By Martha Folsom
“Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot.” Thus would begin a great mystery. Mr. Holmes also recognized the game inherent in the chase.
Sherlock Holmes found his way into literature in 1887. Within two years Americans were playing a board game called Game of Detective published by R. Bliss and we have been sleuthing our way around mystery games every since. In 1904 the first of many Sherlock Holmes games was produced. He more recently made an appearance in the game 221B Baker Street The Time Machine published in 1996. Next to Mr. Holmes, perhaps the most renowned mystery character in the world of games, is Mr. Ree. Now out-of-print and known only to game collectors, Mr Ree was published for 29 years from 1937 to 1966. (Quite a long life in the world of games) In 1967 Case of the Elusive Assassin was designed by Sid Sackson and published by Ideal Games.
Sid Sackson (1920-2002) was known by many people in the game world as “the greatest game designer in the world.” Certainly he was one of the most prolific and America’s premier game designer without question. Throughout his adult life, he designed more than 700 games, nearly 150 of which were published in his lifetime. His 1962 game Acquire has become a classic in it’s own time, and was inducted into the Games Magazine Hall of Fame. No longer available, Sackson’s game Can’t Stop was the fastest selling game in Parker Brothers history.
In 1971, Sid Sackson redesigned the Case of the Elusive Assassin eliminating the board and transforming it into a card game. Renamed SLEUTH, it was published by 3M. This classic game of deduction presents a case in which a valuable piece of jewelry is missing. Through strategic questioning, you gather bits of information and skillfully discover the clues to solve the mystery. Even though SLEUTH had gone out of print it was fondly remembered and after Sackson’s death in 2002 arrangements were made between his family and a newly formed game company to reproduce the game. Once again mystery fans can enjoy this great card game.
In Britain a mystery game named Cluedo had become extremely popular. In 1948 Parker Brothers licensed the game to produce it in the US and it became Clue. Clue has undergone many changes in its graphics over the years. There have also been licensed Clue games featuring everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to The Simpsons. However, the ever popular and sought after 1949 original board has been reproduced and is still available for its many loyal fans.
One of the newest entries into the shadowy world of mystery games is the elegant Mystery of the Abbey. Both beautiful and extremely playable this game appeared in 2003. While it follows the pattern of Clue, in that a murder has been committed and the players must determine the doer of the terrible deed; game players will find that Mystery of the Abbey offers the opportunity for intelligent questioning and moves with a more satisfying speed towards its conclusion.
Another difference between Mystery of the Abbey and Clue, is the addition of cards, which affect the moves that the players can make. While it takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half to play, the play feels more rapid and satisfying. It is also more intense as players sense their opponents gleaning an insight from some small remark. There is more sophistication and strategy than in a game of Clue. The board is beautifully illustrated with the names of the rooms of the abbey in Latin. Pawns are monk figures case in stone and there is a bell to ring to bring the players back to the chapel for an exchange of information. Even the suspect sheets are delightfully illustrated. Mystery of the Abbey makes an excellent family game as children as young as eight years old can play while adults find it immensely satisfying as well.
Mystery games are so much fun. You get to solve the crime, find the guilty party and be a hero without the tedious footwork of the real life detective. You don’t get rained soaked while on stakeout and you can still eat donuts while you deduce. Why be a real detective when you can get it all in a great game? Elementary, Dear Watson, you wouldn’t.
Martha K. Folsom is the current president of the Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors, an international organization devoted to the study and preservation of traditional games and puzzles. She also owns The Old Game Store, on Historic Route 7A in Sunderland, VT.