Dale Yu: Review of The Sherlock Files, Vol II

The Sherlock Files, Vol. II (Q System)

  • Designers: Marti Lucas and Josep Izequierdo
  • Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
  • Players: 1-8
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: about 60 min per case
  • Played on copy provided by publisher
The Q System was 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 that 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.  The original format had each case in a separate tiny 32 card box.  The newest incarnation (By Indie Boards and Cards) of the game has three cases bundled together in nice compact box.   This is the second set of three cases that Indie has done, and perusal of their webpage shows that a third collection is coming out soon. Each game is still wrapped individually inside the box, and each comes with its own pamphlet – The rules are printed on the outside of this 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 during the course of the game. The mechanics of each of the games are the same… The story behind each is a little different. In Propagation, you discover the truth behind a disastrous laboratory fire. In Don’s Legacy, you investigate the family, friends, and business partners of a freshly deceased don. In 13 Hostages, you uncover how a group of devious jewel thieves and their loot vanished into thin air. There is no order to the cases, so you can play them in any order you like – perhaps discussing which theme fits the current mood of your group.  Additionally, in case you were wondering, you do not need to have played any of the previous scenarios – each of these Sherlock cases is completely independent and is played as a standalone. My thoughts on the game Well, these little games were once described to me 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 single side of a 3.75 inch square on the front of the pamphlet – in most cases a short conversation or newscast snippet.  In fact, in the above pictures, you cas see 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 card that shows me a photograph of a hot rod car in a scrapbook leads me to the fact that the victim’s secret mistress flew to Detroit last week (and honestly, we’re still not quite sure that she is his mistress or not!).  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.   Furthermore, as the cards are shuffled at the start, and you really have very little information to go on from the start, you have almost zero way to make informed decisions about the first cards that you see – so in our group, we pretty much always include them in the investigation as we have no good way to know if they are irrelevant or not.   Whether or not you keep the card doesn’t hurt your chances of succeeding, but like SHCD, makes it impossible to get a high score.  In fact, we have never scored above 10 in the 6 Sherlock cases that we’ve tried. And, due to the nature of the game, you can’t go back and play the game again if you’ve made a mistake – i.e. discarding a card with vital information that has details that you can’t remember.  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 cases are still enjoyable to play – but our group views them more as an entertaining activity rather than a puzzle solving thing.  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.  We still tried to connect the dots, but there was usually one or two questions in the pamphlet (at the end of the game) that had us scratching our heads, wondering how we were supposed to know anything about that particular question – and the answer was always – “we must have discarded that card!”. In any event, we’d learn a bit more from the questions/answers, and then it’s always interesting to go back and look at the cards (both kept and discarded) to see if we would have made different choices knowing the full answer to the case.  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.    As James Nathan once said: “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.”  I would have to agree with him and agree with his preference of puzzle over mystery. We have played through the set of cases, and now I will likely pass the box on to another group so they can also try their hand at them.    In fact, we’re going to run a giveaway on our Instagram account later this week! – @opinionatedgamersblog  – https://www.instagram.com/opinionatedgamersblog/ Until your next appointment The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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