17 July 2017
It’s a race of reasoning in this elementary spin on Consulting Detective
With both Sherlock Holmes and Batman jostling for the title of ‘World’s Greatest Detective’, it seems that the number two spot is up for grabs. Likewise, while Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective may be firmly in pole position when it comes to tabletop takes on the Victorian super sleuth, there’s plenty of room for another board game to come along and play second fiddle to the indisputable masterpiece. Watson & Holmes may just be what the doctor ordered.
Though it may not explicitly say as much, Watson & Holmes is essentially a boiled-down, more mechanically rich competitive homage to Consulting Detective’s text-heavy, deduction-driven collaborative format. In lieu of the latter’s map, directory and casebooks, players instead travel to a smaller number of set locations by outbidding their rivals using carriage tokens – only one player can read each location’s clues each round, making beating your opponents to the punch vital to solving each of the 13 mysteries first.
The competitive spirit is strengthened by the ability to summon the police to a location you’ve just visited, forcing others to call them off or break their way in with a lockpick token before visiting, which can often only be achieved by burning a turn going to Scotland Yard. Of course, the location could be worthless – but your opponents don’t know that, offering the chance for some light deception and bluffing.
Although there is a greater focus on the auction mechanics, the solution for each case isn’t simply presented by going to the right places – you will still have to put your brain matter to work.
As in Consulting Detective, players need to present their answers to a series of questions to the master investigator to win (this time, you’re given the questions upfront) – get any wrong and you’re out of the game. Fortunately, the factor of elimination is offset by the introduction of Holmes as a character, allowing losers to stay involved.
In most of the cases, each player starts with a unique single-use character ability, while everyone can call on Watson by spending four carriages to force another player to read their location’s clue out loud – a potentially risky move, as your opponents all benefit, too.
The bidding aspects can sometimes only end up intensifying towards the conclusion of the game as everyone chases down the same story strands, so the characters present a nice level of player interaction from the off. That said, it’s certainly worth playing with as many people as you can (we’d recommend at least four) to accentuate the role of the bidding and abilities.
Watson & Holmes is presented in the same bookshelf-friendly drawer box style as the recently re-released Consulting Detective games, and boasts the same beautiful level of presentation in its more varied components, with vibrant art and quality materials.
There’s not as much text as Consulting Detective, but the abridged writing remains more than strong enough to conjure a smoky Victorian atmosphere and propel each whodunit forwards. The only thematic wobble is the rulebook, which provides little in-universe setup as to why you’re competing for Holmes’ affections despite the entertaining premise – nevertheless, we had great fun roleplaying (complete with dodgy accents) as a colourful cast of job applicants racing to prove their worth.
Watson & Holmes is a satisfying hors d'œuvre to Consulting Detective’s filling three-course meal of crime solving. It won’t give your brain as vigorous a workout, but the added mechanical layers of bidding and character abilities offer a uniquely distinct experience that still requires a satisfying level of analysis and reasoning. Plus, it plays in under an hour. Stick it on your bookshelf alongside Consulting Detective and Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels – it’s earned the place.
Watson & Holmes takes the meditative deduction of Consulting Detective and transforms it into a fast-paced logical dash, with a sprinkling of auction mechanics and character abilities. The cases are satisfying to solve, the player interactions meaningful but balanced, and the atmosphere richly delivered. The verdict: a seriously good time.
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Genre: Bidding, deduction
Time: 45-75 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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