It's 6:20pm. You arrive at the North Adelaide Hotel.
Why am I here? Damn this bout of game-convenient amnesia!
"You are Frankie Monroe."
You hear Tim tell you this, as he hands you the key to your new noir office, set in a clean black caravan.
In the corner, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey glints in the light of the desk lamp.
You put your black fedora down on the desk and set to work.
Monroe & Associates is a detective story presented for a one-person audience, which is, by itself, a fascinating concept upon which to build a show. What's more – you’re the detective.
You’re in an office – your office – but you don’t remember anything about it. Investigate its secrets! Just don’t let yourself dive too deep…
The game plays out a bit like an Escape Room – you have to examine objects, solve puzzles, and attempt to process a tricky mess of information. Where it diverges, perhaps rather obviously, is that you’re trying to solve a case, not escape a room. Character interactions are key.
I thoroughly enjoyed trying to puzzle out the clues on my own, but for me – whether it’s Holmes, Fisher, Columbo, or Leigh Sales – I love a detective that catches a suspect in a lie.
(Pictured: A landline telephone, not unlike this one, is integral to the game experience of Monroe and Associates. [source])
Roleplay games like this are a curious exercise in power relations. It’s hard to give a player agency while at the same time trying to steer them in the direction of a cohesive narrative. Luckily, in this game, you have a phone, through which you can call (and be called by) most characters in the game world. You don’t even need their phone number. Just call the operator!
This gives our game master – here, the fabulous Tim, an upright, vivid young fellow with the posture and concentration of a swing dancer – the power to intervene and change the nature of the game, giving hints or sharing events unfolding in the world. But more importantly, it gives the player authority over their seedy old domain. To use a rubbish metaphor, it is the string with which a story can be woven between the clues provided.
Consequently, you can be whatever kind of Monroe you want to be, which is exceedingly fun. In my case, I was a ruthless (if hapless) conniver, lying to almost every character I spoke to over the phone, trying to ply them for information. (I hope I’m not revealing too much of my personality beyond the game in this review.) But I imagine your Monroe could equally be an innocent softie, a budding lothario, a wisecracking gadabout.
It’s just you and Tim. (Or, I’m informed, a surrogate Tim.) You can be anyone.
Clearly, this show isn’t targeted at all people. If you don’t like solving puzzles, making decisions, or chatting to a procession of silly voices and bad accents, you’ll find yourself running for the hills.
But I found this surprising, rewarding, frustrating, and really rather fun. I thoroughly recommend it.
Go along, have a play. Be a nerd for an evening. No one has to know.
Monroe & Associates continues thrice nightly until the 19th of March.