Thank you for checking out my sixteenth review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
We were provided a copy of this game by Devir Games in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft
In February 1895, London woke up to a loud bang. A large pillar of smoke showed that a bomb had exploded in the Houses of Parliament. Security forces were activated immediately and they arrested a suspicious young laborer near the area.
Mycroft Holmes, at the service of the crown, was commissioned to investigate the relationship of the young laborer with anarchist groups. He thinks it will be an easy task that he can do from the comfort of his armchair in the Diogenes Club — until he is informed of disturbing news; his younger brother Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, has been hired by the boy’s parents to prove the innocence of his son, who believes to be a scapegoat of a dark conspiracy.
For the first time, the brightest minds in London face each other. Was the young laborer involved in this terrible attack or he is just a scapegoat for a dark conspiracy?
Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft is a game designed by Diego Ibañez and is published by Devir Americas. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 20-30 minute play time.
A game of Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft lasts seven turns (days of investigation). At the beginning of each day, famous characters extracted from the books of Arthur Conan Doyle appear in London.
Each player has three action tokens that move from one character to another to use their special abilities, knowing that a player can never have two tokens on the same character. Therefore, a character must be freed before reuse. The abilities of each character allow them to obtain Evidence Cards or gain Investigation Tokens in multiple ways. The game has great replay value because it is not known whether a character with a specific ability will make their appearance on the board in the Day 1 or in the final Day 7. Each game is different!
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
The game is playable only with two players, so there is no special setup. Each player takes the three meeples of their chosen color (blue or orange) and five magnifying glass tokens. The three starting character cards – Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and Inspector Lestrade – are placed on the board where their names appear. The remaining character cards are shuffled and placed on the draw pile space on the board. The top two of the deck are flipped out, giving you five cards face-up to begin the game.
The deck of clue cards are shuffled and then four are flipped face-up. These four cards are what are available for purchase most of the time, although there are a few ways to purchase cards from the top of the deck. Players will take turns moving one of their meeples onto the character card of their choice, laying them down when placing them. Each character card can have only one meeple of your color on there. You carry out the action (such as gain magnifying glasses, trading magnifying glasses in to take cards, and other varying special abilities that will appear) the character provides. After your action is complete, flip over cards from the top of the deck to replace any that you purchased and the next player goes.
After all three meeples are placed laying down onto character cards, the day has ended. All meeples are then placed standing on the cards they visited. If any card, except the starting three characters (Watson, Hudson, Lestrade), has two meeples on them they are flipped over and unable to be visited during the next day. A new character card is placed on the next day, adding an additional location for the meeples to visit. Any character cards that were face-down the previous day are flipped back over and can be visited once again. Because the meeples remain on the card they visited the previous day, the order in which you move your meeples becomes important if you want to revisit a certain character card because you cannot already have a meeple of your color on the card.
The objective is to collect the majority in each set of cards. There are eight possible sets to collect:
Numbers 3-9, and each of those numbers has cards in the deck equal to their value. For instance, there are six cards with the number six on them. There are wild cards which can be added to any existing set you are collecting, but you cannot have more than one wild per set. You do not have to immediately assign the wild to a set, but once you do assign it the card cannot be rearranged. There are also five map fragments which provide points based upon the number you collect (1 is worth -1, 2 are worth 1, 3 are worth 3, 4 are worth 6, and all 5 are worth 10 points).
Whoever has the majority in each value at the end of the seventh day will score the point value of the card, minus one point for each card the opponent has collected in that value. For example, if you have four of the 6 cards and your opponent has two, you will score 6 – 2 = 4 points. If you collect all cards of the number (wild cards do not count toward this), you score three bonus points in addition to the value of the card. Unplaced wild cards in your reserve are worth negative points at the end of the game. If players are tied in a value, neither player gains the points.
It is worth noting that one character card will not be seen each game. There are also two simple variants in the game. One adds a double-sided Sherlock/Mycroft card which starts with the player who goes second. At any time in the game, even after a card just flips over, the player with that card may take and reserve it for purchase later. Once the card is purchased, the double-sided card flips and is moved to the other player’s possession. Any card reserved but not purchased by the end of the game will cost that player three points.
The other variant is to add two villain cards into the character deck after the first two cards are flipped for the Day 1 action spaces. When one of them is revealed you do their action, they are discarded from the game, and then a new character is flipped to be placed on the next day. James Moriarty causes each player to discard two cards from their play area or pay two magnifying glasses per card. This is done with the first player choosing their first card or paying the cost, then the second player will select or pay for both of theirs, and then the first player will do their second card or cost. The other villain is Sebastian Moran, and he causes both players to lay one of their meeples down, essentially making it so both players get two actions for the day instead of three.
Both of these variants are easily integrated into the base game and add some extra strategy and unpredictability.
The most brilliant thing this game accomplishes is the worker placement aspect of the game, and there are two reasons why. The first is the restriction of having only one meeple of your color on a card in combination with your meeples remaining on the board at the end of each round. That means a player can never take the same three actions as they did the previous round, although with some careful planning they could do two of the three. It makes the order in which you move your meeples matter, and that is a wonderful mechanic that I hope to see implemented in more games in the future. The second thing is having a card flip over if both players visit the card. Sometimes the card gets used because it is easily the best card available. Sometimes you’ll want to go to that card after your opponent does simply so they can’t reuse the card the next day. There are a few abilities that may be much stronger for one player than the other, and so it is a legitimate strategy to deny them that space for a day.
