Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft
- Designer: Diego Ibáñez
- Publisher: DEVIR USA
- Players: 2
- Ages: 10+
- Time: 30-40 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by DEVIR USA
Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft is a new Origins 2016 release from the US branch of DEVIR, a gaming company that I thought had been limited to Spain in the past. There is a backstory here – an explosion in Parliament that is being investigated by Mycroft, for the Crown, and Sherlock, for himself. The two brothers match wits against each other to get to the solution first. They have a week to search for clues to determine which of the brothers is the best.
There is a board is placed in the center of the table. Doctor Watson, Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade start on the board. These three people represent sources on information for the brothers at the start of the game. There are also 8 spaces on the board (two for Day 1, and one for the remaining days of the week) which have room for other character cards. There is a deck of 9 remaining characters. They are shuffled and placed next to the board. Each player takes their set of three action markers (meeples) as well as five cardboard investigation chits – shaped like a magnifying glass.
There is also a deck of clue cards, made up of numbered clues (rank 3 thru 9), 5 wild cards and 5 map fragments. For each of the numbered ranks, there are a number of cards in the deck equal to the rank. Thus, there are 52 cards total. This deck is shuffled and then four clues are dealt face up on the table as a supply.
One of the players is chosen to be the start player, and the game starts. Each of the seven days follows the same pattern. First, you add a new character to the board (well, in Day 1, you will actually add two). Take the top card from the deck and place it in the spot appointed for the new card for the current day. Next, take all of the action markers and stand them up. You will not need to do this in Day 1 as they start the game off the board.
Then, the first player starts his investigations for the day. He moves any of his currently upright meeples onto any available card which DOES NOT already have one of his meeples (upright or laying down) on it – the newly placed meeple is laid down on the card to show that it has already been moved this turn. Then, you take the action of the character card which you just moved onto. Once the action is taken, the other player takes an action following the same rules. This continues until all upright meeples have been moved and placed on their side in their new location. Note, it is possible to use the same card in two successive days – however, you have to move a meeple off of that card first before you can then place a different meeple on it.
Finally, at the end of the day, you must reset the board. First, any character cards which are currently face down on the board are flipped over – these cards will be available for use in the next round. Then, check and see if any of the character cards are occupied by two meeples (which must be one of each player). If so, you must flip this card over for the next round. For most of the characters, this means that they are unavailable in the next round. However, your closest connections (Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and Watson), will always be available. Their cards are double sided and their picture/action on both sides.
Before I explain the actions, let me tell you what happens at the end of the game first. At the end of the seventh day, each of the players must assign any free wild cards. There is a restriction that you may only have one wild card per type of clue. If you end up with a wildcard that you cannot legally assign anywhere, you take a three point penalty for that unplaced wild card. Then, each of the numbered clues is scored. Starting with the lowest number and moving up, you see who has the most cards of a particular type of clue. That player will score a number of points equal to the number of the clue MINUS one point for each card of that type which their opponent has. If the winning player has ALL of the clues of that type, he scores a three point bonus. Finally, the map fragment cards are scored. You score (-1/1/3/6/10 points) for (1/2/3/4/5 of the map fragment cards). The scoring rubric is helpfully listed on each of the map fragment cards.
OK – so let’s look at some of the actions. There are three that are available to you every turn:
Dr Watson – spend one of your magnifying glass tokens to take any one face up clue card from the line. (Any time that you take a face up card from the line, you put it face up in front of you in an arrangement such that you opponent can always see how many cards of each type that you have).
Mrs Hudson – Draw three magnifying glasses from the supply
Inspector Lestrade – Discard three magnifying glasses to pick any two face up clues from the line. (though the rules are not 100% clear about this – we were taught in our demo that you replenish the fae up supply to four cards after each individual card draw).
