I strutted my way along Baker Street, heading for a door that had seen more than its fair share of distressed souls pass through. I, though, had no such worries, for I had solved Holmes’s case in double quick time and was mighty pleased with myself for having done so.
Mrs. Hudson let me in, and I made my own way up the familiar stairs; I had been one of the great man’s proteges for a couple of weeks now. Watson answered my knock and bade me enter, a kindly smile on his face that made one warm to the old Doctor.
Holmes was standing by the fireplace, and, without further ado, I lavishly laid all I had discovered of the case at his feet, finishing with a smile of my own and awaiting my mentor’s praise.
“You bumbling Idiot. Not only do you take three days to reach a conclusion on what is such trivial case, but you totally failed to see what was right in front of your eyes.”
My heart sank, my shoulders slumped, was I so very wrong?
“The length of the stride, the weight of the prints in the mud, the size and shape of the shoe, man, did these mean nothing to you?”
“And then there was the visit of Mrs. Lofthouse to her bank, where she placed something within its vaults for safe keeping. Did you not make enquiries of Mr. Stretton, the Clerk there?”
“One quick glance at the scene and a call to the bank and it was all wrapped up. Lofthouse stole her own Pearls and Diamonds, though she never intended any harm to her husband, he caught her by surprise, and she panicked. She placed the jewels in the banks vault to retrieve them later, after the insurance had paid out.”
My God! I was so far off the scent – I had the nosey neighbour down for it all; how could I be so wrong. I didn’t wait for Holmes to continue, I mumbled my farewell and proceeded to the door held open by Watson.
“Never mind old chap. If it’s any consolation, I’d placed my hat on the Gardener!”
- Designer: Gary Grady, Suzanne Goldberg, Raymond Edwards
- Publisher: Sleuth Publications
- Year Released: 1982
- Players: 1-6
- Playing Time: 60-120 minutes per case
- Ages: 13+
- Recommended Retail Price: Approx. £42.99
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, possibly the best detective game one could play? Let’s take a look at the clues and see if we can reach a conclusion…
What’s in the box?
- A4 Ring binder
- 24″ x 28″ Map of Holmes’s London
- London directory
- Case book
- Clue book
- Newspaper Archive
- Quiz book
Note – I have the 1982 binder edition, later versions may differ slightly.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a bit like a cross between a Choose Your Own Path (CYOP) adventure and a who-dunnit book, with you acting as Holmes’s protégé. But, unlike a CYOP, you’re not always presented with options on where to go or what to do next, and that is the beauty of this game.
Right from the start, when you open the binder (or box if you have a later version), you’ll be immersed in the Victorian era of Conan Doyle’s famous detective, as you feast your eyes upon the detailed street map, quickly flick through the newspaper archive, and examine the directory.
All the components have that feel and look about them of the period – thick, almost sepia coloured paper for the rules, quiz, map, clue, and case book, whilst the directory sports a stand-out red cover. The newspaper archive is printed on white, but equally thick, paper. It’s good that the paper is thick, as everything is going to get a good thumbing with constant referral during the game. There are a few pictures too, not many, but enough to break up the monotony of looking at paragraphs of words, and again, they capture the feel of the period and look like they could easily have come straight from the books.
Playing the game is as simple as reading one of the detective’s novels. There are three ways to play – Solitaire, 2-player Competitive, or cooperative play – personally, it’s best either Solitaire or co-operative. You’ll pick a case to solve – there are ten to choose from and best done in the order presented – and read the introduction. This will present the crime or mystery you have to solve. After reading this, you then decide on where to go or what to do first, read the relevant entry in the clue book, and then decide upon what to do next, and so on. You’ll do this until you think you have a solution, at which point you’ll consult the quiz book and see if you’re right. You’ll be scored against how many of the questions you got correct and the length of time, in game turns, it took you to get there. You will then be given the solution as solved by the great man himself, at which point you groan at just how easy it could have been, but don’t be too hard on yourself, as it isn’t an easy game.
This might sound a bit daunting, but don’t worry, Sherlock’s at hand to give you a pre-game lecture, one that I highly recommend you read and inwardly digest. This contains many helpful hints and tips to see you along your investigative route, such as listing important people you may wish to consult during your investigation – Chief Medical Examiner, Reporters, Librarians, and even Sherlock’s brighter, but lazier, brother Mycroft appear in the list – and you can visit them by turning to the appropriate paragraph in the clue book.
So, you’ve read the introduction to your first case, which, if you’ve ever read any of Sherlock’s books, is the equivalent to getting a knock on the door and Mrs. Hudson showing in some distressed person eager for your help. The case will be outlined, the main objective laid at your feet, and some pertinent clues hidden in the dialogue, but what now?
This is where the fun starts. It’s totally up to you what you should do and where you should go. There are no conventional CYOP paragraphs stating, ‘Visit the murder scene? Go to para 247’ or ‘Talk to the witness? go to para 98.’ No, nothing here to steer you in a direction, it’s all down to your own powers of deduction… Oh dear!
Grab a notebook and pen, you’re going to need them, and put your grey matter to work on the 2-pipe problem at hand. The options are plentiful and aren’t always as obvious as just visiting the pathologist to find out how the victim met their end, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, I should first explain how the paragraph system actually works.
