Gruzzle – The Island (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30.00 month to month, $87.00 for 6 months, $172 for a year’s subscription

Fun, sun, and cryptography!

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

What would you do if you found a hidden envelope created by a secret organization that hasn’t existed for 50 years? You’d open it of course.

Can you solve the codes, ciphers, and puzzles left behind by the Cryptographers Club?

Sign up with Gruzzle HQ and receive this mystery in your mailbox. Don’t delay — the treasure of a lifetime awaits!

First Impressions:

It is always exciting to see a brand new subscription doing so well with original puzzling and friendly, approachable themes! When the third Gruzzle arrived, we were absolutely excited to see how they’d take on the “secret society” theme, and they definitely didn’t disappoint!

High Points:

Gruzzle always does an excellent job packing their boxes full of novel puzzling, and The Island is no exception, from the start, we were wowed by the array of props and one of the early game interactions really impressed us with its creativity and smooth process of solving. It definitely remains one of my favorite subscription box puzzles recently, as the whole process of solving was intuitive and uniquely satisfying. Though we did feel a little bit of decoding burnout by the end, the many ciphers don’t just repeat the same method over and over, but rather introduce new and interesting mechanics to ensure that each cipher feels like a fresh solve. These ramped up in difficulty each time, which guaranteed that each one was a new challenge to overcome! The difficulty curve of the whole box remains just a smooth, and feels fair the whole way through. Every item within the box has a purpose, and some hide extra secrets that become important later, so it is always a good idea to hold on to everything, especially that which seems to have extra information included!

The story line and puzzles for The Island are similar to previous boxes in that the experience is very family friendly, and feels like an incredibly inclusive experience. I’ve said before that despite horror being my favorite theme for anything, it is refreshing to work on Gruzzles due to the lack of grisly murders or dark storylines. I really love this approach, and Gruzzle does an excellent job of ensuring that their puzzles are challenging but solvable by all experience levels, which is a difficult task! We have also really enjoyed how Gruzzle jumps between new themes between each new box, yet still retains a overall tone. I applaud Gruzzle for how fantastically designed each of their experiences have been, and highly anticipate each new game!

Low Points:

One solution in particular did not reveal itself at all for us, and only after getting confirmation from the designers did we understand the solve. We were able to get halfway there, but the other half was a little too well hidden, to where it wasn’t easily identifiable once we had solved the initial puzzle. There is a cipher wheel included, but our batch didn’t quite line up due to a printing error, but future boxes should be fine in this regard. The theme involves a secret society of cryptographers, so a lot of decoding is to be expected, but the decoding wasn’t quite as exciting to us as previous boxes. This box felt just a tad less layered than others, and while there are still multifunctional items, they didn’t quite have the amazing level of nesting we’d seen previously.

Verdict:

The Island is another great Gruzzle that is perfect for new and veteran puzzlers alike! Filled with curious ciphers and perplexing puzzles, I absolutely recommend this subscription for folks looking for a family friendly puzzling experience! You can sign up for your trip to The Island here! You can use the promo code FIRSTTIME to get $5 off your subscription!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Gruzzle provided a complementary box.

The Curious Correspondence Club – Chapter III: The Tinker’s Trinket (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $19.95 Monthly, $179.00 Yearly

Join the Club!

Theme:

From the Curious Correspondence Club website:

Navigate the treasures that litter the walls of the Tinker’s Workshop and perhaps become the first to discover a long lost secret?

First Impressions:

As I’m writing this, I not only am reflecting on the amazing experience The Curious Correspondence Club has provided thus far, but am full of anticipation for Chapter IV. Spoiler alert, this game was brilliant, possibly their best thus far!

High Points:

I know I’ve said it twice before, but The Curious Correspondence Club continually blows my mind with how incredibly dense their experiences are, as well as how much they can do with props that are mostly paper based. These small envelopes provide such amazing challenges, and are well worth the cost of admission, as they tend to take us a good 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete. I love how many of the main props involved are used multiple times, shifting and containing new secrets as we move along the puzzling path. It not only allows for more economical packaging, but ensures that every item is absolutely filled to the brim with mystery! There was loads of tactile puzzling within this envelope, and every time we put together a new item in order to begin decoding, these interestingly designed props worked flawlessly. The manipulation of these paper based mechanisms was always smooth, and it is brilliant to see how amazingly well thought out these moments are. The game flow works fantastically, and runs along a mostly linear path, yet still provides enough to do for a small group that no one is going to feel left out at any point. There are a few great meta puzzles involved as well, and the connections between each are intuitive, but not spelled out completely, allowing for some supremely excellent ah ha moments once everything clicks into place. One in particular involved a somewhat innocuous puzzle, which we completed, but had no idea what to do with next, but when we finally discovered it’s significance, we were incredibly proud of our deduction.

