A Review of Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars. Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions


This Kickstarter just arrived Tuesday, just two days after Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion came out  (see our review here)!  What a great week it’s been! Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars is a cooperative graphic novel adventure (from Van Ryder games) for 1-4 players. It’s very much like Crusoe Crew (which we reviewed here and here).   I picked this up because me and my friends liked Crusoe Crew for the most part, and I love the Sherlock Holmes theme.  So, this was an instabuy!


One of the Kickstarter extras was some bookmarks.  Which is cool, but you can’t put the bookmarks in the box?



So, I have to store the bookmarks externally. Weird decision.

Like Crusoe Crow, Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars have a cool magnetic clasp for holding the box together.

Magnetic Clasp on box!

The game comes with 4 Graphic Novels (1  for each character) and a Mission Log.

All 4 Graphic Adventure Books

Each player who is going to play will take one of the books, and we all start reading the book cooperatively!  Again, this is VERY much like Crusoe Crew!



The rulebook .. is more like a pamphlet. They fit the ENTIRE directions on the one page above (in the Mission Log) with a teeny-tiny font.  You may have to get your glasses out!  But it explains the game pretty well.  There’s not too much to jump in.

And like any good Sherlock Holmes adventure, there is a map: it’ s on the back cover of the Mission Log.


Binding and Margins

Hard to look at part close to spine!

So, there were two major complaints we had with Crusoe Crew in our original review:

  1. Margins are too close to the binding (harder to make out text/icons towards the spine of the book: see picture above)
  2. Binding is terrible.  Pages were falling out of the book after just 1 or 2 plays (and it wasn’t just me: other friends had this problem)

So, what about Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars?  Did they fix this?

The Binding: Pretty good, better than Crusoe Crew?

The Binding: Yes.  It appears better.  I have only played it a few times, but the glue/binding “feels” better than Crusoe Crew.  We’ll revisit this when we do Part II, but our first blush is “yes: the binding is better”.


The Margins?  Are a little better, but I still think they could have simply shifted it a bit more.

Short Answer: It appears Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars has better quality control. The binding and margins are better than Crusoe Crew, but time will tell.

Solo Rules


Saunders’ Law? The solo rules work pretty well.  Just take a book (the rules recommend Wiggins above) and go through the adventure by yourself.  Here’s the thing: I’ve played a lot of adventure/story games by myself, and a lot of them are decent with 1 player (Robit Riddle and Crusoe Crew), but not great.  I came home and was just SO EXCITED to play, I played through the first mission of Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars myself.  I was engaged, I solved puzzles, I kept a map, I took notes.   I had a BLAST.   So far, I think this is better solo than Crusoe Crew!

The Fonts and Typeface Size


So, one complaint is that the font and some of the text was too small.  I already said that the rulebook page was too small.  Also, there were a couple of puzzles where I couldn’t read the text!  See the picture above!  I had to take a picture of the panel with my camera and ZOOM in it to see clearly see it!!! I guess this is thematic (like taking a magnifying glass to the book), but just something to be aware of.  You WILL need something to magnify the text!!!


All the components!

So, at the end of the day, I am very excited to play through the rest of this! I am loving it so far!!  Now, there appear to only be 4 Missions in this book, so the game will definitely be done once we’ve played through all 4.  (Much like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective).

You may have noticed that a lot of our reviews here at CO-OP Gestalt have been Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions because it’s hard to get a lot of games to the table WITH MY FRIENDS!!! (Darn COVID virus).  THIS ONE WILL BE DIFFERENT!  You should see Part II much sooner!!  Why?   Because I can pass out the books to my friends and we can play ONLINE!!!  We all have to be reading a different book anyways, so it’s just as easy to read the books cooperatively online (over Discord) as being together.  Our plan right now is to play next week.  The only thing that will be slightly awkward is that there is only one map (on the back of the Mission Log).  I can take a picture and text everyone .. actually … I think I will refer them to my blog (see picture below) … stay tuned for more thoughts ..


Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. An Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

So, this morning, my YouTube feed was jammed with 3 major YouTubers discussing Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.   Oh ya!  The end of the “media blackout” must be today!  (A lot of times, very popular games have a media blackout where they can’t discuss the game until some predetermined date).  The fact that Rahdo, Watch It Played, and the Dice Tower all talked about this today tells me “this is the day it’s released“.


So, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a Target exclusive for the first  month, then it will be available through other channels.   Today, June 21st, 2020 is the day it was released! Upon seeing the 3 major YouTubers talking about it, I checked and saw that my local Target had it in stock: namely 4 of them.  The store wasn’t open yet, but I convinced my wife to get there right at 8am when it opened.

