Last week, we talked about the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game line. Today, we shift to something a bit more in line with this column’s title. Back in 1981, Sleuth Publications produced Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective (SHCD). Expansions, containing additional cases followed and it was also turned in to a PC game. I never played any of these games. Which might make you wonder why I’m doing a post on it now. Well, if you’ve visited this column before, you know that I don’t let little things like that get in my way. However, I have played the 2015 reprint of SHCD and that’s what we’re looking at today.
In the game, you are one of the famed ‘Baker Street Irregulars,’ the ragged street urchins. I’ve read in reviews that you play Wiggins, but that’s not quite the case. But that makes no difference to the game: just wanted to point it out. Holmes is too busy (and presumably Watson is too clueless) to deal with some unsolved crimes, so he sends you (and Wiggins) out to do his job for him. Really, that’s what’s going on.
The game box contains five components. First is a very slender rulebook. There’s also a map of London with quadrant and building numbers. There is a London Directory that tells you where to find people and places on the map. This ID system ties back to the Casebook, which briefly describes the crime (this is where Holmes gives you your marching orders) and contains all the leads you will follow to try and solve the case. And there are some replica newspapers that contain mostly chaff, but there is also a little bit of wheat to be sorted out.
This game is about reading and note taking. If you’re not into both those activities, you can pass on SHCD. Trust me on this. There are ten separate Casebooks. and Case One is “The Munitions Magnate,” taking place on March 12, 1888. You are to find out who killed the head of a company involved in the arms trade. Ooh, rife with international intrigue! Brings to mind ‘The Adventure of The Bruce Partington Plans.” You get some information in the setup, and then you decide what leads to follow.
The leads are paragraphs of information that tie to locations on the map. For example, you sift through what Captain Egan of the Admiralty tells you and write useful bits down on a piece of paper. You can’t make bricks without clay, right? Then decide “where” to go next – meaning, what lead to follow. The map is mostly just for fun, though there may be a clue or two in it, so you can’t simply ignore it.
The date matters because there’s a newspaper for each case. And prior newspapers can be used in the current case. So, case two takes place on June 11, 1888. And the newspaper for that date, as well as the March 12, 1888 one (case one) are in play. However, the other newspaper can’t be used yet.
Eventually, when you think you know who did it, you go the back of the Casebook and answer some questions. You get points for correct answers, and you subtract points if you followed more leads than Holmes; or add points if you followed fewer leads. I’ve only played a couple of scenarios, but I don’t see how anybody is going to beat Holmes’ score. Of course, he’s a genius, but the inherent goal of the game is to do better than him. And that’s pretty much impossible. For me, I simply toss that benchmark
That’s because this game is HARD. I’ve played case one twice and still not solved it. And I knew who did it the second time! It seems that even if you follow every lead (my son and I followed eight leads and identified the wrong killer the first time), you’ll need to make some serious leaps in logic and deduction. Perhaps future cases get easier, though I have my doubts.
One strength of this game is that it works solo. It’s listed as being for 1-8 players and I think for the fun factor, at least two is the way to go. For more than one person, a player picks one lead per turn and you progress through the case round robin. Of course, you’ve got the advantage of group discussion and analysis.
Personally, I don’t care what my score is. I just want to try and solve the crime correctly and look more like Holmes than Watson. Also, I’m one of those people who explores every side-quest and mission in RPGs. The faster you solve this game, with the fewest leads, the higher your score. But, the more of the game’s content you skip. And all of the leads entries are a big part of what you’re buying.
Visually, it’s a very attractive game, with the text all laid out in cursive and the rule and casebooks in a glossy finish. The atmosphere definitely feels Victorian, which is important to a Holmes game. Everything works easily and I didn’t really run into any confusion.
Of course, replayability is limited since you know the solution after the first play through. You could try it again to get it right, like I did. Less appealing (to me) would be replays to improve your score. Did I mention there’s a LOT of reading? You probably won’t finish a game in under an hour. With ten cases, you’re going to get a fair amount of game play from this one. And if you’re not going solo, the discussions and analysis should add to the value (and time).
The current publisher, Ystari, said on their website that they are planning on expansions by the end of the year. The original release had 14 additional cases, so they’ve got some existing product they could conceivably draw on. There’s also a fan-made custom pack that lets you create your own cases (in English and Italian!). I’ve already given some thought to adapting a Holmes tv episode for a new case.
Being a Holmes nut and somebody who loves to read, I like this game, though I suspect all the cases are going to be tough. My eight year old didn’t want to listen to all the leads read aloud, so I didn’t get a lot of help in the deduction area. He prefers 221B Baker Street, which is a similar yet simpler Holmes game.
Overall, it looks good, it definitely has a Holmes feel and it works solo. I’d give it three pipes on a scale of five.
Other Game/RPG-related posts I’ve done here at Black Gate:
The Lost Lands for Pathfinder
The Northlands Saga – Complete
The Warlords of the Accordlands
Judges Guild Premium Editions
Gary Gygax’s Role Playing Mastery
Runebound – The Sands of Al-Kalim
Runebound – The Mists of Zangara
Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game System
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.