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Year Published: 1975
Publisher: Gibson Games
Genre: Detective Board Game
As geeky as this is to admit, I absolutely love Sherlock Holmes! After having read a short story in the detective series by Arthur Conan Doyle when I was studying GCSE English, I was surprised to discover that I was a fan. Many years later I purchased a book of 'Sherlock Holmes' short stories, which I then lent to my mum and converted her also.
As this review suggests, our family have also always been something of a board game family, being quite competitive about 'Monopoly', 'Cluedo' and the like. Consequently, when I noticed a couple of years ago a 'Sherlock Holmes' board game, I was thrilled! I knew instantly that this was the perfect Christmas present for my mum so I purchased it straight away, wrapped it up excitedly and put it under the tree until Christmas day, when I handed it to my equally thrilled mum.
We played the game as soon as we got the opportunity and, happily, neither of us was disappointed with it (although we were pretty rubbish at it at first!). In fact to this day my mum actually cites this as one of the best Christmas presents she has ever received! Easily pleased? Perhaps. But it is still a pretty great game!
WHAT IS 221B BAKER STREET?
221b Baker Street is a detective game that pays homage to Arthur Conan Doyle's popular series of short stories and novels about Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson. The game is basically a cross between 'Cluedo' and a crossword puzzle, with each player taking on the role of Holmes and using their powers of deduction to solve intriguing and complex cases by visiting various locations around London (not literally, of course) and picking up cryptic clues.
HOW TO PLAY
At the beginning of the game, each player must choose their playing piece from a selection of coloured, mini, plastic Sherlock Holmes figurines, and then place it at 221b Baker Street, which is the starting and finishing point for each game.
Each player must then be given a 'key' card (the rest are then stored at the Locksmiths), a 'lock' card (the rest of which are stored at Scotland Yard) and a Solution Checklist.
Once everything has been allocated, a case card is then chosen from a pack of forty and read out. These cards tell you the storyline of the case you are to solve, in varying detail.
Although the level of detail initially given is different with each case, some of the things which may be detailed on the case cards are the background of what has happened so far (what crime has been committed), what evidence has been collected, who has been arrested or suspected (if anyone), what characters are involved (and their many complex relationships and motives), and any key locations which were involved in this case.
It is important to bear in mind that some of these details will be actual clues while some will be red herrings to lead you off the scent.
The intriguing cases, which were written by professional mystery writers and which adhere closely to the atmosphere and themes of a Holmes story, are numbered from one to forty. I believe you can play them in any order you like, but we have always played them in chronological order so far, to keep track.
At the end of each case card, there will be a list of the things which you - as Holmes - are required to solve. Depending on the case there may be only a couple of things to solve or there may be several (the maximum is six), but some things you may have to solve to win the game are, for example, who the criminal is, what their motive was, what they used as a murder weapon, where they hid the jewellery they stole, etc, etc. The solutions you are looking for are as diverse as the cases but will be listed at the end of each card for you to make a note of on your Solution Checklist.
Once you are fully acquainted with the characteristics and background of the case (it is recommended you read the case twice out loud before beginning, but you can refer back to it at any time) you can begin your attempt to solve the crime.
By throwing the dice and moving around the board (or taking a Hansom Cab to any location if you drop by the Carriage Depot) you will begin to pick up various clues to help you solve the case.
There are 15 locations in total on the game board. Some of these locations have special features, which are listed below. Also some of the locations may be more pertinent to the case you are solving than others (for instance, if a murder took place at the hotel, you will inevitably get a bigger, more revealing clue at the hotel than you will in other places).
You can choose to travel to the places in any order you like - whether you decide to visit the places that are listed on the case card first or head to the places that are nearest is up to you. As a side note, some locations will occasionally have no clues there once you get to them, so it's up to you to do your best poker face and not let on to the other players if you encounter one of these!
The locations are as follows:
* Boar's Head
* Carriage Depot - from here you can get a Hansom Cab, meaning that you can move to any location on the board you like as one turn
* Locksmith - the key cards (to be discussed below) are kept at the locksmith. You can pick one up whenever you are here, although you are only allowed to have one key card at any time.
* Scotland Yard - the lock cards (to be discussed below) are kept at Scotland Yard. You can pick one up whenever you are here, although you are only allowed to have one lock card at any time.
* 221b Baker Street - there are no clues found at this location. However, this is where you start each game and also the place you must return to to make your guess when you think you have solved the case.
When a player arrives at a location, they must consult the case card to find the corresponding number for the clue at that location. They must then look up that number in the 'Rules, Clues and Solutions' booklet to find their clue. They can then make a note of the clue next to the location on their Solution Checklist.
