P. I. – Don your fedoras and trenchcoats, gumshoes, mystery is afoot

P.I. - Don your fedoras and trenchcoats, gumshoes, mystery is afoot
P.I. competitive deduction game

P.I. competitive deduction game

P. I., designed by Martin Wallace, is a competitive deduction game in which 2 to 5 hardboiled private dicks race to solve their own cases in three mini-games. You each must somehow work out what the crime was, whodunit, and where. The shamus who solves her case first earns the most dough. Wrong guesses will cost you some berries (2 points each), so it’s usually better to investigate a little more than risk making a bum rap.

The gumshoe on your right – let’s call him your blobber – holds all the cards of your case: Suspect, Location and Crime. He’ll be the one putting you wise on your progress, capiche?


Set up is duck soup:

P.I. sample Suspect and Crime tiles

sample Suspect and Crime tiles

  1. Mix all the Suspect tiles and randomly place one in the left space of each of the 14 locations on the game board. Note: each location already has a built-in location tile between the spaces for the Suspect and Crime tiles.
  2. Do the same with the Crime tiles, but in the right space.
  3. Deal each player 1 Suspect (out of 12 possible), 1 Location (of 14) and 1 Crime (of 10) card facedown. Keep these secret: they represent the case the detective on your left must solve – you’re that P.I.’s blobber.
  4. Shuffle the Evidence deck and deal 9 cards face up next to the board. This represents the Evidence pool currently available to draw from.
  5. Give each gumshoe a set of colored playing pieces consisting of 5 Investigator tokens, 3 discs, 10 cubes, 3 points counters (used to track your score in the 3 mini-games) and a penalty counter which you’ll immediately place on the 0 Penalty spot on the board.
  6. Set the three black discs nearby. They’ll be used when a player attempts to solve his case.
  7. Randomly determine who goes first and give him the start player marker.
P.I. player pieces

P.I. player pieces

P.I. game board featuring 14 locations

P.I. game board featuring 14 locations: typical settings found in pulp fiction and film noir. Note the built-in Location tiles on each location.

Game Play

To solve your case, you’ll need to scope out the dope. On your turn, you can take one of three actions:

  1. Place an Investigator token on a location to investigate that location.
  2. Select an Evidence card to evaluate one particular aspect of your case: Suspect, Location or Crime.
  3. Attempt to solve your case by naming your deduced Suspect, Location and Crime.

When you Place an Investigator on a location, your blobber (the bird on your right) will tell you how many discs and/or cubes you should place on your Investigator token to put you wise as to how close you are to discovering the truth. For each tile at that location that matches an aspect of your case (Suspect, Location, Crime) your blobber will instruct you to place one disc. For each tile at an adjacent location that matches an aspect of your case, he’ll tell you to place one cube.

P.I. sample Suspect Cards

sample Suspect Evidence cards

For example, if you’re instructed to place one disc and 2 cubes, that means that either the Suspect, Location or Crime at your Investigator’s location matches exactly one of the cards in your blobber’s hand (the case you’re attempting to solve) and two of the aspects of your case are in adjacent locations. If he tells you none, then you need to look elsewhere: that location and all of its adjacent locations do not hold any of the answers you’re looking for.

P.I. sample Location cards

P.I. sample Location cards

Your Investigator tokens are powerful and precious. You only have five to last you the entire game; you don’t get them back between mini-games. So you’ll want to use them sparingly and judiciously.

When you Select an Evidence Card from the pool – let’s say it’s the Suspect Queenie – your blobber will instruct you to place/move zero or one disc/cube to the corresponding tile on the game board. A disc means a perfect match for that type of Evidence only: Queenie is your Suspect. A cube means it’s not Queenie, but your Suspect is nearby (at a location adjacent to Queenie’s location). If your blobber says neither, your Suspect is not in the vicinity at all. Because you selected a Suspect Evidence card, you’ll only get information on your Suspect. Your blobber won’t give you any dope on the Crime or Location. If you had selected a Crime Evidence card, you’d only get dope on Crime, nada on Suspect or Location.

P.I. sample Crime cards

sample Crime cards

If you place/move a disc or cube, discard the Evidence card. Otherwise, place the Evidence in front of you to remember that lead was a dead end.

When you’re pretty sure you crabbed whodunit and it’s your turn, you can Attempt to Solve Your Case. Take the three black discs and place them on the appropriate Suspect, Location and Crime tiles. If your guess matches your case, your blobber will tell you you’re copacetic, you’re on the trolley. If any aspect is wrong, your blobber will tell you you’re balled up or all wet, but no more than that. If you guess wrong, move your penalty marker one space along the penalty track. If you’re copacetic, place your point token in the appropriate space on the scoring track, replace the black discs with your discs and remove your other pieces from the board.

The first shamus to solve her case scores 7 points. Any other gumshoes who solve their cases in the same round also score 7 points. The next dick to solve his case scores 5 points (likewise for any others that solve it that same round), the next 3 points and so forth.

It’s a tough city. What’s to prevent a bird from feeding you a red herring and sending you off on a wild goose chase? Should your blobber give you incorrect information – be it intentionally or unintentionally – you automatically score 7 points for that mini-game and he scores 0 points for that mini-game (any penalties he earned still apply).

The mini-game ends when all cases, or all but one in a 5-player game, have been solved. Clear the locations on the game board and reset for the next mini-game.

My Thoughts

All this disc/cube placing/moving may sound dull, but P.I. is actually quite fun. The disc/cube placing is just a means to track your progress solving your case. It’s what goes on in your brain as you work out the case that makes the game.

The theme of the components is reminiscent of the pulp fiction and film noir of the 30’s and 40’s. The locations on the board include the usual places from such media: Little Italy, China Town, Skid Row, Waterfront, Downtown, Central Station, Union Square, etc. Trocadero was perhaps inspired by the Cafe Trocadero, an upscale nightclub and Hollywood star hot spot on Sunset Strip in the 30’s. Rick’s Place is obviously supposed to remind us of Rick’s Café Américain from Casablanca. The names of the Suspects likewise fit the theme: dames like Bubbles and Queenie and fellas like Shorty and Maurice.

P.I. red Investigator token

Investigator token

The wooden discs and cubes do the job. I would’ve like to see the Investigator tokens depict a female on one side instead of the same male P.I. on both sides. Don’t bother to argue there weren’t female detectives in the 30’s and 40’s. Nancy Drew made her debut in 1930 and Torchy Blane in 1935. That’s just two, there were many others.

Game play is pretty quick, particularly for a Martin Wallace game. Each mini game only takes about 15 minutes. It’s certainly easy to learn: there are only three possible actions you can take on your turn. However, there’s plenty of replayability here, particularly if you haven’t played a deduction game for awhile.

I like P.I.. It’s light, quick fun. There’s definitely more to P.I. than Clue. You don’t need paper and pencil to keep track of your findings and you don’t have to waste time rolling and moving to gather info. There’s a larger pool of Suspects, Locations and Crimes – that alone increases the difficulty. I’ve thought of a few strategies I’d like to explore in my next games.

P.I. makes a good family game. I think it would appeal to both casual and gamer gamers alike: casual gamers because of its simple rules and short playtime, gamer gamers because of the deductive strategy involved.

P.I. supports 2 to 5 players ages 13 and up. I don’t see any reason younger players couldn’t play, too. Playtime is 45 to 60 minutes.


Copyright © 2016 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
Photo rights retained by their respective copyright holders.