Base price: $18.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~15 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3
Full disclosure: A review copy of Sherlock 13 was provided by Arcane Wonders.
Whew, finally back on a roll, though I’m thinking about slowing down my pace a bit. Planning some life changes and some work on other projects, so I may scale back to two reviews a week at some point. Haven’t decided yet. That’s a Later Eric Problem. A now Eric problem is getting all of these games in my house reviewed so I can decide to keep or to cull them. It’s a process. Lots of boxes are involved. We don’t need to get into it. In the meantime, however, let’s check out the next game up for review, Sherlock 13!
In Sherlock 13, players take on the role of London’s finest investigators? Where’s Sherlock Holmes, you ask? Well, this time, he’s a suspect! A number of famous figures have been implicated in a crime so outrageous, I can’t even print it in this review. You know, one of those crimes. Outrageous. You’ll have to figure out who is innocent and, eventually, who is guilty. After all, to paraphrase some guy, once you eliminate the impossible, whoever remains definitely did the crime. Will you be able to put all the pieces together, or will one of your opponents out-deduce you?
Relatively easy to set up! First, give each player a player screen:
Each player gets a clue sheet, as well:
Then, shuffle the thirteen Suspect Cards:
Place one face-down in the center, and deal the remaining 12 cards evenly. In a two-player game, deal three cards to the center and deal each player five cards. In that case, the middle card is the criminal. Either way, you should be ready to start!
Sherlock 13 is a game of deduction! Over the course of the game, you want to use the cards in your hand, the symbols on them, and the cards in your opponents’ hands to determine who the face-down culprit is! You’ll have clue sheet to keep track of the symbols you’ve seen, so make sure you keep track of what you know to identify the only possible culprit!
To start the game, record the icons on the Suspect Cards in your hand on your Clue sheet; that way you know what you’ve seen. Then, choose a player to take the first turn. On a turn, you may take any of three actions:
- Investigate: This action lets you choose an icon and say it out loud. All other players with a Suspect Card with that icon on it must raise their hand. You don’t raise your hand, even if you have a matching card.
- Interrogate: To perform this action, choose another player and an icon. Ask that player how many of that icon they have; they must answer out loud. They also have to tell the truth.
- Accuse: If you think you’re ready to win the game, then declare which Character you think is the Criminal. Look at the face-down card. If you’re right, reveal it, and you win! If you’re wrong, you lose! Return the Criminal face-down. You’re still in the game for other players’ Investigate and Interrogate actions, but you can no longer win.
The first player to correctly guess the Criminal wins! You also win if everyone else Accuses incorrectly.
For a two-player game, Investigate is changed. Instead of asking other players, you instead choose the left or right face-down card from the center and replace it with a card from your hand, face-up. Once both cards are face-up, the Investigate action cannot be taken.
For a more challenging game, you can add advanced rules! To play the advanced game, you first order your cards such that there’s a first card and a last car. Then, at the start of your turn, send the first card to the last position, rotating your hand. Whenever you are Investigated or Interrogated, do not include your last card, even if you previously Accused incorrectly.
Player Count Differences
This is another game that changes pretty drastically with more or fewer players! There’s an entirely different two-player game, essentially, since the Investigate action changes so much. Beyond that, you also lose a lot of control over information and how it’s disseminated as the player count increases. There are plenty of things you don’t want to ask about, just because you either don’t want to put the idea in another player’s head or you suspect something and don’t want players to have access to the same information as you. Since the information is asymmetrical, different players have different questions that they need answered about the Culprit. Any player can solve the game on their turn, so more players means a higher risk that the critical information is presented between your two turns. I do quite enjoy the game at two players, but it’s fun to play Sherlock 13 with more people! It’s just a much faster game.
- First off, make sure that you’re marking off which cards you have and what symbols are on them. This may seem obvious, but there’s always a temptation to just keep an eye on what cards you have and not worry too much about what goes where. This, for me at least, inevitably leads to a situation where you get confused by how many Inspectors of various kinds you have in your hand and you accidentally don’t raise your hand for something or give the correct number for something else. Both outcomes are bad! Make sure you’re tracking your cards.
- When someone asks about a symbol, look at your cards. Even if you trust your system perfectly, it helps to double-check your cards before you give an answer to something. I only say this because, again, I once forgot to mark off one of my cards on my sheet and then that led to an entirely different problem. In a deduction game, it always behooves players to double-check.
- Also keep in mind that asking about certain cards or symbols may prompt other players to ask about those symbols in your hand. There’s the idea of suggestion in deduction games, where sometimes it’s better not to bring something up because that gets your opponents thinking about it, which might lead them to investigate that a bit more. Is it strategically sound to completely avoid it? No, you need that information sooner or later. But it’s something interesting to watch for. Who is doing that? Who isn’t? Can you glean things from that?
- You may want to mark your sheet with what you know and what you suspect, or what you’ve seen from opponents’ hands. You should be able to pretty quickly eliminate certain factors. For instance, if you have all of one symbol and asking about it leads nobody to raise their hands, that symbol is on the Culprit card. Conversely, however, if an opponent asks about it and nobody raises their hand, they might have all of those symbols and are trying to throw players off. It’s a half-decent idea, so try and track what you’ve seen and what you think you might know about opponents’ hands just from what they’re asking and what other players are saying.