Some "clues" will be red herrings, while some will be actual clues to the case. Some clues will be vague and refer to the entire case, while some clues will be more specific and relate to the solution of one aspect of the case only (eg. the murder weapon).
Also, some clues will provide factual information; hints and/or background information to the case which you must deduce answers from. Others, however, will be given in a cryptic crossword style, giving you a clue that, once you have worked out, will reveal the answer to one (or part of one) of the solutions
THE KEY AND LOCK CARDS
Each player starts the game with one of these cards. They can pick up more as they move around the board, but they can only ever have one of each at one time.
With the lock cards, players are able to close off any location by putting their card down over the location's entrance (providing nobody is inside) as they leave it. Once an entrance is locked off, nobody can enter it without using their key card, which should be placed over the lock to nullify its effects. Both cards should then be restored to the Locksmith and Scotland Yard, and the place is free to enter again.
It is worth noting, however, that some places have more than one entrance, meaning that they are more difficult to close off. Players are also not allowed to close off the Carriage Depot, Locksmith, Scotland Yard or 221b Baker Street. However, these cards can be useful for either closing off a location with a particularly good clue, or closing off locations with no clues as a bit of a double bluff to other players.
WINNING THE GAME
Once a player thinks they have found a solution to all the elements of the crime they are required to solve, they should try to get back to 221b Baker Street before any other player. The first person to get back to 221b Baker Street and solve all parts of the crime accurately (the correct solutions are listed in the back of the 'Rules, Clues and Solutions' booklet) is the winner.
WHAT I LIKED
One of the best things about this game is that the cases are often quite intriguing and are generally very well written. You can tell with most of the cases that they are written by professional mystery writers as they are intriguing, interesting and complex cases - often with a number of different possibilities and suspects and an abundance of colourful characters - yet the background stories are also simple enough to get the general gist of (after a few reads).
The cases, clues and techniques required to solve the cases are also incredibly diverse. In some games you may need to solve lots of crossword style clues, while in others you may be piecing the case together based on background information, and in others still you may be solving secret codes to find the solution. Every case is different which makes the game more interesting and fun.
Basically there is a lot to this game, which makes it a good step up for fans of 'Cluedo' who fancy a longer game with more complexities, clues and more of a storyline. It is also the perfect mix of luck and skill, which makes it easy to follow yet satisfying to play (and win!). I am not really a fan of games which require no skill at all (not least because I like to gloat somewhat on winning!) so I liked that there is an aspect of skill involved in this game. For instance, although it is quite "lucky" if you find the right places to go first, quite a few times when I have played, all the players (including myself) have made it round every location but are still completely flummoxed about the case, as it also takes skill to crack the case.
As a big 'Sherlock Holmes' fan, I also like the authenticity of the game. I love the locations listed, the mention of Hansom Cabs, the language used in the booklets and on the case cards (each card ends with the sentence 'The Game is Afoot' and the losers are referred to as "Watsons"!) and the intricacies of each case.
Because one of my favourite aspects of the game is the Sherlock style deducing of clues, I also love the cases where the clues are mostly given to you as factual information, revealing hints and background information which you then must relate to the case. I prefer these types of clues to the crossword ones as they are harder to deduce, require a lot more skill and seem more relevant to a Sherlock Holmes style game.
I also love that there are red herrings scattered around so that you have to actually use your powers of deduction (a la Sherlock) quite frequently. You really have to get into a Sherlock frame of mind in order to solve the cases, which makes the game more fun and authentic.
WHAT I DISLIKED
Although I absolutely love this game, one of the things that lets it down a bit is that, while most cases are intriguing, intricate and well thought out, occasionally you come across a case that is bit, well, rubbish. The background of the case is sketchy, the clues are easy to decipher, and when you reach the end it merely gives you one word solutions without any real explanations. Although these cases are rare, they do pop up so often and are just not as satisfying to solve.
Also, there are a lot more crossword style clues in the cases than personally I would prefer. Although these are still fun to work out, I prefer the factual clues as, as I mentioned earlier, I think they are more authentic (I don't remember Sherlock ever being given his clues in a crossword form!) and also, in a lot of cases, you need quite extensive general knowledge (which I don't have) to solve the crossword clues, meaning that often I simply can't solve the case because I don't understand the meaning of a word in one of the clues or something! However, the types of clues given are mixed up enough for this not to have ruined many cases in this way for me.
