The case that took me almost 30 years to continue. Talk about cold cases!
Anyone that enjoys mysteries knows the thrill of following the characters unravel the meaning behind random events and clues. It’s one of the reasons the genre is so strong in almost every form of entertainment, and one of the most well-known detectives remains to this day, Sherlock Holmes.
I remember reading all of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adventures in my youth, and progressing to Agatha Christie’s Poirot and many others.
So it was with great anticipation I sat down one night in 1991(ish) with a couple of friends keen to show off a new purchase – Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.
The hook was simple – could I follow a case and work it out faster than Sherlock Holmes? Who could say no to a challenge like that?
Getting a group into a Holmes-like adventure while immersing the player is surprisingly simple. The players act as the Baker Street Irregulars, and the cases are ones that Holmes is aware of but is too busy to be interrupted with.
Surely, with three of us working together on a case too ‘simple’ for Holmes to waste his time on meant that we would surely have this in the bag, right?
The short answer was no. We worked most of it out, but we definitely weren’t smarter than Holmes. There were a few bits we missed and some made the game overly long, but we were happy with our performance.
And then my friends moved, one case in. None of the Australian game stores I tried had even heard of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and I was stopping my overseas travel the way I used to. This was a game I simply thought I would never get to play again.
But then around 2014, there was hope. A reprint! Ystari, one of the original publishers, was re-releasing the game. I quickly bought a copy and played a few cases with some friends.
And we started running into problems. The game concept was still great and fun was had, but the game itself was a bit broken. There was a major issue I wasn’t aware of from so many years ago – Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was being retranslated from French back into English, and some of the cases were just different.
Some cases were fine, but some were an exercise in frustration. In one case, the culprit wasn’t even mentioned in the story – we couldn’t win if we wanted to.
This is not the game that is being reviewed today.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – The Thames Murders and Other Cases
Today I am going to be talking about the Space Cowboy’s/Asmodee reprinting of the original Ystari release. In it, almost all of the problems you may have heard about from previous games have been corrected.
As mentioned in the image above, check the box before playing – if it says Ystari, stay away!
But what are you actually playing? Well, this is where Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective sounds worse than it is.
Your group (and you can play this solo, but I prefer at least 2 people) will be taking part in a light roleplay game, where books act as a kind of storyteller. There will be a lot of reading and picking multiple options to continue the story, similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure Story.
Wait don’t go! There is so much more to it, but that really is the easiest way to explain the game. There really is a lot of reading though, so if you are not someone that enjoys reading and/or being read to, this may not be the game for you.
But while reading is important to the game, it’s not where the actual game is played.
As I mentioned, there is a light roleplay aspect to playing a game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. You pick up the newspaper that is printed on the same ‘date’ as your casebook and give it a read, similar to how the great detective begins his day. And just like almost every Holmes story, it is surprising the clues and information that can be gleaned from the articles and ads in these journals.
Then you would begin to read the casebook out loud, taking it in turns to read and essentially be the lead investigator. The idea is pretty simple – the lead investigator reads out the passage and the group evaluates the information gathered.
Depending on the information provided or deductions made, the lead investigator then opens to the passage they decide on and hands the book over to the next player.
That last bit is pretty important – while this game is cooperative and played as a group, it’s the decision of the lead investigator as to where the next action is taken. If you play with a quarterback that like to make all the decisions, this may not be their kind of game.
Now, this sounds like a Choose Your Own Adventure so far with the exception of the newspaper. So where does the deduction come from you ask?
Well while there are options occasionally to go to a certain passage in the book, the choices are almost always completely up to the group. You are provided a map of London and Directory with all of the ‘important’ people and places to use for the entire game.
For an example, the story may make mention of a Colonel Blowhard (not a real game name) and how he was overheard complaining about someone skulking up an alleyway.
If you look up the Colonel in your directory, you can find a passage number for his home location. But what if he could be at the Army Barracks? You can see them on the map, also with passage number to try and find him there.
But if you remember from the paper, his daughter is getting married today so he could also be busy overseeing last-minute preparations at the church.
While this particular situation is hypothetical, it is representative of the kind of decision you have to repeatedly make throughout the case. Each decision could help further the story along, or you find a dead end and have to backtrack.
There is also a list of contacts that are almost always available to you for each case, including Sherlock Holmes himself if you are getting too lost.
Fans of the series will recognise Scotland Yard and Inspector Lestrade, but there are also criminal contacts as well if you need some of the gossip making its way around.
And it’s here that Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective shines as an experience – you have to notice the clues and reveal the trail. There is no bad roll or unlucky draw to snatch victory – you solve the case, or you don’t.
To finish a game, you basically answer some questions on the nature of the case for points and take points away for the number of locations you visited. Assuming you got things correct, you solved the case! But that is only part of the challenge. Did you outsmart Holmes himself?
If you end up with a score of 100 or more, then the answer is yes – but this is very hard for most people to do. I would suggest concentrating on simply ending up with a positive score and counting that as a win – but the challenge is still there for you!
The downside is once you have read the solution, you know how to beat Holmes, so replayability is limited. There are plenty of cases in the box though, and new collections are coming out as well!
I am not looking at Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures or Carlton House & Queens Park today, but the core of these games are the same so if you are interested at all they are safe purchases. There is no play order in the sets, so grab whatever set you can confident you won’t be missing anything.
It is a testament to how good these games can be that over 35 years after the initial release, different companies are not only picking up the original cases but new cases are actively being created.
If you enjoy solving mysteries, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases is a great experience.
This is also a game where the group will define the experience – play with a lot of argumentative players and it will sour the fun. Play by yourself, and possibly miss a lot of clues in the case.
Sherlock Holmes is definitely a game I would pick up for couples nights or small groups. As it’s only a couple of books and paper, it can be played almost anywhere you can read and talk as well – great for travel!
Until next time,