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. 

Sleuth Kings – Case 201: Monster Madness Pt. 1 – Abduction (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

They did the Mash. They did the Monster Mash!

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Sullivan King had only heard whispers about a new criminal group – until their reign of terror made things personal for him.

The group – filled with self-proclaimed zombies, vampires, and other monsters – has its hand in everything from selling drugs to abducting people. Although they have police baffled, Sullivan is sure of one thing: he’s going to do whatever it takes to stop them.

Can you help Sullivan uncover the group’s monstrous secret and bring them to justice before they hurt someone else?

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings has made a slight adjustment to their subscription model, starting with this case. Abduction starts off a new set of four cases that will tie into an over arching mystery, while still remaining a stand alone mystery itself. I’m always interested in longer term mysteries and meta-narratives, so I was excited to see what was new with this case!

High Points:

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sleuth Kings may have changed up the subscription model, but the general set up of the box itself has largely remained the same subscription we’ve gotten to know and have loved for the past few years. That being said, while this box works excellently as a stand alone mystery, there are still a few good cliff hangers left over by the time the current mystery is solved, and I can’t wait to see what sort of crazy high jinks initiate the proceedings of the next case in the series. I’m voting for Zombie Ghost Vampires… from space! The story line for this mystery is well written, and I love that Sleuth Kings continues to come up with light hearted, yet completely wild story lines for us to investigate. The fact that the kidnappers are part of this weird alien conspiracy theory network, (not a spoiler, it’s pretty clear from the start,) makes me immediately want to know more about them and their motivations, and the tidbits that are shared through the clues provided are fantastic. Especially their super handy, 90s teen magazine quiz! (I’m not even kidding. There is a quiz, it is hilariously written, and we took a break in the middle of the game to take it. Totally worth it.)

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The puzzles for this box start out really strong, and we really enjoyed how well they fit together with each other. Though we did run into somewhat of a road block about halfway through, once we had overcome it, the game settled back into the usual, fantastic flow. All the puzzles integrate excellently into the story, and each new item is more excellent than the last! Especially, as can be seen above, the bumper sticker included. I kind of wish it came with two so I could put one on my review journal and keep the other one with the box! Abduction, more than other cases, has several clues that are just plain fun to read, and some of my favorite puzzles have some truly hilarious writing included. The design of each clue and prop is superb, and, as always, I love how they layer atop one another to create some really satisfying solves. To top everything off, the epilogue is great, and provides a tidy ending to the story, while keeping the door open for more monstrous investigations! It also includes my favorite ending gift of any case thus far.

Low Points:

While the mystery starts out really strong, things get very muddled around the halfway point. There was somewhat of a dearth of cluing during a particular puzzle which had us casting about, trying to find a foothold in one of the clues, but having quite a bit of trouble due to the ambiguity of the wordings. Once we had it solved, it made a lot more sense, but we really had to work for it as the hints provided weren’t quite as directed as we had hoped they would be. While we eventually got there, some tighter cluing and more direct hints would have taken a fair bit of the frustration out of the process. One puzzle in particular will be familiar to long term players, and those veterans will know immediately what to do, taking a little bit of the challenge out, but we haven’t seen this sort of puzzle in a long while, so it isn’t that low of a point for us, more of a heads up for veteran sleuths. (I myself was actually really excited when I saw the telltale prop!)

Verdict:

Abduction starts off strong, but can be a bit difficult to parse before finishing up with an interesting climax. We did enjoy the case overall, however, and are interested to see where the Monster Madness saga takes us next! It’s no secret that I loved Blood P.I. and The Haunting, so I’m hoping for Vampires and Ghosts next! 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!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

District 3 Escape Rooms – The Cabin (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4 players)

Price: $27 CAD per person (About $19.87 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Serial Kidnappers and Puzzle Filled Cabins… the new Peanut Butter and Jelly!

Theme:

From the District 3 Escape Rooms website:

There has been a series of kidnappings near a cabin. After locking your group up, the kidnapper leaves to find more trespassers. In trying to escape, you begin to learn more about who’s cabin it is, who the enemy is, why he kidnapped you, and what he is trying to hide.

First Impressions:

District 3 Escape Rooms came highly recommended to us by another escape room in the area, Mystery Mansion Regina, and I’m glad they gave us the heads up about these virtual rooms, and we had an excellent time working through an escape room double header during our lockdown! It may not be the 8-23 room marathons we’re used to, but taking on more than one room in a day helped us feel just a little bit more normal during the pandemic.

High Points:

As with most rooms we’ve experienced virtually, we would have loved to take this one on in person, but due to the pandemic, we are glad we were able to visit District 3 virtually! This room translates very well to the remote play experience, and it is, as always, a great time seeing our “Keyed Up!” team for some weekly escapes. Our Game Master/Avatar ensured we had a great time by interacting with us as we joked around, and assisted us with giving the room a thorough, streamlined search. Once we’d had a good look around, he was very responsive in reacting to our requests, and piecing together exactly what we were trying to say when we asked him to “put the doo-dad in the whatzit.” Truly, all remote escape game GMs absolutely deserve a pay raise for their long-suffering patience with us. The inventory system is great, displaying those items that were harder to read virtually, or we needed to come back to reference, and as we utilized props successfully, they automatically disappeared from view so as not to clutter up the window.

Puzzles themselves glide well across the linear game flow, and as we revealed new clues, it was fairly intuitive what needed to be done next. The breadcrumbs that have been sprinkled along the path are clear, and never become obtuse, ensuring that challenges remain fair. Though this is an older room with a few puzzles that may have popped up a time or two for expert players, these puzzles are still presented in an entertaining way, and don’t give off a feeling of “been there, done that,” but rather conceal a twist or two to ensure the process of solving stays fresh. One particular favorite of mine took a style of puzzle we’ve seen a few times, and tweaked it ever so slightly to ensure that we had to think just a little bit further out of the box than usual in order to put everything together. I thought it was a fun tweak that displayed the creativity of the designers well. As referenced in our previous review of Haunted, District 3 does a great job ensuring that the final debriefing continues the fun by presenting us with achievements that tie into their point system. It’s fun to see what sorts of milestones your team overcame during your game, and the extra personal touch to the finale is a fantastic way to cap off a room.

Low Points:

The Cabin itself was a very first generation room, and while that translate to a virtual setting well, the set isn’t quite as fancy, and the game itself is very much focused on locks, for the most part. The game can come across as a little “escape room-y” in parts, as the story tends to be more of a back drop for the puzzles rather than the puzzles being fully integrated into the story. There are a few puzzles that tie in, but overall, the story is most present at the beginning and only evolves slightly during the game. On the whole, we enjoyed the room, but the puzzles were generally geared more towards a less experienced crowd, so we didn’t happen across any particularly mind twisting enigmas or explosive moments of revelation.

Verdict:

The room is a good time, and is a solid experience, but is definitely more geared toward newer players, and enthusiasts might find it a bit easier. We enjoyed our time (virtually) inside The Cabin overall, however and would recommend it to players looking for a more introductory style room. Enthusiasts will still find a lot to like, as there are some good surprises and fun interactions to be found. Book your time escaping the mysterious kidnapper here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: District 3 Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.