The fog shrouds the windows of 221B Baker Street like a veil dropped across the eyes. Dr John Watson sits in the wingback chair by the crackling fire, reading the Times. His esteemed companion, Sherlock Holmes, paces the room in a state of obvious agitation.
“I’m bored, Watson!” he abruptly announces, “it’s been a week since my last case. Have the criminal underclasses discovered religion? The philandering husbands settled down? What am I supposed to do with myself, Watson!?”
Watson sighs and folds up the paper. “I don’t know, Holmes. Would you care for a game? Ticket to Ride perhaps?”
“There is no mind in London able to meet mine in competitive play!”
“What about a co-op? There’s a copy of Pandemic around here somewhere isn’t there?”
“Solvable in six moves. I gave it to Wiggins and his pals to entertain them.”
“That was my copy of Pandemic, Holmes!”
“Oh. Well. You’re welcome?”
“I suppose there’s this new edition of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Featuring a selection of mysteries that may even tax you!”
“Mysteries you say? Why, that does sound interesting! Crack it out, Watson, the game is afoot!”
“I knew you were going to say that…”
Time: 60-120 mins
Designer: Suzanne Goldberg, Gary Grady, Jérôme Ropert
Artist: Bernard Bittler, Arnaud Demaegd, Neriac, Pascal Quidault
Publisher: Asterion Press, Space Cowboys
In Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective you are a member of the illustrious Baker Street Irregulars, quick-witted Londoners chosen to act as assistants to Sherlock Holmes, his eyes to the ground and ears on the street. No, you aren’t playing as Sherlock Holmes. You aren’t good enough to be Sherlock Holmes!
Oh, I’m sorry. You think you could be as smart as Sherlock? Then step this way, Doctor Goldfire, renowned physician, has a mystery for you and its up to you to find out what’s happening, and why. Open one of the 10 case files and you are presented with the background to the case, some initial suspects and a couple of clues. Then step into the rain soaked streets of Victorian London and decide: where do you want to go?
Because this game has done an extraordinary thing. Every corner of every street has someone to talk to, a door to knock on. You are given a map of London and a directory of everyone who lives and works there. You could go anywhere! Though you don’t want to waste time visiting the wrong locations. Once you’ve chosen one, you’ll have a grid reference, 12SW say, and you’ll turn to the corresponding entry in the case book and read aloud the wonderfully evocative text written there. Perhaps you’ll find nothing of importance. Perhaps you’ll find a vital clue! Or maybe that piece of juicy information was nothing but hearsay sending you off on a wild goose chase of further leads.
The most innocuous details at first glance are so often the key pieces of information that will keep you from wasting time. These are the details that Sherlock uses as the springboards for his deductions while you stumble about the alleys of London following lead after lead. For this game will not give you the answer on a silver platter. Even if you followed every lead in the case to exhaustion, visited every location on the map, you might never have a complete picture. Instead you are given the pieces, but you have to put it together yourself.
But how do you know when you have solved the case? Precisely. Sherlock knows when the case is through, because he has logically eliminated every alternative. This game tells you to stop when you want to! Indeed, a successful investigator won’t have read a quarter of the lovingly written entries in the case file. And that’s fantastic! When do you stop pursuing leads and face the questions at the end of the case file? Because when you do there’s no going back. Either you have discovered enough to answer them, or you must face the awkward realisation that you missed something.
Then, and only then, does the master himself deign to explain the case to you, and how he solved it. And of course! It was so obvious! As Sherlock takes you through his process you feel like a complete fool for missing these logical steps. It captures perfectly the end of any good murder mystery where the characters are sat together in a living room and the detective stands up and finally reveals the murderer, except instead of being sat on the other side of the TV screen, you are sat in that room with them!
And finally we come to the scoring. Where you at last find out how “well” you did. For every question you were able to answer correctly you score some points. You score a large number of points for the obvious questions of who killed the victim? Why? But you also have the possibility of scoring a few bonus points if you are able to answer questions about the sub plots surrounding the core case. Sherlock always scores a flat 100 points and you can score up to 140 points from these questions. But then comes the painful part, where you lose 5 points for every lead you followed more than Sherlock did. And Sherlock follows a staggeringly small number of leads! Quaintly, you can even score an extra 5 points for every additional lead Sherlock followed, as if you could solve the mystery faster!
As much as we may wish it, none of us are as good as Sherlock Holmes. Doing better than him is not the aim of this game. Follow too many leads and your score will be negative: just scoring above zero is a challenge! But with each case you learn from your mistakes. Each deduction you make will have you feeling like a genius, like you’ve just managed to channel some small part of the great detective himself. And after Sherlock has casually squashed your carefully constructed hypotheses? You pick up the next case and throw yourself into it all over again!
The new adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a tremendous game. Dare I say, the best deduction game ever made. It’s a wonderful date night game for my partner and I, a fantastic game to play at a reasonably sized dinner party. Even my parents enjoyed this and they hate board games! But perhaps you already know all this (about the game, not my family…) Perhaps you own a copy of the original edition from Ystari. Should you be interested in this new edition?
Well, aside from the fact that the new box, subtitled Jack the Ripper and the West End Adventure, is the most wonderful physical product you could hope for, the game contains 10 entirely new cases including 4 linked stories. Linked!? How can that work!? These are, naturally, the Jack the Ripper cases the subtitle speaks of and their storyline is such that you won’t be finding the culprit in the first case. Instead, it’s more akin to an exploration of the history, deducing what you can from the clues at hand, eliminating as much of the impossible as possible, you might say. For once Holmes won’t be striding in to save the day… as far as solving the crime can be considered saving the day at least.
This gives those four cases a strange, though certainly unique feel. It’s not helped by being an investigation into the most brutal murders the Consulting Detective has ever faced. Indeed, the nature of these attacks, described in unflinching detail, the victims, always women, and the fact that these things actually happened, takes the game down a far darker road than normal. The traditionally eccentric cast of characters take a back seat to stories illustrating the real hardships experienced by the people of Whitechapel at this time. The original game, and for that matter the other 6 cases in this box, have a much lighter tone. Yes people die, but in a PG-13, afternoon TV kind of way. The Jack the Ripper cases are solidly R-rated and that might bother you. Hell, it bothered me, but fortunately not so much as to diminish my enjoyment of the puzzle.
The puzzles in this case book have, so far at least, been exceptional. The quality of the original cases varied considerably, in places due to frustrating typos or just a downright wrong solution (case 3!) But when they were on point they were brilliant! So far each case of this new set I’ve played has been up there with the best of them, and I have never been so satisfied with the solutions I have been given. I still get it completely wrong most of the time, but I don’t feel like I’ve been cheated. I just feel incompetent. Actually, I don’t know which is better…
Jack the Ripper and The West End Adventures is a tremendous edition of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. If you’ve not yet deduced, this is a title you need to pick up. If you own the original, then this is a superb expansion! The only reticence you might have is for the dark nature of the Jack the Ripper storyline, but the fact that they approach it with an unrepentant eye for the history of the case shows a tremendous amount of respect. It would have been all too easy to make light of it with a traditional Sherlock Holmes style narrative. That they didn’t makes this game all the stronger, even if those 4 cases might be a little heavier than we’re used to.