The other nine cards may or may not be available to you. First, only 8 of these 9 will ever be in any particular game, and the order in which they come up in is determined by the shuffle. Further, these cards can be turned face down if both players use them in the preceeding turn. A few examples of these characters are:
Wiggins – Draw 5 magnifying glasses from the supply
Langdale Pike – spend 1/2/3 magnifying glasses to draw 1/2/3 cards from the top of the deck – then choose one of the drawn cards to put in your facedown stack. You will score this facedown card at the end of the game, but only you will know the identity of this facedown card. Any cards not kept are discarded face up.
Irene Adler – spend a number of magnifying glasses equal to the number of the current day to take one of your opponent’s face up clue cards and put it in your facedown stack
Violet Hunter – you exchange one of your clue card with one clue from the supply line. This does not cost a magnifying glass
Von Kramm – take a clue card from the line without having to spend a magnifying glass. Then your opponent gets the option to spend a magnifying glass and take the top card of the deck and add it to his facedown pile.
My thoughts on the game
In the end, despite the theme that is being pasted onto the game, this is really just a set collection game. But, it is a well constructed game with a few novel (at least to me) mechanisms that help it shine. I really like the way that the current character deck gives you a wide range of possible actions – though you will not see them in every game, and the order in which they become available to you also changes with each game. Thus, you can have some certain strategies or combinations that you like to use, but you have to wait until the board allows you to use them.
Also, the interplay of the meeple placement adds a nice twist to the planning aspect of each day. Usually at the start of the day, I have to look and see what I think my best plan is. Then, I have to make sure that the actions that I want to take will be available at the times when I want to take them – namely, I might have to figure out in which order I want to move my meeples. Meeples stay on the cards where they were last played in the previous round, and figuring out which ones to move first is key. Of course, the plays your opponent makes as well as the selection of cards in the supply line might cause you to modify your plans. There’s nothing worse than making a change in your plans and then only to realize that your desired action is currently blocked by one of your own upright meeples…
The feel of each game definitely changes with the cards in play. Games that start with Langdale Pike and/or Von Kramm in Day 1 mean that there will be a lot of facedown cards collected by the players. You thus have to rely much more upon your intuition and observational skills to try to deduce what cards your opponent has than a game where there are not any facedown cards.
The artwork in the game is cleanly done, and it does seem to successfully evoke the Victorian Era where Holmes usually resides. The iconography on the cards is also well done, and while you may need to refer to the rules for the first game or two to make sure that you understand how a card works, you may not need to do so afterwards.
The game also offers a few optional cards to increase the variety/difficulty of the game. The players may choose to play with the Sherlock/Mycroft cards which allow you to reserve a clue from the line to be picked up by you at a later time. There are also two Villain cards which can be added to the deck of character cards to act as an interrupt when they are drawn. Moriarty causes you to discard clue cards or magnifying glasses while Sebastian Moran will bring your number of actions in the following day down to 2.
Thus far, we have only played one game with these extra cards (and therefore three with the basic rules) – and after that single play, we much prefer the simplicity and elegance of the basic game. It is good to see that the game can have some added variety. Also, it highlights the possibility of expansion/extension to the game with different character cards. Heck, it seems that the game would play and feel quite different even just by changing the three basic actions of Hudson, Watson and Lestrade that are available in each and every turn.
Finding a home for a new two-player game in my collection is a tough sell. Normally, I don’t play too many games with only two people around. That being said, this one is definitely a keeper for me. The games that we have played have been challenging and engrossing – and this is one which I look forward to playing again soon.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Craig V: Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft is easy to teach, engaging, and fun to play. I like the action selection mechanism because it’s actually thematic and something different than usually seen in card games (e.g. simultaneous selection and reveal, draw a card/play a card, etc.). The artwork is nice and really helps to bring the theme alive. For being a fairly quick game, there are definitely meaningful choices and various strategies. If you’re looking for a new 2-player game for your collection and you enjoy set collection, then I’d highly recommend trying Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. Craig V
- Not for me…