Here’s the thing: there was a line at the store when we got there a 7:55!  About 8 deep!  Gulp!!!  Is everyone here the get  Jaws of the Lion?  It turns out, today some video game was released and MOST people were there for that.

Just like my Wonder Woman game, I had to ask an associate if the game was in the back (it was: the game wasn’t out on the floor).   Apparently,  two other people were right behind me.   So, at 8:05am, I had the first copy and copies two and three were already spoken for.  I’ll bet the last copy was gone by 9am.

It was $50.99.

What’s Gloomhaven and Why Is This a Big Deal?

Gloomhaven is the Number 1 game in the world, according to BoardGameGeek. It’s a cooperative dungeon crawler (ala Dungeons and Dragons) with a ton of content and beautiful art/design.   But it is a very heavy game and a lot of people would be turned off by its heaviness.

Gloomhaven: the Jaws of the Lion is a big deal because it attempts to bring the Gloomhaven experience to more people by slimming it down and making it more accessible.  It’s available at Target!!  It’s not quite as daunting!   Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion attempts to bring Gloomhaven (the wonderful game that it is) to more people by making it more “tractable”.


There’s a lot of stuff, but the rulebook takes you through it pretty well.  See all the pretty pictures above to get a sense of what’s in the box!

Mini Review

Here’s my review of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion in one word: Gloomhavenito

What do I mean by that? If you know Spanish, you know that adding the “ito” suffix to a word makes it diminutive and slightly cuter while still retaining all the characteristics of the base word.  Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is still Gloomhaven, but smaller, cuter and a little simpler.  (My one word review took 50+ extra words to explain).  The box is smaller, the amount you get is smaller, the number if characters is fewer … everything’s smaller.  But it’s still a big box! (see below)

Here’s my review in three words: Gloomhaven with onboarding.

That’s probable more accurate as a review.  At it’s core, JOTL is still Gloomhaven.  All the mechanisms are still there, all the great combat is still there.  What the JOTL rulebook does is walk you step-by-step through the game, slowing expanding a very simple base game.

The first page give you a ‘sense’ what’s in the game.  Then there’s a rulebook for your first play.

By the end of the first 4  games, you have the majority of the rules of a standard Gloomhaven experience.

And it works, really well.  I wish this had been my first Gloomhaven experience!  But, like a dummy, I had to learn the original game the hard way by reading the original huge rulebook.  (It was 52 pages!)

What’s Good?

This is all the goodness of Gloomhaven … with onboarding.  By the end of a few games, you are playing the base rules of Gloomhaven.  And there are more scenarios!! Plenty of content!!! (And if you like it, later, you can jump to the big boy: Gloomhaven).   JOTL is all the goodness of Gloomhaven in a smaller package, if not quite as much content.  There’s nominally 25 scenarios in JOTL, compared to 99 in the original Gloomhaven.

Arguably the best part of JOTL: no hunting for cardboard!  The original Gloomhaven was a bear to set-up: you had to go hunting through reams of cardboard looking for all the scenario sheets you needed.  It was cool and thematic, but set-up and tear-down took forever.  JOTL fixed this by eliminating most of the cardboard hexes and introducing us to the storybook!  All the scenarios are in a storybook!  See above for first set-up!

This one innovation above makes the game much more playable.  You don’t sigh inwardly (dreading the set-up) when people want to play.  Set-up for a scenario is “open a book!”  Tear-down is “close a book”!

Loot: My Least Favorite Rule

My least favorite rule in Gloomhaven was that you had to spend an action to pick up Loot during combat.  And the same for a treasure chest.  This makes NO thematic sense most pf the time! ” I just killed the last monster and I can’t pick up the Treasure chest that’s right next to him???!!”    It’s SO unlike my games of Dungeons and Dragons (the prototypical dungeon crawler) or ANY dungeon crawler.  The worst part?  THIS RULE IS NOT FUN.

Here’s the thing: we ignore the Loot rules completely.  We have our own set of house rules for Loot and Treasure! Spoiler Alert!  We allow ourselves to pick up the treasure at the end of the combat, … usually.  If it DOESN’T MAKE SENSE to get Treasure, we won’t.    For example:

  • Is the scenario an unending stream of orcs?  Then we only get the Treasure if we loot it explicitly, as the unending stream never stops (so we we don’t have time to get it)!!
  • Have we routed all goblins so there’s none left?  Then we get the Treasure at the end!  There’s nothing to stop us!

