Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
As my friends were planning a birthday party they reached out to see if I was available on a specific evening to participate in a very specific board game. They wanted to play with me, specifically, which immediately makes me a bit apprehensive and hesitant, as the pressure of having been tagged as someone who woudl enjoy "this type of particular game" staggers me. Without knowing anything about the title itself or even the type of game it is, my feelings are best explained by saying that I am always a bit startled to trust that my friends know me and my interests better than I know myself - which is actually, in retrospect, not that surprising. The night quickly approached and all I knew about the game is it's title: Sherlock (which when I research on Board Game Geek, is actually a touch shortened). Immediately the tales of Holmes come to mind (well, at least the mythos, as I'm not really familiar with specific stories) and the structure of the game loosely imagined: you'll be solving a crime in a Sherlock-ian fashion.
As we moved toward the basement game area I divulged to my friend that I had no idea what style of game we were about the play, and she cackled with delight. Her excitement for this title could not be matched: she hadn't played it before either, but I knew the anticipation had been building for quite some time.
"It's more of a...talking game."
Which actually made sense at the time, as a few of the titles we were trying out were primarily table talk.
On the table was a map of old London, split into a few districts and buildings numbered. A single sheet "newpaper" with all the components of a typical newpaper: deaths, marriages, news, foreign news, and articles of interest. A phone book was also layed out, with hundreds of names and addresses printed within. There are no player markers, no dice, no cards or other common board game mechanisms to be seen. Our game leader opened another book, the case book, and began to read. This was it!
Here's how it works: you read a fairly lengthy case from the case book, then are set upon your own devices to solve the crime. You are not role-playing as Sherlock himself, but instead his team of investigators. Your goal is to solve the crime in as many or less steps as it would have taken Holmes. Steps are defined as following leads, which are basically investigating people or places. After you are satisfied with your solve, you refer to the case quiz, and based on your correct answers, receive a score. You're also told how many steps it took Holmes and how he came to his conclusion. You can either work together or somewhat independently: we worked together, further encouraging discussion and debate on every aspect of the case. As a group, we would decide where to take the invesitgation.
It was incredible, although it started off with much trepidation. As the case is being read, a lot of names (and I mean A LOT) are read out. Characters are setup as they would be in a story, with a bit of background. Their actions are described, and the case is revealed through dialog. Then you're left to do as you please. As he was reading the case, my other friend was taking notes (there was but one notebook) and after a few pages, she became overwhelmed and gave up. I couldn't keep it all straight: all the people involved and what was happening seemed to be too much. Would we even be able to play the game? Was I smart enough for this? We are, after all, going up against the most brilliant detective. Immediately we talked about the outline of the case, asking each other clarifying questions. We thought we had this, and set off to our first lead. As each location/lead is numbered, you refer to it in the case book. Some are long and revealing, while others are short and end up being dead ends. I admired the sheer amount of work involved here, as it seemed like every location on the map was accounted for with some flavour.
It all felt very Holmes-esque as well. After recently watching an episode of the BBC drama Sherlock you could see the parallels. I imagine reading the original works would leave you with the same feeling. We spent about three hours on the case, and every minute was enjoyed - although near the end when we ran out of ideas and were seemingly stumped, I grew tired (it was late at night after all) and frustrated. It's actually difficult to admit defeat as a group. But my initial fears had been dashed, as I became intimitely familiar with the significant people in the case, and details became more clear as I pieced together the timeline of this particular case (a murder).
It's all in the details.
Hearing how Holmes solved the case was an excercise in slapping your own forehead. Just like other Sherlock works, his observations and ability to piece together all the clues demands admiration. He's clever. And you can be too: numerous times we pieced together information, and felt the extreme satisfaction of solving some of the bigger portions of the case. Although we missed a lot we saw exactly where we went wrong. It was easy to see if we went to another lead at one point how different the case would have turned out. We also learned that we have to think like Sherlock - and that detectives have a really tough job. Next time, I would urge that we each have our own notepad, and that we each read the case after listening to it. Study all the clues present. Being our first run through, we didn't know a few things that we can now look for in future cases. My big piece of advice: do as much research and organization as possible before visiting your first lead. Then talk. A lot. Brainstorm ideas and remember there are no bad ones: weigh each option and go from there.