Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
With board games coming in ever-larger, ever-more-expensive boxes, filled with miniatures, counters and who knows what else, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see something simple and old-fashioned.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is definitely one of these games. Inside are no miniatures or counters, just the tools used by Sherlock Holmes to solve a mystery, and the challenge to see whether you can crack the case more efficiently than Sherlock himself.
The box for Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective contains a rulebook, a map of London, a Directory, 10 cases to solve, and a selection of London newspapers to search for clues.
So what do I do? How do I solve the case?
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective revolves around cases: Each case is a book, beginning with a brief narrative, and giving you a mystery to solve. The rules suggest that you are trying to “beat” Sherlock Holmes by solving the case first but this is a bit of a stretch – the narrative generally involves Sherlock explaining he is too busy for this one, and delegating it to you – it’s even possible to get Sherlock’s advice if you get stuck. Ultimately, the challenge is simply to solve the mystery as efficiently as you can.
After the introductory narrative, a casebook contains a wide range of leads (sorted geographically) before a series of questions, and finally a solution. Each “lead” is a brief narrative account of what happens to you, when you go to a particular place to investigate.
It’s entirely up to you which leads you pursue. Between the directory and the map, you can generally find the “location” of any given individual or place. For example, Mycroft Holmes is always at 8SW so whichever case you’re attempting, turning to the SW section, and finding paragraph 8 will give you his insight on the matter (sometimes this may be very helpful, at other times, he may just tell you he doesn’t know anything about it). If you have been told that Mr Smith was the last person to see the victim alive, then looking up “Smith” in the directory will tell you which page to turn to.
As it is a game scenario within a finite casebook, rather than a real-life investigation where you can go anywhere, all of the leads in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective have been created with a mind to how they will impact the players. Some leads will be very informative, revealing people you need to speak to, exposing inconsistencies, or confirming a suspect’s whereabouts. Others will be complete blind alleys “nobody at home”, “this person only speaks Russian”, or “she is inconsolable, and clearly knows nothing to help you.” The majority will probably be somewhere in the middle, shedding a thin sliver of light onto the case without being conclusive on their own.
One slightly frustrating aspect of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, is that each lead presents a fictionalised account of your visit: putting words in your mouth and the mouths of the suspects and witnesses. This can lead to you grilling yet another person about something you’ve already solved, or asking a question on a topic you’ve yet to uncover. Ultimately, I like that you can follow leads in a non-linear manner, and think these oddities are the inevitable and acceptable price to pay, but others may feel differently.
As well as leads, there are general sources of information that you should make use of. You get the current day’s Newspaper for each case, and can also read the previous editions (you are advised to solve the cases in chronological order). You’re unlikely to find the culprit’s name in the paper, but you may well find answers to supplementary questions, and at least one case is significantly impacted by a news story from months earlier.
Whenever playing Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, you also always have a map of London and there is a big advantage to paying attention to the map. Admittedly, a lot of the time, you will be able to find the places you need through the directory – a person’s house is easy enough to find, simply by looking up their surname alphabetically, and many businesses or official buildings can be tracked down in the same way. Sometimes though, you will need to rely solely on the map.
For example, you might be told that a relevant place is on a particular street, but have no other information about it. By looking on the map, you can find the reference number to look it up in the case book. At this point, there is no substitute for hard-graft – you simply have to peer at every inch until you spot the right place. If your London geography is as bad as mine, this might take you a while.
Time to decide: have you cracked it?
It’s entirely up to the player how many leads you pursue. Sherlock typically seems to manage with only a few, on my first attempt, I got completely off the scent and investigated nearly 30! Most of the time, you’ll be somewhere in the middle. However many you choose to follow, at some point, you will decide that you have the information you need, and turn to a page near the back of the book, where you will be faced with a series of questions – this will generally start with the who, how, and why of the murder. There are also bonus questions in a second section, which generally reward you for unearthing information on other deeds going on in London at that time.