It would have made sense if each scenario specified the rule.  Ah well.

Unfortunately, the Loot rules survived to JOTL.  I suggest you house rule some Loot rules for your group that make the game more fun.  Everyone I know who plays this has “some version” of house rules to fix the Loot rules. Caveat Emptor.

Solo Play: A Missed Opportunity

The game box says very clearly that JOTL plays 1-4 Players.  Like original Gloomhaven, one solo player plays by working two characters.   So, this works fine in the original Gloomhaven and it works fine here.

Here’s the thing: I think this is a missed opportunity.  If JOTL is trying to onboard us to a simpler experience, a solo game playing two characters really ratchets up the complexity.   I think the first time for a lot of people will be as a solo game, and I wonder if the onboarding experience could have been made even a little easier with allowing true solo rules: 1 player plays 1 character.

Here’s the thing: I played out the first two scenarios with exactly one character. I “eyeballed” the complexity rating and scaled it back for one charactter. (I have played quite a number of base Gloomhaven games, so I have some sense of this).  I did this because I wanted to keep the complexity down.  Basically, I reduced the number of monsters by a few.  And you know what?  It still worked.  In both games, I just barely won.

I’m sure Isaac Childres (the designer) is rolling over in his Gloomhaven grave (he’s not dead, I just probably shocked him) that I am playing like this.  Here’s the thing: I would pay for single player rules.  But that’s just me.

To be clear, the solo player rules (with two characters) are great!  I just think an onboarding experience could have been improved for one character.


There’s a lot of goodness here.

I have a confession to make: I was one of the few people on earth who didn’t get Frosthaven when it came out.  (If you don’t know what Frosthaven was: it was the successor to Gloomhaven and the biggest board game on Kickstarter ever as of this writing)  Why?  Because Gloomhaven still sits on my shelf, mostly unplayed.   I love the game, but it just doesn’t get to the table.  It’s too daunting.  So, I doubt I’d ever get Frosthaven to the table … so I didn’t get it.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I have a chance to finish Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.  It’s just small enough that I feel like I could get through it, maybe even solo.  And, even more so, the game set-up and tear-down doesn’t scare me like it does with Gloomhaven (because of the storybook).  The storybook is the real reason to get JOTL over Gloomhaven.  

If you want to try out the world of Gloomhaven but were scared of it, this is a fantastic way into that world.  If you already have Gloomhaven, this adds more content, more scenarios, more characters.  And they  all fit and feel like the world of Gloomhaven.

If you didn’t like the original Gloomhaven, well, this probably won’t change your mind … unless it was because the rules were daunting!  In that case, you might want to give Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion a try.  It’s a very good onboarding system.


Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games

Storytelling games (also known as story book games) are games with an adventure book full of descriptive text.   The prototypical storytelling game is Tales of Arabian Nights (TOAN).  TOAN has a huge book of text (see below):

The Book of Tales - all 300 pages worth!

On each turn move around the board, then make some “choices” which another player reads from an adventure/story book with the results.

You see a black pool of water.  Do you (a) drink it (b) cross it (c) ignore it?

This is very much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my youth: you make a choice and something happens: you can get married, sex-change, ensorcled, cursed, blessed, and so many things.  There is nominally a “game” underneath Tales of the Arabian Nights (as you have to get 20 points in Story points and Destiny points, then return  home), but it’s really just an experience where players read to each other out of a storybook after they make stupid choices (“I drink the black water!”)

Paperback The Cave of Time (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) Book

There’s been quite a number of cooperative games that take this story book idea and expand it, making it better!  We’ll take a look at the Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling games!  (My friend Greg would like to point out that Tales of Arabian Nights in almost a cooperative game, as you really are just all adventuring together and seeing who gets back first … there is not really much player interaction other than reading to each other).

As we discuss each game, we will qualify each entry.  For example, for Tales of Arabian Nights:
Tales of the Arabian Nights
(Does the game play solo?)
Playable Solo
?  Yes (you can, but it’s much more fun with a group)
(How much do the choices after a story block matter?)
Choices Matter
? Not at all
(Is there an ongoing story over multiple games?)
Ongoing Campaign
? No
(How much maintenance am I doing per turn to keep the game going?)
?  Some
(How is the text of the story book presented?)
? In a giant story book

Let’s get to the list!

Honorable Mentions

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? There’s no choice on the cards: all choice is in which locations you go to
Ongoing Campaign? No
Maintenance?  Lots
Text? On the cards

Whaaaat?  Arkham Horror (2nd Edition) is a storytelling game?  Hear me out here: as you play the game, each player gets a lot of flavor text around a challenge: it’s almost impossible to separate the flavor text from the challenge when you visit a location!  You can play so that each player just reads to themselves (boring) !!!! OR!!!! You can play where every player reads their flavor text on Locations and is overly dramatic!!!

