Dale Yu: Review of Bureau of Investigation – Investigations in Arkham and Elsewhere (Spoiler Free)

Bureau of Investigation – Investigations in Arkham and Elsewhere

  • Designer: Gregory Privat
  • Publisher: Space Cowboys
  • Players: 1-8
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: the box says 90+ minutes per case; real life says 90-240 minutes (so far)
  • Played 3 cases so far with review copy provided by Asmodee NA / Space Cowboys

bureau of investigation

As the box states at the top, Bureau of Investigation is “An investigative game set in the Cthulhu Mythos and based on Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective”.  That opening sentence may actually be all the review you need to read as it may already tell you if you want to try this game or not.

The reason I say that is because Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is one of the classic games in the genre, winning the Spiel des Jahres in 1985.  We did a re-review of this a few years ago (https://opinionatedgamers.com/2015/06/09/sdj-re-reviews-7-sherlock-holmes-criminal-cabinet-a-k-a-sherlock-holmes-consulting-detective/)   The series has also had a more recent reboot by Space Cowboys – and we also have tried out one of those boxes recently… https://opinionatedgamers.com/2017/03/08/dale-yu-review-of-sherlock-holmes-consulting-detective-jack-the-ripper-west-end-adventures/   Experience with both the original and the new version confirm that the game is quite polarizing. It seems that gamers tend to love or hate the system (at least in my experience).  On top of that, the Cthulhu theme feels overplayed in the past few years, and that also seems to be a polarizing aspect.

For me, I don’t particularly care for the Cthulhu mythos, so that doesn’t attract me to the game at all – but I am a fan of Consulting Detective – so I was pretty happy to give this one a try.  Bureau of Investigation: Investigations in Arkham & Elsewhere is a complete and independent investigation game set in the Cthulhu Mythos. These cases transport you into the United States of America in the 1920s to tear the veil dissimulating unspeakable threats from Elsewhere. The game is based on the rules of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, with a few added new investigative mechanics.

The game is based on Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – but there are some differences made based on the theme.  “While Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is based on logic and inductive reasoning to solve tangible cases, specific to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Bureau of Investigation unfolds in a universe inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. However, in most of these texts, the narrator is overwhelmed by the account they testify to, often not understanding it when they do not doubt its reality. The cases in this set have strange and paranormal elements to them originating in or drawing heavily on Lovecraft’s tales. However, it is not necessary to have read them to solve the cases. Lovecraft’s works deal with a “scientific” horror. Science-fiction does not come in the form of ghosts, but rather as extra-terrestrial entities, travels through time and space, other dimensions, and mysterious creatures. Men are powerless and anecdotal beings, lost in the infinity of a universe that confuses them. Regardless, the cases in the Bureau of Investigation can be solved with simple logic, even if they involve elements that are not. However, unlike the cases in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, where all is explained in the end, it will happen that some elements, which are beyond human comprehension, remain obscure. This is a deliberate choice.”

Another change from the base game is that these cases come with a time limit.  All the investigations start with an introductory text. Most of the time, a section, in bold type, provides a duration that corresponds to the number of leads available to the players before you have to make some conclusions and solve the case.  This is in opposition to the usual system where you look at however many leads you need to explore, solve the case, and then compare your score to Holmes’…. It usually ends up that I’d need 27 leads to mostly solve the case, while Holmes (in the answer key) manages to solve it in 5.   So, in one way, it’s nice to have a set limit – it helps keep the overall time for each case down, but it also forces me to really think about what leads I want to follow because I know the number is not open ended.  I will say that in a few of the cases, I didn’t feel like I was given enough leads (or maybe I’m really bad at the game), but this might be a feature (not a bug) based on the scoring.

