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HOLMES: Sherlock & Mycroft

Devir Games. Designed by Diego Ibáñez Art by Pedro Soto

Note: for reasons of diversity I have given the Player’s pieces group names and throughout the review whenever I mention them I call them either ‘minions’ or meeples’.

  

A young guy named Michael Chapman managed to fall into the trap of getting caught up in the wave of political insurrection and made a poor life choice by joining an anarchist group well known, and watched by, to the Police. Someone set off a bomb in the Houses of Parliament and he is thought to be the number one suspect.

For the prosecution, Mycroft Holmes, the elder (more important in his own mind) brother of Sherlock, believes all he has to do is show up in Court and Chapman will be convicted. Sherlock has been engaged by the Defence to prove that although he may be an easily led screw-up, Chapman is completely innocence. They have one week (just 7 short days) to prove their case.

The Game is Afoot (did you know that in all the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books and stories about Sherlock Holmes he never once said that) and the players take on the role of the brothers Holmes. They need to obtain all the clues they possibly can, even utilising the skills of such prominent Holmes’ characters as Irene Adler to steal the occasional clue from under (literally) the nose of the other brother.

 

The player who collects the most points from their clues, not necessarily the most clues, wins their case and Chapman either goes home free or stays to hang around in London. There are nine types of clue in the Clue Card deck; False Passes (3),  Explosives (4), Cigarette Butts(5), Bullets (6), Buttons,(7) Footprints,(8) Fingerprints,(9) plus Wildcards (5) and Map Fragments (5). Apart from the last two card types, Wildcards and Map Fragments, the numbers in brackets after each clue shows the value of the Clue and the number of that type of card there is in the Clue card deck. There are 5 of each Wildcard and Map Fragment but that isn’t their forensic (Victory Point) value.

Sherlock Holmes uses three of the Baker Street Irregulars while Mycroft sends out Government Agents. On the board these are represented by Orange Meeples and the Agents by Blue Meeples. The board is made up of 12 card-sized spaces, three for characters, and one for the shuffled, face-down, character deck and the other 8 for the 7 days of the game week, the top two are then flipped over and positioned in the two ‘Day One’ spaces – these, along with the ever-presents, are there for the characters to send their minions off to visit at the start of the week.

Three of the major Holmes’ characters, the incomparable Dr John Watson, the effervescent Mrs Hudson and the hard-working Inspector LeStrade always occupy the first three spaces. I can only imagine that the reason they are not printed on the board is that at some time Devir Games are going to bring out an expansion pack of characters, perhaps in the manner of a 20 card ‘booster’ pack (as in TCGs) as, let’s face it, there are a myriad of characters in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books and tales of Sherlock Holmes. There are 9 characters aside from the static three but only 8 of them come into play each game; this is another reason I believe there will be a Character deck expansion in the near future.

  

The investigation markers (spy-glasses) are placed to one side and five given to each player, along with their three minion meeples this is all the players begin with. The rest of the set-up is just as straightforward; shuffle the clue deck and flip over the top four in a row next to the deck. Players obtain these, and extra investigation markers, from sending their minions to the characters on the board according to their skills – each character card has a pictogram of their specific skill set. Irene Adler, as already mentioned, allows the player to steal a card (not a Wildcard or Map Fragment) from the other player, however there is no rule that says the other player cannot steal it right back if they can also send a minion to Ms Adler, in fact this is how Fran beat me on the last game.

I’ll explain. I was collecting Fingerprints and on the last two actions of the game (mine and Fran’s) I had 4 Fingerprint clue cards and Fran had three, there was one available in the clue card display row. Fran used Irene Adler to steal one of them from me, reversing the scoring on them 3-4 to her. I could take the one from the display and no one would score or I could also use Irene Adler to steal one back from Fran, giving me the 4-3 advantage; not great but at least after spending half the game collecting Fingerprints I felt that I needed to score from them. This meant that my plan to add to my score by collecting another clue was kyboshed by Fran’s quick thinking.

 

The scoring system, at the end of the game, is quite clever, possibly not unique but still clever. Each clue type is scored one after the other, like this. If you have the majority in a Clue type then you score the value of the card minus the number of same Clue type cards, not value, your opponent has. For example: If you have two Cigarette butts (valued 5) and your opponent has one Cigarette butt then you score 4 points, the value of the Cigarette butt clue minus the one card your opponent has, remember you do not add up the value of each card in the type group/s.

