Complex Rooms – Legends of Canada (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 1-2 players

Price: $15.00 CAD per connected device (About $11.27 USD at the time of writing.)

Oh, Canada!

Theme:

From the Complex Rooms website:

As proud Canadians we at Complex Rooms believe that our stories deserve a world stage in a venue that rivals the richest kingdoms of all time! Since we don’t have that sort of budget… We built an escape room instead!

This game replicates the in-room experience and challenges you to explore the legends, solve the puzzles and escape. No knowledge of Canada is required but, if you learn a thing or two… don’t blame us! So how would you like to play?

First Impressions:

A lot of businesses have created online point and click escape rooms in order to provide escapists with a fun outlet during the pandemic, but I hadn’t come across one that was based off a physical escape room just yet. I was interested to see how Complex Rooms converted their Legends of Canada room to this format, and I’m happy to say it translates pretty well!

High Points:

Legends of Canada is based off Complex Room’s live escape experience, and it definitely shows within the online version. The puzzles are a lot of fun, and certainly feel like they belong within a physical escape room. There’s a large variety between each puzzle, and things are never bogged down within repetition of the same style of puzzle. With this sort of variety, multiple folks can take on the enigmas that appeal to them, and enthusiasts will discover a wide range of engaging interactions to solve. The set up is simple, but well implemented, and we really loved how players are subtly encouraged to search the room, and then begin making connections between the locked boxes and the displays throughout the experience. These displays include some fantastic subtle cluing, and the signposting is well implemented, ensuring that while the puzzles are a challenge, determining where the solutions are to be entered is streamlined and easy to determine. The displays are also densely packed with interesting Canadian facts, which are all well incorporated into the puzzling threads, making the room educational without feeling banal.

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Making connections is a major theme within this room, and there are several points at which things just click together, revealing a satisfying moment of revelation. I played this game solo, and thought it worked perfectly for an enthusiast, but the puzzles also work well as teamwork based interactions as the group comes together to figure out how everything interacts together. The game flow is mostly non-linear, ensuring there aren’t any choke points, and the hint system further alleviates any worry about being stuck by providing increasingly revealing nudges for players. The hint system is also very directed and graduated, ensuring that you only get help with what you’re looking for, when it is needed. The difficulty curve works fantastically, with a few quick wins to get things going, building towards some more challenging puzzles as the adventure progresses.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle wasn’t very intuitive overall, there were certain extraneous bits as well as a couple similar pieces that could go in a couple different places which threw us off a lot. It is overall a good puzzle however, but a little bit of tightening up of the cluing would make this one a bit more intuitive without sacrificing the challenge. Enthusiasts might blow through this one, so $15 CAD might seem a bit steep for an online point and click game that cannot be replayed, but I think the price is on the whole, fair for new players or folks looking to scratch the escape room itch on their own time. Some boxes have a question mark button on them, and it seems like they might tie into a puzzle, but the boxes are triggered via a different method, leaving these buttons to be red herrings. The removal of these would prevent players rushing down unintended rabbit trails and remove some frustration caused by red herrings.

Verdict:

Legends of Canada is an enjoyable experience that will appeal to escape room enthusiasts and new players alike. I think this one works best for a solo enthusiast or a group of newer players, but either way, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this Canadian focused room! As someone who enjoys a good point and click adventure, it was very satisfying to work though the room, discovering the surprises Complex Rooms has implemented, and absolutely recommend giving it a shot. Book your time discovering the Legends of Canada here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Complex Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Blue Fish Games – The Hincks Gazette (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $22 for 3 months, $36 for 6 months

Talking Plants, Messenger Quails, and Robot Servants, oh my!

Theme:

From the Blue Fish Games website:

Hello, Puzzler. I’m Mr. Hincks. ​Are you up for a challenge? Excellent.​ Subscribe and I’ll send my Mysterious Puzzle Newspaper to your door each month.​ Grab a pen and maybe a friend, and spend an hour or two puzzling out its secrets.​ You may just add your name to the Hincks Hall of Fame! Until then! Stephen P. Hincks

First Impressions:

It is no secret I really love Team Blue Fish’s fantastic puzzling products. I’ve heartily recommended The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks here and in any Facebook puzzle group that’ll have me. Honestly, it’s an addiction with no cure. Luckily, I can get my monthly fix through The Hincks Gazette!