If you and your group are in the mood, you can turn Arkham Horror (2nd Edition), into a story telling game.

10. Robit Riddle

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? Somewhat
Ongoing Campaign? Sort of; there’s an overarching story, but games don’t continue previous sessions
Maintenance?  Some
Text?  In Three Books: players choose which book to play

I did a full review of Robit Riddle here (Part I and Part II).  Basically, it’s a storytelling game for families and younger kids.  It’s very cute, but it has some reasonable decisions. We enjoyed it for what it was.

9. The Legacy of Dragonholt

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? A lot
Ongoing Campaign? Yes
Maintenance?  Quite a bit as you keep track of statistics, keywords, turns, etc.
Text?  Scattered across seven story books: each book encapsulates one “adventure”

I mentioned Legacy of Dragonholt in Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games: It’s basically Dungeons and Dragons (with its character creation and fantasy setting) meets Choose Your Own Adventure books (with the choices and reading).

There’s quite a bit of maintenance per turn, as you have to keep track of what day it is, when time has passed, what keywords players have (such as persuasive, agile, etc.) and many other statistics.  Even though there is an element of luck in the game (“Are you persuasive?  Read entry 12 … otherwise read entry 200″), the game tells an Epic story over about 10 sessions.  You can save the game after a session, or you can keep going as long as you want.  There’s a lot of text to read.  I enjoyed it quite a bit solo.

8. Agents of SMERSH

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? A lot
Ongoing Campaign? No
Maintenance?  Definitely some
Text?  In a giant story book players pass around

Agents of SMERSH made my Top 10 Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path:   It’s a neat game that feels like Pandemic (moving around a world map) meets Arkham Horrror (2nd Edition) (doing challenges) meets Tales of Arabian Nights (with its huge storybook).    Players take on the role of ridiculous 70s era spies trying to take down “the Big Bad” Dr. Lobo.    The rulebook’s a little wonky, but the game is a fun romp with a real game (albeit a bit light) behind the huge story book.

Our international team in action!
It’s unfortunate that 8th Summit is out of business: it’s unclear if you can get this game or if it will be reprinted.

7. Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? None required, but you should be taking a LOOOOT of notes
Text? In Ten (separate) case books

I have the YStari version (see cover above).   The game comes with a map of London, a directory, a rulebook , some newpapers, and ten case books: I would also recommend a pencil and paper to take notes.   Your job is to work together with your teammates to solve the mystery described by each case book.  Each case is about 60-120 minutes long, and once you have gone through a case, you are done with that case forever.

Getting ready to play case #1

During the game, players decide on places to visit around London (based on the information available), and players read to each other from the case book.  Reading about new Location is how you “discover” clues and information about the case.  Once you think you have “solved” the crime (in as few moves as possible), you turn to the end and see how you did (in the form of some questions).

One of my friends really doesn’t like the scoring mechanism: You compare your score (based on how many locations you visited) with what Sherlock Holmes did.   It’s usually ridiculous how few spaces he visits.  But, if you ignore the scoring and just see this as a mystery to solve, you can enjoy your time “embracing London and its stories”.

The major problem with this game is that once you are done with a case, you can’t really replay it because you know the answer.  Luckily,   later games (Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures and Carlton House & Queen’s Park) give more content (10 cases in each new standalone game).  There is even a newer expansion (The Baker Street Irregulars) due out soon, as the time of this writing (June 7, 2020).

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series (2017 edition ...

6. Near and Far (with Amber Mines)

Playable Solo?  No (but you can scale the co-op rules to one, even though it’s not official)
Choices Matter? This is a game first with storybook second
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? Yes, quite a bit on each character sheet
Text? In a separate storybook (1 for each section in the game).

This also appeared on my Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively: You need the Amber Mines expansion to play cooperatively.

To be clear: this is basically a worker placement/resource gathering game first, and it just so happens to have storybook which augments the game.  There are 10 worlds you can travel through in the game, and each world has it’s own section of the storybook.

5. Adventure Games: The Dungeon and/or Monochrome

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes (there’s an ongoing campaign with 3 arcs)
Maintenance? Some
Text? In one fairly small storybook, but tons of text.  There is also an app which will read for you (but it wasn’t available at the time I played it).

This game made the #2 position of my top 10 cooperative games of 2019!

