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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Designer Diary: Sherlock in Time, or Solving Mysteries in Feudal Japan

by JD Horux

I’ve always admired Sherlock Holmes, as does almost everyone, so creating a deduction game about him was almost destined to be — but that’s not why I decided to work on a Sherlock Holmes game.

Some time ago, a friend of mine who works as an illustrator, Vicente Cifuentes, with whom I had already worked with for Hell Lords, made a comic called Whodunnit? Besides having a great story, it’s beautifully illustrated, and that’s what started the idea rolling. Eventually, I came up with a deduction game that evolved into the Sherlock in Time base game.

The trouble is, there are a lot of games about Sherlock, and almost all of them are set in Victorian times. That’s when TCG Factory came into play and suggested sending Sherlock to feudal Japan. This small idea kicked off the entire “In Time” line of games in which different famous characters will be plucked out of their age, resulting in very fun plot twists.

Another great idea that came from TCG Factory was to change the crime from an assassination to a robbery, which made it accessible for players under 12 years old.

Step-by-Step: Creating the Mechanisms

But let’s talk about the process of creating Sherlock in Time. Even though this is a relatively simple game, and I’ve already designed numerous games, such as Lady Up, Maestras de la Pintura, and Food Trucks, creating a game is always a long and arduous path.

My first idea was closer to a memory-style game in which players had to remember the correct clues. However, I don’t really like games with that mechanism, and it worked horribly in games with players of different age groups.

It took a bit of time before I discovered the flipped card idea. Here’s how it works:

In Sherlock in Time, each player is investigating a crime on their own. You start with a hand of clue cards that show one of four suspects, one of three locations, and one of three stolen objects. One of the clue cards in your hand faces the other players, not you, and you must identify the three symbols on this secret card in order to solve your crime.

The suspects

On a turn, place a card from your hand face up. The other players will tell you how many symbols on the revealed card — 0, 1, or 2 — match the symbols on your secret card, but not which ones. Place the revealed card on a reminder card so that you can remember how many clues matched, then either end your turn or attempt to identify the three symbols on your secret card. (Remember that you can see the secret card held by each other player, in addition to their revealed cards.) If you’re correct, you score points based on how many others have already guessed their secret card; if you’re incorrect, you’re out of the round.

The game lasts three complete rounds, then the player with the most points wins.

Once you’re comfortable with the game, you can add additional clue cards that introduce a fourth stolen object, which makes the game more challenging.

Originally, another player held your secret card, but it soon became clear that throwing questions to the same person all the time wasn’t the best approach. Besides, it was annoying to the player, who had to be constantly checking the card.

Assistants and Shortcuts: Designing Variants and Expansions

After having the base game ready, there was the possibility of creating variants and expansions. One thing that started as a mini-variant and ended up in the base game is the “dishonorable” shortcut. With this special ability, a player can spend their honor card to learn whether one specific symbol is on their secret card. An unused honor card serves as a tiebreaker, so don’t spend it unless you have to.

This works similarly to classic games like Who is Who?, and I felt it was an interesting way to give the game a variant.

The last thing that came into play was the “Watson in Time” expansion, which is included for free in the first edition. After multiple tests and several back-to-back games, some players noted that the game needed some more interactive options. Basically, they wanted to mess with the other players’ games to make things more interesting.

With this expansion, each player gets an extra card with an assistant, and these characters have special skills that can either be a nuisance to the other players or protect you from their attacks.

A Gorgeous Final Product

After everything regarding gameplay was sorted out, the only thing left to talk about is the art. Sherlock in Time is a game with beautiful illustrations, and I couldn’t be happier about them. The illustrator, Joaquín Rodríguez, had already worked with TCG Factory on Abu Simbel, and he did such a great job with it that another collaboration was a given. All the sketches, illustrations, and detailed layout (by Daniel Pineda’s studio) make a gorgeous final product.

After all our hard work, having Sherlock in Time in my hands was an incredible sensation. It marked the end of a well-done job involving a lot of people, even the factory! Seeing how the illustrations looked on the cards, how you could play them in your hands, and how good the box looked with the other TCG Factory games was also super gratifying.

I hope you like this game, and I’ll see you on the next adventure!

Jose D. Flores


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