The ongoing story line of The Curious Correspondence Club continues to wow, and I love how the twists and turns take us to an entirely new place each month. This month’s jaunt to a quiet old tinker’s shop is an interesting tonal shift from Chapter II, but a not unwelcome one. The cozy confines of the shop are a interesting shift from the more macro natures of the first couple chapters, and during the solving of this mystery, the whole experience feels more micro, as if we were working on the delicate gears of the included (paper) pocket watch itself. The puzzling, story, and nature of this game fits the theme so beautifully, and it is clear that the designers are masters of the genre, weaving all the disparate threads of the puzzle experience into a truly amazing adventure.

Low Points:

One particular point in the game includes a very intuitive moment, but we were second guessing ourselves due to the difficulty we had in performing the tactile interaction that we were sure came next. Though it definitely helped to keep us from performing the action too soon, making this action easier to perform would definitely prevent confusion. Some of the decoding is a bit misleading due to how the spacing works. This isn’t actively called out, so when working on this mystery, if you feel like you have the right method of decoding, keep at it, and it will probably become clear.

Verdict:

The Curious Correspondence Club continues to impress, with a Chapter III that blew our expectations out of the water! This is definitely one of the top puzzle subscriptions available right now, and I only wish I had the next chapter right now, as the original puzzling and mysterious story cannot be beat! Though these are more challenging experiences that I think enthusiasts will enjoy the most, a well implemented hint system will ensure that more casual puzzlers are not frustrated. I highly recommend subscribing, and you can join The Curious Correspondence Club here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Curious Correspondence Club provided a complementary envelope.

Locurio – The Vanishing Act Online (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 3-8 (We recommend 3-5 players)

Price: From $35 per person

Time to Escape: 70 minutes

What fun’s magic without a little possible death and dismemberment?

Theme:

From the Locurio website:

Step Right Up

The Great Noximillian, world-renowned magician, is hiding more than just tricks up his sleeve. His past five assistants have mysteriously gone missing, each after their 13th performance with Noximillian. Now his latest assistant, Casey, has contacted you for help in uncovering the truth behind these disturbing disappearances.

On the night of Casey’s 13th show, you are tasked with investigating The Great Noximillian’s private dressing room while the magician is busy on stage.

You have 70 minutes to find what Noximillian has been hiding and solve the mystery before the show is over and Casey’s time is up!

This game includes low lighting, as well as spooky elements and mature themes that may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

First Impressions:

I hadn’t done an online escape room for a bit when the offer to play Locurio’s The Vanishing Act came through. I was excited to jump back in, and had heard that Locurio is pretty top notch, so I was curious to see how their games translated to the virtual space.

High Points:

The Vanishing Act began with a cool intro video that convincingly portrayed our trip to Noximillian’s dressing room. Honestly, we didn’t realize that this video was prerecorded until well after we had finished up. There are other videos involved with particular points as well as the fantastic climax, and all of them are seamlessly integrated into the experience. I really loved how the room’s story took center stage, and was woven into the puzzles, ensuring that we were just solving puzzles to unlock a door, but participating in a race against time to ensure our friend would make it out of her 13th performance alive! The jump between stages of the game was excellently executed, and while there is a cool tonal shift at one point, the experience remains light hearted on the whole, and never overtly scary. Our in game avatar did a great job of lightly hinting towards what to do next, and searched the room thoroughly for us, ensuring that we weren’t held up due to an inability to find the items we needed. The set was beautifully designed, and the dressing room, as well as what lay beneath the magical facade, are convincing.