Another minor problem with this game is that the board is really hard to get around quickly. The locations are all quite far apart, there is only one Carriage Depot (from which you can take a Hansom Cab) and there is only one dice used in the game. Consequently, you spend an awful lot of time between locations, and, especially when there are a few people playing, turns and turns can go past without anybody looking at a clue. To counteract this, however, my mum and I have implemented the "double six" rule you encounter in many games, where you get another go if you throw a double six, and this helps to speed up the game a little bit.
Because of the distance of the locations, however, I also found that the key and lock cards were not a very useful feature with only two players. Because there are only two people playing, if one of you locks up a location, the other one can easily unlock it with their key, and it will take the first player so long to get to Scotland Yard for another lock that in the end it is not really worth doing! This feature of the game is consequently often something that is neglected when we are playing as just two players, however I think it would be a fun aspect if there were more players involved.
Aside from any features of game play, however, one thing that is undoubtedly a disadvantage of 221b Baker Street is the longevity of the game (or the expense if you wish to make it longer!). Unlike with most board games, you can generally only get a limited number of games out of this game, simply because the game only includes 40 cases.
I suppose if you don't play the game very often, or if you don't have a very good memory, this is no problem as you can simply repeat the cases once you have finished the pack, but as I have quite a good memory this is no good for me. The good thing is that once you have finished the 40 case cards provided there are a further 180 cases available (sold in groups of 20 cases), however, as these are no longer being produced, they are quite hard to get hold of and are quite expensive also. The pack I bought I got from ebay and it cost about £25, which is quite a lot for only 20 cases!
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
This game is available from a few online games stores and is also generally up for sale somewhere on ebay, however I purchased my game from amazon, where it is currently on sale for £17.95.
RECOMENDED FOR: Fans of 'Cluedo', cryptic crosswords and/or 'Sherlock Holmes'.
MARKS OUT OF 10 FOR:
STORYLINES - 9
ADDICTIVENESS - 8
FUN - 9
SKILL INVOLVED - 8
INNOVATIVENESS - 8
LENGTH OF SINGLE GAME - 8
LONGEVITY OF PRODUCT - 5
OVERALL GAME - 8
My father had this game and for many years as I was growing up, I was desperate to play and win it! I loved (still do!) Cludeo, and this was a challenge above it.
Regardless of whether or not you like Sherlock Holmes, if you like Cludeo style games, this is for you.
You start the game as Sherlock Holmes (represented by a plastic head bust of the man himself, with pipe...although many years ago in our family we decided to remove the flimsy plastic pipes and it became a non-smoking game!!), at 221b Baker Street. A mystery is read out to everyone - someone has been murdered, or something stolen. Unlike Cluedo where traditionally you have to discover 3 things - the murderer, the murder weapon, and where it took place - in 221b Baker Street it purely depends on the case you have to solve. You may have to discover who the thief is, where he/she's hidden the item, and how they got away, or maybe who the murderer is, their motive, the murder weapon, time of day the murder was committed... it's different every time!
You travel around the board visiting a variety of locations - the locksmith, the park, Scotland yard, etc. At each location you use the case card to discover the number key for the clue for that location. So for example, it might say "Locksmith - 321". You can then proceed to look up clue number 321 in the case book that accompanies the game. Be warned however, that not only can the clue sometimes only be PART of the overall answer, but they can also be quite difficult!
Once you think you've discovered all the answers required for the case, rush back to 221b Baker Street to see if you're right!
More of a challenge than Cluedo - a great way to get those grey little cells working (oops, that's Poirot isn't it...).
There are many many case cards, so there's no danger in running out of cases even with regular play!
Difficult for children and young teens (and some adults!)
Even now, at 28, I am yet to win at this game! However, I love playing it, and hope to continue playing it for many years to come!
Should you be lucky enough to be spending some time over the festive season with your loved ones, and the cry goes up "There's nothing on the tele!" then no doubt you will be racking your brains to find something to keep everyone entertained.
Traditional parlour games, board games, card games etc are a great stand-by for when the kids and/or in-laws are getting fractious. We all have our favourites and I'd like to introduce you to mine:
THE MASTER DETECTIVE GAME: 221B BAKER STREET: SHERLOCK HOLMES.
Are you a fan of Sherlock Holmes? Do you enjoy using your imagination and skill to detect who-dunnit and with what? If you do, then you will enjoy this board game which can be played with 2-6 people aged 11 years upwards. Just be warned that it's one of those games where people do tend to do a lot of pensive pencil sucking, scribble, munch and slurp, before they look sly and smugly convinced they've cracked the case. A child with a limited attention span will possibly find it a little slow, particularly if they're more used to electronic games. Do try to involve them in a board game like this - not only will it sharpen up their powers of 'deduction', it's a great way to bring the family together and get to know each other again after months of sitting like cabbages in front of the tele or computer games.
