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Subject: Beyond Baker Street Review rss

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Chris Smith
United Kingdom
Solihull
West Midlands
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(Slight change to my usual format, hope its' still a useful review!).

An investigative game sporting a 'hanabi'-esque card mechanic, but with a unique take on the subject and the intrigue of player powers as a bonus.

Components:
- Game Board
- 4 Discs (3 Teal, 1 White)
- 1 Sherlock Head Meeple
- A bunch of Cards

Components for Beyond Baker Street are pretty decent quality, and the board looks fantastic (Despite not really needing to be there, its' still a great addition). One of my cards has a nick in the printing on the back, but Z-Man are going to send out a replacement when they can (Seems the copies at the UK Games Expo were an advance shipment so I have the game before they have replacement components ^^).

I paid £24 for my copy, and while I would typically feel that's quite a lot for such a tiny box, I'm actually quite happy with that for the quality inside - I don't think I'd want to go any higher though.

Gameplay:

In Beyond Baker Street, players attempt to solve one of 6 Case Files (Essentially difficulty settings), by figuring out the 3 leads - Suspect, Motive and Opportunity - before Sherlock can beat them to cracking the case.

The way to achieve this is relatively straightforward. Each of the 3 leads has an Icon and a Target number, for example 'Footprints 11'. To resolve that objective, players must first play Footprints cards adding to 11 onto it's space, at which point a player can spend a turn to 'confirm' it, which retreats Sherlock by one space and helps you on the way to victory. Additionally, players also need to discard some number of cards to 'The Impossible', advancing the 'Investigation Track' by the number on discarded cards - The investigation track must reach exactly 20 before the players can confirm the final lead.

The 'Twist', that anyone whom has played the game 'Hanabi' will recognize, is that players hold their hand of cards facing away from them, and cannot look at them. Players can consult with Sherlock to give their acqaintences information about all their hands of either one icon or one number, but doing so advances Sherlocks own investigations (In the easiest Case, that means ~15 uses, in the hardest, ~8). You are not permitted to identify specific cards, or give multiple pieces of information in a single turn, so need to be smart about what information you give for maximum efficiency.

If players successfully navigate their limitations (Which may be more limited than suggested above, as there are a number of characters players can be each game, some of which limit information further!), getting the Investigation track to 20 then confirming all 3 leads, all before Sherlock beats them to the punch, they win the game, Huzzah!

Personal Opinions - The Good & The Bad.

This is a fantastic game, and I've already got 6 plays in as of my writing this, of which we've won 5, due to only playing the first 2 case files (I keep playing with different people hence resetting the difficulty - Although we've used harder characters throughout). The game is great for breeding "I can't believe we pulled that off" moments where it seems like you don't have enough time to give out clues, but people can deduce more than you might expect to pull off some epic victories. I think that there's great scope to improve our strategies and work better with the information we have as we advance through the case files, and that the game is a good platform for a mini-expansion or two (Characters/Case Files).

I have a couple of minor niggles with the game (That totally don't make it any less fun, but I still want to raise ^^).
- Number of Characters of each Difficulty - I think there's something like 5 'hard', 2 'medium', 6 'easy' and 3 'super-easy' characters. Its' great and all that they're neatly distinguished to help you calibrate difficulty, but why oh why couldn't there be 2 more 'medium' and 1 more 'super-easy' difficulty characters so that you could shuffle the desired difficulty together and deal them out! A promo back with those 3 characters to fill the gaps would be fantastic..
- Case Files aren't really unique - Pretty much all case files do is adjust where Sherlock starts (15 through 8) and 'The Impossible' limit (4 through 1), the latter really just being a delayed version of lowering Sherlocks starting position (Putting more cards into the impossible than the limit just advances Sherlock by 1 Space). It would be cool if they affected some more aspects of the game, like giving a special action to remove a card from a lead, or similar.
- Confirming a case gives a bonus (Sherlock retreats 1 space), but you can't confirm the last case until the investigation track reaches 20, which means it can only ever end the game. Its' just a bit Janky as its' an exception and it means even if you were down to the wire with a victory, Sherlock still finishes at space '2' (Which just seems odd). I think gaining the retreat sherlock bonus the moment you reach the numeric target instead might be more fun.

Comparisons with Hanabi:

So, seeing as the impression I got about the game before picking it up was that "Its' basically Hanabi with a Sherlock Holmes theme", I felt like I should address that topic a little in my review. Lets start with some key points:
Card Distribution
- BBS has 24 Cards - 4 Suits with 6 Cards/Suit, numbered 1-6.
- Hanabi has 50 Cards - 5 Suits with 10 Cards/Suit - 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4 & 5 in each Suit.
Objective
- BBS has you trying to reach target numbers for each suit, and also to try and only discard high numbers to avoid advancing Sherlock.
- Hanabi has you trying to play cards in a specific order, 1-2-3-4-5, in each suit.
'Trash Cards'
- BBS tends to have only 2-3 different suited Objectives out at a time, so cards of the other icon are 'Trash'
- Hanabi has duplicate cards but only 1 is required, so when you've advanced your objectives past a certain point, or block getting any higher, they become 'Trash'

What does that all mean? Well, that it actually feels more different than you might expect in a few ways. The change in card distribution makes it a lot easier to track what cards are available, and because you get through the deck faster (Which doesn't end the game like in Hanabi), you can better deduce what your hand is from other information. There's also a little sneakiness in BBS that you can play an incorrect suited card to a lead to increase its' target number, which can sometimes let you fix a mistake, or can lessen the impact of a mistake while still costing you time.

In addition, you have characters in BBS that provide unique abilities or hinderances. I've not played with the easier ones yet (Just hard/medium) but am excited to see the impact they make when we start getting to harder case files where we can no longer skip through with the tough characters.

Which is to say, I think its' a neat improvement over hanabi, without treading completely all over it in style and substance.

Overall: 8/10

An absolutely cracking game that's going to see a lot of play from me!
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