This game is probably the shortest of all the games on the list: it’s 3 arcs, and each arc is about 75-90 minutes.   It’s a pretty small box and pretty cheap ($15?) but it has so much story and fun!  We loved this! (And also the other one in this series: Monochrome Inc. which we liked almost as much) .

An arrangement for The Dungeon!

This is the closest thing to a point-and-click adventure game I’ve ever seen. Players combine objects (almost like an Escape Room game) and read the corresponding entry to the combined items: it’s like trying to “get torch; light torch” in the old adventure games.

This game was a blast and you might even play through it all in one night!  We ended up reading the text ourselves (with funny voices and amusing ourselves), but supposedly an app can handle reading it for you as well: the app has the advantage that you can’t accidentally read a passage you shouldn’t (as you are looking for your entry).

4. Mythos Tales


Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? None required, but you should be taking a LOOOOT of notes…
Text? In 8 (separate) case books

Mythos Tales is basically Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (see number 6 earlier on this list) meets the world of Arkham Horror!  Just like Holmes, it has a map, a directory, newspapers, and case books (only 8).   You are exploring the city to solve a mystery (like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective), but this mystery takes a macabre turn and may drive you mad!!!

The first Kickstarter edition is riddled with errors, but you can find the errata on board game geek.    Unfortunately, the company that made Mythos Tales (8th Summit) went out of business, but it looks like Grey Fox has picked up this game.

3. Forgotten Waters

Playable Solo?  Yes (but it’s more fun with lots of people).  The box says 3-7, but the app  comes with 1 and 2-player rules.
Choices Matter? Mostly, although you can still die easily
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (you can save the game and continue: some of the scenarios are too much for one play)
Maintenance? Quite a bit per turn!  The more people you have to deal with this, the better!
Text?  In the app: either on-screen or read by actors (with sound effects!)

I did the first part of a review here: This is light, pirated themed game with a Monkey Island sensibility.    There’s quite a bit of maintenance per turn, but the more people you have, the more this burden can be shared among the players.

Game Layout

The sounds effects and the app reading the text makes this game so much more fun!  Although me and my friends like reading aloud (with accents and silly voices), there’s something kinda cool about professional actors with professional sounds effects guiding your games.  If you really want to, though, you can read the text from the app.  (In fact, you can all be on the same web page and have multiple pads/phones on the same app so you don’t even have to pass around a storybook).

2. House of Danger

Playable Solo?  Yes (but it’s more fun with lots of people)
Choices Matter? Somewhat, not really
Ongoing Campaign? Yes (there are 5 chapters to complete)
Maintenance? Not very much at all
Text?  On larger cards

This is a very light game.  You will make choices and die regularly.  Why is it so high on my list?  Because it’s stupid fun!  If you die, it is almost trivial to reset the game, so it’s not a big deal.
game layout

This was the ‘end of the night’ game for my game group when we wanted a game with very little thought.  We’d pull it out, make stupid choices and laugh at the dumb things that happened.  When we died, we’d laugh and immediately reset the game.

This game has worked great over Zoom and Discord: one person can read the cards or each person can buy a copy of the game.  Since it’s widely available (Target) and pretty cheap ($25?), a bunch of people can buy it.  I am currently playing this with my friend and his niece and family.  And this is AFTER I have already played it once!!!  It’s okay to play it multiple times: you won’t see everything the first time.

1. Detective: City of Angels

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (later games are informed by previous games)
Maintenance? Definitely a lot of writing, but it’s structured to a single sheet
Text?  In eight case books

The full game setup for Detective: City of Angels.

By default, this is not a cooperative game (see Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully  Cooperatively), but the fully cooperative mode comes built in.  I love this game!  It was my 2019 Game of the Year!!  (See my review here).  If you want a storybook game where every decision matters, this is the game for you.  Players work together to solve a mystery.  It’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and Mythos Tales, but in a noir environment.  The game also structures the mysteries a little more.  You still move around the city, but the choices are bit more managable than Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (which is much more free form).    Each players take notes very methodically on a grid paper (matching people and places and stuff) and it’s a very structured way to keep track of stuff (again, compared to the more free form notes of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective).

The box cover for the Smoke & Mirrors expansion for Detective: City of Angels.

Like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Detective: City of Angels has a limited life.  Once you solve a mystery, you are done with it (because you know the answer). Luckily, there are two more expansions available for more context (Smoke and Mirrors and Bullets Over Hollywood).

If you like the idea of Sherlock Holmes but want a simpler game in a noir environment, Detective: City of Angels is the right storytelling game for you.