Few board games truly place you within the persona of your figure or character the way Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective does. And even fewer are so thoroughly enjoyable and memorable. To play this game is to craft a memory in which you and maybe a few friends pit yourself against fiction’s finest detective. Less a game than a roleplaying experience wrapped up in an enigma, the sad thing is that there are only ten cases to solve. The bittersweet knowledge of this will make every murder you investigate all the more precious.
First published in 1981, Consulting Detective has had a lot of time to get good. And it has. The newest iteration of the game was released a few years ago, but until recently, it was quite difficult to dig up. Such is no longer the case. You can hop on over to Amazon and snag yourself a beautiful box of your own (and you should).
The kick is that this game doesn’t actually cast you in the role of Sherlock. No, you’re one of his Baker Street Irregulars, a group of dirty rascals he calls upon to help with his cases. Usually, that’s the best you’ll be, because honestly Sherlock is the genius and most of us are simply walking in his shadow. Each case will give you clues and potential locations to investigate within Victorian London, which you explore using the game’s beautiful map and detailed directory. You’ll talk to people and snoop around, likely scribbling notes ferociously in your notebook or (if you’re me) on the whiteboard in your living room. You’ll scour the supplied newspapers for any hint of the trail you’re on. You’ll pace the room, scratch your head, and maybe drink a spot of tea. Once you and your allies feel like you’ve got a good theory, you move on to answering the critical questions of the case, as well as a side mystery or two. You tally up your score, deducting points based on how many more trips you took than Holmes, and compare your answers to his.
Of course his are the right answers and the logic he uses to get there is usually plain as day. You’ll find yourself smacking your forehead in wonder at your own foolishness. Consulting Detective is not a game that always makes you feel smart. It’s a game that makes you aspire to brilliance and offers the opportunity to take your shot at it. It lets you stew in your own natural tendency to jump to conclusions. It both rewards and punishes intuitive insights. It gives you powerfully intense moments where you realize something about the scene is “just not right.” Few games can grab us by the ego so well while totally enmeshing us in the role, the setting, and the love of the mystery.
It should be noted that there are a few cases where typos and other problems get in the way of the fun. Most fans point to the 3rd case as the one with some serious issues. This fan-made errata might be of use if you want to make sure your experience goes well.
Despite these issues Consulting Detective is something quite amazing. While the board gaming world is exploding with fresh ideas and offers great examples of games with cooperative play, this classic would seem to beat them all by providing a true teamwork-centered investigative experience in a wonderfully crafted package.
Still not sold? Check out this review by the Londoners at Shut Up & Sit Down:
Featured Image Credit: Ryan Chaddock
Image Credits: Ryan Chaddock