24 July 2017
Deerstalkers and pipes at the ready as we prepare to once again lock wits with the world’s most famous sleuth
The first release in the revamped Consulting Detective collection, Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures is something new, something old, comprising six cases polished up from mid-1990s Consulting Detective expansion West End Adventures and four brand new cases that form a linked campaign following the real-life Jack the Ripper murders, packaged up in a beautiful slipcase ideal for bookshelves.
If you’ve never played Consulting Detective before, it hardly matters, as this box serves as a standalone experience. The format will be familiar to veterans of the series, as you chase down leads and clues in the streets of London using a combination of the directory of names and businesses, map of London (the reverse focuses just on Whitechapel for the Ripper missions), newspapers for the time period of each case and the narrative dialogue provided by visiting each location.
The idea is to try and beat the score of Sherlock himself by using as few locations as possible and answering a series of questions presented once you feel you’ve solved the riddle of each mystery but, as with the original Consulting Detective, besting the master sleuth’s perfect score involves making incredible leaps of deduction and assumption – meaning it's best to just play for fun. There's the chance to earn bonus points by answering additional questions about details not directly relating to the case that serve to build up the atmosphere and world of 19th century London, but these involve wondering off the main path and can easily be missed if you happen to chase the ‘wrong’ threads.
Even when you do follow the right tracks, you can end up in frustrating dead ends as the aging book format shows its weaknesses. On multiple occasions, we chased up a legitimate clue in what we felt to be a logical way only to stumble into the middle of a plot strand we were yet to begin, throwing the otherwise evocative method of storytelling off the rails.
The atmosphere is piled on thick and fast, with plenty of extraneous details and the ever-welcome daily newspapers intensifying what is easily Consulting Detective’s greatest asset. However, as with the original game, this re-release does suffer from awkward phrasing and an abundance of typos that put a stick through the spokes of a mystery’s momentum – as well as some dialogue during the Ripper cases that felt out of time and place given the context. The components, at least, feel premium and are easy to read.
The Ripper campaign is a unique and engaging way of exploring the real-life British legend, with each case centred around one or two of the killer’s victims. Mechanically, the lack of resolution regarding Jack’s identity means the scenarios are tougher than the other cases in the box (we’d recommend playing at least one of the West End adventures first) but can be more gratifying to solve – especially as the booklets delve into historical details in relation to each conclusion.
One of the Ripper cases imposes a limitation on the usual open-ended format of a Consulting Detective scenario, which not only limits the atmospheric potential but also seems strangely unexplained in terms of narrative – if it had been used more logically, it may’ve been an interesting contrast to a standard investigation, but has instead been crammed in for no real reason. Inconsistent in quality throughout, the Ripper campaign ends on a flat note finale that serves as an especially egregious example of the infuriating logical leaps and incoherent record-scratch storytelling of Consulting Detective at its worst, making the many hours invested in the preceeding cases feel thrown away.
Yet, despite its faults, it’s still a joy to sink into the atmospheric storytelling of Consulting Detective’s world and this spin-off is no exception. There are frustrations with the delivery of certain elements and the book-driven format is showing its age as it approaches its 40th anniversary, but the ability to conjure a satisfying enigma and make exploring the streets of London remains as irresistible, though-provoking and gripping as ever.
Issues with the presentation and logic of the Consulting Detective format can’t detract too much from a fascinating and riveting addition to the series. Just make sure you have a strong stomach if you plan on taking down Jack.
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Time: 90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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