Review: The Dick Tracy Game
Publisher: University Games
Year: Timeless (I can’t find a date on the box or rules but BGG says 1990)
Tagline: Help Dick Tracy solve crimes, capture the colorful cast of criminals and save the city.

The cover is yellow with Dick Tracy running toward you!

how we met

Hey guess what, I found The Dick Tracy Game at a thrift shop once. I was not familiar with the game, but I purchased it anyway. Dick Tracy as a property has a great design to it, in my opinion, and the board game is no exception. Such a pretty cover, and so yellow too!

how it plays

The Dick Tracy Game is a roll and move game where the object is to have the most CRIME POINTS after all the criminals have been captured. Then you win!

The pawns are all Dick Tracy in different colors
There are so many Dick Tracy’s!

The Dick Tracy criminals will be nestled around the board with their faces peering out of little windows in envelope HIDEOUT PACKETS, so you know who the criminal is. What you don’t know is their WEAPON or what CRIME they committed. The HIDEOUT PACKETS need to be filled in a specific order, so don’t skim that section of the rules.

the board showing pawns and hideout packets in various areas
Here we are mid-play, with a few HIDEOUT PACKETS left

In order to capture these criminals, you need to fight them. As you make your way across the board, you will land on (not necessarily by exact count yay!) what are called KEYHOLE squares. If the building still has a criminal in it, then you can pick up the HIDEOUT PACKET, look at only the WEAPON card and decide if you want to fight that criminal. If you do, you must spin a higher level weapon than the criminal has. If you lose the fight, you must go to the hospital and lose one turn. If you win the fight, take that packet – but you don’t get to look at it until you deliver the criminal to jail! If you tie, you win. Because you are a Dick Tracy.

The spinner shows text of various weapons like Bath, Machine Gun, Bomb, Gun and others
No, curious readers, your eyes do not deceive you. Bath is a weapon.

The CRIME the criminal committed remains a secret until you secure the prisoner. This matters because that CRIME will either award you with CRIME POINTS or, more rarely, take them away. So you are carrying a grab-bag to jail, my friends. Choose well.

Until you get your HIDEOUT PACKET to jail it can be stolen or criminals can escape. For instance, if your Dick Tracy lands on the square of another Dick Tracy then you can steal any of their HIDEOUT PACKETS that you like. It’s kind of brutal. So don’t forget to drive by the Police Station every so often. Once you secure those CRIME POINTS by taking the CRIME card, putting the criminal in Jail, and putting the WEAPON back in its pile, you no longer have a HIDEOUT PACKET and your points can’t be taken away.

Criminals, Crimes and Weapons cards
A sampling of the HIDEOUT PACKET contents
The Blank packet on the Car Barn, which is Blank's space
The Blank in their spot on the board. What CRIME have they committed? None of your business until you do the work!

The game also has SUBWAY squares, that allow you to move across the board more simply.

Another type of square on the board is the Dick Tracy square. If you land here by exact count you draw a DICK TRACY CARD. These are primarily positive cards and some are nice saves for later in the game. One is called Jail Break and causes 2 criminals to escape, meaning you need to create new HIDEOUT PACKETS out of any 2 criminals in the jail. Meaning don’t draw that card more than once or your game will go on and on and on until you can’t build packets anymore!

Dick Tracy cards like Escape the Bath, Bomb Squad and Quick Healer
Escape the Bath might sound ridiculous, but you’ve probably never used one of the Lush jelly bombs then

The game ends when all criminals are captured and all players make their way back to the Police Station. The player with the most CRIME POINTS is the best detective and wins The Dick Tracy Game!

how it went

Ah, the memories. I messed up by not noticing that you don’t have to land on the different criminal squares by exact count for the first part of our game, which made my group angry. And this was righteous anger! It should be the first thing I mention in a roll and move game. Not my finest moment.

The other issue we ran into is that people weren’t listening to the rules and kept looking at the CRIME card! You can’t look at the CRIME card!!! You don’t know what you are getting, and that’s the point! This game is even less fun when you remove that mysterious aspect of it.

A hand holding the packet with the WEAPON sticking out
You look at the WEAPON and that is it. That. Is. It. PS. You are fucked here because the bomb is the most powerful weapon

We had the Jail Break card come up twice during play, which felt like a lot. It felt like you start to clear the board of criminals and then two more get out there. This can be a drag when the game is not super fun. I didn’t mind too much, though. That’s two more mystery packages for me to desire.

For some reason I didn’t record who won our game. I think Bill won. I know it wasn’t me. Most of us just have vague memories of being blown up at some point. I think I ended up with some real stinkers in my HIDEOUT PACKETS , in true grab bag fashion. I didn’t look at the cards in advance, so learning that some actually subtract from your ultimate score was a super fun surprise.

False Arrest card shows lose 25 points
Yes, I was talking about you, you painful thing

play or pass

Play. I am okay going on the record calling this one a play. And I’ll tell you why. First of all, any time an old roll-and-move game introduces new and interesting game play I think it is worth a play or two. If The Dick Tracy Game was stacked against other games-based-on-movies, it would probably end up decently in the rankings.

Secondly, I have fond memories of the NES video game, too! It reminded me a little of Police Quest. I owned so few NES games, so I played everything I owned to death. And I owned Dick Tracy.

But thirdly I might as well tell you, again, that I am a lifelong buyer of grab bags. I am a gambler. I own a Golden Snitch-shaped fidget spinner – something I would never purchase in a million years but is one of the best items a grab bag has ever rewarded me with.

Carrying a packet that I am not able to open until I get to the Police Station could have been a game designed by me. So I say… play!