Archive for January, 2022

SHCD: Case 8 Continues

I’m feeling more sanguine about case 8, largely due to progress made as an indirect result of finally doing what I really should have done a long time ago not just in this case, but in most of the cases preceding it: calling on Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been reluctant to do this because it seems like asking for hints, and I’m always reluctant to ask for hints, lest they reveal too much and ruin the pleasure of figuring things out. Indeed, the game itself warns of this: “Be careful, that help could spoil the fun of investigating!” But in fact every time I’ve tried him, his hints have been very gentle, just nudges to get you on the right track. In particular, here in case 8, essentially all I got out of it was to consult the medical examiner and evidence analysis guy who are among your always-available resources, and who I had neglected to visit in this case simply because there were so many other leads to follow. Once you’re advanced in an investigation, it’s very easy to forget that you haven’t covered the basics.

At any rate, these infodumps provided information that should have been informing my investigation a lot earlier, but I’m actually a little glad that I got them only when I had enough context to interpret them. I’ve got most of a pretty good picture of what happened now. There are still some details that elude me, though, and at this point I’m less inclined to just go for the solution until I’ve satisfied myself. At this point, that doesn’t even mean seeking new information so much as fitting together the information I already have. I’m coming to the conclusion that the way I’m playing this — keeping it open over a long period of time, dipping into it whenever I feel the inclination — is the best approach for me personally, even if it isn’t the style of play the designers intended.

SHCD: The Title Case

It’s been over three weeks now since my last post, and I’ve had case 8 of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective laid out on a table for that entire time. The box suggests “90+ min” as a typical session length, but I’ve found that to be a severe underestimate even for the simpler cases, at least in my current distraction-riddled context. Case 8 — titled “The Thames Murders”, the very case that the entire collection is named for — starts with the warning “This case is longer than the other ones. Expecting visiting [sic] more locations and spending more time solving it.” And this has been intimidating.

It isn’t just that I expecting visiting more locations. The content within those locations trends substantially longer, running to multiple pages in some cases. Where other cases start with a murder, this one hands you five right out the gate. There’s been a worrying emphasis on time-keeping, as if I’m expected to form a coherent picture of multiple people’s comings and goings over a span of days. Plus of course the number of newspapers you have access to, and thus the number you have to scan for possible relevance, has been growing steadily as game-time passes. This is the first case where I’ve felt the need to organize information by taking notes on index cards, one for each character. Although even that doesn’t really suffice to show relevant character relationships — I almost feel like I need one of those conspiracy boards with a web of red string linking photographs.

In short, it’s complex enough to have passed a threshold beyond which I just don’t seem to be able to finish it. Throughout the cases, I’ve been keeping track of locations I’ve visited in a lined notepad, so as to easily consult them again later (as the game allows you to do). I’ve previously limited myself to one page of that pad per case, and usually stopped well short of that. Here, I’ve gone over, and still don’t feel like I’m anywhere near understanding anything. There’s a peculiar thing about this game: it largely relies on narratological reasoning, such as assuming that a thing is important simply because it’s mentioned repeatedly, but it also frustrates it. I know that in a mystery of this sort, the first and most obvious solution is never the correct one. So when I suddenly encounter a new character with a motivation to kill, my first reaction is “Aha! This is the twist I was expecting, and this is the true culprit!” But discoveries aren’t strictly linear, and in a case that’s so generous with its leads, it’s very likely that I instead read the genuinely relevant part first, and only later saw the red herring. It strikes me that one of the things that enabled me to solve case 7 with a positive score was that the path to its secrets did largely form a clear narrative line, rather than the cloudy morass I have here.

I’d probably be happier, or at least have a table free, if I just gave up and read the solution. That’s the thing, you can just end a case at any time. But if I were the sort to do that, I wouldn’t have this blog, would I?

SHCD: Finally!

It finally happened: I completed a case with a positive score! In fact, as the gods of game willed it, there was a dramatic lead-up to it, in that I completed Case 6 with a score of exactly 0, my locations-over-par exactly cancelling out the questions I got correct.

Case 6, by the way, is the only one I recognized at all from the Icom FMV adaptations. It involves archeologists seemingly falling victim to a mummy’s curse. There are credulous and sensationalistic articles about it in the newspapers, but basically everyone involved in the case, including Holmes, finds the whole idea ridiculous. This basically why Holmes assigns the case to the players; there’s a pattern throughout the game of him fobbing cases off on you that he doesn’t want to bother with. At any rate, even though I had seen the case before, I don’t think that affected my performance, because I didn’t remember the details at all. If I had, I might have scored higher.

