Sherlock Holmes, a character that captures many people’s imagination and a character not unknown to board games. Think of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Mr. Jack or A Study in Emerald. All games that are quite well-regarded and have their fans. Watson & Holmes: From the Diaries of 221B, published by Ludonova, is a new(ish) deduction game set in the Sherlock universe and it’s getting a new edition in 2017, published by Space Cowboys. So, let’s find out if it’s worth your money, shall we.
A new season of Sherlock has begun. A good time to review Watson & Holmes. This game is easily explained. You got your mystery, you got your case. A murder took place. Something got stolen. Who did it? And why? Ever case consists of a casebook that describes the case and a stack of location cards, including 221b Baker Street, which contains the solution. The location cards are placed on the table, face-down. On the back of those cards you find a bit of text, it describes the location of a meeting you have there. Clues that could help you solve the case.
On your turn you place your investigator token on one of the location cards. You can do that for free, unless another player’s token is already there. Then you have to place carriage tokens next to your investigator. You have to place more than the player who’s already there. You basically bid for control of that card. The player you outbid can take back her carriage tokens except for one. That goes back into the supply.
Players keep on bidding on location cards in player order until every player’s investigator is placed on one card. Then every player can read the back of his or her card and take notes (if the case allows that). You have the option, if you have one, place a police token on your location. This means that other player have to use a lock pick or a call off token to enter that location.
Players might have a character that gives then a special power, but it’s all about getting to 221b Baker Street first and getting the answer the questions presented in the case right. If you go there and you’re incorrect your out of the game. Not entirely, because you are expected to remain at the table, as the character of Sherlock Holmes, to give other people advice. They can go the Sherlock location and you can give them your answers or answer and then they can tell you if or how many of them are correct.
That’s it. Play goes on until someone gets all the questions right, or everyone is out of the game.
Watson & Holmes is like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective without distractions, without being led toward unrelated storylines or forgettable encounters with tedious characters. In Watson & Holmes you’ll find that every location, well lets say nine out of ten, has something new to offer, new pieces of the puzzle. The locations are also limited. So, if you visited all location on the table you know that’s all there is. You have to solve the case with the information you have read. You never get the feeling that you missed a location, forgot to talk to that neighbour or forgot to talk to that cabdriver. You got the information, if you took the right notes of course, now it’s up to you and your deduction skills to figure it out before everyone else does.
I therefore think there’s more game in Watson & Holmes than there is in Consulting Detective. In the latter, for me at least, it’s more about the story, more about diving into the world of Holmes. I don’t care as much about solving the case, it’s more about having a good time reading the story. Watson & Holmes is more about the deductive part of solving a crime. I want to solve it before you do. It’s more competitive.
That’s because of the presence of the police tokens. That’s because of you all go on your own way. You can see in which order other players are visiting locations. If you use that information that’s up to you, but it’s a fact that you can use both aspects of the game to mislead other players. You can place police tokens on locations that are totally irrelevant or change the order of the location you want to visit just so that you have information no other player has.
The thing is that the more investigators there are the more interaction you’ll have. Plus, it also depends on the character of the players. If you play with less players or play with people who don’t like conflict, the game turns out to be a reading exercise. You don’t bother with each other, you all just read the story in a different order. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, because there’s always the deductive element, but there’s just less interaction. Less interaction means that the bidding mechanism with the carriage tokens is also less important or even totally absent. You still have to figure out who has done it with the clues that are given. That will always be the most important aspect of the game, and the most fun one.
Looking at the abilities of the characters, you get one card at the start of the game, I noticed that their abilities clearly fit the higher player counts better. Because there’s luck involved, the characters are just dealt out, some characters are a bit overpowered and other are totally useless when playing with fewer players. When playing with two or three, you can’t use a character much that allows you to ask Sherlock’s advice cheaper than normally. You can always take extra carriage tokens instead of using its power, but, like I said, these tokens are used very much either with lower player counts. So, I would say don’t use the characters, unless you are with 5 or more players.
Despite that the game isn’t very suitable for playing with fewer player-counts, mechanism-wise, I still enjoyed it. And that’s because deduction, solving the case, is still the most important aspect of the game and visiting all these locations, with or without any opposition, learning more about what has been going on, is just very entertaining.
As a game it replaces Consulting Detective for me, as an experience I’m not sure yet. I’m almost sure that it does too, but I had such good times with Consulting Detective. Watson & Holmes is just much more streamlined. It’s succeeded in creating a good competitive game that actually gives you the feeling of being a detective. With fewer players you can let the story unfold in front of your eyes without a lot of competition, with more player there’s real tension. Who’s going where and who’s able to solve the case in the least amount of turns. You block each other with police tokens, you bid and overbid and you surprise each other with the abilities of your characters.
One drawback is that you can play the different cases only once. You will know the solution. However, there are enough cases inside to give you many hours of fun.