The Curious Correspondence Club – Chapter 1: The Custodian’s Keys (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:

Welcome to the M.B. Franklin Museum of Natural History, a place of knowledge, learning, and curiosity.

When a serendipitous discovery grants you an audience with the Museum’s Custodian, a peculiar occurrence launches the hunt for a secret hidden within this storied institution.

Will you be able to unlock the secrets?

First Impressions:

The Curious Correspondence Club’s first chapter arrived in a small to medium sized envelope, but I was impressed with how much was packed into the game, as well as how high quality everything was!

High Points:

The Curious Correspondence Club is absolutely dense with puzzling, and for $19.95 (or less with a yearly subscription,) this game is more than worth the price of admission. The clever inclusion of every single item as part of the puzzling or story is extremely well executed, and upon opening the envelope, I was intrigued to see that even this was used as part of the experience, delivering the mysterious introductory story as it folded out. I was consistently thrilled to see that even the most innocuous of props became a part of the story, and the many ah ha moments that were delivered via connecting these props together were supremely satisfying. Though this game mostly relies on paper props, the experience always feels incredibly polished and fun to work through, and the adventure’s theme is well portrayed by the myriad items included. The story itself is highly mysterious, and had us hooked from the start, it sort of reminded me of a somewhat more grounded version of the video game Control, and that is absolutely a good thing. The videos that are included as an intro and epilogue are well voice acted, and they started and capped off the experience fantastically.

The game flow is incredibly smooth, and allows players to work on the initial puzzles non-linearly at their own pace, and great, tiered hints are provided for those who need a little more direction, ensuring that frustration remains absent from this game. The variety of puzzles is excellent, and I really love how everything fits together intuitively from start to finish. I really love how puzzles built on each other over the various exhibits, and reading through everything helped narrow our investigative routes organically. The meta puzzle was easily my favorite part, as all the information we’d collected came together into a really cool and climactic finale, introducing us to a mysterious world of secret societies, and setting up upcoming adventures amazingly. Without a doubt, this was one of the most exciting at home games we’d played recently!

Low Points:

The set up of the game can allow players to skip one puzzle by process of elimination, though that may be a high point for players who come across a more difficult puzzle they’d like to jump over. For players that are looking to complete every puzzle, the final conundrum they solve will be spoiled somewhat. One puzzle combines a couple more banal interactions, including seek and find and counting elements that aren’t overly exciting.

Verdict:

Without a doubt, I can say that I recommend The Curious Correspondence Club to anyone looking for a new puzzling subscription to try! Enthusiasts and newcomers to the hobby alike can look forward to a beautifully crafted hour or two of engaging puzzling that’s well worth the price. I absolutely love the clever puzzling, as well as look forward to seeing how the intriguing meta-story plays out, and cannot wait for the next envelope to arrive! Join The Curious Correspondence Club here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

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

Modern Treasure Hunt – The VOC Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: €49.95 ($59.02 at the time of writing)

Hunting for treasure in the comfort of your own home!

Theme:

From the Modern Treasure Hunt website:

The VOC Treasure is an #AtHomeMystery treasure hunt. It is an adventure based on a true story that took place at the end of the Dutch Golden Age. It is a 1-4 player (maximum of 6) experience allowing you to play solo or coöperatively. Larger groups can compete or also work together using multiple boxes.

First Impressions:

The VOC Treasure came to us from the Netherlands one day, packed inside a nice wooden box, and holding some very interesting treasures to puzzle through. We had quite a backlog to work through, but the tempting wooden box continued to call to me until we finally got a chance to uncover its secrets! Spoiler alert, it was absolutely worth the wait.

