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Flashback: Sherlock Holmes: The Card Game

[Sherlock Holmes is no stranger to readers of literature, film fans and TV viewers nor is he unknown to gamers around the world. For over a hundred years, Holmes has been the cornerstone of gaming adventures. In this issue, we feature I Say, Holmes!, a new card game that has been inspired by an older one, the one published by Gibsons Games in 1991. For this reason, in this issue, we “flashback” to our take on that inspiration for here is our review as it appeared back in the Spring 1992 issue of Gamers Alliance Report of Sherlock Holmes: The Card Game.]

 

FLASHBACK: SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE CARD GAME

 

(Gibsons Games, 3 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, 60 minutes; out of print)
Reviewed by: Herb Levy

sherlockholmescard1Sounds of a hansom cab in the thick London fog are dimly heard. A quick rustling about in the dark and, suddenly, your warm bedcovers are tossed aside. “The game is afoot!” announces your companion, Sherlock Holmes, and you know there is not moment to loss! Adventure awaits as you attempt to capture some of the worst villains London (or the world) has known. This is Sherlock Holmes: The Card Game, a new release from the English company, Gibsons Games.

This card game comes small boxed with a set of high quality cards, a short instruction booklet and scorepad. Drawings by Sidney Paget, the best known (and best) English illustrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, are put to excellent use as they adorn the boxlid and the fronts of the cards, capturing the mood of the Sherlock Holmes world. The game is of low to moderate complexity and s for 3 or more players, ages 8 and up.

The card deck is divided into several different categories – Movement (via Train or Hansom of hindered by Thick Fog), Location (both in London and the Country), Information (obtained through Clues, Suspects, Telegrams and Disguise), Action (through the use of Inspector, Arrest and Alibi cards), Detectives (Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Mycroft Holmes – Sherlock’s brilliant brothers) and Villains (consisting of Charles Augustus Milverton, John Clay, Colonial Sebastian Moran and the infamous Professor Moriarty).

All cards have a title, a point value (from 1 to 50 except for “The Game is Afoot!), an explanation of what each card can do and, through the use of color-coding, what cards may be played after it. (The rules give further clarifications as to what each card is capable of doing as well as when it can be played.) Card play follows a basic and logical sequence with a pattern of Movement to Location to get Information to take Action with several cards adding spice and the unexpected to game play. “Thick Fog” causes all hands to be combined, reshuffled and redistributed! (Helpful if you hand is not to your liking, devastating if you think you know where the Villain is hiding!) Alibi cards can negate some actions and force all players to secretly pass a card, Disguise cards let you “peek” at part of an opponent’s hand and Mycroft, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes himself, all add strategic options to play.

:”The Game is Afoot!” card is placed, face down, on the side. With it, one of the four Villain cards, chosen at random, is placed face down. The rest of the deck is shuffled with enough cards counted out so that when dealt out, each player receives six cards. The remaining Villain cards are added to the deck, the deck is reshuffled and placed face down to form a draw pile and play begins.

The player holding “The Game is Afoot!” card discards it to form a discard pile. Play follows to the left with each player playing a permissible card. ((f a player cannot go, he must pick one card form the draw pile. If the picked card be played, the player may do so but he has the option to retain the card for later use.) The round ends when either a Villain is arrested or succeeds in escaping!

An arrest occurs by playing an Arrest card, the Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson cards, or when a player has discarded all of his cards.

When an Arrest card is played, the player must name an opponent as the holder of any Villain card. (As the game goes on, it is possible – and likely – several Villains are in play.) If the accused player is holding a Villain, the arrest is made and the round is scored. If the player is not holding a Villain, the arresting player ends up with all of the accused player’s cards. (The falsely accuse player must then replenish his hand by drawing an equal number of cards from the draw pile. Play then continues as before.)

Playing the Sherlock Holmes card allows the player to secretly inspect another player’s hand. If the Villain is there, that player is arrested; if not, play continues without penalty. Holmes cannot be denied his “search and seizure”. Dr. Watson plays exactly like Holmes except that an Alibi card may be played in defense.

Should a player discard all of his cards, play stops and an arrest is made. At this point, that player. must choose one of his opponents to arrest. If that player is caught with a Villain, play stops and the round is scored. But if the accused is innocent, the accused may now attempt an arrest. This continues until the player holding the Villain is located.

In scoring, all players add the value of the cards they still hold in their hands. Villains lurking in other players’ hands that have not been detected do not count. The arresting player subtracts the point value of the captured Villain from his score; the guilty player adds the value of the Villain to his score.

However, these Villains are crafty. Should a player discard all his cards with his last discard being a Villain (the only time you can discard a Villain card), the round stops at once! The Villain has escape, no arrests can be made and the point value of the escaped Villain is deducted from that player’s score.

The player with the lowest score after six rounds (the recommended number of rounds and we find that works well) is the winner.

Because you are constantly making strategic decisions, gameplay is always interesting. Should you make an arrest? Should you play Thick Fog to get rid of a Villain card? Or should you keep the Villain to effect an escape? Or keep it because you hold an Alibi card which will not only protect you from arrest but force all players to pass a card to the left possibly allowing you to dump your Villain card? But what if your accuser holds the Sherlock Holmes Detective card? An Alibi doesn’t work against the World’s Greatest Detective. I think you get the idea.

As an extra bonus to Sherlockians and other interested parties, the rule booklet contains four pages (as long as the rules themselves!) providing background information to the wonderful Paget drawings, giving explanations of life in Victorian England and invoking some classic lines and situations from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Sherlock Holmes: The Card Game is an impressive effort. Rather than relying on the Sherlock Holmes mystique to sell the product without any thought to playability, SH: TCG deftly combines the subject and atmosphere of the Sherlock Holmes canon into a fast paced and exciting card game. Highly recommended.


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