Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper and the West End Adventures (Amazon) is a series of cases that continue the investigations of the original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Space Cowboys (of T.I.M.E. Stories and Splendor fame) are updating and redoing the original releases. In this game, the West End Adventures are updated versions of the 1995 expansion to the original game with four completely new adventures centered around Jack the Ripper. The original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective will be released as The Thames Murders and Other Cases later this year.

The Game

Similar to the original, 1-8 players work together as a team of “irregular” investigators working with, but also competing against, their boss Sherlock Holmes. Each case is contained in a booklet with an introduction, several locations with associated text, case questions to test how well you did, and the solution provided by Sherlock to measure yourself against. Each regular case utilizes a large fold-out map of London along with newspapers and a directory. The Unlike the original, Jack the Ripper cases are all linked together in a series and have a map of White-chapel included. 

An introduction is read aloud at the beginning of each case. The players are encouraged to explore the provided materials and come to a consensus on which location to search. The map has dozens of locations to visit in the course of your investigations. You will gather clues, visit locals who may provide information pertinent to your case or red herrings to lead you astray. Each location moves the team closer to solving the mystery new leads which in turn lead to new locations. Once the group has determined they explored and followed enough of the leads, they can move onto the questions for the case. There are a total of 200 points that can be earned from solving the primary case and any peripheral mysteries that may have been uncovered as well. Time is of the essence, so visiting too many sites and spending too much time can affect the final score.

Sherlock_Holmes_Consulting_Detective_02_2000x1333.jpgAfter the questions, the score is tallied and you compare your results to Holmes’ solution. However, the solutions provided by Sherlock require so many ridiculous logical leaps that it really only serves to prove to the players how intensely smart Sherlock is. You can ignore the score, and laugh at the result that Sherlock comes up with.  

Each case is a one-shot experience and with 10 cases supplied in the game. At 90 minutes a case, it more than provides enough value for the cost. At first glance there is very little option for replay-ability but having one person moderating the game (who knows the solution) can be fun to attract new players. It was also fun to allow new players to work through the game and provide an occasional hint.

Comparing this to T.I.M.E. Stories, I prefer the lack of game mechanics in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. There is little set up, lots of reading, and plenty of discussion about what to do next. You can move from place to place, examine clues, develop leads, gather materials, and pour over the map and newspapers provided. Both games are certainly on rails but I find the streamlined experience of Sherlock Holmes much more enjoyable.

This is a gaming experience tailor made for bookworms! It reminds me of the experience of reading a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book with the added benefit of being able to share the experience with more than one person. Honestly, I never got to a good ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book without cheating and I have never get even close to Sherlock’s solution in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Nor should I! Most of the fun is the disbelief of how he actually solved the crime and your own floundering steps towards a solution. You don’t get better as you play but you do get more creative in your solutions as you try to make the same logical leaps Sherlock makes.  

The Endgame

Take your time. Have a drink. Forget about the score. Explore possibilities with your group. Laugh at the red herrings and gloat over someone’s totally lucky guess that ended up being correct. It is totally OK to cheat at this game. If you can’t answer a question, go back and retrofit an answer. See where you went amiss.

This is a great introduction to RPGs for people who never even thought about playing an RPG. Let me be clear, it *isn’t* an RPG but it has that feeling of group cohesion, discussion and discovery. It has the added bonus of being played without a moderator and if you really wanted to toss in some characters, it wouldn’t be too hard to find some mystery tropes to include. They would have zero effect on gameplay but could make the experience even more immersive.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is an overlooked gateway game that no-one ever mentions. And it should be right alongside with Splendor, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic. It is a small jump into Fiasco if you want storytelling or into Letters from Whitechapel if you want to get a bit more mechanical. The theme is familiar and immersive to most. The mechanisms are simple to practically nonexistent. It plays with little setup or rules explanation. 

The only downside of this particular iteration is that the theme of the Jack the Ripper cases can be off-putting. I have this same issue when I introduce Letters from White-chapel to some gaming groups. It is just a whole different level of dark from the classic Holmes mystery.This sequence of linked cases is bloody, historically accurate, and can be tough to stomach. Something about the jump from a purely literary affair to the reconstruction of actual horrible events of real victims may be too much. As a simple test, if your group would be down with From Hell or the Ripper Street TV series then they may be ready for this. My recommendation is to play the West End cases first and move into the Jack the Ripper cases only if this level of darkness is appropriate to your group.

My recommendation is mixed. If you are worried about the grisly nature of Jack the Ripper, get the original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective if you can find it or you can wait for the Space Cowboy’s re-release of the original as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases. If you don’t have an issue with the visceral nature of the Ripper murderers, go for this collection.

Mr Jack Pocket

Image courtesy of Hurrican Games

There come times when the whole group can’t get together, or maybe we’re just waiting for other folks to show up. Finding a quality two-player game isn’t all that easy at times. Many games that say they can be played with just two often fail to live up to the task. But, there are games that are made specifically for just two, and Mr. Jack Pocket is fun and makes your brain get all tingling with logic and thinky stuff.

The game plays simply enough: one player is Jack the Ripper, the other is Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion Dr. Watson. The goal of Sherlock is to discover the identity of Jack, while Jack just needs to delay his nemesis long enough to make his escape.

The game board is made of tiles representing the streets and alleyways of Victorian London. Each tile has the image a person on it, and one of these people is the secret identity of Jack the Ripper. Holmes, Watson, and their loyal canine move about the outer edge of the board. Each turn, action tokens are divided between the two players. These tokens determine what each player will be able to do during their turn. The actions could be to move either Holmes, Watson, or the dog, or perhaps swap two tiles or rotate one in place. At the end of each turn, Holmes, Watson, or the dog ask if they can see Jack. This is determined by where they are and if they can see down a street. If they can see him, Jack must answer “yes;” if not, Jack would answer “no.” Regardless of the answer, it should narrow down the choices. If the Holmes player can see Jack, then they can flip over any of the tiles with people they can’t see, thereby eliminating those from the pool of suspects. However, there is a time limit, and if the Holmes player can’t narrow it down to a single person, he will lose.

The quality of the components is very good, with nice, thick cardboard for the tiles, the tokens, and even the different identity cards. The art is also beautifully rendered. My one complaint is that the box, while it does fit into a pocket, is just slightly too thin to properly contain all the components. A box band or other rubber band is recommended for keeping things tidy and in place.

I love games like this, the ones that make you think. It is a battle of wits, and a little bit of luck as well. The game plays quickly; 10-15 minutes is about the norm for a game, and it tends to work best if each player takes a stab at being Jack. The game retails for US $15, and you can pick it up on Amazon for a buck less than that (though you really should be supporting your FLGS). It’s great as both a filler as well as a handy game to keep in your backpack or purse so you can play whenever you have a little time to kill.

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