From a cursory glance at Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft you would most likely assume you are solving a crime and in a way you are. In this case however the two brothers have been hired on what people would consider opposite sides. Sounds like a great mystery to solve. Time to gather evidence and make deductive and inductive logical decisions. Actually, it is not. First thing everyone should know about this game is that it is not a deduction or a puzzle game of any kind. Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft is a two player worker placement game that uses a set collecting scoring system that can be played in 30 to 45 minutes. I bet you didn’t expect that.
It is this stepping away from the expected gameplay for this theme that is the biggest problem for Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft. Much like with the 2008 board game Android. When faced with a mystery the first thing we want to do is be the detective who solves it all. We really don’t want to be tallying points at the end, taking score to find out who wins and who gets blamed for the crime.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way and you know what you’re not going to get, let me tell you what you are and why you should still play this game. As I said earlier this game is a worker placement driven game that uses set collection as the scoring system. What I didn’t tell you is that this game can be as light as it seems for new players or, for those with some experience, an intense battle of wits where the winner is determined by who made the most efficient choices and a little bit of luck.
In Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft the main way you score points is by having the majority of the clues (cards) of the same type (number). For each clue type there is the same number of cards equal to their value.
For example there are 8 Footprint cards. If you have the majority of the Footprints you would score 8 points. There are 3 False Passes. Having the majority of these will net you, you guessed it, 3 points. However, the scoring gets a little more complicated than that. For each complete set you score an extra 3 points. So if you have all 8 Footprints that will score you 11 points. If you manage to get all 3 False Passes you score 6 points, effectively doubling your score for that set.
Now, on the other hand, you also lose points for every card your opponent has of any set you win. Imagine you are fighting over the Footprints. You manage to net 4 while your opponent gets 3. Great, you win, but instead of getting the full 8 points you get only 5 (8-3=5). This is where things get really bad for that player hoping to scoop up all of those 3 False Passes. Instead of getting 3 points for having a majority or 6 for having the full set, if your opponent just grabs 1 they have cut you down to 2 points (3-1=2).
On top of these you have map pieces which have that enticing exponential curve of growth if you get enough of them. Get only the 1 however and you’ll lose a point. You can also get wildcards you can add to your sets to fill in the blanks for any clue type except map fragments.
The aesthetic is bang on for 19th century England.
So now that you know how the scoring works, you might even have plans on what to go for, so you’ll certainly want to know how you get these cards. It comes back to that worker placement part and a little bit of an economical system. This is where efficiency begins to come into play. You see, the game plays out over 7 days (or rounds) with each day allowing both players 3 actions. These actions thematically are visits to one of a number of characters who may be able to assist with your investigation. These are done by placing a meeple of your colour on the character you want to visit. You can only visit each character at most once per day.
There are three standard characters who are always available with their slots clearly marked on the board. These are Doctor Watson, Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade. Their cards are also double sided which makes them very easy to identify. The rest of the characters form a deck which is shuffled and drawn from each day to provide new options with two coming out on day one and one every day after. The random nature of this greatly adds to the replayability factor of Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft as well as eliminating pre-determined always win strategies.
The actions these characters allow you to take for the most part either gain you Investigation Tokens or allow you to take cards. These cards come from the line up or deck. This is usually done in exchange for Investigation Tokens. Mrs Hudson for example allows you to take three Investigation Tokens. Doctor Watson allows you to spend one to pick up one card from the line-up. Inspector Lestrade on the other hand allows you to spend three to pick up two from the line-up. Wiggins is a character who may come out as one of the later characters. He allows you to get five Investigation Tokens instead. Inspector Gregson allows you to take one to three Clues from the line up for two investigation tokens each.
A number of cards also allow some extra sorts of shenanigans, like swapping a card in your play area for one in the lineup. Often your clues are laid out and easy to keep track of. Other times they are hidden. This often happens when you take them directly from the deck. This adds a bit of mystery to the game as you try to figure out who has exactly what and what cards may still be available.
You take turns placing your meeples and collecting Investigation Tokens and Clue cards until all three actions are taken by both players for the day. If both investigators visit someone on the same day that character will become exhausted. The character card is flipped over making them unavailable for the next day. This effectively limits your options a little more. Luckily however those three starting characters are never exhausted. Flip them over all you want. They are double sided after all. After this you pick up all your meeples and start the next day by drawing and placing a new character to visit.
As your choices grow day by day the right opponent can make you really feel like you have to make the perfect choice. Make the wrong move and it could cost you the game. I can just picture Android Netrunner fans out there calculating away to figure out what set of actions will gain you the most points while also taking them away from your opponent where possible. With one Investigation Token, one action and taking that one Clue I can cost my opponent 3 points. I’ll go visit Doctor Watson.
Doctor Watson, Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade are always available to help in the investigation
It is the constant battle between efficiency and outmanoeuvring your opponent with hidden cards and the occasional tricky move that really makes this game so very deep and interesting for a short two player game. While not overly complicated in the rules, the depth is in the options generated by your opponents choices. It might be a stretch but that to me is where the feeling of being Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes pitting their wits against each other comes to life.
Other themes could definitely be applied to this engine however with just as much success if not more. Countries or businesses vying over resources and if you have the lot you get a bonus for monopolising that resource for example. Each character you visit could be a lawmaker, lobbyist or industry insider. Because of this and the initially jarring expectation vs reality I cannot say that the theme is a strong element for this game but I think it is one where it doesn’t really matter.
While it might not be for the big epic gamers or those who love miniatures or even the fans of heavy euros, I think this game deserves a shot from everyone. I think this game has two places it can fit into most people’s collection. The first being that light filler game for two people waiting for something else to finish or other people to show up. The second option is the great battle of the wits with your arch frenemy when you just have to find out who is the better.
Will Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft be a game that will stay in my collection? Well that’s just elementary, my dear Watson.
Australian Tabletop Gaming Network would like to thank Devir for this review copy of Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft. While we believe the game is not available locally in Australia yet it is available from a number of online retailers.