High Points:

One thing that is immediately apparent about The VOC Treasure is that it is a beautifully designed game. The props are all authentic feeling and sturdy, and feel as though they are made to last. Each item is important, and beyond looking good, even the most standard piece of the game plays a major role in the puzzle solving. Not one bit felt extraneous, and it is always wonderful to find a game that has zero fluff included. This amazing attention to detail and design doesn’t end with the presentation, as the puzzles and game flow are excellent as well. Even a particular puzzle that seemed, at first glance, like it would be a slog proved to be an engaging and challenging solve. Code breaking is included, but is non-standard, ensuring that the process to solving is interesting and allows players to engage with something beyond the usual pig-pen/ceasar cipher banality that some games can fall into. The meta-puzzle for this game builds fantastically through each of the challenges, and it is a lot of fun to work through all the way through. Once all the information has been collected in order to solve this enigma, the logic puzzle at the end is properly challenging, but immediately intuitive, ensuring that players aren’t led to logical leaps or red herrings. The whole experience flows beautifully, and it is a brilliant time to work through each logical step in order to finally locate the VOC treasure!

The VOC Treasure is a moderate to high challenge game, and it definitely took our experienced team a full two hours in order to fully complete the game. While some of the conundrums included are very difficult, they were always fair, and just required us to look at things from a different angle to test out a new theory borne from a new piece of information. Once methods of solving have been set up and the ah ha moments have been arrived at, it is generally easy to complete the solve, and there are no arduous processes to muddle through during these puzzles. The experience remains fast paced and enjoyable throughout, and while the complexity of the game has not been sacrificed, Modern Treasure Hunt has ensured that the entire adventure remains an absolute joy throughout.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle can be easily skipped, and though we went back to reveal its secrets, it didn’t quite have the ah ha moment coolness it could have, had it been gatekept better. Another puzzle that underwhelmed took place on a really cool prop, but ended up being a bit too seek and find-y for our tastes. Though the story set up is cool, there isn’t a proper climax, so things felt as though they were left hanging.

Verdict:

The VOC Treasure is a wonderful time, and we absolutely enjoyed every second we spent with this box of excellent puzzling! I absolutely recommend this experience to enthusiasts, as the challenge was more than worthy of our time, but new players will be able to enjoy this one as well, as the intuitive nature of the game and the well layered hint system ensures that players of all skill levels will find something to love. Order your search for The VOC Treasure here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Modern Treasure Hunt provided a complementary box.

Mystery Mansion Regina – DTF: Drag Task Force (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 3-10 (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: $20 CAD per person (About $15.11 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Work it!

Theme:

From the Mystery Mansion Regina website:

The devious Ruby Hymen has betrayed the Drag Task Force and has stolen all of their powers. The leader of the DTF, Flo Mingo, has selected you and your team to help the DTF infiltrate Ruby’s secret lair. You must find a way to stop Ruby and help the members of the DTF get their powers back!

A portion of each ticket will be donated to the Regina non-profit organization, Lulu’s Lodge.

*All content of this room has been reviewed and approved by the Drag Community and is not intended to offend any parties*

First Impressions:

DTF: Drag Task Force might be the most creative theme I’ve ever seen. Drag Queen superheroes, a robot avatar, and a puzzle that involves making a mixed drink for your avatar to choke down all come together to create what can only be described as one of the wildest online escape rooms we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing!

High Points:

DTF is a hilarious game, and if players relax and let themselves joke around with the avatar, they’re in for a fantastic time! Our game master was, as always with Mystery Mansion Regina, brilliantly quick on their feet, dishing out jokes and responses at lightening speed. Everything was incorporated with the awesome story, and I loved how much humor was injected into the experience. It is rare to see an escape room that truly excels at being funny, and the folks at Mystery Mansion Regina really know how to develop a fun puzzling flow while bringing the laughs. Just like their Night Terrors room, DTF is built from the ground up to be an online only experience, ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation. A favorite mechanic of this room is made possible by its online only nature, as one of the main goals of the game is to upgrade our robotic avatar using items that give the Drag Task Force their powers. Though it is as simple as finding a prop and asking to activate a power, it really lends a satisfying sense of progression to the experience, and adds a little extra something that we wouldn’t see in an in person room.

