The Box (France) – The Diamond Heist (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-6 Players (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: €110 per room (About $129.97 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 75 minutes

Never work again? That sounds great!

Theme:

From the The Box website:

They say that diamond merchants safe boxes are tamper proof. In this escape game, we challenge you to grab the biggest treasure ever. Outmaneuver the Diamond Center security and become richer than ever!

First Impressions:

We’ve been doing a lot of virtual globe trotting with our virtual escape experiences recently, and we have added France to our Escape Room passport with The Box! A tried an true escape room theme, heist rooms are generally reliable and exciting, so we couldn’t wait to try this one out.

High Points:

The set for Diamond Heist was pretty great, with a sleek, streamlined design aesthetic that really hammered home the “ultra-modern bank vault/offices” vibe. A few really cool surprises kept us feeling immersed within the theme, and our doofy avatar Bob did a great job of following our instructions and getting generally freaked out by the alarms. We enjoyed interacting with him and having some improvisationally silly fun while solving the puzzles. The room effects were great, using sound and lighting to set the mood, and there were very few basic locks in the room, which relied on hidden tech to give the vault a believably high tech flair. Puzzles themselves consisted of a lot of research puzzles and making connections between props within the room, and also included a fun vault hacking mini-game that we enjoyed for the most part. The whole experience culminated in a fast paced, intense finale that had us frantically searching for our main goal within the vault itself, as well as trying to steal as much treasure as possible before the police arrived on the scene. The early game had some intense moments as well, however, and certain areas were secured in different ways, ensuring that we always felt as though this was a high stakes mission in which failure was not an option! Though the experience moved through different game stages linearly, there was enough to work on at each stage that our whole group could remain engaged with each step, dividing and conquering to tackle different puzzles together.

Low Points:

A lot of virtual escape rooms cast the avatar as “lovable doofus,” and while that is funny to start and allows for a reason why they can’t do whatever tasks are presented on their own, in the long run, it is a lot more fun, in our experience, when the avatar acts more as a teammate. It is especially frustrating when the avatar is “unable” to search on their own. Virtual games do not lend themselves well to hidden objects, and it generally needs to be streamlined as players cannot see the whole room or anticipate hiding spots well in this medium, so when, in this room, there were objects that were very well hidden, it took entirely too long for us to find while adding nothing to the experience itself. The inventory method for the game was via google docs, and access was given as we went. This slowed down the game substantially, and left us with loads of useless information near the later stages of the game. Telescape is the gold standard for inventory systems, and comparatively, google docs did not do near as well a job during this game. There is a large mix of digital and in room puzzling to do during the game, but they did not mix overly well, leading one or the other to be neglected while puzzles were being worked on. The final puzzle was good, but was repeated over and over several times, leading to burnout while trying to finish up the heist. There was also an element of randomness that could frustrate players on their last few minutes.

Verdict:

Overall, The Diamond Heist wasn’t a bad room, but didn’t quite go above and beyond compared to other virtual escape offerings available. A lot of streamlining would help bolster the game itself, but it is still good for an hour’s entertainment. Enthusiasts will get their fix from this room, but newcomers might find the presentation a bit overwhelming. On the whole, our adventure with Bob was fun, but not particularly mind-blowing. Book your time pulling off the heist of the century here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

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

The Conundrum Box – Welcome to Wilde World (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Big abandoned theme park? What could go wrong?

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

Its a great big beautiful tomorrow.

Explore a 1970s theme park stuck in suspended animation since its founder, William Wilde disappeared mysteriously. Delve into the secrets he left behind, but hurry because someone else is trying to discover the true magic behind Wilde’s legacy and use that power for themselves! This fun-filled adventure will have your team solving amusement park themed puzzles and games. Suitable for all ages, the difficulty is set for new to intermediate players.

