*SPOILER FREE REVIEW*
Since his stalwart arrival onto pen and paper, Sherlock Holmes has always been one of the greatest fictional figures in modern culture. However, it seems that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s magnum opus has been wringed out so that every drip and morsel of possible interpretation has been utilised for maximum revenue. You may still debate over who is your favourite Sherlock; Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumbabat… Cucumbatc… Cumulatimita… anyway it doesn’t matter (Definitely Benedict by the way). But an excitingly fresh addition to Mr. Holmes’ already impressive portfolio made its way onto our shelves in 2017.
Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures, the sequel and standalone expansion to the fantastically ground-breaking Consulting Detective throws a further 10 cases your way, nearly 40-years post the original’s inception. This includes a four-case campaign where players can attempt to solve the murders of the most infamous serial killer in English history; Jack the Ripper. So doth your deerstalker, fill your pipe and throw on an iconic jacket to venture out and embrace the unpredictability of London’s mysteries.
The game is afoot!
You and your friends are members of the infamous ‘Baker Street Irregulars’ and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds! This unofficial cohort are tasked with keeping Mr. Holmes updated with news and events from the unforgiving streets of London. How do you achieve this this? Well that’s…elementary. No seriously the rules are incredibly simple.
For a game of Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures you will be provided with:
- One of 10 case files, a map of London/Whitechapel.
- A London Directory.
- A newspaper(s) with the appropriate dates.
- A list of informants.
Once you have all grabbed a pen and piece of paper, one of your team will then set the scene by reading the surprisingly dry introduction to the case. And that’s it! You are set loose to tear around the city, chasing informants/suspects/witnesses/local natives/basically anyone in your quest to solve the case before the illustrious Holmes.
Player can spread their metaphorical brain butter across the many numbered addresses which all have corresponding written passages within the case book. Once everyone has agreed on a locale, someone will read the appropriate script as everyone else frantically (and usually illegibly) scribbles down notes relating to the case. Once this is finished, you and your team can argue *AHEM* sorry, I mean discuss any details and potential leads without being aggressive or senselessly flipping the table. After amicably agreeing on which clues to follow up and choosing another location, the process is then repeated until you have solved the case! Easy right? Wrong.
The catch – You are competing to solve the case before the renowned and rage-inducing Mr. Holmes. The end game consists of a face-off against Sherlock in an attempt to outwit him by explaining how you solved the puzzle. The reward for your efforts? A condescending lecture from the maestro himself as to how the case could have been solved with fewer steps.
‘You know my methods, Watson’
First and foremost, this addition to Consulting Detective is incredibly unstructured and that’s fantastic! From the very second you open the box, Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures offers you a sandbox of possibilities for you and your friends to play with. As such, it is hard to describe this as a game, when it is more a ‘Choose your own adventure’ experience. In fact, it shares more similarities with an incredibly high quality ‘Murder Mystery’ than an actual board game.
By handing over the steering wheel to players and asking ‘where the hell do we go next?’, Consulting Detective succeeds in provide a genuinely thematic experience. With your map and other resources splashed across the table, a wad of notes you can no longer read and discussing likelihoods with your colleagues, it sincerely places the weight of the case on your shoulders, making you feel like a real detective.
On the other hand, this open-ended adventure can cause problems. Many problems. Passages of writing often blur the lines to the point where you may as well read them wearing sunglasses in the rain. There are usually enough hints and suggestions to make an educated guess as to which lead is worth following. However, more often than not they provide too many obscurities and falsehoods that can easily send new players, or players struggling to synchronise with the puzzles, down an incorrect path.
Continuing on the theme of writing, it is a mixed bag here and Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures is ensnared in the same tendrils of difficulty that many story-based games suffer with. Much of the writing is, rather unfortunately, boring. Interactions between different characters fail to deliver three-dimensional personalities and many extras simply fall into Victorian clichés. There are also large sections which attempt to create a scene in the minds eye, but struggle to express any personal touches to the story-board.
Yet some of the writing is incredibly engaging, for example paying a cheeky visit to the morgue is always interesting/graphic and surprisingly educational. B far the best passages, however, are Sherlock’s end game delivery, by which he proclaims how he solved the case. This prompts many ‘ooohs’, ‘ahhhs’ and ‘oh I get it now’s from you and your friends.
Mechanically 19th Century
Despite the success of Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures' award-winning predecessor, there are problems here. As with many games, the player count is a lie. Participating with eight players is just nonsensical as everyone attempts to jostle for a position to display their theories. If you’re playing with more than two players, the rule book states each player takes it in turns to be the ‘lead’ detective and makes the final decision on destination.
It then attempts to counter the obvious problem, what if the lead detective is a moron, by stating that players can break way at any point to explore their own leads. This muddles the experience and can cause annoyance amongst a group, causing awkward situations that create rifts between player.
Another mechanic which is uncharacteristically bumpy, is the end game scoring. Yes, your reaction is the same as many players when this is explained – ‘How can there be a score for solving a case?’. Well. Holmes automatically scores 100 points, if you exceed this then you have successfully completed the case. But why was this included? This is a totally pointless mechanic, as if you do not score 100 points, you can’t revisit the case to improve your score. It’s one of the only scoring systems in modern board gaming that bites back at players, telling them they are not very good, which does not promote replay-ability.
Personal Point - Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures
First of all, Consulting Detective is on the most beautifully presented games I have ever come across. Every inch of art is dripping with a stunning shade of foreboding maroon/dark red symbolising the blood-riddle murders that lie within. The Victorian artwork is thematic and hints at the sense of drama hidden within each page and each component is tactile and thickly finished. Maps of London/Whitechapel are a little difficult to read but there isn’t much the designers can do about that unless you make it enormous.
Now, I completed all 10 cases in Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures with my wife, and it was a mixed affair; we completed some easily and struggled through others, creating a generally balanced play through. We thought the Jack the Ripper campaign was a brilliant idea, but didn’t have the climactic finish we were hoping for. Also, we vowed NEVER to play this game with more than three, maybe four players. As a pair, it was difficult enough to cherry pick ideas that were actually worth following-up on.
In the end…
This standalone expansion to Consulting Detective is a unique and wonderful addition to anyone’s collection. Simply showing it off to muggles just to show them how exceptional board gaming can be is a total joy, let alone sitting down with a group and tackling the cases one by one. There are a couple of flaws that could have been streamlined, but it does not detract too much from the overall co-op experience.