An absolutely brilliant design from 1981 has been re-birthed in Modern trappings to astound, fluster, and magnify a new generation of gamer. The core game play found in this elegant box is pure and simple yet packs hours of entertainment as you and a group of friends take a puff from the pipe, pass the brandy, and pull on your ditto suits.
One must understand before diving into Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, that this is not Clue or even the excellent Mystery of the Abbey – this is a wholly unique experience you cannot find elsewhere. There’s no die rolling, no cards, and not even a board. Instead, you get a simple yet effective paper map of London, a short rules booklet, a small London Directory, and 10 case books and their accompanying London Times for the day. One of the many beautiful elements of this game are that the rules can be summarized in less time than it takes to setup Hey, That’s My Fish! First you open the booklet for the case you wish to play and read the introduction aloud to the group. This will be a couple pages of flavor text (Holmes insulting Watson or remarking on his own genius) which will result in a number of clues. Clues are not spelled out for the group but rather must be picked out and analyzed at the table’s discretion. You will typically have a couple names you wish to investigate further, maybe a location or two, and possibly one or more peculiar details. While peculiar details, such as the victim’s waistcoat bearing odd soot or a long lock of the cadaver’s hair missing, should be noted and logged, the majority of information consisting of people and places will require you to follow-up and dig deeper. What this means in standard practice is shouting at Jimmy across the table to get off his phone and look up “Sir Hiram Pennysworth” in the London Directory. The Directory is a smaller book which lists names and places of business that you can visit. Next to the name will be a location which corresponds to the map (“37 SW”). You then take the Case Book and look underneath the section corresponding to the location to see if there is any information at that location. If so, there will be a paragraph or two and possibly a picture which will offer additional information and more places to go to.
This will continue as you discover additional seedy people you had no idea existed, uncover affairs fit for the best Soap Operas, and slowly formulate in your head who you think killed the victim and what their motives were. The game ends a bit abruptly as you must decide when you wish to stop pursuing leads and flip to the back of the Case Book where a set of questions exist. There are two sets of questions, the first dealing specifically with the murder and the second set pertaining to extraneous details you may have uncovered (and which may have nothing to do with the murder). So, besides following an interesting story and having a huge light bulb appear over your head, what’s the point? The rub is that you are competing with Holmes to solve the case and must do so in a quick and efficient manner. You gain points by answering questions correctly while losing them for following extra leads beyond what Holmes used. This adds a necessary element of tension as you grapple with 3 leads and agonize over which ones to prioritize but it also can add a large element of frustration. See, Holmes is a cheating whore that makes deductions only Johnny Cochran could justify. While it is possible to beat Holmes, the majority of the time you will lose horribly and this is something you will just have to deal with to enjoy the game. In the end, this minor flaw does not spoil a fantastic, riveting experience.
While I’ve touched on the beauty of the pure distilled deduction this game offers without any extra chrome or fat, I have yet to really mention the single best element of this game – the glorious London Times. I noted that each case also has a partner issue of the London Times but I haven’t hammered home the pure awesomeness of this single sheet of thin paper that is printed double-sided. The newspaper is chock-full of delicious 19th century articles, obituaries, columns, and even company adds. Sometimes the format will be jarring and will make no sense and you can’t help but arch an eyebrow and show it to the group. Other times you will come across odd snippets of information clearly hiding something and intended for an audience other than yourself.
The idea is that hidden on this single page may be one or more clues pertaining to the case. We have a go-to London Times person in our group and she spends probably 70% of the game reading and re-reading the damn thing – and she loves every second of it. When you find that meaningful article where you see that name that first came up at the German Embassy an hour ago, and you start to put everything together, those are the moments this game rocks and has you looking forward to your next case. It’s such a clever inclusion and one that provides for such thorough immersion and atmosphere that I’m not sure I’d enjoy the game even half as much without it. While it is a valid concern that the game does suffer from a 10 game play limit (due to cases not being replayable), I will not hesitate to eagerly bring this up and recommend it to anyone that is a fan of deduction games. It is modestly priced, easy to obtain, and is one of the precious games in my collection that I know will continue to hit the table. Pick the damn thing up and give Ystari a reason to reprint the expansion cases.
Additional reviews and articles by Charlie Theel can be viewed here.