The puzzles themselves are very clever, and one in particular was an astoundingly fun interaction that had us laughing even after the game was over. At several points in the game, telescape was incorporated, allowing our team to solve in room puzzles concurrently with online puzzles, shaking up the usual linear nature of online, avatar based games and allowing for more non-linear progress to be made. This is great for bigger teams or players who like to break off to solve on their own, as it ensures that everyone can remain engaged without trying to lead an avatar to look at something across the room while others are attempting to solve something else entirely. Though the puzzles themselves were, for us, on the easier side of things, they were no less fun, and the room is absolutely packed with interactions, so we didn’t blow through the experience either. Overall, DTF is all about having a great time, and it definitely succeeds in its mission!

Low Points:

During our play, the decor was still in development, so the room didn’t quite have as much personality as it could’ve, however, it should be even more decked out now, so no worries here! The puzzling can sometimes ride on the easier, more basic side, so enthusiasts looking for an intense challenge may be disappointed, but we had more than enough fun running through the flow of the game and just enjoying the great story and banter with our game master/avatar!

Verdict:

DTF: Drag Task Force is easily one of the most creative, fun filled online escape rooms available. I whole heartedly recommend trying it out, as the entertaining puzzling flow and laugh a minute interactions with our game master delivered one of our favorite experiences of the pandemic. Book your time helping the Drag Task Force regain their fabulous powers here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Mystery Mansion Regina provided our team with a complementary game.

Puzzling Pursuits – Blackbrim: 1876 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95; $5 shipping

The police have been kidnapped! Who you gonna call? Puzzle Enthusiasts, that’s who.

Theme:

From the Puzzling Pursuits website:

Set during the Victorian era in the English town of Blackbrim, you are a private detective who has received a package containing mysterious clues from a police commissioner shortly before he was kidnapped. He and the entire police force are being held hostage. To save them, you must solve all the riddles the perpetrator left behind…

First Impressions:

Blackbrim: 1876 is certainly an interesting, sleek looking package. with two separate parts wrapped up in black tissue paper, and a properly mysterious introductory page to set the stage for the rest of the game, it certainly had us intrigued!

High Points:

Blackbrim: 1876 was broken up into two parts, and the first part was an overall alright introduction to the Puzzling Pursuits style of puzzling. While nothing really stood out to me here, this section on the whole was solid. I enjoyed two of the puzzles above the rest, as they were somewhat more seamlessly logical and provided great ah ha moments to revel in. The meta was also enjoyable, and I like how the website to check answers has been set up, it works smoothly and allows for hints to be taken and solutions to be verified without any difficulty or accidental spoilers.

Part two is where Blackbrim: 1876 really shines, however. Sans a couple of puzzles that are similar to puzzles we overall didn’t enjoy in part one, the set up and puzzling is much more clever and refined here. These interactions also tended to be more layered and intricate, allowing for subsequently satisfying solves, as well as loads of multi step, clever conundrums. One particular puzzle looked to me like it was going to be a very difficult, trial and error enigma, but proved to be an elegant mind game that really folded together beautifully once I had teased out what to do. This whole section feels a lot like an escape room, as each puzzle we solved opened up another room, freeing another captive, and leading us closer to the final meta, which ended up being an awesome solve that was hidden in plain sight. The story line itself is also a lot of fun, and the second part really ups the ante narratively, with fun reveals and a finale that ties everything up neatly while still delivering some story threads that could lead to a sequel.

Low Points:

While part two of the game was definitely where things picked up, part one felt like more of a slog. There were a lot of anagrams, and while we don’t necessarily mind those, they just sort of felt like they were there, rather than an active, engaging part of the puzzle. A bit of clean up after the initial solve. There was also a lot of vague googling to do, especially one part which we ultimately skipped since research based googling is something we’ve never really enjoyed. One puzzle in particular required googling, and though we had solved enough of it to skip over the bits we needed to google, it would have been a much more entertaining puzzle without the research. Another puzzle is a great, tactile idea, but doesn’t line up quite as well as it should to ensure confidence in the answers we arrived at. At one point, we needed to take a few hints to move forward with one puzzle that was really stumping us, and they were a little too vague to put us on the right path.

Our only critiques for part two was one more google based puzzle, and a math based puzzle that my wife loved, but I checked out on. That one is a real hit or miss, so if you don’t enjoy math, make sure you play with someone who does. Overall, the only issue is that the cursive style font that is used throughout is difficult to read, even for someone who writes in cursive on a daily basis.

