Full disclosure: A review copy of Purrrlock Holmes: Furriarty’s Trail was provided by IDW Games.
Just as I started hitting the tail end of the Oink games in my collection to review, I got a bunch of IDW games, so I’ll be taking a look at those periodically, for a while. Get excited.
One such game is Purrrlock Holmes: Furriarty’s Trail, a deduction game set in a universe somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and CATS, the musical. In this game, you play detectives hot on the trail of the devious Furriarty, who is an evil cat who wants to do evil cat stuff. You can’t let him, obviously. Will you be able to crack the case?
Setup isn’t too bad. First, give every player a player board:
Use the side without “PAWS!” on it. You may use that side later on in the game.
Now, take the Furriarty token with the 3 on it along with the Paw Print tokens:
You’ll want to set up the “trail” in the center of the table. This depends on player count:
- 2 players: 3 face-down Paw Print tokens, 2 face-up Paw Print tokens, the Furriarty Token, 6 face-down Paw Print tokens;
- 3 players: 4 face-down Paw Print tokens, 3 face-up Paw Print tokens, the Furriarty Token, 6 face-down Paw Print tokens;
- 4 players: 5 face-down Paw Print tokens, 4 face-up Paw Print tokens, the Furriarty Token, 5 face-down Paw Print tokens;
- 5 players: 6 face-down Paw Print tokens, 5 face-up Paw Print tokens, the Furriarty Token, 4 face-down Paw Print tokens;
So a sample trail could, for instance, look like this:
Once you’ve done that, shuffle the Clue Cards:
And give each player one. They should put them in the little clear plastic stands, facing outwards from them like Hanabi or Arkham Ritual. They cannot look at these cards. Choose the start player and deal them 4 cards, dealing every other player 2 cards. These cards will be players’ hands.
When you’ve done that you’re pretty much ready to start! There’s a slight game thing you should do (“Seeding” the Investigation), but we can do that once we get to Gameplay. Also, choose a start player and put Furriarty’s other token to their right — that’ll indicate when Furriarty moves!
So, the game is played over several rounds. Each round, you’ll try to investigate a crime and solve it to push closer towards catching Furriarty. However, each round, he’ll also come closer to escaping. If he escapes, nobody wins! That’s kind of rough.
The first thing that you’ll have to do is Seed your Investigation! This happens every time you start an Investigation for the first time (including the start of the game). This lets you take two free Investigate Actions using the top two cards of the deck. To make that more clear, let’s talk about the two kinds of actions you can do:
If you want to Investigate, you show the other players two cards from your hand (or from the top of the deck if you’ve just started an Investigation), one at a time. The other players must tell you truthfully if each card is a lead or a dead end. The easy way to figure this out is by remembering that a card has two features:
Each card has an Animal and an Hour.
- A card is a lead if the card shown matches the animal on the player’s card that they can’t see or matches the number on the player’s card that they can’t see. It’s also a lead if the number is adjacent. The hours wrap around, so 12 is adjacent to 1 and 11, and 6 is adjacent to 7 and 5.
- A card is a dead end if the animal does not match and the number does not match / is not adjacent.
This means if a player has the Goose 5 facing you, then any Goose, and any 4, 5, or 6 is a lead. Any other cards are dead ends.
If you think you know, you can also try guessing.
When you guess, you try to solve the case with the evidence you have in front of you. You can guess three things:
You must choose what you want to guess before you guess. If you choose to guess both, both guesses must be correct. The other players will tell you if you are correct or incorrect. If you are correct, you discard every card but the card in the stand, keeping that face-up in front of you. You also take the leftmost Paw Print token and put it on your card, keeping it face-up or face-down (though you may look at it regardless). If you correctly guessed both, take two Paw Print tokens. You then set up a new Investigation — draw a card from the deck and put it in the stand facing away from you and then Investigate with the top two cards of the deck, just like when you started the game.
If you’d like, you can also flip your Player Board and yell “PAWS!” (or say it normally, because inside voices) to take a free Guess Action whenever you want, even on another player’s turn in the middle of their Action(s). This comes at a price, though — you lose one point for doing this.
So, every player takes a turn which consists of the two actions, in either order:
- Investigate (mandatory)
- Guess (optional)
Normally, at the end of your turn, you pass the remaining two cards in your hand to the left and draw new ones. If you Guess and you’re incorrect, you do not draw new cards. Tough break.
After every player has taken a turn, Furriarty moves closer to escaping! Move the Furriarty Token one space to the right, flipping the Paw Print token he moves over face-up. If there are no more tokens to Furriarty’s right, then every player has one more turn to solve the mystery.
The game ends in one of two ways:
- A player catches Furriarty by taking Furriarty’s Token. This happens as the result of a Guess. You can take Furriarty just like a normal Paw Print token, but he’s always worth 3 points!
- Furriarty escapes! That’s a bummer.
If Furriarty escapes, nobody wins! Tally your scores to figure out who has the lowest score — they’re your loser. It’s probably their fault, maybe? Who knows, policework is tough.
If any player catches Furriarty, tally your scores, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There are some subtle differences at different player counts — the major advantage is that more cards are revealed, so you have that much more information about what your card might be (as you know that any card you can see is not your card, as all the cards are unique). Also, Furriarty’s trail is longer, meaning there are more turns before he escapes and everyone loses. The problem is (as I mention below), since it’s a deduction game, it slowly moves through each player’s turn, meaning that more players == more game time == more time where it isn’t your turn. That’s a bit disappointing, so I tend to prefer this at smaller player counts (2 – 3).
- Keep an eye on the Trail. You don’t want to necessarily guess if the token after the token you’d take is a 3 — you’re essentially just giving your opponent points. However, you might be able to use your Purrlock PAWS to take a few tokens in one turn, either snagging Furriarty and ending the game or taking two 3s to maybe give yourself a win. If you’re only focusing on guessing correctly, you might get a bunch of tokens but still not win.
- Remember your Dead Ends. Everything that is a Dead End is super useful. If you have four different animals as Dead Ends, you know that your card is the fifth animal, just by process of elimination. Similarly, for every number that’s a dead end, that’s 3 numbers it can’t be.
- Sometimes you’ll get lucky. Use that. If you get two leads – a Crow 1 and a Crow 6, you know that your card must be at least a Crow. If you can use that for three points, why not just go for it? Similarly, if you have two leads – a Crow 4 and a Goose 6, you know that your card must be a 5 of something. Sometimes you can do this without investigating, leaving you free to narrow down your clues with your Investigate Step. The best possible one is seeing that your opponents’ cards help clue you in to what your card might be, which is super lucky.
- Use your memory, if you can. If you can remember what’s already been played, you might be able to use that to more quickly guess what your card is. It’s super helpful if you can, but honestly, not required to be successful in this game, depending on who you play with.
- Don’t be afraid to use your PAWS. Sometimes you have to to either prevent people losing the game or stop someone else from winning. Don’t forget that you can use it at any time, even during other players’ turns or actions.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very good art. It’s particularly well-done, and it’s always worth calling it out.
- Fairly simple. It’s a good family deduction game, as the level of deduction required is pretty minimal (similar to Fugitive, in my opinion) but it can play more than two, which is also good.
- It’s a fun puzzle. It’s nice to have to think through what your options are, and I’ve played a fair number of games where your best shot is a 50/50 guess, and seen both the joy of being right and winning and the crushing defeat of just barely getting it wrong. It’s super fun to watch and play.
- Solidly family-friendly. This is a game I could see playing with younger folks and the theme is fine for just about anyone unless they viciously hate cats, which, I mean, okay.
- I don’t understand why it’s Purrrlock instead of Purrlock. Makes it more difficult to search for. I have the same minor complaint about BEEEEES! (That’s 5 e’s, mind you.) It’s probably some weird copyright thing.
- The rulebook is only okay. It refers to “Seed Investigation” during setup before telling players what that even means, which is kind of confusing. A lot of games have this issue where they want players to take strategic actions before the game is explained, which I find ends up confusing a lot of players.
- Box is a bit big for what the game is. The game is 60 cards, a few tokens, and a few player cards, and the box is around the same size as Between Two Cities. Don’t get me wrong, the box illustration is very nice and it’s not nearly as egregious (in terms of space utilization) as Splendor, but it’s still somewhat irksome.
- Not really the game’s fault, but players have trouble with “lead” and “dead end” when it’s the hour rather than the animal. A lot of players say “dead end, oh, wait, it’s a lead”, which is a pretty strong tell that it’s the hour, since the animal is pretty obvious. It happens, but it’s something you should coach players on before the game starts, as it does help the player who gets the extra hint a lot.
- The “nobody wins” condition is kind of annoying. I can’t think of a better way to motivate players, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world. I feel like it’s really disappointing for all players if they end up with a “nobody wins”, but that can happen, depending on how conservatively / incorrectly players guess.
- Plays pretty slowly at 5. There’s only so many times you can say “Lead!” or “Dead End!” before you start wondering when it’s going to be your turn. It’s kind of nice that the game is essentially expandable, but it does drag a bit at higher player counts and make for a less exciting experience since you have so little to do when it’s not your turn other than … think.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, Purrrlock Holmes: Furriarty’s Trail is pretty fun! The nobody wins endpoint is kind of frustrating, gameplay-wise, but honestly there aren’t many other ways to motivate players to keep going if the revealed tokens aren’t great, points-wise. When it’s good, it’s a lot of fun, though, as it’s a nice, simple deduction game with hidden information, a great way to lead into a game like Fugitive which is, perhaps, a bit more complex? I think I prefer it to Hanabi or Arkham Ritual, two other games in the “you can’t see your own cards” genre, as it’s fairly light and theme-y but also a fun little competition (and I’ve become less enthusiastic about Hanabi as time passes). I’m less a fan of the memory aspect of it, as you’re incentivized to remember every card that’s been drawn or discarded, but it’s not that big of a deal unless you’re playing with people with very good memories. Additionally, some people who prefer more pure strategy games might be frustrated by the random draw element, as it’s possible to have two cards that give you insufficient information (Dead End Crow 5 and Dead End Crow 6) and two cards that give you near-perfect information for one guess (Lead Crow 5, Lead Crow 9). That doesn’t bother me all that much, though. That said, if you’re looking for a fun introduction to deduction games, though, Purrrlock is a good start!