Updated: Aug 24
WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: IELLO
By Steve Godfrey
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here
If it wasn’t for the awesome Disney classic Basil the Great Mouse Detective, I probably wouldn’t have even heard of Sherlock Holmes dog Toby. Which is no surprise since he only appears in one book. Now whether you’ve heard of Toby or not, it seems like for this game he’s gone from a one off tracking dog to master animal detective and has taken on the role of mentor to some trainee animal detectives. He must be barking mad!
How to train animal detectives.
To set up, lay out the board and collect together the amount of time tokens as indicated on the case you're playing. Then place lock tokens on each location that the case tells you to. You’ll be using all of the four characters so either distribute these between the players or place them in front of everyone. Open up the tutorial case and play through it. You've not only set the game up, but you’ve also learnt it as well! I am gonna explain it briefly though because the rest of the review will make no sense if I don’t.
Read the opening of the case in the case book. At this point I will say that putting on voices for each character is a MUST! It’s not in the rules but it’s a WhatBoardGame recommended house rule! Have a chat between yourselves and decide what location you want to investigate first. When you’ve decided, place a time marker on that space and the character token. Flip over that location card and read it out. Each character, location and item card will have either the top or bottom half of a magnifying glass on it. Locations usually have the top half and characters have the bottom. At a location you’ll need to pick a character to use. Each has their own speciality and personality and you have to pick which one to use. Calabash the spider for example is good for strength and intimidation. Then line up the character with the location and if you match the top and bottom of a magnifying glass exactly (the exact part is important) then you do the thing that's in it. Either, drawing a numbered card, placing out another time token or being forced to leave the location. Unless you're forced to leave you can use as many characters or items at a location as you’d like but choose wisely because if you make a wrong match it could cost you precious time tokens. Keep going around the board until you’ve either solved the case or you’ve run out of time tokens. In which case you’ll read the event card to see what happens next.
Paws for thought.
From the amount of puzzle styles games I’ve already reviewed on the site it’s probably obvious that I love this sort of game. Especially since they’re the type of games that I always do with one or both of my kids. Of course the thing with puzzle games, specifically ones aimed at families, is finding a decent balance between something that the kids will be able to solve with little to no help, and that’s going to keep the adults engaged. The Animals of Baker Street manages to successfully walk that line. So much so that I found myself shoving this in front of the kids asking to play before they’ve even had a chance to wash up their dinner plates……….ok, that’s a lie, they never wash up their plates.
Speaking of lies, I’ve been lying to you, I’ve been calling this a puzzle game and it’s not. There’s no puzzles so to speak. I mean each episode is one big puzzle to solve, but It doesn’t have puzzles in the same way that an Unlock or an Exit game has. This is pure deduction and crime/ mystery solving along the lines of Chronicles of Crime or Detective or, well Sherlock Holmes. The beauty of this is that it allows you to follow a natural thread and really get invested into the story of each case.
In classic mystery fashion it’s really satisfying to see how the whole thing plays out and resolves itself as you follow each lead and dig up clues (sometimes literally) to further your progress.
The early couple of cases will start off relatively simple to ease you into it and will eventually start to ramp up in difficulty. Although not too difficult, it is still built with families in mind but there will be enough for you to sink your teeth into and give you that sense of achievement when you solve them.
Regardless of their difficulty, each case will follow a few different paths to solving the mystery. On a few occasions we’ve played a case and checked the leftover cards and found a couple of threads or stories we didn’t uncover along the way. Chances are it would have made it easier had we followed that path, but equally it didn’t hinder us which I really appreciated.
The Great Mouse Detective (and bird and spider and frog)
The story/ stories across the cases are really well written and a lot of fun. You’ll quickly realise that the stories run on from each other in much the same ways as a narrative TV show. Something you learn or someone you talk to in an early case can easily turn out to be a resource or information that you can tap into in a later case. It really helps you get invested in the characters and the stories as you play each case.
To get the most out of this game, as I said earlier, I definitely recommend getting into it and doing the voices for each character. Obviously this isn’t necessary but it'll be a lot more fun if you do, or even get the kids to take over a few characters and let them make the voices. My two are more than happy to let me take over reading duties purely so that they can hear me butcher various voices. My dodgy Mrs Doubtfire accent for one character is a particular highlight for them. So much so that I’m glad this is a written review and not on YouTube because now I don’t have to embarrass myself by replicating it!
Normally I’d say that this game can skew a bit younger than the 10+ age on the box. However there may be a couple of lines/scenes that you as a parent might feel are a bit too strong for the younger ones. It’s not a lot and you know what your children can handle. My advice would be to just skim ahead as you read and edit it as you read but to be honest they’ve more than likely heard worse in a Disney cartoon.
My initial worry was that the magnifying glass system might be too easy to guess. Like you could easily look at both cards and immediately see what would match and what wouldn’t. In very few instances that can be true, but for the most part you really can’t judge it. But that in itself makes for those lovely grit your teeth and hope for the best moments as you come achingly close to matching up a time token or a claw mark. Those time tokens are precious and losing one can determine if you manage to solve the case or not. The whole system is like a mix of Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective and Cantaloop (review here). It gives you the freedom of the latter to go to places and do mostly what you want once you're there, but gives you a deadline, much like the former but nowhere near as harsh. It’s just enough to keep the game interesting and not to outstay it’s welcome and put on that little bit of pressure as the time ticks down.
I am SHERlocked
Everything in this game, the system, the setting, the stories and the cases, all come together to make a really fun deduction game that bridges that divide that so many of these games can easily fall short on. It gives us a game that adults and the kids can get involved in and have an equally enjoyable time with.
Ok, I’m off to try and figure out if and how this fits in with Basil the Great Mouse detective.