voices inside. Violet and her sister. Violet looks down, then reaches out to lay her hand on mine.
- She’s working on a big case. It could make her career after all these years of grind and work. It involved Mayor Bennett, the mob, and a theft from the well known actor Scarlet Black. She had sent Scarlet to me. Reckoned I was the one to help crack the case and join the dots. Maybe those years Violet and I had together meant something after all.
- She shared some more information with me, then left. Suggesting that I do more than just knock the next time I’m at Uptown Heights. Then she walked out the door.
- hat - realises what violet means!
- Mike makes his way to uptown heights to see Violet, knocks and waits.
- Violet is putting her makeup on, expecting a visitor. There is a knock at the door.
- Bucky hands a fiver to Andy “thanks for listening in” and gets an update on the conversation!
Chapter 4 - Working the Case
A back ally in skid city. Buck and the detective meet Kaspian Rogers
- I’m standing in the shadows, dragging on yet another cigarette. Where is Bucky? He was supposed to meet his contact and bring him straight out the back. Rogers is a known fence, and wants a meet with the Mayor, hence his interest in Bucky. And my interest in him.
- Kaspian is a short Italian guy. I lean on him a bit. “What’s a sprat like you trying to cosy up to the Mayor for” I ask. “Dunno what a sprat is” he replied. I explained that a sprat is a small fish that bigger fish like to feed on. I hate explaining vocabulary to low-lives, and I hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but I had no choice.
- He tells me that he’s seen a crib in the stolen goods storage point in the subway down by the docks, but it is too dangerous to go tonight. He’s not supposed to go for another couple of days but that would give too much time for… interested parties… to intervene. I tell him that we’ll go tonight. He’s worried that there may be some wise guys or made men around, but that’s the chance we’ll have to take. We’ve got a case to crack.
- the hat thinks that moments like this make him feel good about himself
- Mike has a flashback to fifteen years ago where he was beaten to a pulp by Sicilian thugs
- Bucky has a fantasy of punching out a giant mafioso.
Chapter 5 - Closing in
Much later that night, down at the dock warehouses - repurposed station areas.
- I’m walking down into inky blackness. just enough light to see the storage space. No goods piled up though, but large besuited men with guns. In front of them is Mayor Bennett. I’ve been set up.
- He joked about my age. I joked about the time I threw him down some stairs and broke his nose. Yes, we’ve got some history.
- Behind him I can see the bassinet amongst other rubbish. He wants me to just walk away and leave it here. I can’t do that. I’ve taken the case and I need to see it through. The Mayor seems surprisingly invested in this. On a hunch I take out the handkerchief that Scarlet left on my desk. Sniff it, and hold it out towards the Mayor.
- I’ll make him a deal. He can take this memento of his fling with Scarlet, and I’ll take the bassinet with the incriminating files. I’ll destroy them, everyone’s secret is safe. Discretion is assured all round. I can see him thinking about it.
- Then Violet’s voice rings out behind me. She’s got a gun, an attitude, an police on the way. Damn it, I nearly had this and she’s ruining it all!
- No moments, we moved quickly to Violet framing the next scene
Chapter 6 - The detectives choice
Still in the dark warehouses with a tense standoff.
- I step slightly to one side, to stand between Violet and the Mayor, shielding him from her gun. I told him that we could still end this peacefully. He takes the handkerchief, I take the bassinet.
- He tries to buy us off. Of course he does. Plumb jobs for Violet, a wedge of cash for us, no questions asked. I’m sorry Mr Mayor, but I must insist. Violet back there cares about the law, and she’s damn good at it. But I care about justice.
- The Mayor snatches the handkerchief from my hand. “With this I seem to have everything I want” he says. I didn’t think we’d get this close. I draw my revolver and shove it hard up under his chin. I promised my client discretion and that discretion is as good for you as it is for her. I’m not going to let any of this get public.
- Mayor Bennet tells me that I’m fool and I’ll never get out of this alive. I tell him two things. I’ve had a good innings and I don’t mind dying to protect Violet.
- Secondly, Bucky tells me that the joint poker games have shown that the Mayor is good at telling when someone is bluffing. Am I bluffing right now? I jam the pistol up a little bit for emphasis.
- The Mayor glances over towards Bucky who shakes his head nervously.
- Police sirens are getting closer.
- Violet thinks it’s hot that Mike was prepared to die for her
Chapter 7 - case closed?
The crib is in the side of the office.
- We’ve all seen the evidence which was inside of the bassinet. A whole series of love letters, intimate and pretty explicit.
- I hear the click-click of the clients shoes along the corridor and she comes into the room. She glances at the letters we are holding and her face darkens like thunder. She tells us we had no right to go prying in here, no right at all. She draws her derringer from her purse and points it at us.
- Well love, I say, it’s not really your letters either, are they? No names, but they are both written in a male hand.
- Out of the corner of my eye I see Violet’s eyes go wide as she realises at last. What a cute girl.
- This isn’t an affair between you and the Mayor, is it? It was between the Mayor and your husband, Rex. If that got out it would destroy three lives, and for what? How about you put your gun away, and we burn these together now? Ensuring discretion. The Law would lock them up, but I care about justice. Without looking across I reached out and laid my hand on Violet’s. After all, love across the tracks… everyone deserves a chance, eh?
- Violet is walking up into the courts of justice. Not wearing her old purple scarf but wearing one of Mike’s scarfs now. She sees the Mayor being dragged in protesting on a corruption charge. Not her case, not her business, but she smiles to herself as she continues on with her day.
- The hat takes pleasure in Kaspian Rogers getting his comeuppance. The dirty rat who set me up has apparently been found with a whole lot of evidence about handling stolen goods and is going down for a long while. And considering the Sicilian friends who have been compromised it might just be ‘life’ for him.
- Bucky is settling down in an expensive seat for the premier of Scarlet Blacks new film
- Mike is seen removing his name from his office door. He really hadn’t expected to come out of this alive, let alone happy. But here it is. This time, he’s going to get it right.