I first spotted Beyond Baker Street at UKGE, and as I watched a couple of people playing a game it took me a while to work out what looked odd. Then it struck me: they were holding their cards the wrong way round. At the time it seemed like an odd idea, especially as they were still telling each other which cards were which, but having spent some time getting to know Beyond Baker Street I’ve come to really enjoy the mystery, the confusion and the feeling of despair when your finely crafted plans come crashing down.
The idea here is to solve a mystery before Sherlock Holmes manages to figure it out. To do this you’ll need to follow and confirm a set of leads by playing your cards into the right place at the right time. Easy enough if you can see your cards, but you can’t; instead you’ll be totally blind to your own hand, only able to see what others have got. You’ll get a few clues from other players to tell you small titbits of information, but each time that happens Holmes creeps closer to his own solution, and as soon as he figures it out everyone loses.
And it’s definitely a case of everyone losing – this is very much a co-op game, there are no personal victories or secret agents, everyone is out to try and solve the case. In fact, considering you can’t even see the cards you’ve got, it’d be impossible to try and win this for yourself other than intentionally confusing other players – so treat this as a heads up: work together and build a strategy, otherwise you won’t stand a chance. There are six cases to try and solve too, each one having a slightly different difficulty by starting Holmes nearer or further from his own solution, and that constant pressure of a non-player controlling the pace of the game is very effective; we had some very panicked games when things got far too close for comfort by the end.
During a game each turn lets you tell someone info about their cards, play your own or add to the impossible deck to advance the investigation track, designed to eliminate worthless evidence and get closer to the truth. You win by confirming all three leads (motives, opportunities, suspects), just as long as the investigation track is at exactly 20 (tricky enough as it is) and Holmes hasn’t done it first (which makes things even trickier). What makes it tougher still is the fact that you add to your investigation track by discarding cards onto the Impossible pile, but you’re limited to how many cards can be put there according to the value on the case card you picked before the game – go over that limit and Holmes hops another step closer to that game-losing solution of his each time another cards lands there. The only way to avoid that is to communicate well, and be slightly more intelligent with the clues you give each other – too many clues and Holmes will race to his goal. Too many discarded cards and he’ll get there quickly as well; the key is to get the right cards onto the right evidence pile at the right time. And that, as you can probably guess by now, isn’t easy.
Game setup is pretty quick, even in the first couple of games, and the games themselves aren’t overly long either, we got through our first two games in just over an hour, which considering we were getting to grips with the (admittedly very simple) rules as well was quite a nice change of pace from some of the behemoths we’ve played lately. We also spent a long time chastising each other when we played the wrong cards after some less-than useful clues, so with some better communication you might get that down even further. And speaking of communication (I wish that was an intentional pun) this game nails it to a tee, forcing players to think about what they’re saying, what clues they’re giving and what facial expressions they’re pulling. When everything clicks it’s a beautiful moment, but when you lose a game because someone wasn’t overly clear with their ideas it’s both hilarious and unspeakably irritating at the same time. Personally, I found that hugely enjoyable.
There are different character cards to use too which affect the game slightly in different ways, and while the instructions suggest you bypass this for your opening games (an idea I’d definitely agree with) when you bring them into play it transforms the game just enough to mix things up in each game you play. With 18 of these cards and the 6 case cards (which are totally replayable, they just set out starting points and limitations within the game) there’s loads of variety to be had, and being a simple game to pick up you can play it with almost anyone.
If I was to level one criticism at the game it would be that the Sherlock Holmes theme could be replaced by several other themes and it would make no difference. It could be a prisoner trying to escape, a bomb going off or any other even that might have a time limit linked to it. But that’s a fairly minimal complaint to have against a game which is quick, fun and really gets your brain working. Would I recommend it? Most definitely.