Logic Locks – Amsterdam Catacombs (Review)

Kara’s Note: This was *totally* written by Brandon. 😉

Editor’s Note: It was not.

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-7 (We recommend 4-6 players)

Price: See website for details.

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Prepare for The Descent

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From the Amsterdam Catacombs website:

Social distancing and/or unable to visit us? We will bring the horror to you!
The Amsterdam Catacombs now invites brave and foolish investigators into its dark depths in the form of a live video online experience.  Virtually connect to your friends and our actors and immerse yourself in this theatrical online horror escape room. Are you willing to face your fears and unravel the mystery of the demonic forces that shelter beneath the church?

Amsterdam Catacombs

First Impressions

I was impressed and surprised to hear that “The Catacombs” would take place in an actual basement of a cathedral. I had some reservations about doing the room due to the scary factor, but I had heard really amazing things about it, so I gritted my teeth and carried on!

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High Points

It’s probably no secret that I am not a fan of horror-themed games (despite how many I end up playing), so it’s a good thing I had a chance to do this room virtually because I would definitely never ever be doing it in person. It was a scary experience even without actually being in the room, and I can only imagine how useless I would become if I actually were doing it in person. (As a disclaimer, I should mention that apparently I was the only one of my teammates actually affected like this, so it “wasn’t that scary” – still, I beg to differ). But, I do think my reaction speaks highly of how well Logic Locks did in creating an immersive experience.

Immersion into the game started from the beginning, as we were dropped into the streets of Amsterdam and given a nice introduction to the area as well as the cathedral and the lore of the game. It’s definitely helpful they had the basement of a cathedral to naturally instill some ambiance, but even without it, I think Logic Locks would have had no problem on their own building a great set from whatever space they were given. It’s clear how thoughtful their design was, as the space seemed very creatively used and filled with a lot of thematic props and elements that were a visual adventure on their own. The auditory elements added great touches, and definitely enhanced the atmosphere and story effects that the game elicited.

In addition to the set, our avatar did a great job of developing a rapport with us, making us feel involved and that we really were on this journey with him. He really helped set the tone for the game and was a very believable and natural character. (Also, I would just like to take this time to give a shout-out to all the in-person avatars/staff/game masters out there holding up cameras for 60+ minutes and having to maneuver around rooms and do puzzles while managing our ability to see into the rooms. We appreciate you!)

The different conundrums we were faced were expertly woven into the game’s set and theme, and really drove the story forward. It created a smooth flow of puzzles, and their linear nature helped things from being overwhelming. There was a lot of moving parts and interactive elements with the puzzles and game effects that were really neat to see played out (especially from a virtual distance ;)). They all seemed to be unique from each other, and there was a good mix of difficulty in our solves.

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Pondering Points

While our avatar was great at guiding us through the game, there were one or two instances in which some teammates noticed that he was a little too helpful with the puzzles. In these times, our avatar took a bit of initiative in completing a solve or working out a puzzle based off very little prompting/stream of consciousness thought from us. Certainly, this makes absolute sense for the longer process puzzles to do this once it’s clear we know how to solve it, but there were some leaps the avatar made that made us wonder why he did something. Of course, this type of approach may be more preferable to some groups more than others, and it might not always be clear when a group is actually directing a solve vs. word vomiting (for lack of a better description), but just something we noticed.

Given the location of the game, it is unsurprising that we had just a couple of connection issues with our on-site avatar, but overall not too bad.

Final Verdict

This game was definitely an experience, and I would highly recommend anyone who isn’t too horror-adverse to check it out. Even though we played it virtually, Brandon is still excited to play it if we are ever in Amsterdam, as there seems to be some additional interactive components available in-person. I’ll leave it to him to experience those though. 🙂 Book your time in the Amsterdam Catacombs here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Logic Locks provided our team with a discounted game.

The Escape Game – Unlocked! The Heist: Digital Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price:  $10 per episode, or $17 for both bundled

Hahn shot first.

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From the The Escape Game website:

Volume 1: Chasing Hahn

Thwart infamous art curator, Vincent Hahn, before another masterpiece goes missing.

Volume 2: The Silk Road

Vincent Hahn just barely escaped, but Intel has noticed some suspicious activity in Hong Kong. According to reports, Hahn is dealing with artifacts related to the Silk Road. Your mission is to go there, find Hahn, and capture him before he can get away.

First Impressions:

I always love a good subscription box, but it’s nice to get an adventure instantly rather than having to wait for it to arrive via the US Postal Service. The Escape Game has created digital editions of their physical boxed mysteries, just in time for lockdown. They’re fairly competitively priced, and after having played the excellent Ruins, I was excited to see what sort of puzzles they included!

