The Game is Afoot! A dastardly murder has been committed, and Scotland Yard’s finest are on the case. Sadly, they may not be able to solve this mystery alone, and it’s up to you and your companions to solve the case before Sherlock Holmes can get there.
Beyond Baker Street is a cooperative game for 2-4 crime-fighters, in which you pit your powers of deduction against the greatest detective of them all.
So what’s in the box? A few crimes and plenty of Evidence.
It’s obvious from the moment you open up the Beyond Baker Street box, that you have a well-finished, very aesthetically pleasing game. All the components are good quality and there is a consistent art-style, developed down to a remarkable level of detail. That said, for £30, you might be surprised to find the box so small, and comparatively empty: you have a board, 4 wooden markers and a deck of cards, which can be divided into “Leads” (motives, suspects, and opportunities), “Case Files” (which set the game’s difficulty), “Evidence” (the cards you actually play on your turns) and “Characters” (which add depth and vary the difficulty of the game.)
So how do we solve the case?
To win a game of Beyond Baker Street, you and your fellow sleuths will need to solve the crime before Sherlock Holmes does. Solving a case is accomplished by completing two tasks. Firstly, you need to get the evidence track to 20 – on your turn, you can discard cards, face-up to the “impossible” pile and advance the evidence marker by a number of spaces corresponding to the value of the card (between 1 and 6). Secondly, you need to “confirm” 3 leads: the Suspect, Motive, and Opportunity, which is done by placing cards below the lead ( also being the same colour as the lead) and adding up to the number shown on the lead card. Once this has been done, a player can take an action to add a “confirm” token, marking the lead as solved, and moving the Sherlock marker back a space on his track.
Ready to go? Take my advice first!!
Sounds simple? Well it would be, if you could see your own cards.
Unfortunately for the players, the big twist of Beyond Baker Street is that you cannot look at your own cards. You will have a hand of cards (4-6, depending on the player-count), and may only play cards from your own hand, but the only cards you can see, are those in the hands of others.
You could guess which cards you wanted to play, and where, but that’s a dangerous strategy. If the evidence marker goes past 20 – the players lose. If you play evidence of the wrong colour next to a lead, instead of counting toward the required total, it adds to the number you need to reach. If your evidence exceeds the value of the lead, then the lead will be discarded – gone entirely! If you put cards into the impossible pile beyond the limit defined by the game, the Holmes marker will advance one space, bringing you closer to defeat.
Suddenly taking a blind guess doesn’t look like such a clever idea.
In order to make playing cards be anything more than Russian Roulette, you’ll need to give and receive advice. This is the heart of Beyond Baker Street. On your turn, you can use your action to tell another player something about the cards in their hand: identifying all the cards of a particular colour OR number value that they hold – you can’t do both, and you can’t omit cards (i.e. if a player has 2 sixes, you can’t just point at one of them and say “this is a six”)
With enough advice given, players will be able to identify the cards in their hand fairly confidently. Then play them on the correct piles – however, every time you assist another player in this way, the Holmes marker will advance a space, and once it reaches zero, the players lose. This means that you need to think strategically about what information you give, considering carefully what can be inferred from what you say. As I say, the hidden cards plus advice is the heart of Beyond Baker Street, making it the most distinctive, and the most fun part of the game – you simply don’t have the scope (unless you’re playing the easiest version of the game AND you get lucky) to identify every card in a player’s hand, so you need to be strategic with what you say. It can take a game or two to get used to the ideas, but once you do, it’s really good fun.
Whilst I say that the hidden cards / advice mechanic is the key distinctive thing about Beyond Baker Street, I do need to acknowledge one other game out there, Hanabi. In a slightly more abstract fashion, Hanabi gives players a similar challenge: playing cards correctly despite only knowing about the hands of others. As Tom Vassell noted in his review of Beyond Baker Street, it’s rather surprising that the designers don’t include the makers of Hanabi in the credits (we’ll leave it to the lawyers as to whether it’s anything more than “surprising”). Personally, I’ve only played Hanabi the once, and I think Beyond Baker Street is the better option: for one thing, you have slightly varied objectives, rather than always trying to just get the numbers 1-5 in a row. On top of that, even though Hanabi is about putting together a firework display, and comes with coloured cards to represent the explosions, I think that Beyond Baker Street looks nicer. Overall the new game gets my vote, with a theme that seems more fitting and generally helps the game feel a little less abstract. However, the two games aren’t that different, so if you’ve already got Hanabi, you might want to consider your options before getting something so similar.