After our first few plays, I wasn’t a big fan of the random appearance of characters. It seemed like the last days had characters appearing who had no value because their abilities had costs equal to the current day. I’ve come to appreciate the variable board, though, because it helps the game’s strategies to feel at least a little different each time we play. The last game we played had Shinwell “Porky” Johnson in the Day 1 characters. His ability is to choose 1-3 cards from the face-up queue to discard. His presence changed the entire dynamic of the game, making certain sets harder to collect because cards were being trashed from the game. An early Irene Adler can also bring about a little “take that” because she allows you to steal a card from an opponent (placing it face-down in front of you, which prevents it from being stolen back) by paying magnifying glasses equal to the day number. Overall, I have come to really enjoy how different our approach can be based upon who flips during those first few days.
In every game there will be one character you do not see, and usually a small handful of cards that may never flip for purchase. I like both of these because you cannot count on seeing that card you’re waiting for. There are a few abilities that also allow a player to obtain a face-down card so you can never be sure what they have or don’t have. The last game we played, my wife lucked out because the final 3 flipped with my last purchase of the game. Because she went second, that allowed her to complete her set. Had I chosen a different action than a purchase, she never would have seen that final card, which ended up being worth an extra three points. A card counter could potentially know the probability of their success with the cards they have, but there are enough variables to remain uncertain if you do have enough of a majority to score the points.
Our first games we went after the high-numbered cards. We focused so much on 7-9 that the winner in each of those didn’t really score that many points. I like that every card you get in a number is taking away a point from the opponent. So even taking those late-game 9’s can be meaningful. It also is a system that doesn’t reward a player for over-collecting. You get the same points from those 9’s whether you have the majority by one card or by five cards. The only reason to over-collect would be to prevent them from stealing your points. Which makes an interesting balance to the game. You don’t want to completely ignore a number, especially a high number, but you also don’t really want to go all-in on a number unless there is a chance of getting them all.
The map fragments are a personal favorite of mine. It scores on a system that is very characteristic of a standard set collection game, and I also like that having only one makes you lose a point. Is it worth taking that map fragment so your opponent can’t get all five? If the trashing character hasn’t flipped, that might be the only way to prevent them from getting a high return on those map fragments. But even though those ten points may seem like a lot, it is no guarantee of victory! I managed to get them all in one game, but ultimately at the cost of not gaining enough majorities in the other sets.
This game is fast and fun. We play a game in about 15-20 minutes now, and every time we play we’ve immediately reset the game to play again. It is a lot of fun and the sort of game that will often be played as a best-of-three series when we pull it out. And the best part is, as I’ve mentioned already, each of those three games will have a slightly different feel to them because of the order in which the characters appear. The addition of the variant cards adds no extra time to the game, nor any complexity, which makes them seamless to add into the game after a few plays without them. This is easily the fastest worker placement game we own, and it executes things so well and in such a unique way that it will still see plays even with Agricola, Caverna, Viticulture, and other worker placement heavyweights in our collection. There are some games where you think, during the game, “I could be playing X instead”. Even though it is a faster and lighter worker placement game, I never get the feeling that I am having an inferior experience compared to one of the others in my collection. Which is the mark of an excellent game!
The theme in this game is a mixed bag for me. The components (apart from the meeples) all scream Sherlock. I love the characters, the artwork, and even the use of the magnifying glass tokens. I really enjoy that this game is about Mycroft and Sherlock competing on different sides of a case. However, at the end of the day this game doesn’t feel like a Sherlock Holmes case. It feels like I am collecting numbers rather than trying to find the key clue to convict or acquit the suspect. This is a fantastic game and is a lot of fun. Visually, this is very much a Sherlock Holmes game. But when you’re playing it, it doesn’t feel like a Sherlock Holmes game. And I don’t think it was intended to be among the games like Watson & Holmes or Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. What this game does, it does well. It executes so many great things that you really don’t mind that it didn’t feel like a Sherlock game.
There is no clarity as to which color of meeple belongs to which of the Holmes brothers. I’m fine with the choices of orange and blue, but some players might not enjoy either of those colors. I know my wife isn’t a big fan. I understand custom meeples would drive up the price, but even a small sheet of stickers, or a player card for each player showing the character with their color, would have helped to associate which one belongs to which brother.
One thing that ties into the above, that I think is a missed opportunity, is that there are no special powers as Sherlock or Mycroft. That player card mentioned above could have held a single one-time-use power that made them play just a little differently than the other side. They could have been really small and character card-specific, such as Sherlock being able to pay an extra magnifying glass at Irene Adler to take a card off the top of the deck in addition to stealing a card from the opposing player. This would help distinguish both sides and allow them to have slightly-different decisions along the way in the game to help them gain cards. I enjoy games that are asymmetric in approach, having variable player powers, and even in a simple game like this something could have been executed to that effect. Especially since you are playing as the Holmes brothers, competing against each other.
Overall, I really enjoyed this game. It is fun, fast, and offers some interesting decisions along the way. Although you are primarily doing the same thing each game – collecting sets of numbered cards – how you approach that will change every game because of the character cards and the order in which they appear. That adds great replay value to the game, and it provides us with a worker placement game that we can pull out even if we don’t have a lot of time. Even on nights where we could play something longer, pulling this one out will leave me satisfied because of the unique approach toward some familiar mechanics.
There are a lot of great 2-player-only games out there, and this one certainly deserves to be included in the conversation. It will never be the game you pull out when you want to play a Sherlock game, but it is one you can pull out when you want to have a fun and unique experience. If you play games often with just one other player, whether that is a spouse or a friend, this is definitely a game you want to add to your collection. It is small, fast, and relatively inexpensive for the greatness of the game that comes in the box.
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