Wednesday 28 September 2016

Consulting Detective - Alternate Versions

Written by Voltgloss & Joe Pranevich

Although we closed up Consulting Detective with a Final Rating last week, there is still a bit more to the story. In its publication life, the Consulting Detective games have been released in four distinct forms: the 1981-1995 pen-and-paper original game by Sleuth Publications, the 1991-1993 computer versions by ICOM, the 2012 remaster of that version by Zojoi, and a 2012/2015 (French/English) update of the classic game by Ystari Publications. We’ve now spent eight weeks covering the ICOM version of the game, but it’s worth a look at the others to see how they stack up. The Zojoi games may be played on this blog at some distant future date, but it will be a very long time before we get to contemporary adventure gaming history.

Joining me in this retrospective is Voltgloss who has been kind enough to take an in-depth look at the new Ystari Publications version of the game, as well as provide some details for the pen-and-paper game in general. The Ystari version features a number of plot changes from the cases that we played and he has patiently documented those in detail. If you intend to play any of these three Ystari cases, we will be dealing in spoilers for those games, but I will put up a spoiler warning when the time comes.

Lots and lots of little books.

Original Pen-and-Paper game (1981-1995)

A lot of ink has been spilled on this site about whether the original was a “gamebook”, a “board game”, or something else. I have had the opportunity to play the original myself and I can confirm that it is “something else”. The game revolves around a large fold-out map of London with individually numbered and labeled buildings, but in practice I did not find the map to use used all that much. Instead almost all of the game is played with a series of books-- nearly a dozen in my version-- all stored in a binder. Those books include the rules, the London directory, clues you can discover, the newspaper archive, and many others. The game is played in your heads and in your personal notebooks as you seek to unravel the clues to the ten included mysteries and two expansion packs. The closest approximation may be something akin to Dungeons and Dragons, albeit without a DM. The game can be played alone against Sherlock Holmes himself or in a group against your friends. With two jobs, a preschooler, and a highly lucrative blogging career, I didn’t have enough free time to find a way to play this with local friends. You may have better luck.

The original Consulting Detective game was followed by a number of expansions. I know of 1983’s The Mansion Murders (five cases), 1984’s The Queen’s Park Affair, 1986’s Adventures by Gaslight, and 1995’s West End Adventures (six cases). Two additional stories were published in magazines: “Sherlock Holmes & the Baby” in Different Worlds in November, 1986, and “October 1891” in Role Mag in March of 1991. If that is the complete list, that totals at twenty-five cases for the original game that can be played and enjoyed although several are very hard to track down today. Curiously two of the adventures, Queen’s Park and Gaslight, improve on a major criticism I had to the first game: while they each contain one case, that case is solved over multiple days and gaming sessions to build an overall plot. I haven’t played it, but it’s too bad ICOM never got to adapting either of those!

Wiggins stole Holmes’s pipe again.

For the game mechanics, I’m going to turn the narrative over to Voltgloss:
  • There's no differential option between sending Holmes/Watson versus sending the Irregulars. Why? Because in the board game, the players are the Irregulars! None of the casebook entries reflect Holmes or Watson pursuing leads directly; instead, the story is told from the unnamed Irregulars' point of view as a collective player avatar. Only Wiggins, head of the Irregulars, is present throughout the investigation. 
  • A few other Regulars are available for consult that are not in the ICOM version: "Fred Porlock," the alias of a member of the criminal underground who can provide coded information on the activities of a certain Moriarty; Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother and "eminence grise" with information on everything concerning to government; and the Central Carriage Stables, where London cab drivers meet up, which can provide "information on the movements of suspects." 
The map from the original Consulting Detective game.
  • In addition to looking up leads in the London Directory or calling on regulars, the players can also consult a map of London and select entries based on their location. So if, for example, the players find a clue suggesting that a suspect was last seen going down a certain street, they could find that street on the map of London and call on locations in that general area. 
  • Finally, the astute reader will see I've referenced "players" plural throughout. The board game can be played solo, or as a group. Group play consists of all players having access to all gamebooks/information, and the players each taking their turn to decide which lead to pursue. Play can be either cooperative - where everyone is working together to solve the mystery and fare well against Holmes - or competitive. In competitive play, each individual player can decide to privately check the endgame questions (equivalent to the judge's questions in the ICOM version), write down their answers, and then compare to the solution. That player then has their own score and sits out the rest of the game until everyone has taken their turn to solve. Once all have tried, Holmes's denouement is read and each player's individual score is compared. 
Other than the above, the computer version is a surprisingly direct adaptation. It uses exactly the same newspapers and the judge asks exactly the same questions, albeit skipping the bonus questions. As many of the bonus questions do not involve Holmes lore rather than the cases itself, that is no big loss. The script is as direct as it can be, except with the viewpoint characters switched over to Holmes and Watson. I noticed a few small changes here and there (Travis tries to revive a dead cat rather than a dead monkey, for example), but did not do a comprehensive search.

