Kill Doctor Lucky
by Tom Warin
(Salem, MA, USA)
The original Kill Doctor Lucky from Cheapass Games
Kill Doctor Lucky
Board game manufacturer:
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Kill Doctor Lucky is a fun game with a great concept, but slightly dry gameplay. It works best with a bloodthirsty crowd who embrace the concept.
Described as "A pre-mystery board game for 3-7 players", the concept is that the players have gathered at Dr. Lucky's mansion to kill the eponymous old man. This proves easier said than done, because he lives up to his name.
In a clever reverse of the Clue board game concept, players must find a secluded room in the mansion in which to attempt his murder with one of a variety of bizarre weapons.
I own the second edition of the game, the mono box release from Cheapass that requires the player to provide their own pawns.
The latest release is a boxed version from Titanic Games featuring a full color board and cards that comes with all the pieces to play it. Titanic also introduces a new rule mechanic: spite tokens.
The game consists of a board representing Dr. Lucky's mansion, a deck of 96 cards and a rule book.
There are four types of cards: weapon cards, room cards, failure cards and move cards. The card designs in the original release are bare bones and the card stock is thin, but later releases add funnier text and sturdier card stock.
Kill Doctor Lucky contains 32 different locations: 24 named rooms, six hallways and two stairwells. 20 of the rooms are numbered from 0 through 19. This represents the path that the oblivious Dr. Lucky takes through his mansion.
The concept of "sight lines" is crucial. If you can look straight through a doorway into a room (you can look through several rooms in a row), then you can see into that room. To try to kill Doctor Lucky, you must be in a room where no other player has a sight line onto you.
At the start of the game, pawns representing each of the players are placed in the Drawing Room.
When a room card is dealt to a player, that player goes first and the room on the card is the room that Dr. Lucky starts in. Place a pawn representing Dr. Lucky in that room. The deck is then shuffled and each player is dealt six cards. All other cards go into the draw deck.
Each turn, a player has a choice of two action types: snoop, or do something.
To snoop, a player moves one room (named room, hallway or stairwell) in any direction and takes a card. The card represents something that have found as a result of snooping.
To do something, a player can move one room in any direction and then play any number of cards.
A move card can either move the player or Dr. Lucky. There are move-1, move-2 and move-3 cards which allow you to move your pawn or Dr. Lucky's pawn that many rooms. If moving Dr. Lucky, you do not need to follow his numbered path. A room card allows you to move yourself or Dr. Lucky directly to the room named on the card.
Once you have moved yourself and/or Dr. Lucky, you can attempt to kill Doctor Lucky, if you are both in a room that no other player can see into. A murder attempt ends the turn.
When you attempt to murder Dr. Lucky, you can either use your bare hands (which has a value of 1), or you can use one weapon card, which has the value printed on the card. Some weapon cards are worth more murder points in certain rooms. For example, the Pinking Shears are usually worth 2 points, but they are worth 6 in the Lilac Room.
When a player attempts a murder, all other players, starting to the left of the murdering player can foil the murder by playing failure cards. In order to foil the attempt, failure cards matching or exceeding the points value of the murder attempt must be played. If not enough failure cards are played, then the attempt to kill Doctor Lucky succeeds and the murdering player is the winner.
Failure cards go into a failure discard pile. These cards are never returned to the deck, so the number of failure cards always decreases. Other cards are put into a separate discard pile which is to be reshuffled and used to replace the draw deck if the draw deck is exhausted.
At the end of every turn, Dr. Lucky moves to the next highest numbered room on his path. Normally, player turns move left around the table. However, if Dr. Lucky lands on a room where another player his their pawn, then that player goes next and then play proceeds from the left of that player. It's possible to take several turns in a row by moving one step ahead of Dr. Lucky.
There are a number of different strategies at play. First, there is the question of moving your pawn around the mansion. You want to find a location where you will intersect with Dr. Lucky with nobody else in sight.
You also want to stop other players from making murder attempts by keeping them in sight. It's worth trying to arrange an attempt in a room where your weapon will be worth more points.
It's worth being aggressive. Every murder attempt (even if it is with just your bare hands) will reduce the number of failure cards that other players have.
The trickiest strategy revolves around whether or not to play your failure cards in order to foil a murder attempt. If you are to a murderer's immediate left, then you want the burden of foiling the attempt to fall disproportionately on players further around the table. If you are too stingy, you run the risk of letting another player win. If you are the player to the immediate right of the murderer, then you are going to end up spending a lot more failure cards.
The latest edition of Kill Doctor Lucky adds a new concept called "spite tokens". Whenever a player attempts a murder, they receive a spite token. Spite tokens can be used to either add to the points value or your murder attempt or as a 1-point failure card. If the murder is foiled, then the player attempting the murder receives all spite tokens involved in that play (any that they played and any that were used as failure cards) in addition to the one token for attempting a murder.
This encourages aggression and ramps up the value of murder attempts as the game goes on as the number of spite tokens is always increasing.
I have played some Kill Doctor Lucky games that have dragged on for a while, and in these cases I can see the need for spite tokens to ramp things up. With four aggressive players, games rarely last that long and I don't think they are necessary. The rules encourage variations and adding house rules. If you find that the game isn't quite right for your crowd, it's worth playing with the rules until it works.
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Pros and cons
The concept of a pseudo-prequel to Clue is fantastic. The mechanics are clean and are usually picked up pretty quickly. It encourages silliness to make for an entertaining session.
The passing similarity to more well known board games makes it an easier sell for new players.
Remembering to move Dr. Lucky after every turn takes time to get used to.
Games can run a long time if you have a larger number of less aggressive players and don't use spite tokens. It can be frustrating to miss turns if Dr. Lucky lands on another player.
There are better games in the Cheapass range, but Kill Doctor Lucky is the best-known and it stands up pretty well. As is the case with a lot of Cheapass games, the concept is slightly better than the game, but it's still a lot of fun. A lot of the enjoyment of Kill Doctor Lucky comes from what you put into it; this is not a game to be played seriously.