With this week’s new release, Watson & Holmes, Asmodee returns us to the world of that famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. Recently, Jack The Ripper & West End Adventures also brought us some new cases to solve alongside Sherlock. But that game works more as a cooperative choose-your-own adventure for grown ups than as a competitive board game. Watson & Holmes takes us in a whole different direction.
In Watson & Holmes, 2-7 players will compete to be the first to correctly solve each case (13 in all). Players will travel from location to location, searching for clues and leaving roadblocks in the form of police tokens to slow down their rivals. If players wish to get into these blocked locations, they’ll need lock picks to sneak in or use whistles to draw the police away.
Locations are represented by cards, on to which players will take turns placing their pawns. If multiple players wish to go to the same location, they will have to bid using carriage tokens which represent how fast you got there. Players start the game with 10 carriage tokens and one police token each, but they can acquire more during the game as needed by visiting certain locations or using a character’s ability.
Once all players’ pawns have been placed on locations, each player may take their location card and read it secretly, taking notes and logging clues. If a player has taken the Watson card during the round, she can force another player to read that player’s card text out loud so that everyone can hear. Once all players have taken notes, cards are replaced and the next round begins. If at any time a player thinks they know the solution to the crime, they place their pawn on the 221B card, then they write their answers to the case questions, which were presented at the beginning of the case. They compare their answer to the one that is on the 221B card, and if they are correct, the game is over. If they are not, then they announce how many answers (but not which ones) they got correct, if any, and then they are eliminated. The remaining players continue on until either someone gets all the questions right, or everyone gets them wrong, which ends the game in a draw.
My group of four players tried the first case. The first player who thought he knew the solution got 1 out of 3 correct. The rest of us (including me) got 2 out of 3 correct, so we ended in (mutual) failure. However, to the game’s credit, when we heard the actual solution we all thought the answers fair, with no one to blame but ourselves for failing to solve the mystery. Watson & Holmes left us wanting to try another case – we had a fever, and the only cure was more heroin, err, I mean Watson & Holmes! I love the way the game takes all the cool stuff that I love about Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (pursuing leads and formulating case theories) and streamlines it in a way that serves a multi-player, competitive format. The location cards contain enough info, but not so much as to bog you down with analysis paralysis. I like that the mechanics of moving around and placing tokens are simple, but with enough choices to involve some “gaming” strategy. Finally, I like that the story of the case made sense and felt like it existed in a living, breathing, world in which the players existed. The whole thing was quite immersive, and that is where decent games get elevated to great games, in my humble opinion.
In the end, Watson & Holmes makes a fine addition to line of Holmesian tabletop gaming lore. I cannot wait to try out the rest of the cases. The game’s streamlined and thematic design will make it easy to get most anyone interested in playing, gamers and non-gamers alike. Once again, Asmodee has a winner in Watson & Holmes. Get it. Thanks for reading, and keep nerding on.