This article will post just before Christmas so it might not be surprising that some of you could be interested in a Sherlock Holmes gift or two. Perhaps a Christmas Goose, maybe with a special present in its “crop”? Or a couple of severed ears under the Christmas tree? No? Me neither. Terrible to keep those from stinking up the house! Formaldehyde and all that…
Perhaps something a little less macabre, then? Maybe a puzzle, like The Speckled Band! This little puzzle I found in Home Goods, a store I seem to be dragged into with shocking regularity, and decided to have a go at it since we’d just completed a map of Ireland that was immensely enjoyable. In The Speckled Band, you don’t know what the image will be and one has to read the titular story to figure it out. As it’s an absolute classic, I thought it would be good to get the family reading one of the best. Alas, no one did… So my family and I worked at it for days over the summer, and eventually nailed it, but it lacked the very thing that it needed most. Yes, it has a number of elements of the room, but the actual speckled band doesn’t show up. Color me surprised! I thought I had missed it; perhaps it had blended seamlessly with the carpet, but no, it’s just not there. I even had my Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass to search thoroughly. (Yes, I really have one, because I ordered it from the Sherlock Holmes museum. Elementary, really!)
If actual puzzles aren’t your thing – and I get it: I never know what to do with them when I’m done – I was gifted with a special item for my birthday that might make for a better option. Dear Sherlock is a gift that keeps on giving all year. You’ll receive letters in the mail – I mean actual letters; you know, those things that predated email? – where someone will ask Holmes for help. You then follow the story over weeks trying to piece together the mystery. I’ve completed 2 cases so far and am on my third at the time of writing. These stories play out over 5 mailings typically with updates to Sherlock over 4 letters and culminating in a solution in the fifth. In each case I’ve done, the letters are 2 double sided pages of text. I played through the first one with limited success. The second one I solved, but still managed to miss one element that I had overlooked, so it wasn’t a total victory, but I did feel the excitement of a job well done. The current one I plan to reread once the 4th installment comes in and I want to properly map it out… but so far, I have been loving the adventure!
If you’re in the market for a faster game, one where you don’t have to wait weeks between installments, you might hunt down Sherlock Holmes: The Crimes of Dr Watson (an interactive mystery). So let me try to explain this book: Watson is arrested for arson and a murder and as you read through the story, you’ll remove letters and other items from the book to examine for clues. There’s a newspaper clipping, a photo, and even an earlier story from the canon, among other things. You definitely get your money’s worth except I’ve seen this range in price depending on where you look. Buyer beware: this is a one-and-done read, unless you forget things easily but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the ending. See, by the time I was done, I was way off. I read too much into the story and missed a critical fact: Holmes deals with the real world and the story took a twist that I misinterpreted. The end of the book hosts the solution but you need to “break the seal” to read it so once you’ve solved it, there goes the replay value. However, knowing the solution really impressed me because it actually made sense. I almost want to reread it just to see if my experience is different, even if I do know the outcome.
However, there might be a better way to go. 221b Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes and the Time Machine! So I found this game in a shop many years ago and it only had 20 missions with it. The game is meant for 2-6 players and takes about an hour to play. It comes with such great pieces as a deerstalker hat, a dark lantern and a time machine a la H. G. Wells’ craft, among other things. Why, you ask? Because each of the 20 missions are real life cases that happened throughout history, so you, as Holmes, get to solve them. I recall one about JFK and another about the Black Dahlia murders… or was it the Zodiac? Or both? Anyway, each mission has a card that you read to get the story. It then will task you with finding things out like the killer, weapon and motive. As you travel around the board, visiting various places, you pick up clues. Some are very direct, while others are pieces of clues that will tie into another clue somewhere else around the board. The locations are evenly spaced meaning it’s just luck of the draw where you find your clues. The die roles help, but it’s not as bad as the original game.
221b Baker Street is the original game and there are hundreds of available missions for this. I’ve ordered them all years ago, but I’ve never completed them. (Sorta makes me sad that no one wants to play it anymore…) This game is the same as the Time Machine version except the board is designed to be a bit more like London. The problem is that there is clearly a path to get you the maximum number of clues right away, which means all players will basically follow that path and get the same clues at (more or less) the same time. The only thing stopping it would be a bad roll of the dice. I ended up using small stickers to rename the places on the board from The Time Machine so that we could still play using that board instead. While I like the idea of the original board more, it’s not as practical to play on.
Most recently, I stumbled upon a game that might be a while before I can play, what with no one in my house who wants to play games anymore, but I’ll hold onto it. It was one I couldn’t possibly turn down even though it cost me nearly $50: Bureau of Investigation: Investigation in Arkham and Elsewhere. Yes, friends, this is Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu… my favorite genre mix! It’s a game for 1- 8 players that can take up to 4 hours to play but I’m itching to try. Since it can be played single player, I might know what I’m doing during my time off from work this holiday season.
There are other Holmesian options for your Christmas list, but these are some of the best of the batch. Don’t turn down the excellent video game versions though. There are a bunch ranging from the casual games to the deep stories but all have something to offer. I love games and I love Sherlock Holmes. What’s more apt than merging the two? After all, we all know the game’s afoot… ML