Rolling Boxcars reviews: Baker Street, Roleplaying in the World of Sherlock Holmes
Baker Street: Roleplaying in the World of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Bryce Whitacre
Cover Art: Timothy Lantz
Interior Art: Sidney E. Paget, Russell Stutler & Amanda Kahl
Publisher: Fearlight Games
Page Count: 197
Available Formats: PDF & Hardcover
Cost: $19.99 – PDF
Publisher: Fearlight Games
Sherlock Holmes has disappeared from the world while attempting to thwart another of Professor Moriarty’s plots; the two have tumbled off the Reichenbach Falls. Now, Mr. Watson can’t keep up with the backlog of cases pouring into the Baker Street office of Sherlock Holmes. The would-be investigators are asked to step in and help take on some of the cases.
The PDF presents a wonderful layout that is easy to read and navigate. The font and background page color really enhance the reading experience. Interior art is evocative of the time period and is also another immersive element of the book.
The game revolves around a rather simple mechanical structure that is both easy to learn and internalize. Nothing within this mechanical structure is revolutionary but takes the best of older d6 mechanics and polishes them into a solid and user-friendly system. While the game is, in essence, a bucket of dice game, albeit a small bucket, there’s lots of rolling which I find fun! There are four overarching mechanics I want to highlight; these are the Skill System, the Threat Meter, Turn Sequence and the Sherlock Die. It’s these mechanics that make up the core of the structure and thusly have the most impact on the game itself.
The Turn Sequence, really a misnomer, but kind of accurate, relates directly to the resolution of investigative scenes which are, as you guessed it, a huge part of this game.
All the answers at a scene wait patiently to be investigated. Given enough time and sharp enough eye, the clues will reveal themselves. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of crimes are less patient and time of the essence. p. 64
During these scenes, investigators will have the chance, through a variety of rounds, to search the scene for clues and makes sense of the clues they do find. The investigative process plays out through The Observation Round, The Reason Round, and The Deduction Round. During these rounds, clues will be located and logic will be applied to determine true clues from false leads. Tied to this structure is both the Skill System and Threat Meter.
The Skill System is elegant in that each investigator has a baseline value (ranks) in certain skills based on their underlying profession which is chosen during character creation. From here, players can add or diversify their skills and professional leanings so as to better define who their character is. By having more professional skills and specialties (during creation and over time), investigators are able to really define who they are and in doing so, they bring more to the table when it’s time to investigate a crime or disappearance. The skill ranks give a base number of dice to be rolled during resolutions. Other game elements will modify the total number of dice to be roll. The quantity can go up or down depending on the situation. During resolution, all 4s, 5s, 6s are successes. If the target number of successes is reached or exceeded the investigator is successful.
The threat meter is an artificial mechanism designed to propel the story forward. The threat meter is a living breathing time track in a sense. Under certain conditions the threat meter advances. This is typically caused by the investigators spending too much time deducing clues or chasing false leads. As the threat meter advances it will continue to create the necessary level of tension appropriate to the theme. Players must manage their time wisely to minimize the threat meter from increasing. If the meter advances too far, the end game situation will kick in before the investigators have had a chance to solve the mystery and apprehend the bad guy. The end game situation could simply be a tough apprehension situation, the perpetrator gets away scot-free or some other crime is committed.
The last mechanic I want to highlight is the Sherlock die. This die’s face consists of 1, 2, 3, Holmes, Watson and Professor Moriarty silhouettes (4, 5, 6 on a regular die). This die is rolled with nearly all rolls in the game. This mechanic works like this: a numerical result (1, 2, or 3) will let the investigator count that corresponding number on any die in the original roll as a success in addition to the normal 4, 5 and 6s. Holmes is a wildcard and lets you choose which numerical value (1, 2 or 3) to count as additional successes. The Watson result will give the investigator an option of either one additional success or they can assist another player on their next roll as a free action. Lastly, the Moriarty result, causes the investigator problems! For each unsuccessful result rolled, the investigator must remove one success rolled.
As you can see these mechanics are not revolutionary or overly difficult to understand and internalize. There are more rules, I promise! None-the-less the mechanics are theme appropriate and make the game fun and work well! Wait until you dig into the interesting aspects of each phase of the investigation scene.
The game is approachable by veterans and newcomers alike! The rules are solid and work well and partner very well with the theme. There are countless great examples littered throughout the book. This really helps drive home key points and makes internalizing the rules that much easier. The theme is great and Mr. Whitacre took care including lots of period flavor text and period correct elements to the game.
At this time I only have two cons. The first is the lack of basic investigations included in the book. The book includes one introductory investigation. I would have preferred to see two if not three basic investigations. The other is I wish the PDF would have been hyperlinked to promote quicker in-game referencing of the rules. Other than that, I have no other cons until I get the game to the table.
So far, this has been a great game to read, both from the standpoint of the theme, which I love and from the standpoint of approachability. If you’re not a Sherlock Holmes fan, you might not like the game based on the theme alone, but I would challenge you to give it a chance. Read it and see if it’s for you. Did I mention I love the theme?
Ps. The review is based only a cover-to-cover read through. Another review will follow after several plays of the game.