The puzzling experience within The Vanishing Act is no slouch either, with loads of intuitive connections to be made, which lead to a myriad of ah ha moments. Best of all, almost every puzzle involves the group in some way. We haven’t seen teamwork based puzzles implemented quite this well, but Locurio has done an excellent job in utilizing Telescape, (the inventory management program,) in order to ensure that players get the cooperative feeling of working through an escape room together. This may be the best implementation of teamwork puzzles I’ve seen yet from a remote room, and the effect is uniquely satisfying. There are several moments of non-linearity, and the way things are set up, groups can work on separate things at the same time, ensuring that there is little to no down time for individual players, nor are there glaring choke points that hold progress up. The final run of puzzles was my favorite, as the ultimate task of the game requires a full set of fantastic puzzles to be solved, and culminates in an interaction that not only feels intense, but caps off the game amazingly.

Low Points:

We couldn’t be there live! I’m certain this room would only get better during a live play, but their online offering was just as good as many in person games we’ve played!

Verdict:

The Vanishing Act from Locurio was, in a word, brilliant. I absolutely recommend checking this one out as soon as possible, as the story, puzzles, and avatar interactions are top notch, and must be experienced! Beginners and Enthusiasts alike will have a great time, as many of the puzzles are a fantastic challenge, but the hint systems in place will keep groups who are struggling on the right track. Book your time saving Casey here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Locurio provided our team with a discounted game.

The Curious Correspondence Club – Chapter II: The Warehouse on the Wharf (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $19.95 Monthly, $179.00 Yearly

Join the Club!

Theme:

From the Curious Correspondence Club website:

A chill in the air and blanket of fog carried by it, you find yourself met by a rusty shipping yard. With only a handful of information and a dockmaster intently focused on your capture, you must uncover the secrets of the docks using evidence left by a faceless ally.

Can you crack the code, and uncover the secret hidden amongst the crates?

First Impressions:

After the astoundingly enjoyable Chapter I of The Curious Correspondence Club, I was thrilled to receive Chapter II: The Warehouse on the Wharf. After a couple excruciating days of waiting for a night we had clear, my wife and I cracked the envelope open, and got to puzzling!

High Points:

The Curious Correspondence Club continues to wow us with their presentation. Though the envelope their mysterious items arrive in is small, there is so much to work through every single month! The absolutely mind boggling density of their games makes the experience well worth the price of admission, but beyond that, we also love the meta story that winds through each game, and are consistently thrilled to see what new secrets we are being tasked to uncover. As the meta story continues to twist and turn, we are curious as to what all our efforts will eventually unearth. This second installment ups the ante from the introductory game excellently, with a much more challenging run of puzzles, but still manages to remain intuitive and well designed, ensuring that though puzzlers won’t have an easy time unraveling all the enigmas, they will have a great time doing so! Almost every single puzzle we came across during this chapter paid off with some excellent ah ha moments, and once we’d reached the final epilogue video, we were pretty proud of what we had accomplished. Every puzzle was immensely creative, and I was astounded to find that at no point during the experience did we feel like something was familiar or old hat. My favorite puzzle was the culmination of a couple different actions, and solving it was a beautifully tactile experience that I adored.

The props themselves were sturdy, well made items, and for such a small envelope, boy were there loads of items inside! The experience is beautifully polished, and every piece of the game not only is intricately woven into the game and its puzzles, but all of them are multi-functional, layered props that reveal new secrets at every turn! There is so much to love within each chapter of this experience so far, and the experience of the designers is heavily evident in every facet of this absolute jewel of a game. The Curious Correspondence Club is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated games every month! The story is appropriately mysterious and entertaining, the puzzles are amazingly original, the videos are well produced, and at this price point, there is so much value for money in each experience we’ve received so far. I cannot recommend this game enough.

Low Points:

One particular interaction can get pretty tedious, and the seek and find nature of it really slowed the game down in a way that did not serve the experience well. There were a few points at which the cluing could be tightened up a bit, as there were a few things that could either serve as unintended red herrings or force too much guess and check puzzling.

Verdict:

Chapter II: Warehouse on the Wharf does a great job of upping the challenge, and provides a wonderfully tactile puzzling experience in a deceptively small envelope. The game was definitely more difficult than your usual puzzling subscription, so I think enthusiasts who are looking for something a bit more difficult will absolutely love The Curious Correspondence Club, but with the tiered hint system and the patience to think things through, new players will find a lot to enjoy within these envelopes as well! I highly recommend subscribing, and you can join The Curious Correspondence Club here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Curious Correspondence Club provided a complementary envelope.