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High Points:

Unlocked: The Heist carries on the story of The Escape Game’s physical room, The Heist, continuing the search for international art thief, Vincent Hahn. It’s always great to revisit and expand on stories in this sort of medium, and I love sequels to previous rooms and experiences. The difficulty curve of these games was lighter, though the final puzzles did tend to present a somewhat more challenging solve, and Volume One contained a dense array of puzzles to keep us puzzling for a while. Connections were clear between items used and puzzles, and the clues as presented provided a smooth game flow that kept us moving from point to point at a good clip. The inventories are well implemented, and clues are used once, allowing for players to stay focused on what is important throughout, and though no clues are used twice, there are still layers within several of the individual challenges, ensuring that for those interactions, the immediate information revealed may not be the only thing to find. Inputs into the game are straightforward, and give immediate feedback regarding if an answer is correct, ensuring no confusion or frustration in that regard. Videos that accompany the game are well produced and reasonably entertaining, especially during the chase “scene” of Volume Two, and the story is integrated well into the puzzling. The climax of Volume Two is awesome, giving players agency to make decisions within the game world and delivering a satisfying conclusion to the experience. There are also some great references to other The Escape Game experiences, which I enjoyed.

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Low Points:

These games trended towards the easier side, especially for Volume Two, which I was able to complete solo in about 20 minutes. Veteran solvers may find that these don’t quite scratch the puzzling itch for very long, and even for just $10, might not get the bang for their buck that they are hoping for. At some points, the puzzles felt like simple research puzzles that just required us to read the clues and enter information, but luckily those points were early and not ubiquitous.  New players, though, may find that these are a good introduction. The two volumes are rather inconsistent between the two, with each having almost opposite strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Inventory of Volume One includes a lot of information via PDFs, and isn’t quite as polished as Volume Two, while Volume Two tends to be a lot lighter when it comes to density and challenge of puzzles. The story, however, is much more engaging in Volume Two.

Verdict:

While I think that experienced puzzlers and escape enthusiasts are going to find Unlocked: The Heist a rather simple affair, new players who haven’t been quite as immersed in the language of puzzles will find this to be a fun introduction to these sorts of games. These games would also be great for families, as the content is family friendly, but no so much that adults will be turned off to the challenge. We had a good time quickly solving the various challenges, and if the theme and easier difficulty curve appeals to you, I can recommend trying it out. Begin your search for international art thief Hahn here!

7/10 (Good)

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

 

 

 

The Adventure is Real – Agent Venture (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review is brought to you by me! 😀

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 4-5 (We recommend 4 players)

Price: £8.00 – £10.00 (About $9.89-12.36 at the time of this writing.)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Your mission, if you choose to accept it…

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From the The Adventure is Real website:

Become a team of secret agents, and execute a daring heist from the comfort of your own home. ​ With a live cast, and digital clues to guide you, all you need is a computer and phone to play online. Can you and your friends pull together to save the day and expose the crimes of an evil corporation? Every Secret Agent needs a world class support team, and this time, that’s you.

First Impressions:

We were excited to once again partner up with the Escape the Roomers for this heist game! When they emailed us about choosing a character role (with specific tasks that we would be individually doing), I was a bit apprehensive. It was not a game format I have personally played in our recent string of online games, and I did not seem to clearly fit any of the role descriptions we were provided. But, I was determined to do my part!

High Points:

We were introduced to the game by our “on-site” avatar, Agent Venture, who started off by going over all the player roles and setting up the format of the game. To my great relief, the description for my character role – the Hacker – was actually quite on point in creating expectations. We had all received a link to our character’s materials, and after hearing our Agent’s explanation, I found it easy to navigate the files due to their helpful instructions and formatting. I also really appreciated how easy it was to figure out what information was needed on each page and what information from the puzzles would produce the answers my team needed from me.

This was a choose-your-own adventure type of game-play, and our experience was largely guided by our own decisions. This provided quite a bit of flexibility of options, and (after discussing the game afterwards) the creators seemed to have been fairly thorough about the different avenues we could choose. Thus, this game design allows for multiple re-plays if you are interested and want to see the different ways the story can lead.

Of course, this takes a lot of adaptability on our game master’s part, and our Agent Venture turned out to be a fantastic guide. He was crucial to making this online experience immersive and I thought he did a fantastic job. He reacted naturally to any decision we made without seeming to miss a beat, and provided game-relevant roadblocks if we ever came up with something that would not work – all the while staying in character. It is definitely not an easy thing to do! He provided us with some great and funny interactions, and showed us through quite an enjoyable story.

This game design also encouraged (read: required) a lot of teamwork and communication from each player since our characters had distinct sets of knowledge and abilities. Though it was a little bit of unknown territory in the beginning, we quickly realized what type of information each of us had and were able to put our different pieces together to figure out what to do. Our Agent was good at helping to guide us if we need any help interpreting or putting ideas together as well.

