Designer: Dennis Hoyle
Artist: Jonathan Logan Clark, Dennis Hoyle
Publisher: Bellwether Games
Players: 2-7 (2-9 with expansion)
Price: $18.00 Amazon.com
Antidote is a deduction card game with a versatile player count. It is the type of game that takes a couple of rounds to “click,” but when it does, players will start to see just how much is under the surface.
Time is short. With the chemical spill worsening, you begin to wonder if you’ll make it out alive. Then you remember, one of the vials in this lab has the antidote! But which one?
Antidote is one of those “figure out which card is missing” deduction games, a la Sleuth or Mystery Express. At the start of the game, everyone begins with some useful information, and they learn more as things progress. While it borrows a bit from existing games, Antidote has some interesting ideas of its own.
(Note: For explanation purposes, I will be using a six-player game as an example. The deck scales according to the number of participants, so there may be more or fewer cards at other player counts.)
In the standard game, the deck is comprised of seven colors of cards, in values ranging from 1-7, and X. To illustrate, here is a full set of one color of cards:
To prepare the game, all the X cards are shuffled together, and one is returned to the box, face down. It is now each player’s goal to determine what color that card is. As an example, let’s suppose the orange X was removed. (Players wouldn’t know this, of course.)
The remaining Xs are then dealt out to players, along with a number of Syringe cards (more on these in a moment). Next, the numbered cards are all shuffled together and distributed evenly. A starting hand might look like this:
Any X in a player’s hand gives good information: that color cannot be the antidote, since the X is in the hand rather than the box. In the example above, since the player possesses the purple X, he knows that purple is not the antidote. Therefore, the purple 2 and 7 can be safely discarded, along with any other purple cards they accumulate down the road.
On a player’s turn, he may do one of three things:
- Have all players discard a card in front of themselves. Numbered cards are placed face-up, and Xs are placed face-down (thus, it’s clear if an X has been discarded, but players will not know which one)
- Trade cards with another player, or ask everyone to pass a card to the right/left
- Use a Syringe card, which is traded for a face-down card on the table or a random card from an opponent’s hand (this is how players can investigate a face-down X card played by someone else)
When everyone discards a card to their tableau, it might look something like this:
Notice that one player discarded a card face-down, presumably one of the X cards. On a future turn, someone might want to use a Syringe to investigate which one.
It is important to note that all players always have an equal number of cards, because the game ends when everyone is down to the card. At this time, the secret X card is flipped over, revealing which color is the antidote. Whoever has the highest-numbered card of that color wins. Alternatively, players can play through multiple rounds, keeping a running score. Anyone holding a card of the antidote color scores the number of points on the card (one to seven), and any others colors lose their owners points.
Antidote does a good job concealing its subtleties. While simple and streamlined, players will soon begin to realize the minutiae of its strategy. For example, it’s worth noting if an opponent discards a bunch of cards in one color; maybe he knows that color is not the antidote? Additionally, trying to keep track of who has which X cards is, itself, a memory metagame (one that I’m terrible at, I might add). There is nothing flashy about this game, but design-wise, it’s solid.
That leads me to discuss the variants and Lab Alliance expansion. The base game includes some optional rules that can change gameplay, including secret objectives and special action cards. The expansion adds capability for extra players and team play, and builds upon the base game’s variants.
These modular game modes add some cool tactics. The Placebo, for example, provides a sort of bluffing ability, and the Clinical Trial allows all players to look at a card from their neighbor’s tableau. I can take or leave the secret objectives and team play; personally, I like the simplicity of the base game with one or two special action cards.
That being said, I recommend giving Antidote a try. I’m a big fan of deduction games, and this one is a nice brain-tickler.
Review copies of Antidote and Antidote: Lab Alliance were provided by Bellwether Games.
(As a side note, this game could totally be used in a youth-group-type church setting. Its theme is not overtly spiritual, but it wouldn’t be hard to tie it into a bible study about Jesus as a healer. Just spitballing.)
The Bottom Line
Antidote is a neat deduction game. It's easy to jump into, but it offers more depth than one might expect.