First Impressions:

Welcome to Wilde World seemed to be a theme perfect for my wife, Kara. A whimsical theme park full of mystery and animated characters that paid homage to the House of Mouse is just her speed, and the densely packed purple box of puzzles is just mine, so things were already set for an excellent time!

High Points:

The first couple things I noticed about Welcome to Wilde World were two of my favorite things about at home puzzling subscription boxes. One was a Wilde World tote bag, a useful item we can use outside of the game, something that is always appreciated! The other was a 3D printed item for tactile puzzling that also doubled as a large fidget spinner. As we built this item, I was highly anticipating the puzzle to come, as I really love tactile puzzling like this. The theme of the box is ubiquitous throughout, and is visually very cool to pore over. I loved the colorful designs and shifting themes between each of the distinct areas of the theme park, all of which tie into the puzzles well to create a fully fleshed out experience. The Conundrum Box really gets a lot of mileage out of their main attractions, and this experience was no exception. I really love coming back to the big props and using them again, discovering clues and solutions that were hidden right in front of us, locked away until we had just the right information to reveal the satisfying ah ha moments! And there are quite a few of those within, as a few of our favorite puzzles took us by surprise with their well hidden moments of revelation.

The story is a lot of fun, presenting a linear run thorough Wilde World, popping nice homages for fans of a certain other huge theme park in here and there, and integrating some story bits into the puzzles to keep things moving along at a nice pace. One particular puzzle presents a silly narration that was not only a lot of fun to solve, but the jokes were pretty funny, and reminded me of one of my favorite Weird Al originals. I won’t name it for spoilers sake, but it was stuck in my head for a while after our solve. The narration for this puzzle was pretty long, which wasn’t an issue since we solved the puzzle while listening the first time, but there was also a transcript included, so we weren’t worried about having to listen to the whole thing again should we need to find a particular piece of information. There was also a bonus puzzle included within the box, which was a nice teaser for what’s to come!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle deals with colors, and a couple of the colors are off, and a few of them look similar to one another. The inexactness tripped us up a lot, especially since my wife is a little bit color blind. There was another puzzle that was a good idea in general, but the process took a while, so the puzzle itself wore out its welcome with us well before we had finished. There was also an addition into this puzzle that seemed important, but ended up being a red herring with no bearing on the solve. There is also a particular puzzle type included near the end that we tried several times, but the instructions were overly convoluted, so we ended up having to skip it as it just had way too much going on for a really long process puzzle. We recently played this style of puzzle, but simplified, and it remained just as challenging, but much more satisfying to solve since there were not as many moving parts to keep track of, so it would be awesome if future puzzles of this style were streamlined in the future.

Verdict:

Though there were a few stumbling blocks with Welcome to Wilde World, it was an overall satisfying solve. It was certainly a more challenging adventure, so enthusiasts who are looking a bit more difficult than the usual will find a lot to love within. The puzzles are still approachable, and have a few great surprises up their sleeves, however, so patient newcomers will also be able to have a good time with this one. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7/10 (Good)

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

Emergency Exit Escape Games UK – The Beast (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: Up to 6 connections (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: £100.00 per room (About $128.06 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 90 minutes

The number of the Beast is 10/10

Theme:

From the Emergency Exit Escape Games UK website:

Exclusively play a unique experience – only available online – combining Conjure + Poltergeist! The game includes spoilers from both physical games. The rooms may LOOK the same online, but the game-play isn’t!

Deep in the forest of Crowley Manor lies a secret as dark as the house itself; maybe even worse?

There’s a cabin in the woods with a legend of the supernatural. Long abandoned, there have been strange sightings and many people have disappeared, as reported in the news over the years, never to return.

You should NOT enter! The question is… can you escape parts 2 and 3 of the Crowley Manor story? There’s lots of puzzles to solve before you can.

Based in the same reality as our Exorcist game, Crowley Manor. You’ll be playing in the actual Conjure and Poltergeist rooms by controlling a Game Master.