High Points:

Each issue of the Hincks Gazette is a puzzle hunt style run of several multi-layered puzzles, hidden within the pages of Mr. Hincks’s Hincksville Newspaper. The paper itself is a humorous read, and the personality of Hincks and his quirky town are fabulously exemplified in all of the stories and blurbs. Puzzle games and Escape Rooms struggle sometimes to perfect comedic themes, but Team Blue Fish’s games have made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions. (A favorite joke of mine appeared in June’s issue, and is a blurb about the weather report. The fact that a side comment about the weather can be so funny is impressive.) The puzzles are phenomenal, some of the best I’ve tackled during the pandemic this year, and flow excellently from one to the next. In many cases, they interact with the puzzle that comes next intuitively, ensuring that the game is well directed without holding the player’s hand. These games are a master class in signposting and cluing, and at no point did I feel like the flow of the game stalled or became obtuse in any way. The difficulty curve of the puzzles was smooth across the board, beginning with identifying the starting point, and weaving through the subtle clues and satisfying solutions until the final password has been solved. Some of the late came conundrums and metas were insanely clever, requiring some truly out of the box thinking, and solving these is always enormously satisfying.

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Each Hincks Gazette mostly uses wordplay and code breaking to challenge puzzlers, but each level of the game is incredibly creative, mixing things up to ensure that every interaction remains fresh. I am frequently impressed by new and interesting ways the designers have hidden the codes and messages within the Gazette, and have discovered a puzzle I’ve never seen before three months running. Each issue is a challenging new diversion, and is easily my most satisfying hour, puzzle-wise, every month. When the final password is entered and I put my name on the leaderboard, (which is a great touch, set up like a guestbook,) I am left wanting more in the best possible way! Overall, The Hincks Gazette is a funny, clever, intricate run of satisfying puzzles and silly news. I love it, and cannot wait for more.

Low Points:

In a couple of instances, there are a few times we needed to complete an anagram, but the words are complex or use strange enough combinations of letters that though I knew what to do, I needed a little outside help to determine what the answer was. Not a big deal, there’s a reason we have those tools at our disposal, but just a heads up for folks who really want to solve things themselves.

Also, it only arrives monthly, and the anticipation for next month’s issue is palpable.

Verdict:

So far, I have adored the Hinck’s Gazette. The puzzles are beautifully thought out, multi-layered masterpieces, and provide a brilliant challenge every month! The samples Team Blue Fish sent along were so fantastic, that the day after completing them, I immediately signed up for a six month subscription! Each month’s issue has been even better than the last, and that’s saying something. The puzzles are challenging for enthusiasts, but new puzzlers will still find them approachable, and I wholeheartedly recommend subscribing, especially if you enjoyed The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks. Subscribe to Mr. Hinck’s fun and informative newspaper here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Blue Fish Games provided complementary copies of May and June’s Gazette.

The Conundrum Box – Sleight of Hand (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Nothing up my sleeves…

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

In the early 1920s there were a few major names in magic, Houdini, Kellar, Thurston, and Professor Conundrum. Tragically, the Professor perished during one of his most famous acts in 1922. Foreseeing his own demise, he left his widow with a set of instructions so that she may communicate with him in the spirit world a year after his passing. Now, Lady Conundrum is asking for your help to solve the Professor’s last great magical mystery so that she can once again speak with her departed love. Puzzle your way through a 1920s magician themed escape room in a box to unlock the final secrets of this master of sleight of hand!

First Impressions:

Magic based themes should be more ubiquitous, but it seems like it’s a fairly rare. I have enjoyed a few of these sorts of games before, so I was excited to see The Conundrum Box was developing their own take on the genre!

High Points:

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about The Conundrum Box is how they keep the immersion high by ensuring that the props they include integrate well within the theme and story of the box. The story follows an enigmatic magician’s death and the efforts of his wife to contact him through a seance, but first, you’ll have to unravel the enigmas the dearly departed left behind! (My wife has notified me that I am not allowed to do this should I precede her to the great beyond. You can imagine my great disappointment.) The fantastic optional Spotify soundtracks that are part of the extras also contribute greatly to helping players get into the world of their games, and Sleight of Hand contains their most brilliant curation yet. The game itself flows well, and directs players though a somewhat linear run of puzzles, but some sections present a handful of puzzles that all open a particular door, or tie into a meta puzzle in order to move things forward. I really enjoyed the set that contributed to the meta puzzle, and would love to see this basic design continued in future Conundrum Boxes!

