Review: Border Reivers

(A short historical mystery by Vivienne Dunstan. Border Reivers - Details (

Medieval murder mystery.

Murder most foul! Archie Elliot has been slain, his throat cut in the night. The Warden, the highest authority of law in these parts, is called to snuff out the guilty party and apprehend the murderer. He asks you, his clerk and youngest son, to do the sniffing.

Members of all the clans involved are gathered in the great hall of the castle. You must ask the right questions to the right people to find out who did the deed and tell your father about it.

During the interrogation section of the game, you can ask each person about several keywords, notably the four clans of the region. From their responses you are able to gather clues as to who is holding something back, who might have a motive and what that motive might be.
This process quickly became a bit mechanical to me. I imagined my character to be a quite young, somewhat timid man, kept under father’s thumb while my older brothers are free to build their own life. It was hard to get in charachter though, as I could not greet people, nor could I offer my condolences to the widow and daughter. I had no choice but to barge in with the limited set of questions I had. The fact that “Archie”, “murder” and “body” are treated as synonyms was a disappointment, as these topics could elicit very different responses in my imagination. (The living person Archie, the circumstances of the murder and specifics about the wounds respectively.)

However, I found it more engaging as I played on and I got to see the discrepancies between different people’s answers and I began to form a hypotheses. A hypotheses that was confirmed by a clue I got about halfway through the game.

After a set number of moves, you are forced to make a decision (or take a wild guess) as to who the murderer was. Depending on your answer, the loose threads are nicely taken care of in an ending of a few paragraphs. (I got a “good” ending. I didn’t replay to get a “bad” one.)

I enjoyed this game as a quick diversion, but I enjoyed it even more as a springboard to dive into the history of the feuding clans along the Anglo-Scottish border in the 13th-16th century.

This game provides a good illustration of something I find immensely interesting in human culture and behaviour: the fact that among these antagonistic, often warring clans, there was still a law (Border or March Law) that they mostly respected. (Apparently, if you were raided, it was within your legal right to raid the other party within a period of a few days. But only if you made a lot of noise and were carrying a turf-torch to announce yourself as legal raiders, instead of the sneaky illegal kind…)

Border Reivers could be expanded to make the interrogations more diverse, and maybe to include a bit more clue-finding in the castle. As it is, it’s a fun and interesting experience. It got me interested in its subject matter, that’s for sure.