First Impressions:

We have been anxiously waiting to play The Beast since the second we were told there would be a sequel. Exorcist was, and still is, our favorite virtual escape game we’ve done, and honestly, is probably one of the best escape games we’ve experienced, period. We could not wait to get back into the horror filled universe that Emergency Exit has created, and when the day finally came, we were more than thrilled to be returning to Crowley Manor!

High Points:

Emergency Exit continues to impress with yet another brilliant foray into the dark confines of Crowley Manor. Every facet of this game is polished, and impresses from start to finish. From the moment we entered our Zoom meeting, an intro video was playing, reacquainting us with Crowley Manor and setting the mood while counting down the time until the game would begin. The anticipation was absolutely palpable, and the production values were already high, and we hadn’t even entered the room yet! Once we were connected to our avatar, Ronnie, we picked up right where we left off at the end of Exorcist. From there, we broke back into Crowley Manor, (bad idea number one,) found our possibly possessed cameraman inside, (bad idea number two,) and began messing about with a bunch of creepy dolls, (you guessed it! Three’s a charm.) The set was beautifully well designed, and the videos and effects all work together to ensure that we were appropriately spooked, and that there was never any certainty as to what creepy happening was around every corner. An amazing attention to detail and beautiful design work is apparent in every room we visited, and though we were not physically in the room, the designers have done an awesome job of ensuring that the atmosphere and ambiance is preserved for the virtual experience through some of the best lighting and sound design we’ve seen in a virtual room. In fact, this is one of those rooms that just oozes immersion, combining the sound effects, music, and characterization of Ronnie and Liam, our avatar and cameraman, respectively. Truly, Emergency Exit has continues to set the bar for what a remote escape room should strive to be.

The game flow is wonderfully smooth within this room, and runs linearly, with subtle hints and clues to ensure that players never feel lost, but are still challenged to put together the pieces. The whole experience is intuitive, and filled with a variety of puzzle types that allows all different types of puzzlers to shine. There are loads of amazing interactions in The Beast, and it is honestly hard to pick a favorite moment. One section of the game near the midpoint that I really adored subverted our expectations fantastically, and allowed for a few minutes of unsettling uncertainty and scares while still presenting some great puzzles to solve. The experience is absolutely filled to the brim with immensely satisfying ah ha moments, and each puzzle is integrated into the room’s theme convincingly. I really loved how during our solves, bits of story and lore were drip fed to us by our host, who despite the creepy situation he finds himself in, still finds time to be a good ghost tour guide! Other bits of story were realistically integrated into the rooms via notes, radio broadcasts, and haunting happenings, and the mystery kept us guessing until the end. The climax of the story is an unexpected, yet fantastic conclusion to the saga, but leaves things open to interpretation, keeping us guessing even long after the game had ended. Overall, The Beast mixes immersive theater, escape rooms, and haunts together to create an experience that is second to none. Though The Beast caps off the Crowley Manor saga excellently, if Emergency Exit releases another remote game, we will be ready to book without question.

Low Points:

[This Space Continues to be Intentionally Left Blank]

Verdict:

I can say without hesitation that Emergency Exit has outdone themselves with The Beast. Exorcism was an amazing room that absolutely must be played by any escape room enthusiast, but The Beast is a worthy sequel and an evolution that somehow manages to be even better than its predecessor! I cannot recommend this one enough, and encourage players new and old to book Exorcist and The Beast as soon as you can, as these are without question the best remote escape games you will find. Book your return to Crowley Manor here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Emergency Exit Escape Games UK provided our team with a complementary game.

Ellusion Adventure Games – The Labyrinth: Prequel Puzzles (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $18 for the Prequel Pack (Reviewed here), $195 for the Standard Edition of The Labyrinth, and $275 for the Deluxe Edition (Fancy!)

