Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 30 January 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Sherlock: Death of the 4th of July

Game: Sherlock: Death of the 4th of July

Publisher: GDM Games

Designer: Francisco Gallego Arredondo, Martí Lucas Feliu, Josep Izquierdo Sánchez

Year: 2018

Sherlock is a new series of games from GDM Games and Enigma Studio, and as the name suggests, you are crime solvers. There are currently three games available in English and we chose to take a first look at the one with the most appealing theme from 4th July, an aeroplane or archaeology. Despite our initial impression that these would be a similar size of game to the EXIT series, we were surprised to see that each game is smaller than a standard deck of 52-playing cards. The game is just 32 cards and a rule/solution sheet, making it easily one of the smallest games we’ve ever seen!

The game is played cooperatively with a recommended 1-8 players (with special rules for solo play). You start the game knowing nothing and eventually, through identifying the relevant information, you will together come up with a theory of what happened and who committed the crime. We won't spoil any of the story in this review.


Sherlock starts you with a small brief on the back of the manual to give you a vague idea what's going on before throwing you in the deep end. Bar 1 card that you start with the rest of the deck is shuffled randomly and then 3 cards are dealt to each player. On your turn you have the simple option between playing a card or discarding a card. Should you play a card you get to place it face up so that everyone can read it freely, if you discard it then you place it face down in a discard pile and are no-longer allowed to discuss the content of that card. either way you will then draw back to 3 cards if able. To help you decide what to play you are allowed to freely discuss your theories with other players, however you cannot discuss the content of the cards in your hand with the exception of any words that are underlined (eg I have a card talking about the pet cat) or the title of the card if it is a picture card (eg I have a picture of the [bedroom]).

Eventually as the process of playing and discarding cards goes on you will reach the end of the deck, at this point you will check how many cards are in the discard, if you haven't discarded enough then you weren't discerning enough about the facts and you instantly lose. Assuming you've discarded enough you can then chat about your theories, at this point you can even discuss what you remember about discarded cards, though you can't look at them. Once you are confident in your theory you can remove the sticker from the manual to reveal a quiz about the crime. Write down your answers and then open the manual up to get the answers and the full story.

Finally you will be scored out of 10, each correct answer will reward you a point, incorrect answers give you nothing, and every irrelevant clue that you *didn't* discard costs you 1 point.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Sherlock takes a really interesting approach to a mystery game. The gameplay reminds me most of Hanabi, with limited communication being used to get each other to play the cards that you, as a team, want to play and discard only those that are without use. However unlike Hanabi you don't really know which cards are the good cards. It's quite possible that the theory you have at the start of the game is wildly different to the truth. Heck it's quite possible that your theory at the end of the game is wildly different to the truth. Perhaps it's because we picked the hardest game to start with, but the idea in our head was outlandishly different to what the game expected us to come to. If you are looking to get into the Sherlock series I *strongly* recommend starting with the easiest one.

As with most detective style games it ends with a quiz and the answers are done in a vague way, this helps keep the surprise of the real story alive. until the last minute. Expect questions like "Was thing a done by a person from group 1, group 2, group 3 or none of the above". Given that it's best of 4 and there's 10 questions it's a little sad that our leading theory scored below random chance with 2 correct answers.

I really enjoyed the way the plot opened as you played the game and near then end it really felt like we understood what was important to the case and what wasn't. We didn't, but we *felt* like we did. So in terms of the system I did really approve of this taste of the Sherlock series. The story itself in 4th of July was a bit too obscure for my taste, but perhaps if we had built up with the easier ones we'd have known what to expect. The main Issue I had with the game is that of length. Escape room style games are already hard sells given you can only play them once, but they each take about an hour, Sherlock was over in under 30 minutes, which is a tough call for a game you can't play again. Sure you can pass it on to someone else and they can get their half hour of fun, but for this kind of game Sherlock simply felt too short. That being said I'm somewhat interested to try some more games in the series, I only hope that they are a little less obscure.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sherlock – it certainly seems like they’re aiming at the same market as EXIT, Deckscape or Unlock, with a game that is over in just a single play through. However, I was hoping for a slightly more structured puzzle, instead of the pure whodunit that is in the box. Sherlock really is a compact distillation of a game like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Although it has much less reading, it is up to the players to filter all of the information they are given to weave together a believable story, which they’ll then check against the facts.

The mechanisms of the game were pretty interesting. The game is all about communicating with limited information and even trying to persuade each other about some of your more off-the-wall theories. A key to the game is figuring out whether your information is relevant in the context of limited knowledge of the information other people hold.

I enjoyed playing the game, up until the point where our cards were dwindling and I still didn’t think we’d found any concrete clues. The 4th July is rated the hardest on a 3 point scale on the back of the box, and perhaps difficulty is an indication of how linear or vague your game will be. For me 4th July was far too vague. We pieced together a theory, that felt OK, but by no means were we sure we had the right answer. It turned out we had negative points because we were nowhere near in terms of the story we came up with. Getting this puzzle right really felt like a stab in the dark, totally unrelated to almost everything you understood during the game. It was very frustrating to not even feel like we’d missed something, just to feel like the game never gave us a hope of getting it right.

I’m hopeful that games with an easier difficulty rating might better suited to us, with a more obvious trail of crumbs for us to follow, but I don’t think that Death of the 4th of July is the best that this game system could potentially offer in the future.

You Might Like...
  • If you enjoy murder mystery nights, then the Sherlock series is likely to be a good fit for you.
  • As a cooperative game, it really promotes good communication and listening.
  • It works much more effectively as a game for high player count than many other escape room/mystery games.
You Might Not Like...
  • Don’t expect to catch the right culprit – the clues are far too subtle!
  • In your first game, it’s quite unclear what is the split between useful and useless information. It might be easier to succeed at future games in the series with that knowledge.
  • You’ll only play the game once, and for us it was only a 25 minute experience for the price, but it’s easy to pass on to a friend.

The Verdict
5/10 The Sherlock system has a lot of promise, with interesting cooperative mechanisms as part of the puzzle of piecing together a crime. However, Death of the 4th of July just feels too loosely structured, with the final solution seeming only possible to find if you have a very overactive imagination which happens to latch on to two very, very minor pieces of information amongst the many cards of the game. We’d be interested to try others, that might be easier with a more linear plot, but we would hesitate to recommend the 4th July specifically.

Sherlock: Death of the 4th of July was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £7.49 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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