With the BBC producing a truly wonderful version of the Sherlock Holmes mythos (helped in no small part by having Stephen Moffat at the helm – all bow now), there’s little wonder that there’s new Sherlock stuff popping up. We gave Emma a copy of I Say, Holmes! from Victory Point Games, a remake of an original 2007 release – and… well… read for yourself.
When I got my copy of I Say, Holmes!, the new release from noted pizza-box-manufacturers Victory Point Games, I’ll confess, I was intrigued. We live in an age of rather good Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but it’s not really a theme you see much in games, so I was interested to see how it would pan out. The shine started to fade when I got it out of the box, though – the cards feel cheap and the printing’s misaligned, which I can kind of understand given VPG’s emphasis on gameplay over production values, but when the first page of your rulebook claims that the game is based on the works of “Sir Author Conan Doyle [sic]”, it’s gone a bit far. Seriously, guys – even if you just get your proofreading done in-house, you should still get it done, or it just gives your players a terrible first impression. Still, I’ll forgive a lot if the game itself is good, so let’s get past the slightly dodgy components and into the gameplay proper.
I Say, Holmes! does a good job of simulating all the classic action we remember from the Holmes novels, like chasing criminals, flaunting your deductive skills, and…riding hansom cabs in circles for hours? We all remember that bit, right? In any case, it’s a simple game at heart – you take turns playing cards featuring characters, locations and events from the Holmes stories, and each one has a few types of card listed on it that can follow it. So far, so Uno. Your ultimate aim is to work out who’s got the five Villain cards (which can’t be played, but just sit in your hand looking menacing) and eventually arrest them, either by playing an Arrest card or running out of cards in your hand, forcing you to make an impromptu arrest. Alternatively, if you have any Villains, you can end the round by running out of non-Villain cards, at which point they escape and you get a handful of points. If the round ends with an arrest, depending on how many points’ worth of cards are in everybody’s hands, the winning player gets one of several tokens representing Holmes’ various adventures, and the game ends when somebody is forced to take the lowest-value token, His Last Bow. This is an interesting little system, but it means the game could be over in a round or two if people aren’t particularly good at the game.
On the other hand, it could conceivably never end – rounds that end with Villains escaping don’t get you a book, so if players are cagey enough, there could never be any arrests and the books could last forever. Still, simple rules, possible balance issues, interesting theme – sounds like a perfect party game, right? Well, it might have been, except for its issues with time. While the number of rounds could be surprisingly large, that doesn’t seem like it’d be too bad given that the rulebook says each round should only take 5-10 minutes. To be quite honest, though, I have literally no idea how they arrived at that number, as every round I played came to at least half an hour, and we abandoned the game after like three rounds had taken us a full two hours. The setup takes forever, with it being necessary to sort through the entire 100-something card deck for a specific set of starting cards at the start of every single round, and all too often, rounds turn into an endless refrain of everybody just drawing cards until the right kind of thing turns up and we can actually get back to the game. This is most noticeable with the aforementioned hansom cabs – if somebody plays a Travel card (which comprise like a third of the deck), the only kind of cards playable off it are Locations, which seem oddly under-represented, and the game grinds to a halt as everybody takes turn drawing cards until one turns up. Combined with this, there are only 5 (!) Arrest cards in the entire deck, and at least that many cards that can cancel an Arrest, so everybody’s just waiting to run out of cards, which can take what feels like forever when you’re constantly drawing to try and get off a train.
If you’re getting the sense that there isn’t much player agency in this one, you’d be entirely correct – throughout the game, it just felt like all I was doing was drawing cards until I could find the one appropriate one I could play, without really making any meaningful choices. Again, that wouldn’t necessarily be so bad in a light little party game, but this needs a surprisingly large time investment, completely destroying its party-game credentials. Overall, I Say, Holmes! is kind of a bloated, unfun mess, and I can’t really recommend it to anyone, but for some reason, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt. There’s the grain of a good game in there, and I’m trying to believe that I’ve just read the rulebook wrong and the terrible game I played was my own fault, but I honestly can’t see how that could be the case. One to avoid, and my copy isn’t hanging around.
OK, so Emma may not have enjoyed it, but we only serve to inform here at LMDS, not order you about! Victory Point Games can be found at http://www.victorypointgames.com/ (shockingly enough), so head on over and see some of the stuff they do!