Beyond Baker Street (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Robin Lees, Steve Mackenzie
  • Publisher:  Z-Man Games
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  13 and Up
  • Time:  20 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 5

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I was drawn to Beyond Baker Street when I heard it compared favorably to Hanabi —  which is one of my all-time favorite games — and I ended up playing this new Z-Man title a few times during Gen Con.  The rumors were true: the game is quite similar to Hanabi.  But in the end, Beyond Baker Street is a different game, one that is more forgiving and more variable.  If you like cooperative deduction games, this is worth checking out.

Gameplay Walkthrough

In Beyond Baker Street, the players work cooperatively to solve a case before the great Sherlock Holmes himself.  You win the game if you get exactly 20 on the “investigation track” and confirm the suspect, motive, and opportunity leads (which I’ll call the “three leads”) before the game ends in your defeat.  

You lose if (1) the “Holmes marker” reaches 0 on its track (which means Holmes solved the case), (2) the investigation track goes over 20, (3) players solve the three leads before the investigation track hits 20, or (4) the last card of any of the three leads is discarded.  

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Each player has outward-facing cards, just like in Hanabi, and the number of cards each player has changes based on player count (6 for 2-players, 4 for 3-players, and 3 for 4-players).  On a player’s turn, he can:

  • Assist.  Give information to another player about their “evidence cards” (i.e. the cards in their hand), telling them one clue of all cards in their hand that share the same icon (i.e. suit) or number.  This results in going down a space on the Holmes track, which is basically the limit on the number of clues in the game.
  • Investigate.  Play an “evidence card” onto one of the three leads.  This is the central goal of the game: there are three leads in the middle of the game board, one each for motive, opportunity, and suspect.  You need to play enough evidence cards of the matching suit in the lead to exactly equal the number on the lead.
  • Confirm.  Place a confirm marker on the completed investigate stack on one of the three leads.  This is the goal of the game: players win if they to get confirm markers on all three leads, plus have exactly 20 points on the investigation track (more on that below).  If successful, the players gain a space back on the Holmes track.
  • Eliminate.  Play a card face up on the “impossible,” which is the stack of discarded cards.  Each “case” has a different maximum of cards that can be in this stack without penalty, so players have to monitor what they’re putting there.  But you have to put some cards there, since it is how you earn points on the investigate track (since you get points equal to the value of the discarded card).
  • Pursue.  Discard the lead card from one of the lead stacks and put any completed evidence cards back in the draw pile.

The game comes with a number of “cases,” each with a varying level of difficulty.  Each case provides where Holmes starts on his track and the number of cards that can be put in the impossible.

The rules offer more of a thematic flair than I portray above, but that’s the essence of the game.  Basically, it is Hanabi, but you have to discard enough to get to exactly 20 points on the Investigate Twin to win, while simultaneously having a limit on the cards you can discard.

What I describe above is the basic game: after the first play, you work in “character” cards that slightly modify the rules of the game.  This does make Beyond Baker Street considerably more fun.  For example, Mary Morstan can confirm a lead if the Evidence total is 1 less than the lead value,  or Lady Eva Blackwell can draw two new Evidence cards when drawing, asking the player to her right to tell her which to keep.  Both of those are clearly helpful in gameplay, but there are also characters that make the game more challenging.  For example, Inspector Bradstreet is not allowed to give clues about the “Documents” suit, and Inspector Jones is not allowed to give clues about the “Tracks” suit, although both characters can give clues about numbers on those cards.

My thoughts on the game…

Beyond Baker Street is a tense experience, and I’ve enjoyed the brain-burny challenges it presents.  The gameplay is clever, the artwork is beautiful, and because of the different cases and characters, this game features considerable replayability.

As with Hanabi, Beyond Baker Street forces you to see the game state from the perspective of other players.  Also like Hanabi, this rewards repeated play with the same persons, since you can develop intuitions about — and conventions with — the other players.

But unlike Hanabi, there’s variability (and thus more replayability) built into this system.  The different cases keep gameplay fresh, and the characters add a fascinating twist.  No two games I’ve played have felt similar to each other.  

As a result of this and some other factors — most notably having to focus on building three stacks instead of five — Beyond Baker Street feels more forgiving than Hanabi.  This isn’t a simpler game — in fact, it is considerably more complex from a rules perspective — but the system allows for more flexibility, at least on the easier cases.

Before I played Beyond Baker Street, I heard a lot about how it felt like a more “thematic” version of Hanabi.  I actually disagree with that sentiment.  Sure, Hanabi had a pasted on theme, but this felt pasted on too.  I see why people are saying this is more thematic — a deduction theme has been pasted onto a deduction game — but past that, I just didn’t feel like I was somehow competing against Sherlock Holmes or solving a crime.  I would describe this is as marginally more thematic than Hanabi.  Maybe I just like fireworks more than Sherlock Holmes.

If you like Hanabi, I bet you would like this, but if you didn’t like Hanabi, I doubt this will be for you.  To be blunt, Beyond Baker Street feels like somebody got tired of Hanabi and decided to make a game with varying difficulty and special powers.  Will this replace Hanabi for me?  I doubt it: Hanabi seems more elegant and slightly more tense.  But I’ll pull it out for my family and other Hanabi enthusiasts, and I know this will get play time in the future.  

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Y:  My comments pretty much echo the final paragraph above by Chris – essentially, if you like Hanabi, this is an excellent re-do of the game with a few added twists to make it different from the original.  I played it with a group of players who loved Hanabi.  The different scenarios and rules do seem to add some needed variability to the game; as do the special powers of the characters.  There was plenty of conversation around the table about how to deal with the special powers, and they were very positive on the game.  My feelings were a bit more muted, but then again, I would consider my life complete if I never played Hanabi again.  This was too close to that to really make me excited to play it.  I think I prefer this version of the game to Hanabi if only because each game could be different in play due to the additions as mentioned above.  If you’re a lover of Hanabi, then my opinion is probably void for you.  However, if you didn’t like Hanabi, I just don’t see why this would convince you to like this style of game.

Dan Blum: I like Hanabi but don’t love it. Beyond Baker Street doesn’t add anything to the game as far as I’m concerned – the additional elements aren’t that interesting. And not crediting Bauza at all, when most of the design is his, is poor behavior.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Chris Wray
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me… Dan Blum

 

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