You score points based on the number of questions you answer correctly: points for section 1 (the murder you are solving) add up to 100, which is always Sherlock’s score. You then adjust your score based on the number of leads you have followed: typically you will have followed more leads than Sherlock, and will get a 5-point penalty for each additional lead you have followed (it is theoretically possible to solve the case with fewer leads than Sherlock, in which case you score extra points, but I really can’t imagine how!) Finally you compare your score to Sherlock’s, and you laugh at how badly you’ve done. As Sherlock never answers the questions in section 2, this allows you to claw back some points for the wild geese you chased.
Burn after reading? Not quite
Replayability is an inescapable issue for Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective comes with 10 cases. That’s 10 times you can play the game – and no more. Once you’ve played the scenario, you know the solution to the case: depending on your memory, you might be able to have another go in 5 years time or so, but chances are that even then, once you start reading things, it will jog your memory and help you to the answer.
I was very glad that Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a game that can be played – and played properly – solo. Doing game reviews, I get a lot of new games coming into the house, and it’s fairly standard procedure for me to end up more-or-less playing a game once through by myself to get things figured out. That’s not normally a problem, as most games will be just as playable (probably more so, now that I know what I’m doing) after that play-through. For Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, that was 10% of the game’s life gone, so it’s a good thing that I got a proper game out of it.
Having said that I was able to play the game “properly,” the first game still had a very steep learning curve for me. I missed a key clue in the first scenario, and then went round and round in circles, chasing every imaginable minor lead, none of which could supply the information I knew that I was missing.
Want to know more? We don’t want to spoil the surprise
Another issue with the fixed number of cases for you to solve, is that “Spoilers” are a problem. By way of comparison with another Sherlock Holmes game out there, knowing the culprit in one game of Beyond Baker Street has absolutely zero impact on your next game, the replayability is still almost infinite. By contrast, being told about the case ahead of time can completely ruin a game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. In fact, one of the biggest difficulties of reviewing this game, is that it’s really quite difficult to talk about it in any detail without spoiling details of the cases. Even something as simple as knowing that a certain person/place is important could skew your game significantly.
All written down – in too much of a hurry?
As already noted, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is basically an activity in reading and thinking. There are a few pictures here and there, but they are simply decorative. The quality of all the printed materials is very nice, and the designers have found an aesthetic that really matches the 19th Century theme. That said, there are issues. The old-fashioned font they use isn’t always the clearest to read, and I got frustrated by the number of typos: Normally I try not to get too hung up on little details like this, but when a game is (essentially) nothing but written text, the quality of that text needs to be better. There are also a few Americanisms which creep into the text, and jar with the Victorian England setting.
It’s also worth noting that not all cases in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective are created equal. The first two we really enjoyed (doing quite well on one, and terribly on the other), but one of the slightly later ones felt decidedly ropey. From what I could uncover online, this case was a revised form of one that was published in the original edition of the game, but with the culprit changed! Provided you have the 2016 edition, all the actual errors are fixed (the 2014 printing actually had clues which pointed you to the former culprit), but it still felt a bit of a stretch to reach the official conclusion.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Final Deduction?
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a clever game. The fact that it has made it back to publication is clearly a labour of love, and the end result is something which manages to be very aesthetically pleasing, despite a complete lack of the plastic, chrome and bling which typifies so many modern games. We’ve only played it as a fully co-operative game, and it works well as solo, but you can also make it a competitive race to solve the case if you wish, so there’s plenty here for everyone.
The limit of 10 cases, and the inability to solve them more than once means that Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is unlikely to become your go-to-twice-a-week game, but even though this had put me off buying it before, I think the game is good enough to overcome this limitation.
In many ways, it’s a Sherlock Holmes book (or any other thriller/mystery novel) – once you’ve read it the once, it will never be the same, but that doesn’t stop you buying it in the first place. The big advantage of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective over a Legacy game like Pandemic, is that you should be able to play the whole thing through without any real wear on the components, so if you do want to move it along, you’ll have an essentially mint game to trade.
There are a rapidly growing number of Sherlock Holmes games out there (the copyright recently expired), and if you want something vaguely flavourful that presents a solidly mechanical, replayable game, then I think Beyond Baker Street is better. However, if you want something that really evokes the spirit of Conan Doyle’s stories, with the same limited life-span as a detective story, then I can’t think of anything that does a better job than Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.
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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.