Sherlock Holmes The Card Game was initially released in 1991. Flash forward to 2014 and Gibson released the 2nd edition in a sleek box with colourful cards. Players take on the role of detectives and villains and bluff their way through London in a quick paced card game where scoring points will leave you in last place.
To Begin At The Beginning
Setting up Sherlock Holmes The Card Game can be lengthy as it takes a lot of deck separating and reshuffling. To begin the dealer must find the 4 villain cards and the game is afoot card and separates them from the main deck. Players are then dealt 6 cards each which include the game is afoot card and 1 random villain. The remaining villain cards are shuffled back into the main deck. This becomes the draw pile.
This process is repeated at the end of each round. With 108 cards, it can be quite a handful! It is by no means the longest setup for a game but because you have to do it 6 times it does feel like you’re shuffling for ages.
The Game Is Afoot
Whoever has the game is afoot card starts the round. After, players must play a card shown on the previous card. For example, the game is afoot card will only let the next player place a transportation card such as the hansom, train, or thick fog. If players cannot play the card needed, they must pick it up from the deck.
The aim of the game is to find the villain card or if you have a villain card to escape. Players must try and deduce who has the villain card and then arrest them. Arrests can only be done if a player has an arrest card, and it is able to be played. The deck also contains detectives who can do this too. On the flip side, the villain must get rid of all their cards leaving their villain card till last. If they manage this, they escape. Villains can try and pawn their card off on another by using thick fog, alibi or the Mycroft card.
As you may have gathered, there are a lot of cards that all do a lot of different things. It can be confusing to teach to new players as they get overwhelmed with each nuance. However, the game does come with 4 handy reference guides. Although reading these can slow down an otherwise pacy game.
As you go round the table and play cards, you’re trying to make sure you come out with the lowest score. This means you want to play cards which have the highest score or catch the villain. If a player successfully arrests a villain, they will get the villain’s score deducted from their points and the villain will have this score added to their total. Alternatively, if the villain escapes, they will get this score deducted.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with the gameplay when you start to master it. As it is a card drawing game, your strategy is always aided or hindered by an element of luck. Still, you can play around with the card abilities and make sure you stop other players from getting rid of their hand.
Elementary, My Dear Watson
To win the game, players must get the lowest score. All cards left in your hand at the end of a round are tallied up. Catching villains becomes a priority as arresting a villain will give you a hefty minus to your score which always helps. If you have a villain card in your hand at the end and you remained undetected, you do not add this score to your total.
Therefore, throughout the game, you want to get rid of your cards as fast as possible and not pick up. Easier said than done. The card abilities stop players from a quick victory as they force others to pick up and the telegram card adds 10 points to the person’s score sitting next to you. This is a particular nasty card but balances gameplay.
After 6 rounds are over, the player with the lowest overall score wins! Though, not happy with your score? You can always ask for a seventh round.
You See, But You Do Not Observe
This game is beautifully packaged. For a card game, the box is rather oversized but still portable. The box is finished with a black gloss and the cards are of great stock. The illustrations by Sidney Paget are fantastic and the vibrant colour scheme really brings this card game to life on the table.
The cards are colour coded to make the game easier to learn. However, this doesn’t always help. At the bottom of the cards, a selection of coloured boxes is shown to indicate which cards players can play. If you see a blue box, you assume you can play any transport card. Wrong! Depending on which location you’re in depends on the method you can use. The colour coding doesn’t tell you all this, which can cause confusion and arguments with the rule book. It’s a nifty idea to colour code the cards but just remember to read the small print.
The game also comes with a large plain notepad for players to work out scores. The notepad isn’t anything special and a smaller one would have decreased the box size but it's nothing to scoff at. With 108 cards there is variance to be had each game.
Sherlock Holmes The Card Game is authentically illustrated, and the vibrant cards make the experience fun and inviting. It’s an entertaining party game but doesn’t play so well with 3, its lowest player count. Rounds can be short or super long depending on the luck of the draw. Players can choose how many rounds they wish to play but 6 is the ultimate sweet spot.
Despite its amazing thematic ties, this game feels like a jazzed-up version of Hearts and any theme could be skinned on top. There is an element of who’s the villain but when arresting or suspecting the acts feel trivial. Most of the time you suspect people you know aren’t the villain, just so you can force them to pick up cards. Afterall, you want the lowest score, so loading players up with cards is always beneficial.
This game isn’t what you would expect from a Sherlock title. There is no mystery to solve or enigma to crack. Instead, players are engaged in quick fire cards which are dressed up as everyone's favourite detective. What are you waiting for, the game is afoot!