Since childhood, I have been mildly obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. I devoured the original Conan Doyle stories, and I've watched and rewatched Jeremy Brett's iconic performances as Holmes. When I heard about a game called Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, I had to have it.
Consulting Detective is not like most games. There is no game board, and there are no pieces to move or dice to roll. You have only a map, a directory, some copies of the Times, a case book, and your wits. Not only am I attracted to the prospect of a game that is all skill and no luck, but Consulting Detective also offers a relaxing hybrid of reading a book and playing a game. The introductory text and the statements and observations you can find in the casebook are very well written and highly atmospheric. Even random tidbits in the newspapers (I particularly enjoy the personal ads) add fun and flavor to the game. It is escapism at its finest.
The premise of the game is that you are a Baker Street Irregular, and that Holmes is teaching you the detective's trade by having you cut your teeth on cases he has already solved. It is fun to imagine that your deductive skills are being honed by history's greatest detective, and even more fun to entertain fantasies of someday beating the master at his own game.
Consulting Detective actually does encourage you to "beat" Holmes through ruthless efficiency—you can "win" if you solve the case using fewer leads than he does. I do not, however, recommend this method of playing the game. If you rush through the cases, you will inevitably miss a lot of the richness and joy that Consulting Detective can offer. In addition to finding information about the "main" case, you will run across sometimes hilarious side stories that lighten up the game and deepen the experience of playing it. Also, what is the point of all of those painstakingly written casebooks if nobody reads them? Seriously, if you get this game, take the time to really savor it. Don't rush through in an attempt to "win," because it will ultimately be less satisfying.
There is one other very good reason to slow down when playing Consulting Detective, and that is the limited nature of a mystery game. There are only ten cases in the box, and you are eventually going to run out of them. Board Game Geek features some fan-made cases, and an expansion in English should be published soon, but ultimately, this game is finite. Don't waste it.
The materials in the box are also finite—you get one map, one directory, one copy of each newspaper, etc. To maximize the fun of playing Consulting Detective, I recommend that you either play it alone or with a very small group of people. It might drag if too many people are trying to follow leads, read things for themselves, etc.
I also have one major caveat. Although I adore this game and plan to finish playing every single case, Consulting Detective is not perfect. When it was first published in 1981, its original language was English. But the current reprint is actually re-translated from French. Some of the cases, especially Case 3, are affected by sloppy translations that lead to contradictory evidence and flubbed details. The game is not broken, and it's still fun to play, but if you get the game and notice something weird, you should check the unofficial errata at Board Game Geek for spoiler-free corrections.
Overall, I highly recommend Consulting Detective and will be on the lookout for any expansions. I think my heart is going to break just a little bit when I finish the tenth and final case. This is an excellent gaming experience, particularly for soloists.
My name is Liz, and I play a lot of games. By day, I am a teacher. By night, I am an avid gamer.