Twists and turns

Theme:

From the The Labyrinth Kickstater:

A crate full of unique physical puzzles, and the story of a lost civilization. Solve the puzzles. Find the treasure. Escape the maze. The Labyrinth is a unique multi-platform experience unlike any other – a combination of an escape room, puzzle hunt, mystery novel, and alternate reality game. You will receive a crate full of everything you need to participate in the challenge from the comfort of your home, including engaging physical hands-on puzzles, puzzle boxes, an online forum, models, photos, printed maps, tools, and ciphers. The goal of the challenge is to move through the rooms of a mythical labyrinth, solve the different clues in each room, and advance to the  center. Each puzzle leads into the next,  and to solve them all,  you will need to think outside of the box!

First Impressions:

The Labyrinth Puzzle Challenge appeared on Kickstarter in July, and was immediately intriguing. Promising to be filled with physical puzzles, and strange items, it certainly had my attention. After speaking with the creators, they asked if I’d be interested in trying out their prequel packet, which, of course I was!

High Points:

I didn’t quite know what to expect going in to the Prequel Pack for The Labyrinth. I knew there would be a run of puzzles, and a few artifacts to toy with, but upon opening up the pack, I was immediately drawn to one item in particular. As I had opened the package a few days in advance, I was chided multiple times for puzzling over it before we were meant to begin working on the puzzles. It was just too cool not to play with! Of course, this item was solved well in advance, but luckily it wasn’t a timed experience, so I can’t be faulted for, say, not listening to the intro and starting to solve puzzles around an escape room. Which I’ve never done, definitely not. This is all to say that the tactile interactions that are included within this pack are great, and I always love when an original design like this is included within these sorts of games. Obvious care has been taken to ensure that each prop is not only well designed, but fits into the lore of the game, and at no point did I feel like any of the puzzles we were solving were included as filler or “because puzzle box.” I really enjoyed digging up the subtle lore of the adventure as we solved, and once we finished up the experience and checked our answers with the designers, a great denouement and lead in to the full adventure was included, further piquing my interest in the full Labyrinth experience.

The puzzles are a good taster for Ellusion Adventure Games design sensibilities, and I feel like their logical style flowed well throughout the experience. There was a complete freedom in what we would work on at any time, with a completely non-linear experience that directed towards one final meta-puzzle to tie everything together. The adventure was of a more advanced difficulty, and while we did have a few critiques here and there, the overall mystery was challenging without being obtuse or frustrating. There is some googling, and while that can be very hit or miss with us, the inclusion within this experience does present some nice “reality blending,” heightening immersion and keeping players engaged within the world-building. I think enthusiasts will have a lot of fun working through this set of puzzles, as it definitely appeals to those seeking a somewhat higher challenge, but the hint system is well set up to ensure that even those newer to the puzzling hobby will be able to have a good time solving at their own pace.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle could use a mite bit more direction. It feels like it could go several places, depending on how it is interpreted, so I didn’t really feel confident in the solve for a while. Eventually we got there, but it felt a little bit like we were guessing and checking rather than putting together the clues to come to a solution. One late game puzzle had several steps to follow, but the very first was somewhat vaguely worded, making the rest of the solve tenuous. A particular important item for this solve was also difficult to read, so it might help for future versions of this prop to be printed in a somewhat more high definition manner. One interaction is super cool, but wasn’t precise enough to direct us precisely, so there was a bit more guess and check involved with this item. The ending of the puzzle set wasn’t 100% clear to us, but I think that was more a symptom of these being prototypes, rather than the full experience, so I’m sure this will be clearer once everything has been finalized.

Also, the Goblin King doesn’t make an appearance. Wrong Labyrinth, I suppose.

Verdict:

The Labyrinth’s Prequel puzzles are very creative, and though there are a few spots that felt just a bit too vague, the experience is, on the whole, extremely creative and a blast to work through. It is especially cool to see how well designed the props, lore, and puzzles are for this ambitious project, and I look forward to seeing how Ellusion Adventure Games continues to evolve! I recommend checking out the prequel pack, and should that pique your interest, upgrade to the full adventure! Begin your journey into the Labyrinth here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Ellusion Adventure Games provided a complementary sample pack.