The game, made by Gibsons©, is easy to set up, the rules are quite straight forward to grasp, its absorbing, compulsive - good value for money!
Playing board 40 Case cards
1 die Rules
6 tokens* Clue Booklet
8 Scotland Yard cars Answer Booklet
8 Skeleton Key cards Solution Checklist Pad
*Tokens: Depending on the quality of the game purchased, your tokens will either be metal or plastic. The tokens in my game are little plastic things which look like bollards, but when I was last in the States I bought this game for my daughter and her husband and that game had metal tokens in the shape of Sherlock's pipe; Sherlock's Deerstalker hat; Magnifying Glass etc. Much more classy and fun!
You will also find it handy to have: Extra pieces of paper, pens or pencils and a large pot of your favourite tea and a tin of lemon cake. This last is optional, but it's traditional in our family because one can't solve clues on an empty stomach, Holmes!
The Game's Afoot!
The game is easy to set up, very absorbing, quite straight forward to pick up the rules, is compulsive and good value for money!
Play commences by one person reading aloud the facts of the Case to be solved, and the answers required i.e. who committed the crime; their motive; method etc. Each player in turn then moves his token around the board by throw of the die, visiting the various premises depicted in order to pick up clues towards the solution of the Case.
Upon entering any one of the 14 locations (e.g. Museum, Park, Hotel), the players consult the Clues List and read the appropriate clue to themselves. (Warning: You will find yourself following the words on the card with your finger and mouthing silently, like a 5-year-old new reader). The clues are separated into four categories: General, Killer, Motive and Weapon, and each clue can have up to four parts. Each clue gives either factual information or is a cryptic clue, which in itself has to be deciphered before yielding a part of the final answer.
By this means the answers required will emerge with individual clues forming pieces of the "jigsaw puzzle" which is the final solution - who dunnit, how and why, the cad!
Whilst the game demands a level of skill in sifting evidence and interpreting clues, as in real life luck will play a part in determining the ultimate winner. Players may also hinder their opponents by 'sealing' off' premises containing vital information by playing a 'Scotland Yard' card and such premises may only be opened by using a 'Skeleton Key' obtainable from the Locksmiths.
You are entitled to look at the clue which corresponds to the location. This is good, because unless you have a photographic memory, you'd never remember all the clues. One of the most oft repeated phrases in this game is: "Let's just have a look at the back of the card again "
The winner is the first player to return (at any stage of the game) to '221B Baker Street' and announce the correct solution to the case.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PLAY?
Solving a case can take anywhere between 45 mins to well over an hour, depending on how many people are playing. Believe me, once you think you've got it sussed, the adrenalin races as you try to get back to 221B Baker Street so you can reveal your answer. This is where the game of 'chance' comes in because it's possible that someone else will also think they have solved the Case and will be frantically trying to make their way back to base.
HOW HARD/EASY IS IT TO GRASP THE GAME?
I would suggest a 'dry run' the first time you play this game as although it is easier to play once you understand the Rules, there's nothing more frustrating than people insisting "That's not in the Rules!" The instruction book we have has just a little over 3 pages of Rules, the rest being Clues and Case Solutions. You'd be wise to take some time to study the tips on winning the game, because there is no DNA kit provided and the pathology labs are always closed over holiday periods.
There are 40 Cases to solve, and with titles like: 'The Adventure of the Peculiar Charwoman' or 'The Adventure of the Murdered Banker' (another good idea why it's best played stone, cold sober), these should keep you amused for quite some time but I understand there are add-on Cases you can buy.
GOODIE! I LOVE THE SOUND OF THIS! WHERE CAN I GET ONE?
Ah! Now then! I've just checked Amazon and they have it there at £19.00, and Ive just checked ebay and I see there are some there, one at present standing at £2.99! I would also imagine you could get one from one of the larger book stores which also carry board games (Waterstones or Borders for instance). Now is a good time to get them to order one if they're not in stock.
I bought my game off ebay last year for £12 second-hand and I think it'll be in our family for many years to come.
Someone remarked to me that this game sounds something like Cluedo. Ive never played Cluedo, so I cant vouch for that.
When we first played this game it was in the heat of Arizona. But with the vivid descriptions of the crime scenes, set in Victorian London, we could almost taste the smog, hear the ticking of an old grand-father clock, smell Sherlock's pipe and count his muffled tread as he paced the carpet deep in contemplation, so engrossed were we in the Case; each sleuth around the table determined to be the one to solve it.
Thank you for reading.
©Skyedame - Dooyoo 2005