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Complexity Level : Advanced (Full Game System)
Format : Paperback
Game System : Codewords
Game System : Inventory Management
Game System : Randomization Method : Dice
Game System : Scores
Genre : Historical Fiction
Genre : Mystery
Licensed Property : Novel Tie-In
Target Age Group : Adults
Target Age Group : Teenagers
Writing Style : Present Tense
Writing Style : Second Person
Misterios de Sherlock Holmes (Portuguese)
Sherlock Holmes (French)
Sherlock Holmes (Italian)
Sherlock Holmes KrimiAbenteuerSpielBücher (German)
Sherlock Holmes libro-juego (Spanish)
These mystery gamebooks allow the reader to enter the world of Sherlock Holmes, though they don't allow control of Holmes himself – he is merely a character who sometimes shows up during play. Two six-sided dice are used for randomization, and players have the choice of either using a pre-created character or building their own by distributing bonus points between six attributes: Athletics, Artifice, Observation, Intuition, Communication and Scholarship. During play, the reader is frequently prompted to note down codes for clues, deductions and decisions. These codes can then affect the outcomes of subsequent sections. At least nine books were planned for the series, but only seven were released in English; the eighth book, though unreleased in its native tongue, did see publication in translated editions in several countries. The ninth book never saw the light of day in any form.
Some books in the series were printed in two different versions: a Berkley-oriented version with the Berkley logo on the spine and a sequential series number on the front cover, and an Iron Crown Enterprises version with the ICE logo on the spine and the ICE product code on the front cover.
Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries
from Dragon #124, back cover
Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #1 Character Sheet (back)
Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #1 Character Sheet (front)
Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #4 Character Sheet (back)
Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries #4 Character Sheet (front)
Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries is an eight-book series published by Iron Crown Enterprises (the people responsible for the Middle-Earth Role Playing game) between 1987 and 1988. Obviously enough, the books are set in the world of Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character Sherlock Holmes. These books do a very good job of introducing unfamiliar people to the Holmes canon, since there is a short but informative introductory section at the beginning of each book, plus Holmes and Watson themselves are portrayed in the gamebook stories in an entertaining and intelligent way. The writing, while of lesser quality than that found in series like Storytrails or Barcelona, Máxima Discreción, is nonetheless very good for a gamebook, even trying to sound British so the flavour of Victorian London isn't lost. Speaking of British English, it never ceases to amaze me that the most popular series based on the world's most famous detective was (at least mostly, from what I can infer) written and marketed in the United States. From what I've read in Internet forums, translations into several languages apparently earned this series something of a cult status in several European countries. The only American series which seems to have been more popular with overseas publishers is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Gamebooks (of course, here I'm only taking into account books with a full game system, not pick-a-paths).
The elegant writing, detailed and interesting characters, and emphasis on deduction and reasoning are reasons why I believe this series deserves its popularity. People who want non-stop action should look elsewhere, because this series caters to a completely different sort of reader. If you have patience for long, detailed and intricate stories, however, you should find plenty of enjoyment here. One of the best features of this series is that, even if you don't uncover enough clues to solve the mystery the first time around, you can choose to start over, keeping the same character and all the information from previous attempts, making as many trips through the book as you want until you find all the necessary evidence.
The game system is very simple, which is a good thing, since it helps the reader concentrate on the story and the mystery. There are six stats: Athletics, Artifice, Observation, Intuition, Communication and Scholarship. In order to check for success in each, the player rolls two six-sided dice and adds the relevant skill score to the result. In order to succeed, the roll must be equal to or higher to a certain number (there are also some instances with three or more possible outcomes, where a result in a middle range means only partial success). In every book the player must check for his different skills plenty of times, and all of them are used (though not all are equally useful). A random number table similar to the one used in the Lone Wolf series is found at the back of each book, and results can also be generated by flipping through the book and opening a page at random.
At the beginning of each book, the character is offered the choice to take a pregenerated character with a score of one in each skill (very balanced), or to create a character. Since there are six points to allocate and a character has six skills, assigning more than one point to a single skill means a severe disadvantage in at least one of the others (a skill with no points allocated to it is assigned a value of -2, not zero). Though a balanced character may seem preferable, with some books I found it better to raise one or two of skills above average and neglect others, since the ones I chose were frequently required and the results needed were higher on the average. Skill scores can decrease during an adventure, though this is not very frequent (for example, injuries can reduce Athletics, and making a fool of yourself in a high-status social environment can reduce Communication).
With few exceptions, the inventory system is a pointless gimmick. You get to keep track of money (and learn a bit about the complex British monetary system in so doing), but except in some situations where bribery is involved, there is almost nothing entertaining about it. In some books it's possible to choose a single item from a selection of three before the adventure begins, but there are few books where they are actually useful, and even then they only serve to give bonuses to a certain skill. Seldom (if ever) does the player acquire an item during the adventure itself.
In order to solve the mystery, the player has to gather clues and deductions, which are found as a result of choices or (more often) of choices and skill rolls combined. Clues are denoted with a letter, and deductions with a number. In many books there are also numerical or letter codes which help tag certain events happening or decisions being made, so the story changes depending on past player actions. A critical point in each adventure is when the player is finally asked to point out the culprit from a list of suspects, and the clues found form the basis for a substantiated accusation. Needless to say, each book includes several clues which are only red herrings meant to mislead the player.
Overall, I believe this is a great series which you should try out if you haven't already. Despite not being the first to include detailed writing, unusually long sections of text, investigation work and an unusual setting, it took all these to a level of detail I haven't seen in many gamebook series. It's only unfortunate that book eight was never published in its original language, and that ICE's bankruptcy shortly after prevented them from producing more of these books. Nonetheless, seven books (or eight, depending on your language) should provide for months of entertainment for the avid fan.
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