Blue Fish Games – The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $17 per box or bundle with The Curious Elevator for $51

It’s no Peculiar People Mover, but it’ll do nicely.

Theme:

From the Blue Fish Games website:

If The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks was a book, The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks would be its prequel novella. Which should I play first? Both are stand-alone games that don’t need to be played in a certain order. That being said, Play the elevator first! The Elevator introduces you to the world of Hincks and ramps up the challenge level slowly, The Stairs throws you into the deep end right away!

First Impressions:

Team Blue Fish seems to have a finger on the pulse of what sort of puzzles I like, as evidenced by their other fantastic products, The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks and The Hincks Gazette. When The Curious Stairs was announced, I knew I had to play it as soon as possible! The second it arrived, I wanted to tear into it, seeking out its puzzling secrets, but had to wait a couple of interminably long days in order to finally crack it open. It was well worth the wait.

High Points:

The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks makes its home in a deceptively small box. Upon cracking it open, however, I found there were a lot more props than I had originally expected to see. Though there are only four stages of the game, each stage is filled to the brim with puzzling! I say stages because each one is a multi step (ha!) process that engages several props that all tie into mini puzzle hunts of their own. The process of solving each of these puzzles is part of the fun, as there isn’t any direct hint as to what needs to be done on the surface, but with some outside the box thinking and a generous application of logic, the solutions reveal themselves in an intuitive and immensely satisfying way! Each prop is used to its fullest, and I love how the many layers of puzzling build atop one another until the final code word or phrase reveals itself. Blue Fish Games are masters of creating intricate webs of puzzling, and I think the amazingly well constructed design is what I love most about their products. Though many of the previous Hincks products present mainly word games and puzzles, (which isn’t a bad thing, in my estimation,) this particular game is an evolution that goes beyond the usual paradigm to present an astounding run of varied puzzles. One in particular is a puzzle that involves moving around a map using a prescribed set of rules, something I’ve tended to dislike in the past, but Blue Fish Games has somehow managed to take this puzzle style, streamline it, and make it one of my favorite puzzles they’ve created to date!

The experience is strictly linear, but flows beautifully, with just enough built in clues to ensure players are never stuck for too long in any one section. The intuitive nature of the game is slyly hidden, and doesn’t feel as though it is holding your hand, simply guiding you though a fantastic wonderland of puzzling. The game itself took us a little over an hour and a half, which is about the same run time as The Curious Elevator, so there’s definitely a good amount of play time wrapped up in this small box, and for $17, it’s an absolute steal. I am consistently astounded at how beautifully crafted each experience Blue Fish Games produces is, and how tightly designed their puzzles are, and can say without hesitation that whatever new experience they develop next, I am here for it. Here’s hoping it’s the Peculiar People Mover. Or maybe a in depth, puzzling adventure starring The Curious Corn Chip of Mr. Hincks…

Low Points:

The final puzzle is great, but can be a bit more confusing than I think was originally intended due to there being a bit of extraneous information included that can lead down a couple of unintentional red herring rabbit holes. The puzzle is challenging in its own right, so tightening up this particular section won’t make it too easy, but rather remove the only bit of frustration we came across with this game.

Verdict:

As always, Blue Fish Games has come up with another brilliant puzzling masterpiece! Though The Curious Stairs is a much more challenging experience, the conundrums included are always fair, clever, and amazingly satisfying to solve. While there are fewer individual puzzle stages, they are even more layered and intricate than those included with The Curious Elevator, making this a great follow up to that game. I absolutely recommend giving this one a shot, especially if you’re an existing fan of the Hincksiverse. Start your climb up the Curious Staircase here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Blue Fish Games provided a complementary box.