Q System (Sherlock: The Tomb of the Archaeologist, Sherlock: Last Call, Sherlock: Death on the 4th of July)
- Designers: Josep Izquierdo and Marti Lucas
- Publisher: Enigma Studio
- Players: 1-8
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 60 minutes
- Times played: 1 each with review copies provided by GDM games
The Q System is a new series of puzzle games that I discovered at SPIEL 2018. Or really, I should say that they discovered me. I hadn’t heard of them prior to the show, and the publisher found me as I was wandering through the halls to give me copies of these games. Each game is a single-play mystery – described to me as being like a Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (SHCD) episode in a small box.
Each game comes in a small deck box, containing just more than 30 cards and a sheet of rules. The rules are folded up and part of the page is stickered shut hiding a list of questions about the scenario. On the inside of the folded rules are the answers to the questions as well as the scoring rubric for this particular episode.
The game is played cooperatively, and to start the game, the #1 card is placed on the table. Then, the remainder of the deck of 32 clue cards is shuffled. Each player is dealt a hand of three cards, and the rest of the deck is left on the table to draw from. Players will be able to share SOME information from the cards; you cannot read the entire card to the other players, but you are able to share any underlined text or text in paperclipped note graphic.
On a turn, the active player chooses to either Reveal information or Discard information. If he chooses to reveal information, he takes a card from his hand and plays it face up to the table. At this point, that card is obviously open information, and all players can read the card. If this card did not include vital information to the solution of the case, the team will lose one point at the end of the game. If he chooses to discard information, a card is played face down in a discard pile and it is essentially out of the game until the final stage of the game. The team must discard at least 6 cards by the end of the game or else the team automatically fails! After either of these actions has been taken, a new card is drawn from the deck.
When all cards have either been played or discarded, then the players get a final chance to talk about the case to try to solve it. At this point, players can also talk about any information they had on cards which they discarded earlier in the game. Once the players feel they are ready, they can break the seal on the sticker in the rules to expose the questions about the case. The team works together to answer the questions, and then once the answers are recorded, the rule sheet is opened up to show the answers. The team will score 2 points for each question that they answered correctly, and they will lose 1 point for each irrelevant card revealed.
The mechanics of each of the games are the same… The story behind each is a little different. In the Tomb of the Archaeologist, you must answer some questions about Edward Carter’s murder (the man who discovered King Tut’s tomb). In Last Call, a man has suffered a heart attack 7 hours into a flight. In Death on the 4th of July, an unknown white male is found dead in the Rockvalley mansion.
In Q: Tomb of the Archaeologist, you must answer some questions about Edward Carter’s murder.
«we start this news broadcast on 25th of August of 1923 with a sad new: the passing of famous archaeologist and explorer Edward Carter.
According to sources close to the family, the renowned professor was found by his wife inside his study, with a letter opener stabbed on his back.
Because the violent nature of the happening, Scotland Yard has begun a formal investigation and is interrogating his closest friends and colleagues.
This afternoon all university classes at Oxford will be stopped for some minutes to pay homage to one of the finest members of its community.
In Q: Last Call, a man has suffered a heart attack during a flight.
“Commander: Commander of flight TJ1309 asking for priority to land.
CT: South Indian Lake control tower. Request received. What’s the emergency?
Commander: One of our passengers suffered a heart attack at 7 hours 30 minutes after the take-off. His companion suffered an anxiety crisis.
CT: Roger, TC1309, we’ll initiate the standard CPR protocol. We’ll send a resuscitation team, a forensic doctor and an investigation team. We’ll enable passengers’ transfer and custody.
Commander: Affirmative, CT. Requesting vectors as soon as possible.
CT: CT to flight TJ1309, you are lucky. Runway is clear right now. Authorized to South Indian Lake, six thousand feet transponder two-one-five-seven.
Commander: Flight TJ1309 to South Indian Lake. Six thousand feet transponder two-one-five-seven. Thanks you.”
In Q: Death on 4th of July, a mysterious death happens in Rockvalley’s mansion:
911, Emergency, how may I help you?