The Clue book is divided up into the individual cases and each case is broken up into areas – Southeast, Southwest, etc. – each relating to an area of the map. To visit a location, for example some suspect has mentioned they were in the Red Boar Inn at the time of the murder, we consult the London Directory and find the Inn is located at 34SE. We can then find this on the map, which is conveniently broken down into these areas, and find the Inn. This may lead us to draw certain conclusions just from its location; it may be close to the murder scene and the suspect could easily have nipped out, done the dastardly deed, and nipped back in again, or it could just be a coincidence. Anyway, if you wish to visit the Inn and talk to the landlord you turn to para 34SE in the case book, presuming there is one. If there isn’t, then you’re on a wild goose chase and heading in totally the wrong direction, and it will cost you a turn, but to be honest, this doesn’t happen, as even if you’re following a more obscure line of investigation, so long as it has some relevance, it will be listed, even if it just to rules something out.
Reading the entry may give you more ideas on what avenue of investigation to pursue, but it’s best to sit back a little and think things through, because if you want to compete with Holmes, you’ll need to be economical with your turns, very economical! You need to examine every detail thoroughly, thinking about where it may lead you and what relevance it has to the crime; you may be surprised by your powers of deduction! Looking through the newspaper archives can drop some useful titbits, but remember, you can only look at newspapers dated on or before your current case, and yes, past news may come in handy later down the line.
There were very few times where I found myself totally stumped, and when it was usually a case of just back tracking or following Holmes’s advice and paying a visit to some of the people he mentioned in his lecture. This was enough for me to see the error in my ways, which was usually caused by me missing something obvious or following a line of inquiry too far along a dead end and forgetting what my other alternatives were – as I say, get a notebook!
Using the resources available should point you in the direction of the solution, but the fun of the game, its real draw, is that it makes you feel clever in doing so (at least it does until you read how Sherlock solved it). For example – and I’m making this up, though there’s every chance something similar might crop up in a case I’ve yet to do – A victim’s body might have traces of ink on his clothes. After a visit to the Pathologist, you might be given the chemical breakdown of the ink and so you visit each of the printers listed in the Directory. You find there is only one that uses that type of ink, and you obtain a list of their workforce. At this point a bell goes off and you dive into the papers – Yes! One of the workers is mentioned in respect to the victim, they were both competing in a sporting event, which ended with accusations of cheating being thrown around. You look up this person in the Directory and pay him a visit, and lo, it turns out he has no alibi., and so it goes on…
The plots are very absorbing, and the way they’re written should make any Holmes fan smile. Indeed, if you are familiar with Holmes’s methods then you should do well, though never well enough. Sherlock’s solutions are aggravatingly simple, and it’s often the case that he’ll have visited half of the locations you did. On reading, you’ll bite your knuckle at how obvious it all was, or, and this may put some people off, wave your fist at the book and scream that there was no way he could make that connection with so little evidence!
To me, it didn’t matter a jot whether I beat Holmes, or even got close to his score, I just really enjoyed the experience. I did prefer playing solo though, as I could take as long as I liked and make many copious notes in my little book – not all of them helpful. Playing cooperatively, it’s easy to impose some time-pressure on yourselves not to enter into long debates about whether it was possible for Mr. Smith to have gotten from one side of London to the other within the given timeframe, or some other such line of investigation. It can be helpful to break things down into individual tasks, such as newspaper browser, note-taker, etc. but this can spoil the fun, however, there is a better way of playing cooperatively…
If you work as a team, with each investigator following a thread, it can feel more like a proper investigation. For example: One of you visits the Pathologist, reading the entry to themself, whilst another goes off to the murder scene and does the same there. Neither can consult with the other until the meet up at a given location or report back to the person leading the investigation. So, they are free to follow up any lines of investigation they may feel is important, but may have no bearing on the case, as could have been ruled out by talking to the others. This is best if you have a couple of copies of the game, so you aren’t waiting around for the Case book, but it does make for an interesting way to play.
As for competitive, I can’t really comment, as it’s not a way that I ever wanted to play, no, for me Solo is best, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes mulling over a good murder/mystery book. It’s the kind of game you can pull out and spend half-hour on and then put it away, keeping your notebook handy and just think about it whilst doing something more mundane, like working – you can even play it in bed! There are several expansions out for it now, so for the avid amateur detective there’s plenty to keep you busy. If you enjoyed Chronicles of Crime but want a more thoughtful and in-depth experience, then this is something you should take a good look at – I highly recommend it!
Players: Best solo, though cooperative is also very good.
Playing Time: No idea! I tend to play quite slowly when solo and like to draw out the experience!
Age: I’d say 13+ is about right.
Expansions: There are many web-published expansions, a few retail, and also several standalone variants, such as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars.
Expect to Pay: Around £35
Official site: Space Cowboys (You’ll find a host of interesting things here, such as free cases and recorded introductions to each case.)
Recommended video review: The Dice Tower with Ryan Metzler – it’s a later printing to mine and he prefers it coop.
BoardGameGeek page: Here