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Use (and Lose) Your Spouses Wisely in Deadly Dowagers, Then Get a New Clue

by W. Eric Martin

Sarah Shipp is a first-time designer, whose debut game — Deadly Dowagers — was released in early March 2023 by publisher Sparkworks.

Here’s an overview of this 2-6 player game that feels like a Victorian novel come to life:

Deadly Dowagers is a game of marriage, murder, and money. You compete with the other lovely ladies in your town by strategically growing your dowry, while being careful not to gain too much infamy, or the duke may pass you over for another bride!

You play as a middle-class Victorian woman who would kill to be a duchess. Since you were not lucky enough to be born into the aristocracy, the only way to attract a noble is to have a large enough dowry. Fortunately, when your parents died, they left you with a small dowry and some land. You must build wealth through investments and strategic serial marriages.

Gameplay is divided into rounds; each round consists of four separate phases: drafting, investment, husband, and housekeeping. In each round, each player drafts a hand of cards, pick-and-pass style. Certain cards are played into players’ tableaus. Instant cards are used and discarded. Players using death cards partially reset their tableau and get income. Players discard down to eight cards in hand, then draft four new cards.

The game ends when one player has no current husband, no more than 9 infamy, spends 120 crowns, and plays a remarry card to marry the Duke. That player wins.

While Deadly Dowagers is Shipp’s first published design, she’s been blogging about “board game design theory from a fine arts perspective” since 2019 on her ShippBoard Games blog and has lots of interesting work on there. She was also a guest on the Meeple Syrup Show in February 2023 where she talked about “how to start a thematic design”. Expect to see much more from her in the years ahead…

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• In case you’re looking for more fun times involving murder — and who isn’t really?! — in March 2023 U.S. publisher ThinkFun released two titles that extend existing product lines.

Escape the Room: Murder in the Mafia is a 90-120 escape room-style experience from designers Rebecca Bleau and Nicholas Cravotta that also challenges you to solve a murder to prove your innocence.

Cold Case: End of the Line asks you to put yourself in the past to solve a crime today:

Two murders plague the small town of Pauvigny, France. On a dark night in 1961, Leonce Junot’s body was found after a jewelry heist gone awry and the suspect, Henri Valentine, was arrested and convicted. Two decades later, Henri Valentine was released only to have his body discovered in the morning at the same railway he was apprehended. The whispers around town confuse the situation, and only you can solve both cold cases and figure out who the true murderer is.

• In January 2023 Hasbro relaunched ye olde Clue, giving all the player roles backstories that interact with one Boden “Boddy” Black, who apparently was blackmailing everyone, thereby giving them a reason to want him dead.

Gameplay seems unchanged, but now you have a bit more personality in the player tokens, which are now miniatures instead of identical pawns.

• And this game continues to be released in new licensed versions because you can find murders everywhere, including in the Hidden Leaf Village, home of one Naruto Uzumaki. In March 2023, The Op released Clue: Naruto Shippuden, which features familiar gameplay and special action cards on a somewhat different game board.


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