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The puzzles seem to be even more layered than usual, and each new run of challenges hide some fantastic moments of revelation within. I particularly enjoyed the wide variety of puzzling that allowed both my wife and I to contribute when connections to be made or particular puzzle types appealed to our personal puzzling proficiencies and preferences. This box also allows for most of its challenges to be solved as a team, and there was never a moment where once of us was decoding and the other just had to wait around for the solve so that we could move forward. Puzzles and solutions are concretely identified, and the requirements for solving are made known during each step of the game, ensuring there is no vagary or unintentional red herrings to throw us off. This ensures a smoothness to the difficulty curve, and that the conundrums themselves are challenging without frustration.

Low Points:

There are a few points where you can skip over puzzles if you’re somewhat good at Wheel of Fortune. While this may not be a low point for some, I mention it because we were able to make progress without solving one puzzle at all. We still went back to solve it for the review, but some may be disappointed if a puzzle gets left out this way. One particular prop did not line up like it was supposed to while we were solving. We were able to make it work, but it was unnecessarily fiddly due to the size differences. I spoke with the designers however, and this should be a non-issue going forward with re-prints of this box.  A few puzzles we were able to solve without strictly using the path intended by the designers; a tighter method of ensuring these aren’t hackable would probably lead to more satisfying solving, as we short circuited a few of the ah ha moments by accident.

Verdict:

Sleight of Hand is a great new Conundrum Box, and the touches of magic and great puzzling help elevate the experience and ensure the box oozes with mystical personality! It’s a lot of fun to see what sort of different historically based themes The Conundrum Box is able to come up with while still adding in a great amount of variety to the subscription. It’s also fantastic to see the beginnings of a meta-story growing within recent boxes, and I’m interested to see where things go from here. I absolutely recommend checking this one out, and think it’s a great game for new players and veterans alike. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary review copy.

Virtual Escape – Ben’s Big Heist (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 3-4 players

Price: $45 AUD per person (About $32.05 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Needs the more money! All the more!

Theme:

From the Virtual Escape website:

Ever wanted to rob a bank? Now’s your chance! You’ve got 60 minutes to steal as much loot as you can.

Bypass security, crack vaults, fill the loot bags and safely escape.

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First Impressions:

We always enjoy knocking over banks… in escape rooms, of course! As a puzzling team of Bonnie and Clydes, trying to rob a vault blind is always an intense and exciting adventure. Virtual Escape looked to be a bit different than a usual virtual escape, as it would be played through WhatsApp, which I downloaded especially for this game. I was interested to see how the game would flow through a texting based platform, as we were very much used to seeing our Game Master live and working through puzzles through Zoom. Thanks also to EscapeTheRoomers for inviting us along!

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High Points:

For Ben’s Big Heist, we were contacted by our Game Master through WhatsApp, acting as Ben, who was just about ready to get started breaking into his first bank! He needed our help however, as he, like so many other escape game avatars, was completely unable to solve the puzzles on his own! The first couple interactions were straightforward, helping us get used to how we interacted with the game, and then the real challenges began. While some of the starting puzzles threw off the difficulty curve a bit, later puzzles flowed supremely well, and once the game found its footing, the linear puzzling provided some great ah ha moments and clever enigmas! Almost all of the challenges presented by the game are teamwork based, ensuring that every member of the team remains fully engaged with the experience, and allows for multi-level solving that keeps things interesting. Even one of the more banal interactions still created a sense of teamwork that elevated it somewhat over basic math.

