I’ve played a few dozen escape room home games and slowly been working through a stockpile I purchased before the lockdowns started. I’ve enjoyed many of them quite a bit, but the Sherlock Holmes Escape Book is the first one that blew my socks off.
I picked up this book from What the Lock Manitowoc right before all the lockdowns began. I had never heard of it before, but the theme sounded neat and I loved the creativity of the code wheel on the front, so I purchased it with no more information than what you see in the photo. I expected to find a generic book of puzzles, maybe loosely strung together by a sentence or two each. What I discovered was an elaborate choose-your-own-adventure with the most complete story of any escape room home game I’ve played.
The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book is the first time an escape room home game has felt like a fully realized narrative to me. Most of the home games are broken out into “scenes” that help give a feeling of progress, as you get a few puzzles or puzzle elements related to something that’s ostensibly happening in-game. The Sherlock Escape Book gives a more developed narrative, with plot threads to speculate on and clues to track until you reach one of the book’s many endings.
As if that wasn’t enough, the book is designed as a BRILLIANT choose your own adventure. Sometimes you’ll have a choice to make based on the story. Other times a puzzle needs to nudge you in the right direction of what to do or focus on. In some cases, you may never even find out if you got a puzzle right or wrong, but a wrong answer may make your life more difficult later. And I actually found myself gritting my teeth when turning the pages in a few cases where the stakes were particularly high.
I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan. It was only a few years ago that I really grew to appreciate Holmes, when I sat down every single Holmes story in the course of about a week. I couldn’t believe I had waited that long, and soon after reading the stories I also dug up as many Holmes films and adaptations as I could find, from the old Basil Rathbone films all the way up to Cumberbatch. I’ve scooped up as many Sherlock Holmes board games and video games as I can (The Frogwares video games and the Consulting Detective board game are particularly satisfying).
As a fan of Holmes, it was particularly rewarding for me to go through a game like this. There’s even a challenge to identify two passages in this book taken directly from Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures, which is completely optional and in no way impacts game progress- it’s just a very fun touch for Holmes fans. Even those completely unfamiliar with Holmes should find a lot to love, though- the story is accessible and well-crafted.
The puzzles in this book are remarkably creative, testing both logic and an eye for detail.
Twice during the book, I found ways to solve problems that I’m not sure were intended. I couldn’t be happier about that. Real life problem solving encourages multiple approaches, some more efficient than others, and I felt this game really sharpened my focus in a way other home games haven’t. Most escape room home games revolve around a “Eureka!” moment, so I really appreciated the chance to apply a broader set of problem solving skills.
The wheel on the front cover comes into play quite a bit, and it’s a clever way to add a few different kinds of visual puzzle to the game. There are only so many ways you can hide stick figures in a picture and then unscramble the letters you find to make a number, but the book spreads these games out far enough that it never gets tedious.
Some of the puzzles get creative in how they ask you to solve or answer the problem, which also keeps this from being more than a run of the mill puzzle book.
Because answering a puzzle represents a narrative choice, even responding to easier puzzles left me sweating a little bit.
This book presents a very nice test for puzzle lovers. The challenge level isn’t overwhelmingly high for any given puzzle, but the high stakes (risk of game ending prematurely with a bad decision), curveballs (i.e. special handicaps for specific puzzles), and clues you find early that come in handy late in the book are all things that will challenge even the best puzzle solvers.
The book does have hints in the back for those who get stuck, and solutions for those who gets REALLY stuck. That could theoretically help someone get over obstacles and progress through the book, though I’d strongly recommend putting in a bookmark instead, sleeping on the puzzle, and coming back to it later. There’s only one point at which I could foresee players getting out-and-out stuck, but in the worst case scenario the player can iterate through each of the choices until the correct one is selected.
I worked through the book by myself. It would be fine going through it with a partner or two. Two people would be a logical limit since once you have more than that, it might get a little crowded around the page.
I’ve alluded a little earlier to how much I enjoyed this book. Seriously, if you love puzzles, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Sherlock Holmes Escape Room Book. Especially in these days when the world outside is locked down, it’s a fantastic way to kill an afternoon and keep your brain sharp. Between the branching narrative and strong puzzles, this book is truly a gem to adorn a puzzle-solver’s bookshelf.
I checked out the publisher’s website (Ammonite Press) and saw there’s a sequel coming in October 2020, and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to see the next chapter in this adventure.