The Zojoi update streamlined the user interface.

Zojoi Remaster (2012)

As we discussed in our interview with David Marsh, Zojoi’s first project was the remastering of the first three Consulting Detective cases for modern consumption. Without updating the content of the cases, Zojoi polished the interface and resolved many of the items that I complained about in my review. It’s a shame the three released cases did not sell like hotcakes; there was a lot of love shown in the adaptation. I am still crossing my fingers for the remaining six to be released. Even so, if you are playing Consulting Detective for something other than historic curiosity, this is the way I’d recommend to do it.

Let’s hit up some of the big improvements:

I can see clearly now, the mud is gone.

Hands down, the most important change is the remastered video. The updated film is crisper with some of the unnecessary sepia taken away. Even though the original Betacam film is only standard definition, they did a great job re-digitizing it and squeezing out every last ounce of detail for a full screen mode. A great example of this is Philip Travis’s mummy experiment scene. This scene contains several clues, the most important of which is a bowl that was used in the second murder on Travis’s table. Thanks to the remastering, we can now find details and clues that we missed. It also helps that you can make out much more of the costuming and set decorating. The original team did a fantastic job and it deserves to be seen in a window larger than postage stamp-sized. Finally, you can now turn on subtitles. Not only does this make the game available to deaf players, but also simplifies the spelling of suspect names.

The newspaper has been simplified and made readable.

The newspaper was one of the worst aspects of the original game. In the remaster, Zojoi has redesigned the pages and built a browser that lets you peruse all of Holmes’s papers much easier. It’s still missing a search function, but Holmes didn’t have one of those either.

All the Regulars are in one place now.

If you are having trouble remembering the names of all of the “Regulars”, the remake has a surprise for you: they can now be browsed directly from a menu! This could have used an integrated help function here to remember who was who, but this is a great leap forward, especially for new players.

You can also request clues from Watson to get you on the right path.

The notebook interface from the original game has been completely scrapped. No longer is it a glorified collection of suspect-bookmarks, it is now a running log of the things that Holmes and Watson discover. You may still need to take notes, but critical items are recorded for you. It’s also handy to turn back to when you are stuck.

We won’t do a PISSED score for the new version for a very long time, but it’s obvious that it would have ticked off additional points in almost every category. We expect modern games to be better of course, but this is still a fun way to play the first three Consulting Detective cases.

Updated box art!

Ystari Games Edition (2012-Present)

Hello folks! Voltgloss here, cordially invited to explain differences between the ICOM version and the republished version of the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective board game. The publisher, Ystari Games, is a French company that obtained permission to translate and publish the original board game in French - and, as discussed in the comments up to now, made changes to some of the cases in the process. Then in 2015 they translated their version back to English and republished it over in the states and the UK. Do their changes help or hinder, and how well were they implemented? Let's find out by looking at the three cases we've already seen solved starting with where Mr. Pranevich did: “The Mummy's Curse!” In the alternate world of the Ystari universe, what different clues await our investigation?

The opening of the case remains the same as in the ICOM version: Watson getting bent out of shape about the Times reporting on superstitious nonsense... reports on three dead archaeologists gleaned from the Times articles: Ebenezer Turnbull at the mummy's tomb, Andrew Weatherby on the ship voyage back, and now James Windibank at the museum... a visit to Baker Street Regular Henry Ellis, who again identifies Phillip Travis as the reporter handling the story... but from there things begin to diverge.

Mr. Travis, while still a "bit of a strange duck" as Ellis says, doesn't appear so obviously loony as his ICOM incarnation. Still a trained Egyptologist who comments that "even death may be temporary," but he doesn't laud Egyptian science over modern knowledge, doesn't credit an Egyptian god with the murders and definitely doesn't try to bring a mummy back to life before our eyes. He confirms having written the articles in the Times regarding the expedition, though he laments he "was not able to work in good circumstances" as the "security perimeter around the camp was extremely strict and I could not access the tomb despite my numerous demands." What Travis loses in loony though, he makes up for in creepy:
"On his table are a number of small mummies, as well as beakers and scattered vials. Travis takes one of these mummies and says, 'Hello my darling baby.'"
Travis explains that the mummified remains of a cat are the "ideal companion" - "No need to feed it or let it out. And yet we feel like a presence, as if life still flowed in it." Pet rock, eat your stony heart out.