- I tend to cross out names on my sheet once I’ve seen the card. That prevents any confusion, on my end, and as you can tell from my many foibles in this Strategy section, there’s a lot of confusion on my end.
- For the Advanced Game, keep in mind that players’ hands might change between turns. This is a pretty interesting problem, since a player might answer a question one way and then, next turn, completely different. It’s worth trying to track what cards you might think are where, just based on their answers, so you can get a sense of the cycles, if you can.
- In a two-player game, you can choose which card you can play face-up; try to choose the least helpful one. I usually try to play a card that gives them very little information (usually because I have other cards with duplicate information in my hand, so they’re not especially sure what information may be on the Culprit card). Try not to play cards face-up that you don’t have some symbol overlap with; you might be giving them the last piece of information they need to guess correctly!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I appreciate that Sherlock Holmes can be the culprit; that makes me laugh. There are plenty of games where Sherlock solves crimes and not nearly enough where he’s committing them. I’m just saying, let Sherlock be free of the chains of expectations and become a horrible crime man. It’s possible, and this game lets him do that. Naturally, he’s immediately caught, but, you know, crime doesn’t pay and all that.
- The art style is very nice! Vincent Dutrait does very well in his art work. I do love Vincent Dutrait’s art, and it pops here, both with the characters and their backgrounds.
- The Clue sheets are very easy to use, which is nice. Easy to use when you use them correctly, at least, I say with a bit of sardonic melancholy. But my own mistakes aside, they’re pretty informative and they present all the information you need to play the game correctly.
- I appreciate that you still get information even when it’s not your turn. I find that helps keep players engaged and paying attention since they’re always in it, to some degree. Granted, the information you may get on your turn might be completely irrelevant (depending on the cards in your hand), but it’s still a nice way to keep players focused on the game and not tuning out, which can happen if they’re not participating as much.
- There’s the fun tension where you’re pretty sure you have to guess because you might not get another turn; always amusing. I really like that in some deduction games. You’ve narrowed it down to three options, but you know the player after you knows it. So you have an uncomfortable choice. Do you guess, even though you have a < 50% chance of getting it right? Or do you just hope that they don’t know the correct answer and get it wrong when it counts? I’m more of a guesser, myself, but I think this game sets you up nicely for that, given how small the decision space is.
- There’s also an interesting tension where you’re not exactly sure what other players don’t know, so you might get a mistaken sense of what’s common knowledge. You know all the cards in your hand, but your opponents don’t know what’s in your hand, necessarily. This means that you might start stressing about them guessing correctly, when they still only have things narrowed down to a few options. Similarly, you can try and exploit that to send your opponents down the wrong path (or at least waste a critical turn or two).
- The game’s very easy to reset and play again. It’s only thirteen cards; you just shuffle and deal them out. The clue sheets, yes, take a second to tear off and deal out, but I’d hardly call it an arduous setup process.
- Some of the games can be pretty short, depending on how the hands are dealt and what questions get asked. I’ve seen a game finish up in one round. A player got all the cards they needed, asked the right question, knew exactly which symbol was missing from where, and guessed it on their next turn. It can go down like that. Not my favorite outcome, granted, but a completely possible one.
- I definitely realized how little I know about the larger Sherlock Holmes universe; I didn’t recognize about 30% of these people. There are a lot of inspectors. I think a few guys are villains? I’m not sure; this is where my houisemate tells me I need to start watching Elementary, which I probably will do in the near future. Is it on streaming? I guess it’s on Hulu; I’ll look into that later.
- Given the reimagining of Sherlock Holmes and the larger cast in recent years, it does feel like a missed opportunity to diversify / modernize the cast in the game. Like, I don’t particularly mind a very-standard interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, but it would have been really cool if they had done something fun or novel with it. As it currently stands, it’s fine, but it feels like there was an opportunity to help the game stand out a bit more if they had taken more risks with the character design. A solid third of the cast are Inspectors, for instance; even that’s a bit boring.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Sherlock 13! I think it’s probably a bit lighter than my standard fare, especially in the deduction space, but it’s an entertaining and quick diversion between games. Sherlock Holmes is not usually my favorite theme, but Vincent Dutrait’s art does help tip the scale a bit more towards favorable. I think I might have leaned more favorably if there was a more diverse cast, but, you can’t have everything, I suppose. Sherlock 13 does a number of things well, though! I appreciate that the clue sheet is laid out in a way that lets players use their own tracking structure for figuring out information (and information they only suspect but haven’t been able to confirm). The sheet also confirms what cards are in play and their symbols (which is very helpful; my memory is only so-so lately). This makes it pretty easy to just quickly jot down notes as you play. I think my favorite part of the game is that Sherlock Holmes himself can be the culprit, mostly because it’s just a funny quirk of play. I could imagine a version of this game where you’re helping Sherlock identify the culprit, and while that’s fine and all, I feel like that’s half of the Sherlock Holmes games out there, so at least offering up the opportunity for Sherlock to have done some crimes feels fair to a fictional character. Besides, he’s fully in the public domain now; you can do whatever you want. The Advanced Rules and two-player rules add some nice wrinkles to the game to allow it to be more complex deduction (or a nice two-player deduction, which I appreciate) experience, as well. If you’re up for a quick bit of deduction, you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes games, or you just enjoy the occasional interrogation, you might enjoy Sherlock 13, as well!
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