In Beyond Baker Street, as in the 2013 Spiel des Jahres-winning game Hanabi, you can’t see your own cards. You can see all other players’ cards, and you can give them clues about what they hold. You’ll also receive clues, and based on those tips and knowledge of what’s in the deck of 24 Evidence cards, try to deduce what’s in your hand, playing those cards to the central board. The players work together to try to “solve” the three Leads, which means playing cards under each of them matching their color and adding up to the Lead card’s value, before the Holmes token reaches zero on its track. Holmes moves down one space with each clue the players exchange, and moves back up one when the players successfully confirm a Lead. If Holmes reaches zero, the players lose, as the great detective has solved the crime before the players could.
On a turn, a player can choose one of five possible actions. One is to give a clue to another player, which must tell that player that they have N cards of a certain color, or N cards of a certain value, pointing out exactly which cards are included in that. Any other clues are invalid. Another action is to play a clue card to a lead. If the player plays the wrong color, the card’s value is added to the Lead’s value and the players must now add more clues to that stack to confirm the lead. If the player plays a card of the right color, but the value of the stack of clues exceeds that of the Lead, the Lead is then dead and bad things happen, mostly that the players have to start over with a new Lead. A player may also use a turn to confirm a lead where the clue cards beneath it match the right total value and color.
The Impossible pile comes into play with the “eliminate” action. When a player knows they have a card that is useless for the leads on display, they can discard that card to the Impossible pile, which moves the team’s Investigation track forward a number of spaces equal to that on the card. The Investigation track starts at 0 and has to reach 20 before the team confirms the final lead, but if the track goes past 20, the players lose. Each card sent to the Impossible over the limit for that particular game (between one and four cards) moves Holmes down one space on his track as well, so planning which cards to send to the Impossible is a key part of winning.
Beyond Baker Street is as much a game of planning as it is of deduction, because the Evidence deck has just 24 cards, numbered 1 to 6 in each of four different colors. (The rulebook refers to these colors instead by icons on each card, but it’s much easier to just call them by their colors rather than the icons.) In games where two of the three Leads have the same color, therefore, you can easily end up stuck because you used a card you’d need for one Lead in the pile for the other one. You also have to try to identify useless, high-value cards early to get the Investigation track close to 20 before you solve the third clue – all of which means you and your teammates have to map out which cards you want to place where early in the game, reducing the clues and deduction aspect of the game to a secondary role behind the planning.
The game comes with six “cases” for players to solve, which basically comes down to six levels of difficulty. The Holmes token starts at lower spots on the track and the card limit on the Impossible space (above which adding a card moves the Holmes token down a space) goes from four down to 1. It also allows the players to play as certain characters, each of which has a special ability (e.g., giving two Assist clues per turn rather than one, but only moving the Holmes token one space), with a few suffering from a specific handicap, so they’re also ways to tweak the game’s difficulty level.
The deduction aspect of Beyond Baker Street is its best attribute, since there’s some thought required in remembering what clues you’ve received and thinking about what cards are visible to you. But it becomes secondary to the planning aspect of the game, without which you can really get stuck, even if you know what cards you hold. That constraint is just too tight for my tastes; it makes the game a little too much like work and less like fun. Tweaking the dials on the game’s difficulty eliminate some of that feeling, but overall Beyond Baker Street could use a little more balance so that turning up the difficulty increases the challenge instead of the frustration.