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Item - The Crown vs. Dr. Watson

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(ICE edition)
(ICE edition)
(ICE edition)
(ICE edition)
(Berkley edition)

Combined Summary

Series: Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries — no. 4
Translated Into: A coroa contra o Dr. Watson (Portuguese)
La corona contra el doctor Watson (Spanish)
Le crime du Docteur Watson (French)
Dr. Watson unter Anklage (German)
Watson sotto accusa (Italian)
Author: Lientz, Gerald
Illustrators: Horne, Daniel R. (cover)
Versandi, Bob (interior)
Date: 1988 (ICE edition)
ISBN: 0425108767 / 9780425108765 (ICE edition)
Length: 488 sections plus prologue
User Summary: A dishonest businessman is found murdered. The evidence seems to point towards Sherlock Holmes' companion, Dr. Watson. Can you prove Watson's innocence and bring the real culprit to justice?
Florik's Thoughts:

The "Character Record" for this gamebook is four pages long. The first page holds all the usual data: skills and their bonuses, eqipment, money. The other three contain check boxes and space for notes to remember clues, decisions and deductions by. In play, it turns out that the first page is superfluous, but the other three essential. Why so?

The inventory is never used, and there are few entries where you're actually able to spend money. And the skills? It just makes no sense to deviate from the proposed standard character with +1 in all skills. If you want a +2 speciality in one skill, you'll have to sacrifice another, which will then be at -2. Unless you really want to go crazy with Athletics +3 to just once make a certain climbing roll, you won't need a Character Record to remember to add one to all dice rolls, which by the way use two D6.

However, the following three pages of the Record are very much needed. This gamebook ingeniously uses clues and deductions to track your way through the case. It is not enough to know the culprit, the weapon and the location, as in the boardgame Clue, or even in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, which may be a more apt comparison. You need proof, and even if you do, you may need to catch the villain.

The first half of The Crown vs. Dr. Watson leads you through a series of interrogations in a completely linear fashion. You may skip certain topics or decide not to question specific witnesses at all, and low dice rolls may keep clues away from you, but that's pretty much it. The second half gives you more freedom to decide where to go, whom to see - based on your previous clues and deductions, of course. At first sight, this system seems incredibly error-prone. However, I failed to find any. Quite a feat!

Story-wise, if you're a Holmes aficionado, you may be put off by a non-canonical portrait of Doctor Watson, who resorts to fisticuffs over a game of cards in his Club. And yet, I found the case intriguing, and I loved the way it was presented, with RPG-style "handouts" like a map of the scene of the crime, and there's even a code to decipher! In spite of some early misgivings, I ended up enjoying this gamebook a lot.

More reviews by Florik

Guillermo's Thoughts:

(review based on the Spanish translation)

This book is a combination of several things that have been done before in the series with a few innovative elements. It's my least favourite book in the series, though that doesn't mean it's a bad book. My gripes with it are related to different aspects of design, so I'll analyze each of these aspects separately.

The book deserves credit for a plot with involves the player's emotions by implicating Watson in a crime. The first part of the adventure is one of high tension, since the player must uncover enough evidence to prove Watson's innocence. If upon reaching a certain point this is not done, the player must go back to the beginning and start again. Once Watson's innocence is proven, the player must uncover who the culprit is, and this involves doing many things that have already been done in the series: talking to suspects, solving the occasional secret code, going though files, and searching suspects' houses. The facts that this is the third murder mystery in a row written by the same author and that the player pretty much does the same things as in Murder in the Diogenes Club and Death at Appledore Towers mean that the book feels old rather quickly. There is an action sequence at the end where the player has to catch the culprit (similar to the one in the first book), and it's not even that interesting, though it's possible to die while chasing the criminal.

Difficulty is just about average: the majority of difficulty numbers for skill checks are in the 6-8 range on two dice. However, there is often more than one way to uncover a critical clue, so it's most likely the player won't have to go through the book again and again too many times, trying to score high on one roll in order to solve the mystery. The choices are pretty obvious most of the time, and not nearly as interesting as in Death at Appledore Towers. However, I did like the fact that often uncovering a certain clue requires having obtained another clue first. In general, the book is reasonably challenging but not frustrating. I don't think the crucial clues are as clear in this book as in most others in this series, so I was more confused near the end than I should have been; this is one of the design flaws that prevented me from enjoying this book much.

Characterization itself is one of the major flaws of the book: the story takes place in 1894, during a period where Sherlock Holmes is thought to be dead. The truth is he wasn't dead, but he faked his own death in order to hide from henchmen employed by his nemesis, Professor Moriarty (and yes, it's possible to discover this during gameplay, though whether you do it or not is irrelevant to the conclusion of the adventure). Holmes' absence is seriously felt during most of the adventure, and his brother Mycroft does not fit his shoes well. Since Watson himself is a suspect, he is presented as distant and not very likable, and once his innocence is proven, he disappears from the picture. The other characters in the story aren't really that interesting, some of them being notoriously undeveloped, and in the case of the others, not enough depth is provided in order to differentiate between them. Since most of the strengths of a book like this lie in character development, the fact that it's not done well here means the book leaves something to be desired. The writing itself is drier and duller than in most other books by this author, and this definitely lead to my disillusionment with it.

There is one aspect that somehow saves this book from complete mediocrity: the way player character agency is handled. In the previous entries of the series, the player character is mostly an observer of events, and nothing he does changes the plot dramatically. This book begins a trend that can also be seen in the next two Gerald Lientz books: certain subplots are only triggered depending on the player character's previous actions. In this book, the player's decisions may lead the murderer to commit a second crime, which can be investigated or even stopped by the player character (if he happens to be in the right place at the right time). This greatly adds to the realism and complexity of the book.

Overall, the book is slightly subpar for the series, but it still contains an interesting idea or two and might be worth reading. Its flaws are very real, but they aren't representative of the series as a whole. Considering the book has fewer sections and larger print than the author's previous efforts, one is left wondering if the adventure couldn't have been fleshed out with better writing and more interesting characters.

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary and to Guy Fullerton for the ICE front cover scan.
Users Who Own This Item: AlHazred, Ardennes, bigcobra, damieng, dArtagnan, dave2002a, Demian, Dronak, Ed, edwebb, Erikwinslow, exaquint (#204), firefoxpdm, Fullerton (ICE), Himynameistony, jdreller, juski (PDF), katzcollection, knginatl, le maudit, Malthus Dire, mir1812, mlvoss, nerelax, plowboy, Radjabov, ryderark (Spanish), Sheridan77, sireeyore, spragmatic, Twoflower, waktool (ICE, US 1st printing), Yalius, Zolika
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Known Editions

ICE edition
Berkley edition

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Related Documents

Play Aid

Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #4 Character Sheet (back)

Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #4 Character Sheet (front)