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Tom Vasel
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I’m very pleased with the “Bright Idea Games” line from Playroom Entertainment. They’re bringing a group of games that are simple, fun, and do a good bit to challenge kids’ minds. Sherlock (Playroom Entertainment, 2004 – Reinhard Staupe) is one of these games. It’s an amplified memory game – one that is challenging for children and adults. When my wife, daughter, and I played, my wife won; but I came in last, and I certainly wasn’t holding anything back!

Sherlock is a redone version of Der Plumpsack geht um, a game by Amigo. Der Plumpsack’s rather odd theme has been replaced of that of a detective dog, but the gameplay is pretty much the same. It’s a simple, fast game – one suited for teaching young children vocabulary and deduction, while remaining an entertaining enough game to keep adults occupied. In fact, I saw a group of hardened gamers having a good time playing this game at Origins, so we know it’s not just for kids!

A deck of forty-nine cards is shuffled, and eight of them are revealed and placed in a circle in the middle of the table. Each card shows an object (such as a rubber ducky, a banana, a sock, etc.) and an arrow and a number at the top of the card. The cards are arranged so that the arrows are all pointing either to the right or left and are on the outskirts of the circle. Players study the cards for about thirty seconds, after which all the cards are placed face down. The rest of the cards form a draw deck, and a special card, “Sherlock,” is given to the youngest player, who takes the first turn.

On a turn, a player may place the Sherlock card next to any of the eight cards in the circle and must announce what object is on the card. After guessing, the card is revealed. If the player is incorrect, their turn is over – they flip all face-up cards face-down and pass the Sherlock card to the person on their left. If, however, the player is correct, they move the Sherlock card around the circle the number of cards shown on the revealed card in the direction the arrow is pointing. The player then attempts to guess this new card. This continues to happen until Sherlock lands on a card that is face-up, rather than face-down. The player then takes the face-up card as a reward, draws the top card from the draw pile, shows it to all other players, and places if face-down in the space where the other card was. All other face-up cards are turned face down, and play passes to the next player.

The first player to get six cards is the winner!

Some comments about the game…

1.) Components: As with all of the Bright Idea Games, the cards are of a thick stock and can handle a lot of wear and tear (which kids provide). They’re also rather easy to pick up off the table – saving them some bending. The pictures on the cards are crisp and clear – not easily mixed up, but not easy to remember, either. The whole package comes in a small, but good box with a cardboard insert.

2.) Theme: For some reason, the plump sack seems to have gathered a bit of a cult following on the internet, and I’m not sure those people will be pleased that it’s been replaced by a detective dog. But I’m sure that most American families will understand the dog more than a demented looking sack.

3.) Rules: The rules come in three languages (English, French and Spanish) in a nice full-colored booklet. Each rule set is only four pages long and includes a fully illustrated example, making this simple game a snap to learn. I was able to teach it in less than thirty seconds, and my five-year old grasped the concept immediately.

4.) Education: Sherlock is obviously targeted at younger children, and in that regard it works. Some of them have a hard time not shouting out what lies underneath each card when another player pauses, agonizing as they try to pull from their memory the object there. But it’s an excellent game, as kids who can’t talk much will learn vocabulary (the age limit on the box of 5 years old is a bit high, I think). Kids also learn counting, directions, and a bit of logic. This makes Sherlock much more useful, educational and fun than your typical Memory Match!

5.) Ages: While Sherlock is for the little ones, it’s still a challenge for older folk. I’m not sure that I’d ever pull it out for just my gaming group (except perhaps as a lark), but it’s one of those rare games that can challenge both adults and children easily, and you don’t have to feel like you’re letting your kid win – since you probably aren’t! This is one game I can play with little tykes and really have to strive to win!

6.) Fun Factor: I enjoyed playing the game. Sometimes some odd things can happen in the game, such as the same card getting picked over and over, or one player quickly winning (due to a great memory), but everyone has fun. Since the game moves quickly, and there are eight or more objects on the table – one has to constantly watch the other players – giving everyone a sense of involvement the whole game through (something important for children’s games). Everyone had fun – even I who stank at the game.

7.) Variants: The game easily lends itself to “modding”. One can make it more difficult or easier by increasing or decreasing the number of objects in the middle. I found it challenging enough with eight objects.

If you’re looking for a game that you can play with your young children, yet have a fair, balanced game where the kids and adults both have a fair chance at winning, then Sherlock is a great game. In a gaming world where dull, licensed games rule the marketplace; or boring, uninspired “educational” games are sold in the catalogs, Sherlock is a breath of fresh air. Now you’ll have to excuse me, as I go rescue my dignity back from my daughter – I must win this game!

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”
www.tomvasel.com

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