“[Forget] you, Sherlock.”
It had been three days since I’d last played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective when my roommate heard me exasperatedly mutter those words as I shuffled into the bathroom first thing in the morning. Having joined me in the calamitous disaster that was my detective debut she offered no judgment, only understanding.
Sherlock Holmes is many things. A deductive master. A witty verbal combatant. A surprisingly-adept actual combatant. One thing he most definitely is not is your friend. It can be easy to forget this when enjoying your Holmesian fiction of choice, of course. “Oh, Holmes, you scamp,” you chuckle to yourself as he belittles Lestrade in front of all of the poor inspector’s colleagues. Boy, he sure is a quirky individual, this protagonist of ours.
Sherlock Holmes is an asshole. And in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective this reality is brought into crystal clear focus, for you see, unlike so many other Holmes games which have been made before, Consulting Detective does not put you in the genius detective’s shoes. Instead, you and your friends are members of his network of assistants, out diligently digging through clues and chasing down witnesses in an effort to solve the latest mystery. And at the end, when you have finally cobbled together your best understanding of the crime from details hard-earned in an hour or more of investigating, Sherlock strolls in and tells you how he solved it before his morning tea just as anyone with half a brain clearly would have. The game, as Holmes, mocks you to your face.
It is brilliant.
I can see where this may not sound like a delightful time, and particularly why a game which mocks you seems like an odd choice for a site which purports to be out to expand the hobby to those who may not realize it’s for them. Nobody likes to feel stupid, after all. Consulting Detective overcomes this for two very simple reasons — nobody will feel individually like they are failing as everyone works together as a team to solve the case, and the journey of chasing down a lead and seeing it unfurl into the key piece of evidence which makes the whole puzzle fall into place is a positively exhilarating one.
When used as a gateway game, where Consulting Detective first shines is in its simplicity. You can explain the rules and get playing in minutes with no fears that someone will be lost and get 40 minutes into the game only to discover they’ve been playing all wrong and are hopelessly in last place. At the start of the game one player reads the introduction to the current case, a block of text usually a few pages long. In this introduction Holmes and company lay out the backstory of a recent murder which needs solving, being sure to sprinkle in a few names and places worth investigating to ensure that the players get started in the right direction. Or at least get started in a direction. From there play is simple — choose something to investigate, find its place in the case book, read the text therein, repeat.
Clues on where to investigate come from a variety of places. Names and locations mentioned can be looked up in the London Directory. A regular cast of helpful pals and confidantes are available at the same place on each case to clue you in on their area of expertise. Even the morning paper can be browsed for anything which catches your eye. Where you go, and who you find there, is entirely up to your group, and with the power of final say on what section to read next passing around the table, everyone gets their chance to chase down their own pet theory if they want it badly enough. One of the most satisfying moments I’ve had playing any game came after rounds of first-jokingly, then half-jokingly, and finally seriously suggesting we investigate a particular seemingly-unrelated story in the paper. When the power to choose came back to me and I sent the team off on my wild goose chase, I was met with the vindication of loads of new very-relevant leads. Now, my friends would argue I was still wrong, just because it all turned out to be a red herring on which we wasted many, many, many rounds of investigation, but they don’t have their own blogs, so their opinions are irrelevant here.
When all is said and done, and your team thinks you have solved the case, you progress to the reveal. First a series of questions are posed, and points are awarded to the team for correct answers. This is usually the point in the game where you suddenly realize what a terrible job you did because you haven’t even heard of the gentleman you’re being asked about. Oops. But you soldier on and do your best. Then Holmes enters stage left, does his Holmes shtick, and you mutter to yourself, “[forget] you, Holmes.” The closer your number of followed leads is to that of Holmes, the higher you’ll score.
The biggest red flag for many gamers, particularly newer gamers, may well be that each case is a one-time experience. When you own a copy of Monopoly currently on its third generation of family members, it’s reasonable to balk at the idea of spending your hard-earned money on something you can only ever play ten times. It’s worth it. If you do play through all ten cases, and as such reach the point where you are no longer able to play your copy of Consulting Detective, here’s what you’ll have gotten for your money — ten nights spent with people you love, having a great time laughing and working together. There are much worse ways to spend $50.
Buy Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective on Amazon