Weeping stone tears.

As before, visiting Travis doesn't produce any more leads. Following Mr. Pranevich's footsteps takes us to Captain Ramsey of the Eastern Empress and his first officer Luther Tenney, to get his account of the second murder - that of Andrew Weatherby. Ramsey offers nothing different - he sent Tenney to check the cargo, Tenney found Weatherby's body, Ramsey put Tenney in charge of the investigation - but Tenney's account has been tweaked:
  • Weatherby's body was found apparently strangled with part of the mummy's "winding sheet," with the same mysterious bowl of ash nearby that later vanished, and also nearby crates open with "papers scattered all over." 
  • Travis was still on the ship, still spouting "mystic mumbo jumbo," and still arguing with Professor Windibank (victim #3). But Travis was also "sick as a dog" the day Weatherby was killed - so much so that the ship's doctor had to give Travis a sedative. In the ICOM version, it was Weatherby himself who suffered seasickness. Not so here. 
  • The mysterious Arabs were still present - Fahmi, holder of the mysterious box; and Al-Saud, who apparently wanted said box. Fahmi didn't have contact with any of the voyagers, except Windibank, with whom he "exchanged a few words." 
  • The apparent affair doesn't involve Windibank - rather, there was a fistfight between Mr. Uruburu and a "Mr. Fenwick" over Fenwick's wife. 
What became of Mrs. Weatherby?

Next stop on the Pranevich tour: the Jardine Shipping Company. Our passenger list: victim #2 Weatherby, victim #3 Windibank, Travis, Fahmi, Al-Saud, Uruburu, Louise Fenwick, and her husband Merrill Fenwick. Clarissa Weatherby, widow of the shipboard victim, is NOT on the passenger list.

How about the Arab passengers? Al-Saud is, again, not home. Fahmi is, again, stone cold dead with a knife in his back. Because Holmes doesn't accompany the players, he's not around to declare that the butler did it; in fact, there's no evidence of a butler or anyone else on the scene. Instead, Wiggins calls Scotland Yard and a constable arrives to shoo us out. Before that, we find a book on Fahmi's desk on Egyptology, open to a page depicting a statue of Sekhmet in solid gold.

How about the love triangle? Uruburu is sporting a magnificent shiner courtesy of Mr. Fenwick, but seems in good spirits based on whatever he received from Ms. Fenwick - and tells us nothing about Weatherby's death. The Fenwicks are engaged in "marathon quarrelling" and likewise offer nothing.

Clarissa Weatherby wasn't on the ship... any point to calling on her? Well here we get another major change, in that Clarissa Weatherby (and, by extension, Holmes's trick with the toffee tin) doesn't appear to exist! Visiting the deceased Weatherby's home, we are let in by the landlord to a small but comfortable bachelor apartment. We find Weatherby's diary, with a note proclaiming how lucky he is to have been selected for Turnbull's expedition - and noting Travis's extreme unhappiness about it. Not so lucky after all, it seems.

It's at this point the Pranevich investigation moved on to the third murder, that of Windibank. As before, Lestrade is zero help. The scene of the crime offers most of the same points, with one slightly different detail - or, rather, absence of detail: there is no mention of whether the bandage that killed Windibank came from the mummy, and nothing about whether care was taken to keep the mummy undamaged.

A Victorian night at the museum.

Windibank's bosses at the London University tell us that Windibank was more of a classroom than a field expert, but he "insisted very much on being chosen" for Turnbull's expedition and apparently got along with the main man well. We get the same story about Weatherby and Travis-- students of Windibank's-- being in competition for the third expedition slot, and Travis being highly upset that Windibank chose Weatherby instead of him. The other student mentioned in the ICOM version, "Peter Smith," doesn't exist.

Time to visit the Regulars! Criminologist H.R. Murray tells us, as before, that the linen wrappings found on the corpses' necks were not murder weapons. No monkey hair this time, however. Rather, Murray observes that "this strip and the one found on Weatherby's body [the shipboard victim] are of different widths," and opines that the strip on Windibank was "probably used to embalm the corpse of a child or of an animal."