Yes, hello. We’ve found a body in the Rockvalley’s property.
May I have the address, please?
It’s here, in Rockvalley’s estate.
Yes, yes. I found it hidden in the bushes, in the middle of the grove.
Have you checked for vital signs?
I can assure you it’s not necessary, this guy is as dead as he can be.
Do you know the victim?
I don’t know, it’s a white male. He isn’t anyone from the family though. Mr and Mrs Rockvalley are safe as well as the children.
Whom am I speaking with?
I’m William Greggs, gardener and keeper of the estate grounds.
Very well. There’s a police car already on your way.
My thoughts on the game
Well, these little games were sold as portable versions of SHCD, and that is a pretty apt description of them. And… my reservations about the SHCD system still exist in this set of games. The backstory in the introduction is minimal, just a paragraph or two in the rules. In fact, in the above description, I have cut and pasted the entirety of the introductory text. The rest of the story comes on the 32 cards, and I’d guesstimate that a good third to a half of them are deemed irrelevant in each case. So… you’re being asked to put together the story from a very limited number of small cards.
And, frankly, I have had a hard time piecing the story together from the cards. Heck, in one of the cases, after we had finished the case and scored the game, when looking at all the cards in the box, our entire group was unable to make the connections needed to answer two of the ten questions for that case. Sure, the problem could have clearly been amongst the players, and we possibly were just too dense to see the story – but like SHCD, I just can’t figure out how a paragraph about Ms. Smith and her dogwalking yesterday leads me to the fact the Mr. Jones, who lives across the street, ate oatmeal and strawberries for breakfast last Tuesday. And, since I can’t see that connection, I’ll never be able to solve the puzzle.
I like the conceit/concept in the Q system that asks the players to try to weed out the un-necessary information from the game. In fact, you’re told that at least 6 cards in each set of 32 MUST be irrelevant because you are forced to discard at least 6 cards each game in order to even be allowed to answer the questions. But… with so few cards available, if your team throws out a vital card (and isn’t able to remember the details on it for the endgame discussions), you’re possibly irrevocably screwed. And, due to the nature of the game, you can’t go back and play the game again if you’ve made such a mistake. Unlike SHCD, there isn’t a detailed story here, and there aren’t enough cards to give you a chance to find a second way to get information (i.e. interviewing a different person about the same event) – so, if you miss something, it’s gone forever.
But, despite these shortcomings, the game is was still enjoyable to play. Each story was an enjoyable hour. Perhaps, the lack of information forced us to improvise/role play more than usual as we tried to talk our way through the stories. Sure, we never got close enough on two of the three of them, but we were still mostly entertained for that hour. If nothing else, we had lots of laughs at the jumps in logic we had been asked to make and we had been unable to do. THe game comes in a small format and a small price. I think the MSRP for these is around $10, so it’s not a huge investment for a one-hour gaming experience.
Enigma Studio has an aggressive schedule set up – they are planning three more releases in early 2019, and I might be interested enough to give those a try… but if we continue to not be able to solve the cases, I’ll probably not want to come back for more given the bountiful supply of other games in the genre which aren’t as frustrating. But for those that love SHCD, this is a great way to get three more adventures in an extremely portable and inexpensive manner.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers:
James Nathan: I played each of these, well, once, and agree with Dale on most of the points above. If there was a spectrum of mystery/puzzle, my inclination is far towards the puzzle end, and these are far towards the mystery end. (The difference to me being that a puzzle is self-contained, but a mystery implies that we may need to introduce elements not seen in the clues –which for me is too large of a sandbox.)
I do like the concept of splitting the relevant and irrelevant clues –and even if you discard a relevant clue, you can still *remember* what the card said, but you often have to make that choice before you’ve seen enough cards to be able to make much of an informed opinion.
I never get too invested in the scoring rubric of these kinds of games -other than did I get the questions right-, so I wasn’t overly concerned with the discard piles on the 2nd and 3rd games, and even looking at all available cards, I was never going to make the leap to the answer that the solutions had. So, thanks to the Q System for helping cement my resolve that I don’t like mysteries.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor