Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Original Sherlock Holmes and His Baker Street Irregulars was provided by Baskerville Productions. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
I’d say this is the last Kickstarter for a while, but … it’s not! I have a few fun boxes from Dr. Finn’s hitting Kickstarter next month, so, get hyped for that. In the meantime, though, let’s focus on this one! This was the last thing I managed to do over the July 4th weekend, which gives you a rough estimate of my current lead time. So, not great, because, as you can tell, that’s pretty close to now! Very close to now! Almost now, now! Exciting times. But rather than worry about me, let’s dive right in and see what’s happening on Baker Street.
In The Original Sherlock Holmes and His Baker Street Irregulars, you’re on the hunt for Villains committing crimes across London! However, you’re … not Sherlock Holmes. Instead, you’re an inspector, making use of the Baker Street Irregulars! These local youths can find all manner of evidence if you ask them nicely, and you can use that to put some of the worst criminals in Britain behind bars. That said, your opponents are trying to do the same, so that’s going to be a rough challenge. Will you be able to clean up the streets of London? Or will you have to rely on the illustrious Sherlock Holmes to crack these cases?
It’s not that involved, idea-wise, but it takes some doing. So you’re going to need to give each player a set of BSIs:
These are the Baker Street Irregulars, and you’ll be sending them around to collect evidence and try to gather a case against the villains plaguing town. You’ll need to give each player an Inspector:
Not only are these Inspectors your character for the game, but they have a secret scoring condition on the back! Make sure you keep track of that. Now, separate the Evidence Cards into five different piles, based on the Roman numeral on the back:
Shuffle each pile. Shuffle the Villains, too:
Reveal 5 in a row, face-up. Shuffle the Plot Twists and set them near the Villain Deck:
Randomize the player cubes and place one on each space of the Arresting Order Tracker:
And set the Holmes, Watson, and Wiggins boards nearby:
You’re about ready to start! Draw X cards, where X is the number of players, from each stack, and then shuffle them together and deal each player 5 to get started!
A game of The Original Sherlock Holmes and His Baker Street Irregulars takes place over four rounds, as you and your squad of inspectors enlist the Irregulars in an attempt to foil the plans of nefarious Villains all over town with evidence of their crimes at your disposal. As the rulebook gleefully notes, if you do the best job of your peers, you’ll be remembered as the second-greatest detective in all of London (after Holmes, of course!). But how do you go about proving yourself?
Each round consists of three major phases. Let’s go through each. To start every round, however, reveal a Plot Twist card. These will change the rules a bit to keep things fresh each game.
In the Investigate Phase, you leverage your Irregulars to come up with evidence. Each player has a hand of cards, and you choose one and set its cost in Irregulars on top of it, face-down. Once everyone has picked a card, reveal it and place the Irregular tokens on top of your Investigator. These tokens are considered “spent”, but you’ll get them back at the end of the round.
Pass the remaining cards to the left (Rounds 1 & 3) or the right (Rounds 2 & 4), depending on what round you’re in.
Instead of taking a fifth card, players discard their last remaining card to the center, and move on to the Arrest Phase.
Once all the cards have been dealt with, you may attempt to Arrest a Villain. To do so, you must have enough active Evidence Cards with the correct symbols to match the symbols on a Villain’s card. If multiple players want to arrest the same Villain, follow the Arresting Order Tracker. Either way, when you Arrest a Villain:
- Turn all used evidence cards upside-down. This way, you can’t use them again. You’ll need them for final scoring, though! The cards you turn down may have more symbols than the ones you end up using; that’s tough luck.
- Return any BSIs on the Villain to their players. They get added back to the player’s stock.
- Take the Villain Card. Keep it in your play area for final scoring.
- Reveal a new Villain. There should always be 5 face-up.
- Move your cube to the bottom of the Arresting Order Tracker. The other cubes below yours will move up one step.
Once each player has had a chance to arrest a Villain or pass, move on to the Tail Phase.
Now, in Arresting Order, each player may choose to Tail a Villain by placing one of their BSIs on the Villain’s card. Tailing a Villain means that when you attempt to arrest them, you need one fewer Evidence icon (of your choice) to arrest them!
More than one player may Tail the same Villain, but you may only Tail a Villain if you have unused BSIs. If not, tough luck!
Also, once you choose to Tail a Villain, you cannot change who you’re Tailing unless that Villain is Arrested (or by some other card effect).
End of Round
At the end of the round, players can potentially earn a BSI Bonus! The player with the most remaining BSIs may choose one of Holmes, Watson, or Wiggins to back them up next round, or they may pay for one of the unused Evidence Cards (if they have enough BSIs). Either way, after all players have had a chance to pick something, the remaining Evidence Cards are discarded and a new round begins!
Note that in the Final Round, instead of doing a BSI Bonus with the boards, you may just choose from the Evidence Cards and then do one more Arrest Phase.
End of Game
After four rounds, the game ends. When that happens, don’t forget to collect your Inspector Bonus! It’s one of three choices — points per type, points per rope color, or points per pair of Evidence Cards from the same story. Choose one of them to add to your score, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The main thing you’ll notice is the same thing that always happens in these kinds of games. Since you’re dealing with a fixed-size pool of Villains, as player counts increase, you’ll see more contention for arrests over the course of the game. This is to be expected, after all; there’s no way to make that better without increasing the number of active Villains each round. I dislike contention, as y’all likely know, so, I tend to look towards the smaller end of the player count spectrum for titles like these. That said, one nice thing that they do is scale the cards pretty well (you always start with five cards per player), though that doesn’t really impact you much beyond you not knowing what cards you’ll get as player counts increase (you’ll see the same hand of cards fewer times). As a result, the game’s going to be a bit more hectic at higher player counts. There’s also more contention over the BSI Bonuses at the end of each round (though they scale a bit better, since every player contributes a card). Overall, yeah, if you’re looking for more intense and chaotic play, I’d recommend it at higher player counts. If you want a more measured game where you have to outwit your opponent in a lower-entropy situation (my preference), then stick to the lower player counts.
- Try to stay flexible. You’re going to lose at least one Villain to another player who’s faster than you, gets better cards than you, or stays on top of the Arresting Order in a way that you’re not able to do. If you collect a good variety of cards, you can quickly pivot to another Villain without getting knocked too far back. And you’ll need to, if you want to win!
- Similarly, try to cut down on waste. You don’t want to burn a bunch of two-symbol cards for one symbol each; it’s not a good use of your limited Evidence Cards. If you can get Villains such that they’re aligned with your cards, you’ll likely be able to arrest even more of them over the course of the game. And that’s strictly good for you.
- Tailing communicates your intent, so be careful about the Arresting Order. If you Tail a Villain, everyone else can see that that’s the Villain you’re probably going to try to pick up next. If you’re at the back of the Arresting Order, this means that you’re vulnerable to another player sniping you and stealing it from you. If that’s a risk you’re fine with, Tailing is extremely good, since it removes a potential required piece of Evidence.
- Try to get Holmes during the BSI Bonus, if you can. His major thing is that he lets you, as a one-time bonus, ignore one of the required Evidence Icons to Arrest a Villain. He’s just that good. He can also move you to the top of the Arresting Order, in case that matters for a different effect.
- If you can’t, it might be worth trying to get some Evidence Cards to potentially get the end-game bonuses. There are three possible bonuses, and all are benefitted by getting additional Evidence Cards. So if you can’t get Holmes and don’t want Watson or Wiggins, it may be worth focusing on getting something slightly more presently useful?
- Keep an eye out for cards from the same novel as the ones you have. Trying to get Evidence Cards from the same novel as ones you already have can be wildly lucrative if you can pull it off. It’s definitely worth the investment. Even if you can only make three pairs, that’s 15 points, which beats most of the other possible bonuses unless they’re bending over backwards or are extremely lucky.
- If you’ve got a tail on Moriarty and you have Holmes, you might want to try and arrest him. You only need 7 unique icons for that; that’s four cards, minimum, but good luck; everyone’s going to be going for Moriarty and his 30 points pretty intensely. You’re going to have to get lucky if you want to take him down.
- Be careful; some plot twists will throw a wrench in your gears pretty aggressively. One particular one scraps the Villain Row, which may mess you up if you’re going after Moriarty. It happened to me! It can happen to anybody. And it’s a bummer. Just be aware that the Plot Twist Cards are fairly punishing, when they happen.
- You can see what cards your opponents have; you may be able to hate-draft a few cards to block them from getting some bonuses. I played one game where someone took the last silver Evidence Icon, making it so I couldn’t arrest anyone for an entire round. It was an exceedingly hateful move, but it was very effective. I gotta respect it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I appreciate the racing structure of the game, as you try to get the right cards so that you can arrest Villains. It creates a nice tension that’s not present in as many of the drafting games I play (except Sushi Go Party!, since it’s basically an omnidrafting game).
- Tailing is also a nice mechanic to have. It’s nice to be able to exchange some information about your intent for a cheaper card. I think it smartly balances the tension. It’s not like other players can’t still steal it out from under you; you just have given up a bit of your motive so that you can get it at a discount. It’s a smart design choice.
