The Armchair Detective Company – The Kidnapped Crossworder (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $75

Game design is a highly dangerous profession.

Theme:

From The Armchair Detective Company’s website:

Mr. Alfred B. has invented a new game. Eager to show it off, he brings it to his local crossword puzzle enthusiasts’ club. However, the prototype is stolen soon afterwards, and he begins to suspect his fellow club members of foul play. He sets about gathering evidence…only to disappear himself.

This Mysterious Case contains lots of code breaking puzzles (don’t we all have a never-ending secret desire to play with decoder wheels?) and a winding plot with a cadre of secretive characters. It’s up to you to find out who stole the prototype, and the location of its inventor!

First Impressions:

When the box arrived from The Armchair Detective Company, I could already tell this was going to be a special experience! The box itself had an aged look and feel, and even gave off a not unpleasant woody smell, adding to the mystique. I could not wait to crack this one open and give it a go, and once we did, there was just so much to explore!

Mysterious boxes within mysterious boxes!

High Points:

This experience is definitely priced at a premium, but is absolutely worth every penny of the $75 asking price! The beautiful boxes and locks included lend an immersive quality to the game that cannot be beat, and the handcrafted nature of the props included is just amazing. The game is just a joy to interact with on all levels. So many puzzles and clues are included, as well as a plethora of engaging story items that really draw you into the mystery. The game is set up perfectly for multiple players, as it is completely non linear from the start, allowing you go begin puzzling wherever you like! This also allows each player to solve puzzles that play to their strengths and preferences, making this an excellent and highly unique date or board game night activity. So much of this adventure is incredible and tactile, bringing the experience of an escape room into your home in one of the most convincing ways I’ve ever seen.

Most puzzles are some form of code breaking, but the myriad ways that this is done keeps the game flow feeling fresh from start to finish. The threads of each puzzle’s path are intuitive and challenging, eliminating any ambiguity. There really aren’t any hiccups to the flow either; we were constantly working on something new or making narrative connections throughout our time with the game. Overall, the amazing attention to detail, immersive storytelling, and tight puzzling make this just one of the most mind blowing at home experiences currently available on the market!

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Pro tip: Use a big table. This is what the game looked like when we were finished. We are a highly organized people. (Some items shown aren’t part of the game. The PlayStation Vita, for instance.)

Low Points:

We noticed that we did not solve everything once we had reached the ending, so when we did finish, it was a bit of a surprise. We weren’t 100% sure where the conclusion would be, and we used some deductive reasoning since we were under the impression some of the unsolved puzzles would require further locked away items. Luckily, we didn’t have to guess at any point to come to our conclusions, and the puzzles were just as fun to solve later. In total, there were only two of the many puzzles that were left unfinished at the end, so it still absolutely felt like a full experience.

Verdict:

The Kidnapped Crossworder is easily one of the greatest home puzzling adventures money can buy. If you’re looking for a game that combines a thrilling mystery with mind bending enigmas that lead to a great meta-puzzle, you absolutely cannot go wrong with The Armchair Detective Company. I cannot wait to see what comes next from them, as the upcoming larger boxes, (The Druid’s Catacomb and The Star Crossed Scientists,) look like an amazing time! You can order your copy of The Kidnapped Crossworder here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Armchair Detective Company provided a complementary reviewer’s copy.

Xscape Factor – Abduction (Review)

Location: Fayetteville, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $26.50 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

I want to believe.

Theme:

On the edge of town there’s a secret government lab, where many disappearances have been said to take place. Curious as to what’s going on, you and your friends have been poking around to attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing persons. Just as you find an unlocked door, one of your friends rushes ahead with reckless abandon, trapping herself and a couple more of your friends in an irradiated zone! Work to save your friends, and uncover the enigmas behind this abandoned facility before it’s too late, and you find yourselves on the back of a milk carton!

First Impressions:

After the high quality of Haunted and Circus of the Damned’s sets, we were excited to see how Xscape Factor handled a multiple room, cooperative escape. We were once again blindfolded, but half our group were taken into the deeper reaches of the lab, while my half were put in the front office. We took off our blindfolds and were disappointed to see the set was actually rather banal. I was sure the curse of the less interesting room had stuck me again as we began our search for clues.

High Points:

If you’re lucky enough to be the group that rushed ahead into the irradiated zone, your tradeoff for possibly glowing for the rest of your life is that you’ll get to do most of the puzzles. I wasn’t personally in this room, but our teammates expressed that it wasn’t much to write home about, really. However, it was more interestingly decorated, and the puzzles seemed a lot more tactile overall, which was disappointing for those of us in the other room. Some of the code breaking was entertaining, and running through alien messages can be an enjoyable past time during this room’s finer moments. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between.

Low Points:

Though the splitting of the group is a fun idea, it seems I always get locked in the less interesting room by some twist of fate. The other room, once we’d freed our teammates from the radiation, was a lot better decorated, and had loads more puzzles. We were assured that the puzzles themselves weren’t all that mind-blowing, but it would’ve been nice to have that much to do in our room as well. On our side of the door, we immediately solved the first cooperative puzzle since we had a basic knowledge of the subject, and as far as we could tell, there weren’t many other cooperative puzzles between the two rooms, or we had just been able to solve them separately. Either way, the one basic design of these types of rooms seemed mostly absent. One of the worst parts about this, was that by the time our teammates were out of their room, everything in there was solved, so there was significantly less to do for our group. At that point, why not just have everyone in the initial area? There were several points at which we needed to flip through random books to obtain clues and parts of codes, which is always underwhelming, and the set design of this experience was so far behind Haunted and The Circus of the Damned that we were really surprised by the simplistic offering. One of our most frustrating puzzles not only was based off a throwaway line in one of the files we found, but also led to our Game Master telling us the answer since the puzzle item we were supposed to use was known to lead to imprecise answers. Blacklights continue to be the cliché they’ve always been, as they are used in “search everywhere because blacklight” puzzles again, which is disappointing because blacklights were used effectively in Haunted. Though some puzzles were more quickly solved using outside knowledge, a particular one relied on it, and was once again based off a throwaway line in a file, with no connective tissue to guide us. There were also quite a few typos in said files, which we originally thought were clues, but later found were just typos when they didn’t amount to anything sensible.

Verdict:

Abduction has some great ideas, but the execution is lacking. Having one group solve half the puzzles while the other half spins their wheels is never fun, and we would’ve liked the room to allow for more involvement and cooperation overall. Fortunately, the room is due to be updated soon with more technology and a brand new game, so I’m optimistic that the next chapter in the story will be on par with Xscape Factor’s other rooms. You can book your time in the lab here.

4/10 (Subpar)

Full Disclosure: Xscape Factor provided Media Discounted tickets for our team.