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Our Crack Tongue & Groove

sherlockxmas.jpg The game is afoot

If you’re stuck for a Christmas present this year then can I point you in the direction of ‘Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective’. (This column not sponsored by ‘Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective’.)

12 September 1888. Courtney Allen, the wealthy industrialist owner of a gun factory, has been murdered in an alley just outside his office. Scotland Yard – as is their bumbling wont – believe that it is a simple case of robbery, as certain valuables were also stolen. You, however, are not so sure. Could the murder be connected to the fact that Allen’s company was involved in a secret government project? Well could it? So begins ‘The Munitions Magnate’, case one in ‘Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective’.

It’s a game in which players don’t compete against each other. Instead everyone must pool their mental resources in order to try and piece together the clues. (You could also play solo, especially if you had a decent claret for company.) Each game begins with a preamble. One player reads out a chunk of text that sets the scene (or you can download an app and have a bloke read it out for you in suitably plummy tones). This will usually involve a body being found in mysterious circumstances, or a scenario that seems open-and-shut but is far from it. In one memorable case – ‘The Lionised Lions’ – you’re simply instructed to check out today’s copy of The Times to see if you’re struck by anything peculiar.

Ah, yes! The Times! Each case comes with a mock-up of The Times newspaper, which is full of news snippets, advertisements and other announcements. Each copy might provide vital clues.

After the preamble you must decide where, or who, to visit. In the ‘The Munitions Magnate’, for instance, it would seem logical to visit the crime scene first up. So, you find the location on the map (yep – you’re also given a map of Victorian London), and then flip through the casebook to the corresponding piece of text, which someone reads out. This may offer you further clues and more names (let’s call them suspects), which are all stirred into the pot. When you think you’ve worked out all the whys and wherefores of the case you turn to a series of questions at the back of the file (who is the killer? Who has the diamonds? Etc).

There is a loose scoring system and you ‘win’ by bettering the score set by Sherlock himself. But ignore that. You won’t beat him. The satisfaction comes from pulling together the disparate elements and trying to mould them into a cohesive, plausible whole. It’s not the quickest of games to play – each case can easily take three and more hours to complete – but if you’re looking for some perfect telly-off fun during the long, winter nights, then the solution is elementary.