Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Carlton House and Queen’s Park is the latest instalment in the game which always strives to come up with the longest title in the business.
It’s a format that’s quite well tried-and-tested by now and, as usual, there are a few minor tweaks to the format in this box, as well as 10 brand-new cases to try out. Where does this fit alongside the others in the series, and is it any good? Let’s find out!
Carlton House and Queen’s Park – what’s in the box?
Like most Sherlock games, Carlton House and Queen’s Park is a box mostly full of books. You have a rulebook, several casebooks, and a phonebook. There are also 10 newspapers, and a couple of maps.
Carlton House and Queen’s Park is another printing from Space Cowboys, like Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures last year. It features the same high-quality materials, side-opening game box, and clear font that helps clear up the legibility issues of some of the earlier editions. Nice touches like having the answers to the mystery kept in a separate envelope are retained, making it easier for players to avoid accidental spoilers. Artwork remains minimal in scope, but is of a high quality, and the overall aesthetic and feel of the game is very nice.
I’m New to this: How does it play?
Every version of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective follows a fairly consistent pattern, and Carlton House and Queen’s Park doesn’t change that. The game comes with 10 cases, each in their own separate book. The book typically begins with you arriving at 221B Baker Street, just in time to hear a desperate client pleading for Holmes’ help, at which point Holmes will generally come up with a reason that he can’t possibly take the case himself, but offer assurances that his associates (i.e. you) will be able to solve the case just fine.
You will then be presented with an overview of the case: key features, locations, names and off you go!
The game provides you with a copy of the Newspaper, a Map of London and a directory (i.e. an address book) – it’s up to you where you go. You pick your first destination – often the scene of the crime, or a key witness/suspect, look up their location, and turn to the relevant section of the book. Each location visited is a “lead” and you need to keep track of how many leads you follow over the course of the game. Ideally, each lead will give you some important clues, opening your eyes to new leads you might want to pursue.
If you do find yourself at a loss for where to go next, there are a selection of recurring “informants” on the back of the rulebook – The Pathologist, The Criminologist, Scotland Yard, The Old Bailey, even a friendly Tavern owner – it’s rare that these will provide the crucial clue to crack the case, but they might well point you in the direction of someone who can.
With a bit of luck you will (eventually) decide that you have solved the case – or got as close as you are going to – at that point, you turn to the back of the book, where you will find a series of questions to answer.
You write down your answers, then reveal the solution, scoring points for correct answers. Next compare the number of leads you followed with the number Sherlock visited (yes, it turns out he did investigate the case after all!) and deduct 5 points for each extra lead that you followed. Finally compare your score with Sherlock’s – he always gets 100 points!
Chasing the Impossible?
Carlton House and Queen’s Park is the third Sherlock box I’ve owned, and in that time we’ve beaten Sherlock exactly once (in a game where it turned out at the end that you weren’t penalised for pursuing extra leads). As a “winnable game” it certainly has some issues, and there is something really quite counter-intuitive about trying to solve a case by following as few leads as possible, rather than doing due diligence and investigating everything thoroughly.
The thing is though, Sherlock isn’t really a game to be won and lost, it’s a narrative experience, a puzzle to figure out. After a few pointless sessions where we’d try to crack the case in 4 or 5 leads and get everything wrong, we’ve long-since decided that we’d rather take our time, experience what the case has to offer, and enjoy the ride. Approached this way, Sherlock is a great experience, fun, challenging, and that bit different from everything else.
I’ve Sherlock-ed before: What’s new?
1 – Carlton House
The first big twist of Carlton House and Queen’s Park is … Carlton House!
Carlton House is a large manor which will be central to the investigations during several of your cases in this box. In many respects the locations here are much the same as anywhere else in London, but there is an extent to which they are contained within the larger one – upon arriving at the house, you will be presented with an overview of who currently lives there, and what rooms they occupy, then you need to choose which areas to visit.
The extra information is fairly useful, as it presents more detail than just what can be gleaned from the introductory account. Investigations within Carlton House also rely on the map a bit more than cases in London more broadly, as you will need to study the detailed floor-plans provided to see whether people could truly have moved between the sequence of rooms they claim, and whose paths they would inevitably have crossed in doing so.
Carlton House cases will still require a certain amount of sleuthing in London proper: generally the house will be the client and/or victim’s home, with visits to their place of work, or to the standard locations being called for.
