31 May 2022
The game is a-tentacle
It’s the late 1920s and strange things are happening in New England. Like a pair of bodies turning up in the city of Arkham with exactly the same face. Or the sudden disappearance of a seven-foot-high Inuit statue from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Could any of this be connected to recent events involving a nasty cult in Innsmouth? It’s down to you, and up to seven other federal snoopers and sleuthers, to investigate. (Though we’d honestly recommend a smaller team, as it can get a bit messy and noisy with a bigger group.)
How essential a game Bureau of Investigation feels will likely depend on two things: whether or not you’re a fan of 1982’s classic narrative puzzler Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – which this game obviously reimplements – and how fatigued you are by tabletop experiences based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s fair to say that if you’ve had it up to here with all this eldritch/arcane Cthulhu whatnot, or if you just weren’t into Consulting Detective’s text-heavy, papery prop-based business, then this is just not going to be for you. However, while that’s totally understandable, it would mean you’d be missing out on a well-crafted, immersive and impressively presented game.
For those unaware of Bureau of Investigation’s Conan Doyley progenitor, the game is a board-free affair (unlike, say, the recent, similarly-themed Detective: City of Angels) which works primarily as a group – or indeed solo – ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style experience (similar to the excellent Legacy of Dragonholt). The participants pore over maps, leaf through any provided evidence, take notes, and decide together where they’re next going to either investigate a location or interview a suspect/witness. Although, the final decision is always made by the lead investigator, a role that travels clockwise around the table, turn by turn, and which necessitates finding the correct entry in the relevant case book and narrating the outcome.
With solid, evocative writing and some fun twists, turns and revelations, this process isn’t in practice as dry as it might sound; it’s not hard to get swept up into the story, even if the occasional encounter might throw you with its unexpected Lovecraftian weirdness, as sudden visions or murky entities scuttle upsettingly into the narrative. But that, as the rule book notes, is all part of the experience, and something which distinguishes Bureau of Investigation from Consulting Detective. These mysteries aren’t about deducing every last detail; they’re about peeling back the thin fabric of reality to glimpse the cold, cosmic chaos that broils beyond…
Anyway, returning to the practicalities, a ticking-clock device means you always have a limited number of leads (i.e. encounters), after which you must multilaterally agree on a trio of “intervention” locations, found at the back of each case booklet. If your locations appear, you’ll get some (hopefully) conclusive text and a point value (seven points being a resounding victory). If not, you were barking up the wrong trees, losers!
The fact that you get potentially three endings does muddle the narrative a bit, and you might have to do a little mental footwork to connect them together (though there is always a definitive “Solution” provided). But this game is definitely more about the journey than the destination, and in that sense, it offers plenty of absorbing, RPG-light entertainment for anyone willing to delve into some darkness.
PLAY IT? YES
An atmospheric sextet of mysteries that will provide many hours of intrigue, entertainment and narrative immersion – even though their replayability is, naturally, questionable.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED SHERLOCK HOLMES: CONSULTING DETECTIVE…
Assuming you don’t mind dealing with crazed cultists and extra-dimensional horrors, rather than neatly solving Victorian crimes.
Designer: Grégory Privat
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Time: 90 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 6 Case books
- 2 Maps
- 1 House plan
- 1 Directory
- 2 Newspapers
- 1 Folder (holding dozens of mysterious items)
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This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
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