I found my character’s role to be quite balanced in terms of playtime and the puzzles I had to work with. For the first two-thirds of the game, our team’s decisions led to a large reliance on the Hacker. I really appreciated the difficulty curve, as I am not used to these type of puzzles and was happy for some simpler ones to introduce and get me used to the solving method. (I do admit needing to screen share on some of the harder puzzles though.) When we got to the last third of the game, I was happy that the Hacker’s involvement became more of a supporting role. Prior to this, most of the Hacker-specific puzzles involved a lot of the same solving method, but the latter puzzles allowed for more varied support to the other characters without excluding me completely.

Agent Venture

Pondering Points:

As all choose-your-own-adventure, roleplaying type of games are, your experience will be – you guessed it – heavily based on your own choices and your character role. While this certainly produces many positives, it is important to keep this interactive design in mind with how it might affect your game experience.

I actually lucked out quite a bit in choosing the Hacker character because I seemed to have the most involvement throughout all the game activities, even if I was just providing support. I think this could have been just as easily something another teammate could have experienced instead if our team had made some different choices. However, given my involvement in the multi-player component puzzles, I wonder if the others could have had more “screen time”, even with the Hacker-heavy activities. Admittedly, it is possible I just took a long time to solve things so the downtime for my teammates was more noticeable. Though, this did give them the opportunity to read over all the materials their characters were given.

One thing everyone missed out on was seeing what everyone else could see in their character’s materials. Of course, I definitely understand why the game is setup in this way (and it helps provide a really great and unique experience!), but as the Hacker I didn’t get a lot of the interesting story information that I think my teammates were privy to. And apparently, had we chosen different routes along the way, we could have unlocked some more fascinating details about the non-player characters. (Though, this does add to the re-playability incentive!) If your team dynamic is compatible with it, I might suggest taking advantage of screen sharing with any of the characters – at the very least at the end of the game to see what type of information each of you are/were working with.

Verdict:

Agent Venture was a fun and immersive game, and provided a great platform for each player to make their own unique contribution. I would certainly recommend them for anyone looking for a outside the box way to connect during the pandemic or across long distances! Book your time guiding Agent Venture here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Adventure is Real provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crack-A-Nut Mysteries – Root of All Evil (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $155

It’s not so simple as money…

Theme:

From the Root of All Evil Facebook page:

A mysterious crate arrives on your doorstep packed with aged ephemera and artifacts. You are a character in this interactive-literature told through an old journal, newspaper clippings and other peculiar objects. Follow a newly ordained priest as he battles his demons – both real and imagined. Decode puzzles and solve the mystery surrounding an eerie tree on the grounds of the Northern Michigan Asylum. Can you locate the ritual and save the soul of the damned without sacrificing yourself in the process?

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First Impressions:

Root of All Evil arrived at our doorstep along with four other mystery experiences in early June. It was like an early escapist’s Christmas! I hadn’t told my wife it was coming, and she was confused about the weird box that arrived for her. After explaining what it was, (she’s not a huge fan of horror, so I didn’t let it get too immersive,) she was very intrigued! However, the first order of business was to somehow crack open this box that had been nailed shut…

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High Points:

As a narrative experience, Root of All Evil has immersion down pat. From the aged, nailed tight box to the many physical props, including a fantastic centerpiece that ties everything together hauntingly, not one item felt out of place within this experience.  Our favorite part was somewhat surprising to us, as the centerpiece of the experience is a journal that took each of us a little over an hour to read while taking notes. Usually we get burned out reading, but this journal is so superbly written, that once we started, we had to finish! The characterization and world building is incredibly convincing, and drew us into the world of Root of All Evil immediately. We usually play games of this sort together and solve in tandem, but due to the set up of this particular experience, we found that a sort of “solo play, but with joint discussions” made more sense. After we’d finished up the main reading portion, we shared our theories and discoveries with each other, and pored over the other items included within the box. As we made connections, we took on several of the puzzles together, and spent the next couple days mulling the items we left on our game table at our leisure, sometimes making satisfying breakthroughs with the puzzles, and other times just appreciating the beautiful props included, or reading back over our notes in an effort to puzzle over the situation we (fictionally) found ourselves in!

Working through Root of All Evil is a great time, and a lot of care has been taken to make sure this experience feels as realistic as possible. My wife said she truly felt creeped out by the narrative, and as we revealed some pieces of the enigma we had previously only read about, the mystery became even more immersive. There are several points of discovery that are immensely satisfying, and there’s quite a bit to find within this hauntingly beautiful adventure. The climax was exciting, and the developers really spared no effort to ensure that it feels like you’ve truly finished the experience by completing the main objective of the mystery.