The only other Regular with a changed account is Langdale Pike, who has different gossip on Windibank. Rather than a scandal with the anti-vivisectionist league dropping Fenwick's name, Pike instead tells us that Windibank "had the habit of giving in to his gorgeous wife on everything" and comments on "her toilettes coming from the greatest couturiers from Paris." Calling on the bereaved widow, Hildegard, she tells us that Windibank was looking forward to this "chance to actually get out into the field" - but that after his return "a certain paranoia had settled in." He would not talk about Turnbull's or Weatherby's deaths, "remain[ing] very evasive," and instead told Hildegard that he wanted to "flee all that ridiculous publicity" by taking "a trip on the continent."

One last "stop" to make: the Times itself. The February 1888 and August 1888 articles remain unchanged. The only change is to Travis's March 1889 article on the excavation, where he writes that the "camp was highly guarded to prevent plunder," in keeping with his comments about not having access to the tomb when we interviewed him.

Finally, we're before the judge. Or, in this case, the end-of-game questions. In another divergence from ICOM, the questions come in two parts: Part One involving the main case, and Part Two involving "side quests." A player can improve their score by answering questions from either part correctly, although the Part One questions are worth more. Here they are:

  1. Who killed Ebenizer Turnbull? (10 points)
  2. Why was he murdered? (20 points)
  3. Who killed Andrew Weatherby? (20 points)
  4. Why was he murdered? (20 points)
  5. Who killed James Windibank? (10 points)
  6. Why was he murdered? (20 points)
  1. Who killed Akram Fahmi? (5 points)
  2. Which object passed from one pair of hands to the other in this case? (20 points)
  3. How were the victims killed? (5 points)
In this version, more points are a good thing. Holmes's score is always 100. To calculate your score, you add up points for the questions you got right, and then deduct 5 points for every additional lead you pursued that Holmes didn't pursue (with the exception of some "free leads" in certain cases, for which you aren't penalized - no such freebies in this case). The solution also tells you which leads Holmes pursued - usually a depressingly short list as the master detective cuts right to the chase. For this case, he only needed 4 leads: (1) the London University; (2) Henry Ellis at the Times; (3) Luther Tenney; and (4) society gossip Langdale Pike; plus reviewing the Times articles, which are free (for both Holmes and the players).

If you'd like to play along, do your best to answer the above questions before looking at the answers below! If you don’t want to be spoiled, jump to the blue street lamp picture below..

Don’t look past here if you don’t want to be spoiled!

  1. James Windibank 
  2. Turnbull caught Windibank stealing artifacts at the dig site, and Windibank killed to silence him. 
  3. James Windibank again 
  4. Weatherby suspected Windibank of theft and was reviewing the dig's files in the ship's hold to confirm - Windibank realized his suspicions and killed him 
  5. Philip Travis 
  6. Travis, far less loony than he appears, knew immediately a "mummy" wasn't behind the killings - but realized he could use the opportunity to kill Windibank in revenge for not taking him on the expedition and blame the "mummy" for it. Windibank was hoist by his own petard! 
The key clues leading to these deductions:
  • Per Travis's account and the Times article on the dig, only those who were part of the dig team were allowed on-site. Also, Travis was seasick during the ship voyage when Weatherby was killed. So he could not have committed either of those murders. 
  • With Travis out of the loop, Turnbull and Weatherby dead, only Windibank remains as both at the dig and on the ship to commit both of the first two murders. 
  • Windibank's motive was to continue funding his wife's lavish lifestyle - hence his insistence to Turnbull that he be included in the expedition, and his discussions with smuggler Akram Fahmi onboard the ship. 
  • The different bandages used for Weatherby's vs. Windibank's murders point to the latter being a copycat murder with a different "tool" - the bandages Travis has on his mummified cats. 
And also, here's an example of Ystari dropping the ball in part, as one vital clue didn't make it into the English translation: that the dig site had such tight security that outsiders like Travis weren't allowed in. This point was simply missing from the English version despite being in the French. Apparently when this case was republished in English that particular change wasn't carried over - despite all of the others making it through translation. Oops!

And to wrap up PART TWO:
  1. Al-Saud 
  2. The golden statue of Sekhmet in Fahmi's book, which Fahmi was smuggling and Al-Saud recovered 
  3. Bare-handed strangulation 
Elementary, as they say.

If only we could read the text...