books

There are five cases included in the box, with the usual Consulting Detective information sources for each (newspapers, phone directories, maps, etc). The rules offer you this guidance: “For practical reasons, we suggest you investigate the cases in the following order: The Face, The Expedition, The House of the Sorcerer, The Spartacus Case, and The Gunboat. Each of these is an independent investigative experience, and players can choose an investigation based on its level of difficulty”

bureau of investigation bits

Each case also comes with a fairly thick booklet which has the bulk of the info you’ll need.  (A few of the books feel like they are nearly 100 pages!)   The presentation of the leads (in the form of Entries), which you may follow during your investigation. There are two types of leads: The Interviews and The Investigations. If you follow the leads and draw the appropriate conclusions, you will know enough to neutralize the threat. As mentioned, the leads are divided into two main chapters: the Interviews during which you question individuals directly, and the Investigations during which you search locations, set up surveillance, or tail your suspects. Each lead corresponds to a geographic area.  Within each of these main chapters, the leads are sorted by district and, within each district, the leads are sorted in ascending order.  Read the pertinent bits as you decide when to investigate.

On a turn, you simply choose someone you want to interview or somewhere/someone you want to investigate – and yes, in different turns you can both investigate someone as well as directly interview them.  Turn to the appropriate part of the booklet and see if there is any text there.  If so, read it and count this as one of your leads.  (If there is no text, you have chosen poorly, and the game lets you choose again without penalty).  I tend to keep a notepad handy where I track which portions of the book I have read – there is no charge to go back and reread something you have already seen.

PXL_20220528_213347374

The scoring system in Bureau of Investigations is a bit different than the original game.  In the old system, you’d do all the exploring that you’d want to do and then go and answer a battery of questions about the case.  By the time that you answer all the questions, you pretty much know what all the important parts of the case are.  In Bureau of Investigations, you instead choose 3 locations that you think are most crucial to solving the case.  You will score points for each location based on how vital they are to the final solution, and you’ll get a little explanatory text explaining why that location was/was not important – but surprisingly, you don’t get too many spoilers about the other locations.

In each case, you’ll succeed with at least 4 points scored from your chosen locations, and 7 points is seen as a decisive decision.  As there aren’t too many spoilers, this new system does give you the chance to possibly play the scenario again.  Sure you might not be able to forget the information that you learned on your first pass, but your goal here is to maybe figure out how to determine the most vital locations in your limited number of leads.   You could almost think of it like a Time Stories run (another Space Cowboys franchise) where you learn things each time you explore a case, and you can try to use that previously gained info to come up with the ideal solution.

So far, I’ve only played these solo (in part because my local group aren’t the biggest fans of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective) – but also because I find that I enjoy this sort of game better on my own.  I can take however much time I want to digest the information, and I’m never worried about hogging the book or map or whatever from other people.  Sure, I lose the advice and multiple viewpoints of playing with a group, but I enjoy being in control of the decisions.  I also find that the game plays a bit faster as I don’t have to read anything out loud.  That being said, these cases are still taking me well into the “plus portion” of the 90+ minutes listed on the box!  But as a solitary activity, this suits me well, and I’ve been able to split one of the longer cases up over three nights – playing at the end of each day when I have time to escape into this game. 

PXL_20220528_213354086

I’m glad that I have given this one a try.  While I haven’t finished all the cases yet, I feel like I’ve played enough of them to report that I enjoy this set.  I do enjoy the ability to possibly replay them (Time Stories style), and there isn’t the usual anticlimactic reveal at the end when you see just how bad you are compared to Holmes.  This change has given each case a bit more life, and I actually like the ability to try to imrpove and fully solve each case.

If you’re a fan of either SHCD or the Cthulhu mythos, this should be an instant buy.  If you’re a fan of mystery/deduction games, I’d heartily recommend this.  If you were not a fan of SHCD, I’d actually recommend that you consider this one, because while there are a lot of similarities, the game is different enough (and improved enough) that I would think it’s different enough to merit a try.

If you’re interested enough to try it out, here is an 8 page P-and-P intro case from the publisher’s website.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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