I would say that one of my least favorite genres of board games is probably the memory game. I don’t know what it exactly is but I have never been a huge fan of the genre. I think it mostly comes down to the fact that most memory games rely only on the one mechanic and that is usually not enough to support a full game. While I don’t hate the genre I have always felt more could be done with the memory game genre. While I have played a few memory games that have added some interesting mechanics to the traditional memory game, most games from the genre fall into finding the matching card/tile. I generally don’t really care for memory games but I was intrigued by Sherlock as it was a nominee for the 2003 Kinderspiel Des Jahres and is generally rated pretty well. Sherlock ends up relying on a lot of traditional memory game mechanics but does a good job tweaking them in order to make one of the better memory games that I have played.
How to Play Sherlock
- The Sherlock card is removed from the rest of the cards and is set aside.
- Shuffle the rest of the cards.
- Place eight cards face up on the table in a circle. Make sure the arrow on each card is on the outside of the circle.
- The rest of the cards are placed face down in the center of the circle.
- The players look at the cards and try to remember the object on each card. Player don’t have to memorize the numbers or arrows. After around 30 seconds, all of the cards are flipped over making sure the cards stay in the same position around the circle and that the arrows stay on the outside of the circle.
- The youngest player starts the game with play continuing clockwise for the rest of the game.
Playing the Game
Each player’s turn begins with the player to their right taking the Sherlock card and placing it next to one of the face down cards. The current player must say what object is pictured on the card next to the Sherlock card.
If a player guesses correctly the Sherlock card moves around the circle corresponding to the number and arrow on the card that they guessed correctly. The current player then has to guess what object is on the card that the Sherlock card moved to.
The player keeps guessing what is on the card next to the Sherlock card until one of two things happen. If the player guesses incorrectly at any time, their turn ends immediately and all of the cards that were revealed are flipped back over.
If the Sherlock card lands on a card that is already face up (has already been guessed correctly this round), the current player takes the card and places it face down in front of them. A new card from the center deck is placed in the empty space in the circle. The players are given a little time to study the card and then all of the face up cards are flipped over. Play then passes to the next player.
End of Game
The first player to collect six cards wins the game.
My Thoughts on Sherlock
Before getting into the game’s specifics I want to quickly address the history behind Sherlock. It turns out that Sherlock originally started as a German board game named Der Plumpsack geht um. In Der Plumpsack instead of a dog dressed up as Sherlock Holmes you have a sentient sack like creature that presumably is named Plumpsack. Outside of the theme changes the two games seem to be exactly the same.
If the “How to Play” section didn’t make it clear, Sherlock is a pretty traditional memory game. The players take turns trying to remember what object is pictured on a particular face down card. If they are correct they will be directed to another card which they then will have to identify. This continues until the player is directed to a card that is already face up or the player fails to correctly identify one of the cards. While this is not exactly the same as most other memory games, it does share quite a bit in common with your typical memory game. The main difference is that instead of having to remember where the matching tile/card is you have to remember which object is on the eight face down cards.
At this point I would have said that Sherlock was just another very average memory game. That changes with the introduction of the mechanic that chooses which card you will have to identify next. While on the surface it doesn’t look like much, I think it adds more to the game than you would expect. It is kind of hard to explain exactly why the mechanic works as well as it does but for some reason it really adds to the game’s enjoyment. This small little mechanic makes Sherlock one of the best pure memory games that I have played. It doesn’t drastically change the gameplay but adds just enough to distinguish itself from so many other pure memory games.
Before I started playing Sherlock I was a little worried that the game was going to mostly be a children’s game. Games that have an age recommendation of 5+ are usually made really simplistic in order to allow younger player to be able to play them. I was worried that Sherlock was going to focus mostly on being accessible making the game too easy for adults which would have lead to a boring experience. The good news is that Sherlock’s greatest strength is the fact that it does a fantastic job of balancing accessibility while also remaining enjoyable for people of all ages. For a game designed for children five years or older Sherlock is surprisingly enjoyable for adults as well.
I think this can be attributed to the fact that it is really easy to adjust the difficulty of the game. Basically you can make the game easier or more difficult by adjusting the number of cards put out on the table. If you are playing with really young children start with five or six cards and see how it goes. If the game is too easy just add more cards until the game is at the right difficulty. Meanwhile if you are playing the game with adults that are good at memory games, feel free to add even more cards to the table trying nine, ten or even more cards. While this is nothing groundbreaking I like it when games make it really easy to adjust the difficulty to the players’ skill level.
