Sherlock Holmes is a popular guy in the world of board gaming. Not only does the franchise lend itself well towards mystery themed games and puzzle solving, but Sherlock Holmes as an intellectual property is mostly in the public domain, allowing game designers and publishers to make games about the world’s best detective.
Beyond Baker Street is one such game. Playing as a team of investigators, 2-4 players will team up in order to solve a case faster than Sherlock Holmes can. Do you have what it takes to get to the bottom of things?
There’s a lot you have to do to solve each case. For one, you have to collect enough evidence on the suspect, motivation and opportunity in order to complete the case. Furthermore, you’ll have to rule out any false leads, such as irrelevant evidence or even the wrong suspect. Finally, you have to do all of this before Sherlock Holmes figures it out. As a master detective, he’s going to give you a run for your money.
The core gameplay doesn’t actually involve you conducting any sort of investigations or solving puzzles. Instead, players will play cards below each of the three Lead decks in order to have evidence values equal to each lead type. The trick here is that players are holding their cards facing away from them. Everyone can see your cards, but you can’t. If you’ve played Hanabi, you know exactly what you’re getting into here.
On your turn, you can give someone a hint on what number their card(s) are, or what type of evidence they are. For each hint, you must move Sherlock Holmes one step closer to completion. You can play a card on a Lead pile in order to get closer to confirming the suspect, motivation or opportunity. If your final evidence total is the same as the Lead, you can then confirm it in a future turn. If you go over, the Lead is discarded into the Impossible, forcing you to draw a new Lead and move the Investigation track up equal to the number on the Lead card. Should you play an evidence card on the wrong lead, you add that evidence to the Lead total, making it now even harder to solve.
Locking in the three leads isn’t enough. To ensure that you’ve covered all of your bases, some evidence or Leads need to be discarded into the Impossible; a discard pile where cards that are placed there add to the Investigation total. You’ll need to get the Investigation track to exactly 20 before confirming your final Lead in order to win. If you go over or confirm before hitting 20, you lose.
Structurally, this game borrows a lot from Hanabi, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Beyond Baker Street tries really hard to take that core gameplay concept and build a more thematic game around it. In general, it’s easier to wrap your head around trying to solve a case instead of building a fireworks display.
That said, I don’t think the changes made to the game make it an overall better experience. Despite the better integration of theme and gameplay, the moment-to-moment gameplay fell flat. It never really felt like we were solving a case. Instead, it felt like we were playing a simplified Hanabi. We would simply refer to cards by colour and the theme would fade away.
There’s also a sensation with Hanabi where it feels like every move has the tension of choosing which wire on a bomb to cut. With fewer cards in hand, fewer decks to play cards under, and more lenient rules around what numbers can be played under each evidence pile, the process of deducing which cards to play where felt very straightforward.
Beyond Baker Street tries so hard to make a better Hanabi. It makes a more elaborate one that is more thematic, but it’s not necessarily better. Even with the additional character roles, adjustable difficulty and a better theme, its gameplay lacked any sort of tension and its thematic benefits failed to make a meaningful impact once the action started. You may appreciate the added frills this adds to the Hanabi formula, but I’d prefer to play the original.