Location: Your Home!
Players: We recommend 1-4
Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping
Not to be confused with the 90’s TV series
From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:
A group of die-hard fans have been given a chance to spend the weekend with their favorite horror author, Bradley Raymond. Only one of them is not at all what they seem. One of them is a twisted killer known only as The Pretender.
It’s always good to see a tie in to previous boxes, and The Pretender reaches all the way back to Murder in 3B, the very first, (but still beloved,) Deadbolt Mystery box, to look back into the life of Bradley Raymond, Valley Falls’ favorite horror writer. I am always excited for horror-adjacent mystery solving, so this one seemed right up my alley!
The Pretender starts off with a very interesting concept, and The Pretender themselves is a chilling villain, a master of disguise who kills and assumes the identities of his or her victims. The character development in regards to this antagonist may be one of the best so far, surpassing even The Collector in this facet due to the up close and personal nature of the mystery and player’s interactions with them. Other characters and suspects are convincingly portrayed as well, and their possible alibis and identities are integrated well into the mystery. While the brunt of the story is front and back loaded, it is a good one, delivering an enigma that kept us guessing until the fantastic climax and reveal. I also enjoyed the open ended nature of the finale, which provides a mostly satisfying conclusion while still leaving things open ended enough that future appearances and world building are not out of the question.
Props and puzzles are high quality, as usual from Deadbolt, and one particular inclusion adds a great optional story for players to peruse at their leisure. The Pretender is a highly intuitive game, with a fantastic flow and non-linear presentation that kept us fully engaged throughout, minus one point at which we forgot about a vital item we had uncovered, which is totally on us. Clues were very clear, and it was easy to sort out that which was important from that which was not, but answers were certainly not spoon fed, and challenge was preserved though clever puzzling and devious, yet satisfying solves. Signposting is well implemented, and subtle hints direct players towards what goes together. Props are used to their fullest, and I was very pleased to find one that included a couple layers of solving, allowing us to work on the same puzzle from different directions, coming together in the end to reveal its secrets. Elimination of suspects is handled well, and the meta puzzle that involves clearing certain suspect’s names not only adds a fun small puzzle to the mix, but ensures that progress can be cleanly tracked. There are fewer QR codes in this box than some previous adventures, and somewhat more deduction, but codes that lead to password protected items and those which are immediate clues is well identified within the theme.
Though the theme is appropriately original, and the characters interesting, The Pretender didn’t quite grab us as much as previous boxes. I think it may be that the story doesn’t quite develop during game play as much as it usually does, but to keep this in perspective, the story is still better than most at home experiences, so it’s a minor quibble. One particular puzzle didn’t quite line up for us, but it was intelligible despite a typo or two. Finally, the climax was interesting, but the epilogue didn’t quite stick the landing, with a few strange errors committed by the villain of the story, though I have a few theories about how those might actually be intentional, serving a greater plan, but I suppose a sequel would be needed to confirm these.
The Pretender is a great mystery box, and I really enjoyed the original theme, engaging characters, and well developed puzzling. This box was moderately challenging, and I think enthusiasts are going to have a lot of fun with the highly original mystery and puzzles included. New players will love this one as well, and I can easily recommend it to anyone looking for a conundrum to solve! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code ESCAPE30! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!
Full Disclosure: The Deadbolt Mystery Society provided a complementary box.