Verdict:

Blackbrim: 1876 was a somewhat uneven experience that still managed to deliver an overall enjoyable time as well as a second half that really captured a nice “at home escape room” feel. Though we had a few gripes with some of the puzzling and all of the Googling, it was still a good time, and I can recommend it easily to enthusiasts that are looking for a somewhat challenging and narrative interesting experience! Start your investigation into Blackbrim here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Puzzling Pursuits provided a complementary box.

Gruzzle – The Will (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

Where there’s a will…

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

Beloved philanthropist, Dolores Pumbleton, has died! Luckily, she left her massive fortune to her three grandchildren. Unluckily, she also left them a puzzling challenge. Can you help them solve their Nana’s puzzles and earn their inheritance? Sign up with Gruzzle HQ and receive this mystery in your mailbox. Don’t delay — the whole town is counting on you!

First Impressions:

The first Gruzzle, The Painting, was an intensely original, clever new subscription box that really blew all of our expectations for a first time puzzle box out of the water. The anticipation for The Will, therefore, was high. When it hit our porch, I couldn’t wait to see what was included inside!

High Points:

One thing I can definitely say about Gruzzle is that we are still loving the incredibly layered puzzling. We’re constantly impressed by how intricate everything is, and it is clear that a lot of work goes into each puzzle and prop. During the entire experience we were astounded at how well put together absolutely everything was. It was mind blowing how there were times we would come back to different items two or three different times to find that there was even more cryptic information hidden within something we just knew had to have been depleted on the last go round. We also continue to love how tactile everything is, the props and more papercraft based puzzles are so cleverly put together, and we love to see how detailed and densely packed with puzzling each bit is. Though a lot of the game is based on paper puzzling, the designers have done so much to ensure that it never feels basic. The level of creativity is amazing, and there were so many cool touches that we’d never come across before in this sort of game. Furthermore, a lot of work has gone into each interaction to ensure everything feels completely intuitive, and while some work has to be done in order to fully understand what to do, there are no logical leaps or inconsistencies to be found.

One thing we noted while playing is that we love how Gruzzle is how it is, at its core, just a super friendly and approachable experience. Most boxes have deep, dark mysteries or grisly murder investigations, and while I love that sort of thing, it is still really nice to tackle something a bit more light hearted. Gruzzle truly feels like a game that welcomes you in for a challenge and invites you to solve along at your own pace. However, even though the game is family friendly, it is overall still very complex and properly challenging, ensuring that enthusiasts will still get their puzzling money’s worth! Also, while the theme is somewhat lower stakes than, say, escaping a murderer or solving the crime of the century, it still manages to be incredibly engaging and we felt deeply immersed for the entire two hour game. To really drive home how well designed The Will is, there was a specific puzzle that fell into a genre we usually dislike, but it was designed in such a way that we had a lot of fun teaming up to take it down! The finale of the game was brilliant, and included yet another bonus puzzle that displayed all the best parts of a Gruzzle box fantastically.

Low Points:

In the previous Gruzzle box, we felt that the answers sort of took away from the experience, as they generally just named the next envelope to open. This time, they do feel overall more natural, but still fall into the same sort of category. Being an almost completely offline experience, I’m not sure how this can be made to feel more natural, but it’s one of the few critiques we have. One specific puzzle type shows up more than once, which feels repetitive, but is over quickly, so it isn’t an arduous thing. Finally, one particular puzzle that shows up later has an issue with tedious searching, and the presentation makes it somewhat more difficult to keep track of progress without making your own copies. Overall, though, these are very small things that didn’t detract overmuch from the experience.

Verdict:

Incredibly fresh and original, Gruzzle continues to demonstrate how incredibly creative they can be, and is fast becoming one of our favorite subscription boxes, easily! We adored this box, and absolutely recommend it to newcomers and enthusiasts alike, as the approachable, yet challenging puzzling is sure to be engaging for all types of puzzler! The Will ships November 2nd, and you can receive it by signing up by October 31st here! You can use the promo code FIRSTTIME to get $5 off your subscription!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Gruzzle provided a complementary box.