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Low Points:

The puzzles within the box are good, but those expecting the mystery to be puzzle focused may be somewhat disappointed. In our experience, solving puzzles tended to either reveal something we already knew, or give us slightly more story, rather than immediately further the experience. Many puzzles are some form of code breaking, so your enjoyment of this facet really depends on how much you enjoy this sort of thing. We did, and there are some well hidden clues, but as the experience is designed to focus on narrative and be solvable without doing the puzzles, so it can feel as though the codes are very secondary. When working towards the ultimate goal of the adventure, sometimes we thought we might like a clue, and were able to get in touch via the Root of All Evil Facebook page, but a self service hint system might work better for players, and prevent questions from needing to be answered personally. Those looking to play this one in a big group may find it somewhat difficult, as my wife and I found the experience really lends itself to solo play, especially when reading the main portion of the game, as previously mentioned, however, this didn’t affect our ability to still enjoy the game together.

Verdict:

Root of All Evil is a beautifully designed and wonderfully written narrative experience that immerses players within its world from start to finish, challenging unwitting participants to uncover an ancient evil, and put an end to the horrors this Pandora’s box releases. Though we would’ve loved the puzzles to have had a bit more bearing on the experience, we did enjoy what was there, and can say that we definitely recommend checking this one out! Begin to dig up the Root of All Evil here! (Click Shop Now to purchase.)

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Crack-A-Nut Mysteries provided a complementary copy.

Sleuth Kings – Case 033: Death of a Stuntman (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Sullest just can’t catch a break…

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From the Sleuth Kings website:

John Malvone is dead and his killer is ready to strike again. What was supposed to be a harmless murder mystery dinner has turned into a deadly party. Nobody knows what the killer wants, but one thing is clear: if they don’t play his game, Sullivan and Celest are next. Can you help Sullivan and Celest put a stop to the twisted party before they end up dead?

First Impressions:

Though this is a Sullest case, furthering the whirlwind romance of Sullivan and Celest that began with Case 011: Midnight Secrets, I’m taking back over the reigns for reviewing this one from Kara, which is a shock I’m sure! I’ve enjoyed the evolving meta story between these two, and am glad to see that they still can’t manage to stay out of trouble, even during their pending nuptials!

High Points:

We always enjoy Sullest cases, and Death of a Stuntman is no exception. While a self contained mystery on its own, it furthers the interweaving story line, and gives some interesting updates on the characters; one especially shocking! The story was great, including some fantastic characterization, as well as some new revelations on a particular, sometimes contentious relationship, and the ending presents a great twist! In fact, some veteran players will no doubt enjoy some of the subtle foreshadowing that precedes the ultimate climax. This case does a great job of “inviting” players to the murder mystery/engagement party while still presenting an interesting, high stakes case to solve. The props are great, and fit in with the theme of a murder mystery dinner party well, and the tactile nature helps players feel more involved with the story. Certain bits of the game that generally remain constant from case to case are excellently changed up in order to fit this game’s more personal theme, and touches like these are always exciting to see.

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The puzzles are fantastic, and I really enjoyed how the game started off with a somewhat easy, but supremely creative, win. The solution was elegant, and involved a little bit of thinking outside the box to determine the correct way of looking at things, leading to a great ah ha moment to get the ball rolling, from there, the game flow is mostly smooth, with one speed bump that was compounded by our overthinking, which I’ll talk about more in a minute. As we worked through the clues and uncovered new bits of information, we were able to intuitively put together the pieces as we moved through the linear game flow, and though we short circuited one part, we do see what that particular part of the game was going for. The difficulty curve is good, and directs into some really interesting challenges towards the end, and I think even the most hardened Sleuth Kings veterans will find an excellent challenge within this case.

Low Points:

One clue is a bit unclear, leading us to jump directly over a specific step. This led to us solving one of the final puzzles the hardest way possible, and while we were able to crack that particular nut, it would’ve been somewhat easier had the cluing been clearer, directing us along the game path. This is partially our fault, as we probably should’ve realized that this particular level of difficulty probably wasn’t intended, but it does give us dubious bragging rights for solving this one on an unintended hardcore mode! We went back to the puzzle we skipped in order to see what we had missed, and the set up for this logic based puzzle was somewhat confusing, which may have exacerbated things somewhat. One particular puzzle will look familiar to veteran Sleuth Kings detectives, but we haven’t seen this one in a while, and it is tweaked slightly to keep things relatively fresh, so it is a minor point.

Verdict:

The wedding bells for Sullivan and Celest are ringing louder and louder, but the mysteries don’t let up! We loved working through this case’s creative puzzles and uncovering the excellent story within. Though long time sleuths will get the most out of the meta story, this is still a great mystery for newcomers, and I recommend it fully. You can purchase this and other previous cases from the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, you can use the promo code ESCAPEADVENTURE to get $5 off your subscription here! You can also read the rest of our Sleuth Kings reviews here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.