Ever wanted to be a detective? Well now you can be! Sherlock Homes: The Thames Murders & Other Cases, is not your typical board game, but perhaps could be described best as an experience. If you’re a fan of any of the incarnations of Sherlock Holmes over the years, or indeed other murder-mysteries such as the wonderful Jonathan Creek, then it will feel like this game has been created especially for you.
The game is a co-operative murder mystery, where you must effectively act as detectives and solve the mysteries of 10 separate cases. You can play this game on your own, but it is much more enjoyable when played as a group.
“The World Is Full of Obvious Things, Which Nobody By Any Chance Ever Observes”
There are not a huge number of parts in this game, but this is most definitely a case of quality over quantity. Upon opening the box (which is pretty nice itself as far as boxes go) you will find: a rule book, a directory of London, a map of London, 10 case files, and 10 newspapers.
Each document has a high-quality look and feel to it, whilst at the same time, is designed in a way to appear dated, in order to truly immerse you into the game’s setting, which takes place in 19th century London. The case files are weighty, on thick paper and along with the other documents, are full of creative writing and pictures which drive the story. However, it’s best not to look through the case files until you play them, to avoid spoilers.
Also worth noting is that this game is a much needed reprint of its predecessor: Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Therefore, if you are trying to determine which version to buy – definitely get this one. The reason being is that it has ironed out (most of) the kinks with the previous version, the main one being an error that effectively ruined one of the cases, rendering it unsolvable. Luckily, this flaw been addressed in this reprint from Asmodee.
“You Know My Methods, Watson”
You’ll find that this is a fantastic dinner-party game, since it’s incredibly easy to pick up and everyone can contribute. Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the rules of the game, one person is nominated to read the entry in the first case file. The creative writing does a fantastic job of setting the scene, and you’ll find your brain already ticking away with numerous possibilities. Each person then takes it in turns to act as the Lead Investigator, to decide which location to visit. Of course, you should all discuss this together, but they have the final say, until the next investigator has their turn to lead, and so on.
This is where the map and directory come into play. The directory lists all the possible locations you can visit in the game, which correspond to a reference on the map. The map also includes a scale for walking distances – which will help you later in the game when you need to check a suspect’s alibi.
On the back of the rule book, you will also find several of Holmes’ associates (including Sherlock himself) who you can also visit, to obtain clues or information pertinent to the case. However, first consider who is relevant before visiting them unnecessarily, as their usefulness will vary from case to case, depending on the circumstances and their relevance to the events taking place.
Each case has a newspaper, filled with mostly red herrings, but also the odd piece of information which may assist you in solving the case. As you move through the cases, all previous newspapers then become relevant. Therefore, when you reach case number 10, all of the newspapers will be available to you.
When you have decided which location to visit, you will then need to find the paragraph in the case file, which corresponds to the map reference. There will then be text which describes your visit to the location, and your conversations with the person(s) that happen to be there, which is to be read out by the current Lead Investigator. Choose wisely, as some locations will reveal a huge amount of information, whereas others may result in a wasted trip.
The person reading out this text will also need to be careful not to pay too much attention to the surrounding paragraphs, in order not to spoil your enjoyment of the game, by revealing secrets of a location that you haven’t yet decided to visit.
“When you have Eliminated the Impossible, Whatever Remains, However Improbably, Must be the Truth”
At the end of the game you are asked a series of questions, which are not revealed until you all decide that you have sufficient knowledge of events to conclude your investigation. Your answers to these questions are then scored, and your score is compared to Sherlock’s, who will explain how he solved the case at the end and do his best to make you all feel like a complete idiot (much like Benedict Cumberbatch in the recent BBC TV series), for anything you may have missed or got wrong. Sherlock always scores 100, so don’t expect to beat him too often.
This in my opinion, is where the game could be improved. As it stands, you are deducted points for any additional location you visit, that Sherlock did not. Given that on average Sherlock only visits a handful of locations, if you were to try and visit as few locations as possible, you are then missing out on a huge amount of content within the case file. Given so much effort and creativity has been put into writing these, it seems strange that you would try and visit as few locations as possible. Not only that, but it seems a strange way to investigate a murder.
Therefore, my advice is to ignore this aspect of scoring where you compare your score to Sherlock’s, and to visit as many locations as you feel you need to visit, until you feel you know enough about the case. The questions at the end are split into two groups, the first questions are key elements of the case – e.g. who did it, why, etc. The second group of questions relate to the secondary aspects of the case – e.g. What is the significance of the purple zebra in Dr Jones’ study? (You’ll be pleased to know that this latter example is completely made up, as so to avoid spoilers).
“Excellent! I Cried. “Elementary,” Said He”
Despite the scoring issue above, this is a beautifully crafted game, with high quality content and creative writing, to fully immerse you into the mysteries of 19th Century London. All you need in addition to the game are pens, paper and your minds. If your experiences are anything like mine, you’ll go through a roller coaster of emotions, from excitement for figuring out the mystery, to frustration for following red herrings which ultimately had no relevance. Damn you red herrings!
I can’t help but think a few additions would really enable this game to shine. For example, there is already an app which reads out the opening scene of each case (as written in each of the case files), however, I can’t help but feel this is a missed opportunity to also include a means of reading out the paragraphs for when you visit a location, as sometimes it is impossible to not see a huge paragraph on the same page, of another location you are yet to visit.
With the knowledge that there is a large amount of information at that location, you are then drawn to it for the wrong reasons, as opposed to getting there via an organic thought from your detective work. This would therefore be incredibly helpful in order to avoid spoilers.
The game could also benefit from a practice round, so you know what to expect from Sherlock at the end of the game. It would also be helpful to have more of a steer of where a suspect is likely to be, as we often found ourselves visiting their home, to be told they were at their workplace, or vice versa. However, this is not too much of an issue if you ignore the points deduction system.
In summary, this is one of my favourite games, partly because it is so different from everything else. It’s kind of similar to the now popular escape rooms, except you can solve this mystery in your own time, sat in a comfy chair, with a cup of tea (other beverages are available). Although there are only 10 cases, it is still fantastic value for money (especially if you ignore the points deduction system and take your time exploring), and since you can decide as a group when you want the game to end. It’s also a more accessible means of enjoying a murder mystery game, without the role-playing element, or having to dress up – which isn’t for everyone.
There’s no denying that replay value diminishes once you’ve completed the 10 cases, but you can still run this as a gamesmaster for hosting dinner parties/games nights and help steer your guests, or you could pick up Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures or Carlton House & Queen’s Park, which each give you 10 new cases to solve.
Either way, I’m thoroughly enjoying working my way through the cases, even if I do occasionally embarrass myself in front of Sherlock for accusing the wrong person. Whoops! I’m sure I’ll get it right next time….