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Later on in the game, things become much more intense, as time began to run low and we still had a vault to clear! Once we cleared out the bank, (setting a, at the time, record of $4,845,000,) the game wasn’t over, and we had to solve a couple more conundrums before the police arrived. This end game run of “boss level” vaults and a daring, if somewhat silly, escape truly ramped up the stakes and delivered a fantastic level of intensity to the adventure. The final vaults are a choice between the easier level vault for a smaller reward and a more difficult vault for a much bigger reward. Luckily we had time to take on both, and I can definitely confirm that both are a satisfying bunch of multilayered puzzles. Though I liked the more difficult vault more for its truly satisfying solves, the easier vault was still a lot of fun and a close second. Speeding away from the bank was highly satisfying, and receiving our final score was a fantastic way to cap off the experience.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle involved some translation that would be a bit more cumbersome than usual. Our team was very lucky in that one person was able to quickly translate for us, but had we been on our own, this would’ve been a fairly clunky puzzle for us. There were a few math based puzzles, which were banal for us. I know some folks really love math puzzles, but the majority of the people I play with tend not to enjoy them unless they’re really well integrated with the room. If the math was somewhat more interactive, it would be a little more interesting, and while it does present a good teamwork challenge, the presentation leaves a bit to be desired. The game itself started out a little rough, and most of the issues presented in this section are overcome by the second half, so a smoother introduction would definitely help. One puzzle required the use of a QR code, which, as I was already using my phone for WhatsApp, was not readable by me. Luckily, one of our teammates sorted it out and sent the link, but it may be better if the GM could just send the link along. Finally, WhatsApp isn’t quite the best method of presentation for the game, it was fairly wonky overall, and felt like more of an impediment to overcome than anything. Most of the time, I was translating links onto my desktop in order to better experience the puzzles. Zoom or other web conferencing sites have chat functions, so it wouldn’t be hard to change over to a somewhat more intuitive platform.

Verdict:

Ben’s Big Heist has some hurdles to overcome to become truly a great game, but it is still a solid time, and fun to work through on the whole. Enthusiasts who enjoy bank heist rooms that measure how much you can steal will enjoy this the most, but newcomers can still enjoy the room’s clever puzzling and heist based excitement. I recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something a little bit different from the norm. Book your time helping Ben liberate some cash here!

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7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Virtual Escape provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Roobicks – Escape the Basement (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review was brought to you by me! 🙂

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 6 players total, 2 per team

Price: $20/person or $30/shared device

Theme:

From the Roobicks’ website:

You’re on your way to an open house at a rustic country cottage. You’re expecting an idyllic retreat, but arrive to find the house in shambles. You can’t help having have a look downstairs…but then you hear the door lock behind you. There’s an elevator with a keypad, but you have to find the code. To do so, solve puzzles with your team by drawing together on the screen!

First Impressions:

We were invited to this competition room by our friends at Escape the Roomers, and were also joined by Review the Room. I’m usually not *that* competitive of a person overall, but was certainly curious as to how things would go!

Yay Points:

Story-wise, this room was simple, but effective. Everything was presented in a very smooth and effective way, and the story line progressed very nicely as you overcome each task. Though our goal was to “escape”, the game seemed more of a “pub quiz”, but with puzzles instead of trivia. It made for a light story, but not in a bad way, as it gave enough context for each brainteaser and made them into the focus.

The puzzles had a mixture of types, which will definitely cater to those with a diverse skillset (and makes for an interesting competition!). We had a nice oooh moment when we figured out how to interpret one riddle. And there were a couple of neat twists/effects that elevated some puzzles. The game design also allowed each team to experience the same activities with the only pressure being time (a true “friendly” competition in my opinion). I really enjoyed this aspect, and it was fun to hear about how the other teams progressed and approached each task after we were all done. If I remember correctly, I believe this game may have intended to be geared towards corporate team building. I think it does well to serve that purpose!

This was my first virtual competitive room, and I’m happy to say that the overall set-up of it went pretty smooth as well. Though we were all in one Zoom call, each team was given their own breakout room. We were also able to annotate the screens for each task as needed, partially for ourselves and partially so our GM could keep tabs on our progress. Our experience was a little more unique since we had one GM that managed all 3 teams (though I think typically there’s one GM per breakout room), but it went overall smoothly.

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Pondering Points:

This game might seem a bit easier for enthusiasts. I think there were about 5 puzzles total, and Brandon and I took first place, finishing the game in about ~25 minutes, and the last team taking ~37 minutes to complete the game). I would definitely recommend this game to be played competitively, in particular for enthusiasts as that might bolster your experience.

The puzzles definitely progressed in complexity, which is a great thing, though the last puzzle is definitely a more time-consuming puzzle that players will either love or hate depending on their time preferences.

Verdict:

If you’re looking for corporate team building or some friendly competition between family/friends, I think this game would work really well. I certainly had a good time and it was fun to see who would “get out” first! Book your frantic escape from the basement here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Roobicks provided us with a complementary game.