While it is really easy to adjust the game’s difficulty, I would say Sherlock is probably on the easier side for memory games. This is kind of expected for a memory game designed for younger children. While I didn’t play the game with any younger children to see how easy it is for children, I would say eight cards is a little on the easy side for adults. If you are only playing with adults I would probably recommend playing with at least ten cards as Sherlock loses a little something when the game is too easy.
I would say that I am generally pretty average at memory games but I was surprised by how easy the game is with eight cards. I would have thought it would have been harder to remember eight items and their locations at the same time but I had no trouble remembering all of the items. I attribute this to two things. First it really helps if you have a method in how you remember the items. I tried to think of words for several items in a row that started with the same letter as this made it quite a bit easier to remember the order of items. I think the bigger reason though is the fact that a lot of the cards stay around for quite a few rounds. There were several objects in one game that stayed in the same position for the entire game. This really helps you remember the items as you get a reminder every time that the card is flipped over.
While this helps you remember the items better, I think it also hurts the game a little. Too often it seems like you can get into a rut where the same card gets replaced over and over again. After a while it gets a little repetitive using the same cards over and over again. I think this mostly happens because over time patterns form in the cards which start sending you through the same path of cards each turn. These paths tend to get longer and longer until you get to a point where you have to successfully guess all of the cards in a round. I don’t know how this would get fixed outside of periodically changing all of the cards at the same. It does present an interesting strategic decision though. If you have a really good memory you could remember the arrows and numbers in addition to the objects on each card. With this knowledge you could figure out which card to pick to start a player’s turn that will force them to correctly identify the most cards. I don’t see a lot of people utilizing this strategy though as it would require a really strong memory.
I enjoyed Sherlock quite a bit but it is not a perfect game. I think the biggest problem with the game is the fact that at the end of the day it still shares a lot in common with your typical memory game. While I liked the idea of having to keep identifying cards until you get back to a card that you have already revealed, the game still mostly relies on a pretty basic memory mechanic. While I don’t know what exactly it should have been but I think Sherlock could have benefited from another mechanic or two. As Sherlock is a pretty typical memory game, it is not going to appeal to people that don’t like memory games.
The other main problem that I had with Sherlock is that for a game that relies on memory, there is a pretty high reliance on luck. If you have a perfect memory there is going to be no luck in the game but for people without a perfect memory there is a luck element in the game. The luck comes from how many items you have to guess correctly before you are able to take a card. Some players may have to only reveal two or three cards before getting to take a card while others may have to reveal seven or all eight. This will make the game considerably harder for some players than others. Unless you somehow can remember all of the items, arrows, and numbers you can’t use strategy to remove the luck from the decision. You just have to luck into getting the short paths and giving the other players the long paths. Players who regularly have to name less items will have a built in advantage in the game.
On the component front I have to say that Playroom Entertainment did a really good job with Sherlock. There is not a lot of artwork on the cards but it is well done. It is hard to deny the quality of the components as the cards are some of the thickest that I have ever seen for this type of game. The cards are thick enough that I can’t imagine them really getting damaged unless the players are careless with them. While on the topic of components I wanted to bring up that there are currently two versions of Sherlock. The copy I used for this review was the standard version of the game. In 2009 a deluxe version of the game was introduced. The deluxe version of the game differs in a couple different ways. The most noticeable difference is that the Sherlock card from the standard version was replaced with an actual figure that looks really nice. The deluxe version also includes 11 additional cards which is nice as well. While I don’t have the deluxe version of the game, I would say if you can find both games for around the same price I would probably recommend picking up the deluxe version.
Should You Buy Sherlock?
Not being a big fan of the memory game genre along with the fact that the game looks like it was made for young children made me leery about whether I was going to like Sherlock. It turns out that the general consensus about Sherlock being a good game is pretty accurate as I was actually kind of surprised by the game. For the most part the game is your typical memory game as most of the gameplay revolves around remembering what is on the face down cards. While it doesn’t look like much I actually think the mechanic of choosing which card you have to guess next adds quite a bit to the game. I think the best thing about Sherlock though is how easy it is to adjust the game’s difficulty to different skill levels. Just by adding or taking away cards from the table you can make the game easier or more difficult. I was actually surprised by how enjoyable the game can be for both young children and adults. At the end of the day Sherlock is still a pretty generic memory game though so it isn’t going to appeal to people who don’t like memory games. The game also relies a little too much on luck as some players will have to remember quite a few more items than other players.
My recommendation for Sherlock comes down to whether you are looking for a memory game that can be enjoyed by the whole family. If you hate pure memory games or want something that is gauged more towards adults, Sherlock is probably not going to be for you. If you already have a pure memory game that you really like, I don’t know if Sherlock is unique enough to warrant a purchase. If you are looking for a pure memory game that the whole family can enjoy though you can’t do much better than Sherlock.