2 – Queen’s Park
It should come as no surprise that the other unique element of Carlton House and Queen’s Park is… Queen’s Park! This is a grand 3-day’ investigation, which plays out over the course of 3 ever-fatter investigation books.
The big twist in the Queen’s Park case, aside from a new map, and new locations to visit that are further out from the centre of London, is the introduction of time as a factor. Different leads will take different amounts of time to pursue, and travelling between sites will occupy time as well. Sherlock’s sister game, Mythos Tales has previously used a somewhat simplified version of time (you have X days, and can only visit 3 leads per day), but Carlton House and Queen’s Park ramps up the complexity and the bookkeeping.
The owner of stolen jewels is probably in her 50s, and they were taken from the safe. Clearly the artist thought you’d prefer this to a picture of a safe…
For each new lead, you have 15 minutes of travel time, PLUS additional time if the lead is more than 1 region away from the previous one. Then you have to add on the amount of time you spend when you actually get there. Often there will be a link between how useful a lead is and how long it takes, but not always.
As I’ve already mentioned, our plays of Sherlock tend to lean towards solving the whole puzzle, rather than trying to get high scores by visiting a minimal number of leads, so I wasn’t a massive fan of this limitation.
A far bigger problem though, is the fact that the 3-day investigation doesn’t have any questions until the end of the final day. As a result, if you miss any key leads on day 1 or 2, you start the next day at a disadvantage, and things will spiral further and further out of your control. As you find yourself clutching at straws, you’ll end up dotting around the map, which means you lose more and more time on travel, rather than being able to plan a few leads at a time, and visit them in a strategic order.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of the leads in the Queen’s Park books are duplicated – some locations will give you an identical block of text on each of the 3 days. This is particularly frustrating, as the small number who are different for each day tend to be ones which have crucial information – so the chances are that you’d decide to re-visit 1 lead, find nothing new there, and then incorrectly rule-out re-visiting others.
Overall, the “Queens’ Park” bit of Carlton House and Queens Park fell a bit flat for us. The time aspect was a nice idea, and a good way to keep the overall concept fresh, but it felt like it would have been much better as 3 distinct cases of 1 day each.
Carlton House and Queen’s Park plays quite heavily upon its place in the existing Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective canon – there are plenty of little nods in the newspapers, or in the comments of informants about previous encounters or cases, and it’s nice to see an attempt being made by the designers to draw the threads together into one coherent world that they have created.
That said, it definitely felt like there were times when things went a bit too far. Case 3 for example, the Defenestrated Novice, is solvable using only the materials in Carlton House and Queen’s Park. That said, anyone who has previously solved the Lionised Lions case from the Thames Murders box will find that they have a definite head-start.
How long do you study English?
The writer of Carlton House and Queen’s Park is French. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with this – or at least there wouldn’t be if you didn’t find yourself repeatedly stumbling over the syntax of someone who is clearly not writing in their mother tongue: adjectives and adverbs appearing where they would in a French sentence, rather than an English one, or simply the wrong word-form altogether.
This kind of error is also dangerous, because of the way it undermines your confidence in the game as a whole. In one case, a key witness made a notable historical gaff, which I wrote off with mild annoyance as another error on the part of space cowboys. It was only a while later that we realised that this was a deliberate error on the part of the writers, designed to alert the investigators to the fact that the person talking to us was not what they seemed.
Some cases are more badly-written than others: at their worst, it feels like Google Translate deserves a writing credit for the game. It certainly shatters the immersion, but I don’t think the problems are bad enough to prevent you from solving the case. Still, it’s decidedly disappointing to be tackling the case of “The Defenestrated Novice” when “The Defenestrated Debutante” is not only much more accurate, but also rolls of the tongue so much better.
Carlton House and Queen’s Park: Final thoughts
Overall, Carlton House and Queen’s Park doesn’t really change all that much about the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective format, but it doesn’t really need to. This is a solid format that’s been through many iterations, and just needs good mysteries in each new box.
There are a few oddities – some of the cases become fractionally easier if you’ve played earlier boxes, and as mentioned, the proof-reading/translation is decidedly second-rate, but the ‘normal’ cases are good.
The let-down was the sprawling Queen’s Park narrative, which was interesting but unwieldy. Overall, I like Carlton House and Queen’s Park for recapturing the whimsical tone needed for a Sherlock story, rather than the jarringly macabre tone of Jack the Ripper and West-End Adventures, if only the execution was a little bit better.
7/10 – Fun, but could be so much better with better editing.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.