Adding a little character!
Although not an essential part of the game (the rules suggest leaving them out for your first play-through), a large part of the longevity of Beyond Baker Street, will come from the character cards. Rather than being a generic sleuth of the late 19th Century, players can take on the identities of a named individual from the works of Conan Doyle: depending on your preferences, you can take on the role of Inspector Lestrade, Toby the dog, or the future Mrs Watson: Mary Morstan, any of whom have abilities which make the game easier, or you could be a less-talented figure from the ranks of the constabulary whose character powers are limitations designed to make the game harder.
I think the character cards are a great addition to this game (there is no equivalent to the character cards in Hanabi). Each character has a 2-line biography at the back of the rulebook, and this is one of the points in the game where the theme and mechanic mesh together most closely. A lot of the characters are familiar from the assorted tales of Sherlock Holmes, which offers some added appeal if you’re trying to engage a reader in this game.
Is it hard enough? If you want!
For such a simple game, Beyond Baker Street offers a remarkable amount of opportunity for you to tailor the difficulty of the game.
In the first instance, this comes from the six Case files, which dictate the starting position of the Holmes marker (thereby limiting the number of actions you can take before he reaches zero), and the number of cards that can be in the impossible pile (again, hastening Holmes’ advance). On top of this, the character cards each have a rating of 1-4 pipes, showing how much they aid or hinder the players, and you can define how you select the roles, and/or limit the pool to tweak things as you prefer. For example, in our early games, once we’d grasped the basic mechanic, we went up to case file 2 or 3, then shuffled all the 2-4 pipe characters and dealt each player one at random – this still provides a fairly easy option, but with a little bit of unpredictability.
The ability to tailor the difficulty gives Beyond Baker Street a definite edge over something like Hanabi. However, there is still definitely a random element to Beyond Baker Street.
If you start with the top set of leads, you’ll probably want to get rid of one – but the bottom set is no better
Having two or more of the leads come of the same colour can make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach the required pursuit total. Whilst you can take an action to discard the lead in favour of a new one, doing so will both fill up the Impossible pile and you could easily reveal another lead whose colour is already in use.
In many respects, this is a weakness that I feel the game would have been better off without – that said though, eliminating a duplicate lead will often be your first action of the game. So if you do get completely thwarted by a bad set-up, you will probably know early enough to stop and start the game again.
Art for art’s sake.
As I’ve already noted, the graphic design on Beyond Baker Street is beautiful and the detail on individual cards is intricate: each evidence card will have small fragments of evidence depicted, with hand-scrawled notes from one of the amateur detectives involved. The trouble with this is, as you will only be looking at the back of the cards, much of this detail goes to waste. Your team-mates are unlikely to focus on anything more than the colour and number of the card, and these are the only aspects of it which have a game-play aspect.
It would be foolish to wish that Beyond Baker Street was uglier, but having gone to such lengths to make it look nice, it seems a shame that so much of the detail will go unnoticed – this also ties in somewhat to the point made earlier about the Beyond Baker Street box feeling like it doesn’t contain all that much for the money – there’s a frustration in thinking that with slightly plainer cards they could have knocked a fiver off the price.
Beyond Baker Street: the Verdict!!
Overall, for anyone who doesn’t own Hanabi and likes cooperative games, I’d definitely recommend picking up Beyond Baker Street if you can. It’s a fun game, it looks beautiful and it plays quickly, with the rules being easy to grasp after a first run-through and strategy coming with time. There’s a lot of scope to vary the difficulty to suit your group and it doesn’t feel like it would lack replay-ability.
If you do own Hanabi, you might find the price-tag for Beyond Baker Street a bit much to stomach for something not-so-new. You do get more for your extra money, but it might not be enough for that double-purchase. It’s also worth remembering that, as well as being a good game, this ties well into the Sherlock Holmes theme, so if you’re a fan of that, it could be worth getting (NB: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are not included).
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.