If you can collect all of the Clue cards of a set, and keep them when the game ends, then you get a bonus of 3 points – this doesn’t seem like a great bonus for collecting every card in a set but the opponent always has the opportunity to bust up your set even if it means taking an Action they weren’t planning on. If the bonus was higher then it would add an extra edge to the game; trying to collect all the Clue cards of a set would probably mean foregoing collecting points elsewhere. We suggest a number of bonus points equal to the value of the Clue card, thus instead of collecting three False Seals of which there are only 3 or collecting all nine Fingerprints, and getting 3 Bonus points for them you would get 3 bonus points for the False Seals and 9 bonus points for collecting all Fingerprints.

Wild cards can be assigned to a group immediately when collected but once assigned they may not be moved. They can also be put aside to assign later but only to a newly laid Clue type – if you already have three Bullets down and an unassigned Wild card you may not assign it as a Bullet even if you gain another Bullet card. If you have an unassigned Wild card and no Bullet clues and you gain a Bullet clue card then you can place the unassigned Wild card onto it, now giving you two Bullet cards in the group.

Map Fragments are good to collect but to score you need to get more than one, and remember they cannot be stolen. One Map fragment costs you to lose a point but 2 add a point etc right up to 5 Map fragments which are worth 10 points to you. Personally we think that only losing one point for having one Map fragment isn’t enough, there is no real danger in taking one, even if you get stuck with it at the end, whereas Wild cards lose you 3 points if they remain unassigned.

 

Most Clue cards when collected have to be placed face-up in front of you but some characters allow you to take Clue cards directly from the top of the deck (drawn unseen) and placed face-down in front of you; they cannot be stolen and are to be assigned at the end of the game. However if you draw a Wild card direct from the top of the deck you cannot hide it face down.

The basic mechanic of the game is the visiting of the Characters by the minions. Only one of each colour meeple may be on a character card. Meeples may be moved from one character card to another, you do not have to move each of the 3 meeples separately in your turn, you just have to move 3 meeples. When a meeple moves onto a character you trigger/activate that character’s skills and perform the associated Action. Here’s the twist. After all 6 meeples have moved a new Day begins, and at the start of the day a few things happen. First a new Character appears on the scene – flip over the top card from the deck and place it in the space for the new day. Secondly, if there are two minions on any Character (other than the static three) then that Character flips over and isn’t available for the Day – they’ve gone to Brighton to enjoy the fresh sea air. At the same time any face down Character cards without 2 minions on them are flipped back over and are available to visit again.

The moving of your minions is crucial as is the spending of your Spy-Glasses/Investigation Tokens. It is a good idea to collect about 8 or 9 of the Investigation Tokens so you have several options open to you, but it isn’t a good idea to store them even though the number in the game is finite and if you have them the other player doesn’t. It’s also not a good idea to have so few of them that you are always being forced to visit Characters to gain more when you’d rather be collecting Clues.

This is a fine representation of the Holmes’ brothers on a case. There are Clues, Options, Helpers, Tactics, Strategies, Decisions, Mistakes and Forced Choices to be made. We really enjoy it.

For additional options there are three extra cards in the box. One is the double-sided Sherlock/Mycroft card which allows the player of it to reserve a Clue card in front of them in landscape orientation. Once a player has done this the Sherlock/Mycroft card is flipped over and can be used buy the other player. Only one clue per player can be in the reserved position but once it has been used another card can be reserved.

The other two cards are the ‘Napoleon of Crime’ himself, one of the best known literary villains ever to grace page, celluloid or television; James Moriarty and his infamous henchman Colonel Sebastian Moran. Like all of the Characters in this game there are full explanations on pages 5, 6 and 7 of the 8 page of the excellently composed rules booklet. This is a quality game from start to finish even if I have suggested a couple of home-rules to add a little extra edgy spice.

 

To recap:

One player is Sherlock the other is Mycroft.

There are two decks of card, Characters and Clues. Character deck is face down on the board. The Clue deck is shuffled and four cards put on display – every time a card is removed from the display a new one takes its place.

Three characters are always available the others appear one a day, except day 1 when there are 2 additional Characters

Players have 5 Investigation Markers

Players collect Clues in groups of same types

End game, players compare Clue groups

I’ve mentioned the characters a lot, had to really as they are the crux of the game, so it’s only fair that you know of whom I am talking.

Billy the Bellboy, Inspector Gregson, Irene Adler, Langdale Pike, Porky Johnson, Toby the Tracking Hound, Violet Hunter, Von Kramm and Wiggins.

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015