Mystified Murderess

So, how about the “Mystified Murderess” - the "hypnotism" case? Well, this case was also changed, but its main "gimmick" remains intact - the supposed murderess having been hypnotized to be on the scene of the crime with a gun in hand. What has changed is the murderer and their motive. I'll cut to the chase on this one, given the smaller cast of characters, and provide the revised case version's description of the guilty party (far different from the ICOM portrayal):
“Dr. Trevelyan is an athletic looking man, and everything about him, his movements and gestures, is very precise. His eyes are piercing and vivacious, and seem to read the depths of your soul. It is ever-so-slightly disturbing. He drops himself into the chair behind his desk, fiddles with his pocket watch and asks how he can help us.”
There's our hypnotist/murderer, folks - pocket watch included. So what else is revised to accommodate having Trevelyan, not Loretta, as the murderer? One major lead pointing towards Loretta's guilt - the gun shop proprietor remembering Loretta's buying the gun under Frances's name - is removed entirely. Unfortunately, a lot of other points that SHOULD have been changed to accommodate that solution did NOT get changed - in the English version, at least. Leaving many of the board game players to scratch their heads over Holmes pointing at Trevelyan, not Loretta, as the murderer. But research found a number of key changes in the French version that simply didn't get ported over:
  • When Frances Nolan had her second "episode" at solicitor Hiram Davenport's office, she wasn't there with Loretta - she was there with Trevelyan! Specifically, they were there to - in Davenport's explanation - appoint Dr. Trevelyan as Loretta's guardian in case anything ever happened to Frances. Not only does this change tie Trevelyan to one of Frances's blackout incidents, but it also points to Trevelyan's motive: he ultimately wants *Frances* dead, so the parents' fortune reverts to Loretta, whom he can easily control (as his patient for years) and thus manipulate into having the fortune benefit himself. 
  • When interviewing Frances, the players learn that she is Loretta's guardian and that if anything happens to her, then solicitor Davenport will manage their goods. She doesn't mention Trevelyan being recently appointed guardian at all. This indicates that Frances doesn't remember making that change - in other words, Trevelyan hypnotized her into doing it! 
Loretta: Not as evil this time!

  • Furthermore, Frances's account was changed to remove Loretta's presence from her first blackout. So instead of two blackouts with Loretta at each, we have two blackouts, one with no one clearly present, and the other with only Trevelyan present. 
  • There is only *one* glass of wine, not two, in Clarendon's apartment. This detail removes the implication of Clarendon having known his killer, which otherwise still strongly points to Loretta as the villain. 
The case is still a divisive one - do the changes make for a more compelling story? Or perhaps they just don't go far enough? Let the comments decide!

The Tin Soldier

From all this you may have the impression Ystari made changes across the board to the Consulting Detective case files. In fact though, it's only those two cases where the solutions were altered and the hints heavily revised. The Tin Soldier - and the other 7 cases - were largely untouched. The only real difference in The Tin Soldier is that, instead of a figure of Napoleon, the dying Armstead actually turned around the figure of *Wellington* in the diorama. Why? Because Napoleon was Wellington's "opposite," and so "reverse Wellington" = Napoleon. Same idea behind the clue, just a bit more cryptic. It's also quite possible that's how the clue was in the *original* board game version, and was simplified for the ICOM version.

But ultimately that's a question to be tackled anew when the second and third chapters of the ICOM versions are played!

To be continued!

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed our coverage of Consulting Detective, Volume One. Thanks to Voltgloss for his efforts to research and play all of the Ystari games for us. He’ll be getting some shiny new CAPs in the next Final Rating post. This has been great fun for me and I’m looking forward to exploring the sequel in a few months.

Up next will be closing out 1991. It’s time to get to a new year!


  1. Thank you to Voltgloss for the great work looking at the Ystari games. Always love to see new writers here. Thanks for teaming up with me to put this look together.

    1. No problem sir - thank you for inviting me to assist!

  2. When mentioning the other versions you must have missed the 2000 DVD edition. Its got a questionable 3d menu and I think the remastering was done for that rather than the later version. I can't be too sure of that though.

    1. I did miss that version when I reviewed this the first time.

      That said, I have been in contact with the ICOM guys and they did their version straight from the 16mm (or whatever) prints rather than what they did in 2000. It seems that they had to re-edit all of of their version by hand and I would be very interested in seeing that, especially if they had alternate takes or bloopers....

    2. Bloopers, you say? That honestly would have been very interesting to see.