- I do have a soft spot for Sherlock Holmes-themed stuff. I think Purrrlock Holmes is probably my favorite iteration of the theme, to be fair, but I generally like detective-themed stuff and Sherlock is one of the all-time greatest detectives, so, it’s easy to see how I end up leaning towards these kinds of themes. I will say that I enjoy more creative spins on the franchise, but, I still have a soft spot for the whole genre.
- I like the art style. It’s very evocative of the time period the game is set in, and it looks great. Does mean I’m going to need to use my white backdrop for photography, but what can you do.
- The BSI Bonus as a catch-up mechanism is also nice. The Evidence Cards are generally more expensive when they have more symbols on them, so players that buy fewer-symbol (and lower-quality symbol) cards are usually spending fewer BSIs, so they may be behind and this offers them a way to catch up to the rest of the group quickly. I think that’s nice! Don’t always see catch-up mechanics in a drafting game.
- It’s cool how grounded in the text the Evidence Cards seem to be. I like that they refer to specific tales; it makes the game feel well-researched.
- Additionally, the drafting makes sense within the theme. You can imagine your Irregulars coming back to you with some pieces of random evidence of crimes and you trying to assemble them into something resembling a case so you can take down a Villain. It all works together nicely, and I think that makes for a more cohesive game experience.
- All the Plot Twist cards are effectively neutral or worse, which is kind of a bummer way to start each round. I tried them all, and they aren’t terribly painful (except for the ones that cost you BSIs); they’re just not particularly nice. The one that scraps the Villain Row can really mess up your game if you’re strategizing, though, so it begs the question of whether or not they’re strictly necessary, since it’s just one bad thing every round? It would be nice to have either one good + one bad or a mix of good and bad, rather than just bad, especially because it doesn’t benefit or penalize players equally.
- Rather than giving players a choice, players should just score the highest value out of the three possible Inspector Bonuses. This is sort of a confusing design choice, to me. Why would a player ever choose anything other than the highest-scoring category? And if that’s the case, then why not just force them to take the highest-scoring category? It just strikes me as odd.
- Given that the cards need to be diagonally splayed, the game can be kind of a space hog. I don’t have a ton of real estate in the house currently, so this is kind of an issue for me. It would be helpful if it were possible to splay the cards vertically or horizontally rather than needing to always splay them diagonally, if it were possible to fix that.
- Even for a Sherlock Holmes game, it would have been nice to see more people of color. It’s just a substantially white game for a game about fictional characters. I think that’s why games like Purrrlock or Everdell tend to shoot for anthropomorphic animals and sidestep the issue entirely. Oh well; maybe they’ll add more before release.
- Is the name … a bit too long? The Original Sherlock Holmes and His Baker Street Irregulars doesn’t really roll off the tongue, and the problem is most abbreviations have already been used by other Sherlock Holmes games. Unclear.
- Fairly involved setup for a drafting game. It’s the five different decks that need shuffling that are the major pain point for this one. Seven, if you count the villains and the Plot Twists. It just adds a lot of extra setup time. I understand why; it streamlines the gameplay process if you just draw X from each deck, but shuffling a bunch of decks is a pain.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think The Original Sherlock Holmes and His Baker Street Irregulars is fun! Among drafting games I’ve played, I think it’s a bit more strategically involved since you’re trying to build up these cases via overlaps of Evidence, but that comes at a decently high cost — it’s a bit more complicated to set up. They added Plot Twist cards to mix up the games, recently; while I think that’s an admirable goal (I’m usually very pro-Event Cards), the fact that they’re all negative penalties for the players is kind of a bummer. I’d love a few that are just … upbeat? Something great? That would be a real plot twist. Also, I’d love something that makes the game a bit less space-intensive, graphic-design wise. Basically, your two major design elements are in opposite corners of the cards, so in order to see both you need to splay them diagonally, which uses up a ton of space over the course of the game! And that’s fine and all, but I only have small tables because a lot of my house is full of clutter since we still can’t go outside. Please don’t tell anyone how I live. That all said, I think the game is particularly well-structured and made by fans of the Sherlock Holmes franchise; it seems like a lot of the cards are actually pretty solidly researched in the text, and I recognized details even with my limited understanding of the franchise! So that’s pretty cool. All in all, though, if you’re looking for a fun drafting game, or if you’re a big fan of Sherlock Holmes in general, I’d recommend The Original Sherlock Holmes and His Baker Street Irregulars! I think it’s fun.