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HOLMES: SHERLOCK vs. MYCROFT

Reviewd by Herb Levy

HOLMES: SHERLOCK vs. MYCROFT (Devir, 2 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes; $24.99)

 

At the stroke of midnight, on February 24, 1895, a bomb explodes in England’s Parliament! Michael Chapman, a worker, stands accused of the crime. In this game, the talents of the Holmes family come into play with Sherlock Holmes attempting to prove Chapman innocent while Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother, seeking to confirm Chapman’s guilt. This veritable tug of war is the basis for this two player game designed by Digeo Ibanez: Holmes: Sherlock vs. Mycroft

A deck of character cards show figures from the Sherlock Holmes Canon. The playing board represents London and has spaces for the characters that both Sherlock and Mycroft will interrogate. Three of these spaces begin the game with Dr. Watson, Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade occupying those slots. Two additional spaces are randomly filled from the character deck. (As an alternative, players may be dealt two characters and then choose one each to fill those slots with the unchosen cards reshuffled into the deck.) Both Sherlock and Mycroft have three “assistants” (meeples in their own color) at their disposal and begin with 5 “investigation markers” (magnifying glass counters that act as the game’s “currency”). And then there is the clue deck.

The clue deck contains cards numbered from 3 to 9, three “wild cards” and five “map fragments” representing evidence uncovered. This deck is shuffled and four cards drawn to become the game’s display. The first player is randomly chosen and the game begins.

In turn, a player will take one of his meeples and place it, lying down, on any of the available character cards. Each character card has an icon that tells what it can do for you. You may be able to get additional investigation markers (there is a limit of 24 so you cannot hoard them against your opponent) or turn in some to take, from the display, a card or two or three and add it to the play area in front of you and so on. You may never have two meeples of your own color on a single character. (A “variant card” provided allows you to “reserve” a clue card for yourself to be claimed on a later turn which is a worthwhile addition. The other two variant cards provided  – James Moriarty and Sebastian Moran – just add a bit of chaos to play and can be safely ignored.) After all meeples have been assigned and actions carried out, a new character is drawn to fill the slot for the next day and all meeples are placed in a standing position. Any character card that has pieces from EACH player on it is turned face down, unavailable for the next day’s investigation. (They will rejoin the action on the following day.) The initial three characters – Watson, Hudson and Lestrade – are immune to this and are always available. After the 7th day, the investigation is over and we score.

Scoring involves collecting sets of cards. Amass the most cards of each number and you will score. Capture ALL of a particular number and you will be rewarded with an additional three points. But exactly how much you will score depends on how much of that card your opponent has. For example, if Sherlock has managed to collect ALL six 6s, he will score 6 points AND a bonus of 3 for having them all for a total of 9 points. On the other hand, if Mycroft has corralled six of the 9s but Sherlock has three of them, Mycroft will score 9 points MINUS 3 points (for the three 9s Sherlock has) for a total of 6 points. While the tendency is to assume that the higher numbered cards are worth more, this is not the case, a nice design touch. Wild cards may be assigned to any number run either immediately or later on (but only 1 Wild per run). Any Wilds that remain unassigned when the game ends, however, will cost you 3 points. Map cards work a little differently. Their worth is based on how many you have; 2 maps are worth just 1 point, 3 worth 3 points etc. with the complete set of five worth 10. (If you end up with only 1 Map, though, you will LOSE 1 point for your effort.) The player who ends up with the highest total wins.

While, in the oft quoted words of Sherlock, “the game is afoot”, why the game stubs its toe is the real mystery. The graphic quality of the game is fine and the actual game play of number/set collection is solid – but this game could have been about anything. The initial problem pitting the Holmes brothers against each other is as lost as a tourist in the Victorian England fog. Although numbers stand for “clues” of some sort or another (4 represents explosives, 9 fingerprints and so on), this is completely arbitrary with no real correlation between the clues and the crime. Based on points, either Sherlock or Mycroft will win (in the purely abstract sense of points scored) but poor Michael Chapman is forgotten, neither truly convicted nor vindicated as there is no apparent connection between the crime, the accusation and the “evidence”. The Sherlockian atmosphere with characters from the Canon (major ones such as Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson to minor ones such as Langdale Pike) is evocative of the Great Detective and this game could have been great had the “clues” somehow “connected the dots” to the mystery.

Holmes: Sherlock vs. Mycroft captures the flavor of Baker Street very well. Amidst all the card collecting, the game takes a very abstract turn as the emphasis shifts from the crime and its alleged perpetrator to set collection, missing the “nuts and bolts” of crime solving – something that neither Sherlock nor Mycroft would have missed. This game is good but, had the theme been carried through to what it promised, this game could have been as great as the minds of the legendary Holmes brothers. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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