But case 7, now. There, I got all but one of the main questions right — and not just right, but firmly certain in my head, answered without guesswork. (The remaining one, I had absolutely no idea about.) Half the tangential questions, too. Possibly this was engineered. The case just seemed very straightforward to me, and I can imagine that this was a matter of the writers saying “Okay, we’ve hazed the players enough. Now it’s time to make them feel like they’ve learned something.” Or maybe it’s just me. I mean — and here I start spoilers — the central twist here, that the murderer was searching for stolen jewels hidden in plaster statues, is something that I’ve been for some reason anticipating, primed to suspect in other cases where it’s far less justified. Conspicuously mention an object of no immediately clear significance, and my first thought is “I bet that’s where the jewels were hidden!”, even if no jewels have even been mentioned. So when there’s a pile of plaster dust at the crime scene and a recent invoice for a statue that isn’t anywhere to be found, I immediately know what’s up. It’s just a matter of pounding the pavement up the chain of ownership until I have a name.

And it must be said that even Holmes had to engage in basically the same process this time, making for an unusually high par. There have been earlier cases he solved by visiting as few as two locations, which just seems like trolling. This time, it plays pretty fair.

SHCD: Code of the Professor

The fifth case in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective adds a few new things to the game’s repertoire. For one thing, it’s the first case where the critical path actually involves using the map to interpret clues. For another, it’s the first case involving Moriarty. I’m kind of glad he’s showing up here, because him appearing was pretty much inevitable — for all that Moriarty is a marginal figure in the original Holmes canon 1Fun fact: The Sherlock Holmes fandom was the first to use the word “canon” in its fannish sense. Really, they pioneered a lot of the customs of modern fan communities., dying in his first appearance, he looms large in the Holmsean imagination, and could hardly be left out entirely — and putting him in the middle means the writers aren’t taking the cheap route and saving him for the climax. Now, The Valley of Fear, one of the few canon stories to mention Moriarty, starts off with Holmes receiving a coded message from one of Moriarty’s agents, whose conscience is just troubled enough to make him send Holmes the occasional pseudonymous tip. This man uses the name Fred Porlock. SHCD expands Porlock into one of your always-available resources, just like your contacts at Scotland Yard and the Old Bailey, but a great deal less generally useful, because he knows only about Moriarty’s activities.

And, as in The Valley of Fear, the case starts off with a coded message, although not from Porlock. This is another new element: the static equivalent of a minigame. That is, like a minigame in a videogame, it’s a break in the game’s main activities, a self-contained segment where you have to think in a different way. I liked this at first, not just because it provided some pleasing variety, but because it seemed to be applying it well. To start with, unlike a lot of mass-market puzzlefests, it doesn’t expect that the player is unable to crack a simple substitution cipher without being handed a key. That is, you can go to Holmes for help if you want (Holmes himself is another one of those always-available resources), but recall that the game discourages taking more hints than you need. And anyway, Sherlock Holmes fans should all have some idea of how to solve cryptograms, seeing how Holmes himself explains the basics in The Adventure of the Dancing Men. But then, once you’ve deciphered the message, it turns out to be gibberish, just semi-grammatical word salad. Because obviously no one would encode the real message in such an easily-cracked way.

Getting at the note’s second layer almost necessitates consulting Holmes, and even then, he doesn’t tell you what to do directly, preferring to watch you flail about helplessly. Honestly he’s kind of a jerk in this game. I’m willing to believe that this is one of those puzzles best suited to a team effort, with multiple minds that work in different ways. Working by myself, I did at least find the signature, and that was worth a few points, but missed the actual content.

At this point, I’m really leaning toward the idea that you’re not really meant to solve these cases, that you’re supposed to try to solve them and then let Holmes actually solve them for you. I intend to keep going out of sheer stubbornness, but this isn’t really to my taste. It makes me wonder, though, if a similar format could be used for a different detective with results more to my liking. Someone whose cases are less about the brilliant revelation that makes everything clear, and more like a police procedural, where you keep on finding more confirmation the more you dig. Columbo, maybe. You’d have to alter the rules for this, though, because the current rules discourage the style of detection where you keep digging and digging and find more and more confirmation of what you suspect.

1 Fun fact: The Sherlock Holmes fandom was the first to use the word “canon” in its fannish sense. Really, they pioneered a lot of the customs of modern fan communities.