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Paper Trail-Review

Updated: May 9

Paper Trail cover shows paper airplane on crumpled paper

It takes a whole lot of work, and sometimes a whole lot of love to make a game. This is one of those games that shows both. This isn't the first time that I have reviewed a game that was primarily by one person. This particular game fared a bit better in my estimation- namely, I would play this one again if someone asked me to do so. There are reasons you may or may not choose to do so though.

Does anyone still pass notes? Yes, not everyone has access to cell phones in school and the tradition of note passing has not died yet. After all, it's still easy to draw that comic on paper that on your cell phone.

Paper Trail is the work of Travis Deere, who happens to currently have a day job of teaching students. You would think being a teacher in real life would mean that you would want to remove reality from the game. It is here that I am going to point out one of the two most glaring inclusions in the game. Some cards have pictures of real students. Sort of. This game was crowdfunded, and some of the pictures on the cards show pictures of people who helped make the game happen. I understand why this was done. However, on an initial play it feels idiosyncratic, even jarring to see real pictures of people mixed in with cartoon imagery. It would have been better to take these pictures and "cartoon-ify" them in a way that matched the rest of the cards, and then include the real life pictures in the rulebook with an explanation of why they exist.

The game is simple enough, and the player aids are well thought out, both in the cards and in the player folio screens. You can watch my video for how to play and a quick review of the game.

Player aid gives starting note position and reminders of all actions in game

It's a light and fun exercise in deduction with a lot of randomness. The teacher generally has a harder time parsing out where the students are passing their notes, but they can get around these problems by following a fairly simple formula of suspecting which causes a desk to gain a mark, then accusing which might confiscate notes, and then suspecting again. The teacher also wants to make use of rumors to take an extra action.

The problem comes with the fact that students easily gain access to Student Cards which allow them to circumvent the teacher powers. More than once, I found myself as teacher powerless to find out any information from the places I actually wanted to on my turn, which made for duller turns. Mercifully, the turns are quick and the game will be over even more quickly if this happens a lot. Which, in this case, I wouldn't normally be upset and would say "Let's play again!"

player folio shows available player actions like sneak, score a note, draw a student card, and how you gain rumors

The oddity of the game is that the components are truly massive relative to the complexity of the game. I wouldn't normally complain about a box size or components, but getting the whole thing out and setting up is a little bit of a production. In the 5 player games I played, it took up an entire large table to just get the game out. Whether intentional or not, the player folio screens give the impression of being stuck in standardized testing behind a privacy screen. Or maybe we are in a voter booth? Either way, a smaller screen, smaller boards, and a generally less super-duper expansive set up would have felt more relaxed and less like I was stuck in a box at a school.

example mischief mission card says that if you score 2 joke notes you get an additional 5 points

On that note, the Mischief Mission cards are wildly random and diverse. I don't think this a problem though. The game is over quickly and seeing opportunities for the students to capitalize on should be a way to win the game. I think these were an important addition to make the game as thematic as possible.

different teacher cards with varying difficulty, Miss G is the easiest and adds notes before play begins

One of things included is different powers for the teacher. These come in the form of character cards of different difficulties. I wouldn't have minded seeing a couple more of these. I also wouldn't have minded seeing at least one set or more of assymetric player ability cards. Might as well lean fully into the theme of being a student who cares about certain things in school. Maybe I'm a math nerd and I have a small formula where I score more or less if I make a prime number of moves on delivering my notes? Just an example of how that could work and fit in this world.

The other thing some people may not be a fan of is that the teacher is doing more and different upkeep than anyone else in the game. I think that is more of a group dynamic issue to be aware of than any problem with the game, but it is the case that the teacher will always be having a different sort of experience than the student players.

various cards are managed by the teacher - teacher cards, student cards, mischief missions, and notes

Don't forget the teacher has to manage handing out the different types of cards for the student players. I guess someone had to do it, but who wants more unpaid administrative work? Thematic, yes. Not a huge deal, but I do wonder if the designer's day job influenced some decisions here.

teacher's aid card shows all the actions available to teacher

Overall, this is a nice, lighter deduction game that will be good for families or a group of friends who are ok with a fairly high level of randomness in the deduction. This is by no means pure deduction or pure chase and hidden movement ala Fury of Dracula. I enjoyed the setting a lot, just would have been happier with some smaller components which would have been less to manage.

My Paper Trail review copy of the game was provided by the publisher, but my opinions are my own and I received no other compensation.

Paper Trail

Designed by Mr. Deere

Published by Lime Green Games

Aesthetics 7/10

Strategy 5.5/10

Gameplay 7/10

2-5 Players

10-15 minutes per player


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