Monday, September 8, 2014

Not so elementary

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a game that's been sitting on my shelf for years, but which I had never actually played before it came up on our list. My father, a collector of all things Holmes, gave it to me after it sat on his shelf for even more years. Judging from the excellent condition the game is in, he never played it either.

It's not a traditional board game, but somewhere between a multiplayer Choose Your Own Adventure and a role playing game with no game master. There's a map, but players don't move around on it, it's just for reference. There are no playing pieces or dice. The game consists of a very short rule book (the actual rules description is only two pages), a Case Book with descriptions of 10 mysteries to be solved, and a Clue Book which describes what information is to be found at each of the locations on the aforementioned map of London.

The game can be played cooperatively or competitively. The goal is to solve the mystery using as few clues as possible, with an eye toward beating Sherlock Holmes' score for each case (given with the solution), or at the very least, the scores of the other players if playing competitively.

At the start of the game, the case is read aloud from the Case Book, giving information about the crime and the people and major locations involved. Players then take turns hunting down clues. An included London Directory booklet tells the players where to find the various characters and locations mentioned in the case; they then use the map to determine which clue to read from the Clue Book. Even more ingenious is a Newspaper Archive booklet containing faux newspapers full of stories that may or may not be relevant to the case.

Even in the competitive game, all the clues are read aloud. At any time, if a player thinks they have enough information to solve the case, they write down their solution and the number of clues that have been read up to that point, then wait for the other players to do the same.

When all the players believe they have enough information to solve the case, they refer to the Quiz Book, which contains a series of questions about the case that must be answered, and also three or four bonus questions that, if answered correctly, will improve the player's score. There is a scoring system based on the number of correctly answered questions and the number of clues that had to be read in order to arrive at the solution, and the solution gives Holmes' score as a benchmark for the players to compare theirs to.

It's a wildly compelling game in spite (or perhaps because) of the almost complete lack of game mechanics. Players simply use the various resources to decide which clue to read, and keep going until they think they've solved the case. The game lacks the awkward dice rolling for movement and non-story-related word puzzle clues of 221B Baker Street, or the simple process of elimination of Clue, and it is much stronger for it, keeping players immersed in the mystery and the Victorian setting.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) Perhaps a bit dry by modern gaming standards, but nevertheless a compelling mystery game.

Date played: July 26, 2014

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