The Panic Room – The Exorcism of Isabelle (Review)

Location: Your home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 1-6 – we suggest 1-3

Price: £12.50 ($16.57 at the time of this writing)

Do y’think Isabelle knows Annabelle?

Theme:

From the Panic Room website:

We received some documents from a friend, who was researching the history of the house he just bought. The history is pretty disturbing. People who lived in it previously were convinced the house was haunted.

The strangest thing is, that as soon as these people tried to combat whatever it is that lives in the house, they soon start to exhibit some erratic behavior and slowly lose their mind. Three previous owners committed suicide within a month from the first time they talked to someone about the “spirits” that possess the house. Our friend got close, closer than anyone, to the secret of the house. He is sure that it’s not about the house itself, but… a doll. A creepy old doll, that was left in the attic. It remained in the house for a century, and our friend was sure, that it is the source of misfortune for anyone living in the house.

Our friend knew something can go terribly wrong during his investigation, so he sent out copies of his research in case something happens to him. Today he fell out the window on the second floor of the house. He’s alive, but barely. Who knows, what awaits him when he wakes up if the curse is not lifted from the house.

Our goal is to follow the research friend did, to find out the names of the demons possessing the doll and exorcise them forever…

First Impressions:

We had a fantastic time working through The Panic Room’s Online Sherlock Holmes and CSI: Stranglehold escape games, and after having another browse through their website, I couldn’t help but be drawn to their new Puzzle Book section. I’ve been looking for a good puzzle book that wasn’t just simple at home puzzles like Sudoku or a mostly disconnected set of puzzles like Journal 29. The Panic Room seemed to have exactly what I needed in the form of The Exorcism of Isabelle, a horror themed puzzle book that looked to be just my style!

Creepy doll? Check. Weeping blood? Check. You have my attention.

High Points:

I received The Exorcism of Isabelle as a PDF, allowing me to test and review the game pre-release, and though it was a print and play game for me, the pages were still very clear, and well designed. Each page contains a bit of story, background, or a puzzle of some sort, and it is up to the players to make connections between the pages to determine the names of the nine demons possessing the creepy doll that has been haunting Amityville. An online exorcism sheet was provided, allowing for immediate feedback on whether answers were correct, and rather than just being a simple answer sheet, sound effects and graphics have been included to ensure even entering solutions is an immersive experience. I absolutely love the soundtrack that has been included with the experience as an optional add on, and it has been beautifully curated to ensure maximum spookiness. The book is presented as the journal of one of Isabelle’s most recent victims, and I liked how story tidbits were integrated into each page through his mad scribblings and notes. The experience was packed with conundrums, and I really enjoyed how puzzles looped through multiple pages, ensuring every bit of the book was used to its fullest. The creepy story of a possessed doll was wonderfully implemented, and the introductory video was well produced, setting the stage fantastically.

Puzzles were intuitive, and each solution was clearly some sort of Eldritch name. While the names themselves were not standard words and phrases, it was pretty clear when a solution was correct, even before entering them into the online answer sheet. This experience felt like more than just a standard puzzle book, with physical mysteries to solve, and some tactile items that lent a more interactive feel to the adventure. The puzzles are presented in a completely non-linear fashion, and players are free to work on whatever they like while making their way through the game. As a solo player, this allowed me to jump around if I ever became stuck, and groups will be able to divide and conquer if they prefer, ensuring there are no specific choke points to get tangled up in. All the puzzles integrated well into the story, and on a couple separate occasions, the real world was mixed into the game to great effect. I really enjoyed how these puzzles were set up, delivering some really interesting interactions I was not expecting! Overall, I had an awesome time with The Exorcism of Isabelle, and am looking forward to trying out more of The Panic Room’s puzzle books and print and play games!

Low Points:

The game was of an easier overall difficulty for enthusiasts, as some connections were a little more direct than I was used to in some places, but this will be a boon for newer solvers. One particular puzzle was a great, tactile interaction, but sometimes it was difficult to determine how the items lined up with precision and confidence. Luckily, it wasn’t overly difficult to select what could fit and determine what made the most sense. One particular puzzle had a few letters that were semi ambiguous as well, but with as with the previous critique, there were still a limited set of letters that were possible, allowing it to be solved with just a little bit of guess and check. In speaking with the designer, however, I found them to be very open to feedback, and I’m sure these issues can be resolved before the full release.

Final Verdict:

The Exorcism of Isabelle was a loads of spooky fun! I had a brilliant time working through the many puzzles and interactions, and loved how tactile the experience was at times. Full of cleverly implemented enigmas and original puzzling, I absolutely recommend picking this book up when it releases on September 18th, 2020! I look forward to seeing what The Panic Room comes up with next, and am pleased to say their puzzle books were exactly what I was looking for. Pick up a copy of these haunting puzzles here!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

Daydream Adventures – The Witch’s Forest (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review was brought to you by me! 😊

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $95 CAD + tax (flat rate, up to 4 players; $10 CAD + tax per extra player)

Walking in a Witch’s Wonderlaaaaand! 😀

Theme:

From Daydream Adventure’s website:

In a realm of dreams and magic, a trickster has upset the witch who lives here. Hilda has been away from the forest. Upon returning home, Hilda discovers someone has mischievously interrupted what she was working on. She is locked out of her cabin. She suspects a human may have done this, as she knows many humans detest her.

In this realm, spirits often watch and listen. Spirits of the forest, such as yourself, are very wise. A witch calls upon forest spirits for guidance. When Hilda calls for your help, your spirit can tell Hilda exactly how to undo the trickster’s mess.

First Impressions

I had my fingers crossed that the game would be as good as the pictures on their website, because they looked stunning!

Yay Points

This game’s theme and aesthetic was definitely a departure from our usual MO for escape rooms (read: NOT horror-themed :D) – and was right up my alley! If The Witch’s Forest is any indication, “Daydream Adventures” is an absolutely apt description for this escape room company. I was in utter awe of the beautiful setting of this game. The attention to detail in the decorations was astounding and really created a wonderful aesthetic. From the grasses to the trees to the inside of Hilda’s cabin, everything seemed very captivating. I was super sad I couldn’t experience it in person!

I enjoyed how cute many of the puzzles were (especially the first one; the in-game characters were hilarious!). The riddles were presented linearly and were relatively straightforward in nature, though they did level-up in complexity after you moved into the second “room” of the game. We were pleasantly surprised by the way the game incorporated some player choices/interactions – these added nice touches and I feel like they would be fun for players who enjoy those types of things.

Additionally, the game design very effectively included videos to reveal the plot or show what happens when puzzles are solved or things are opened. These were fun to watch and really helpful in making sure we didn’t miss anything. We also appreciated that the site had specific pages dedicated to each stage of the game. Thankfully, this helped us avoid a lot of unnecessary searching or guessing at what might be needed, and ensured that we were able to focus on what was actually relevant for a given puzzle.

Our avatar, Hilda, was extremely on-point. We always appreciate when game masters/avatars are interactive and can adapt to our team’s – shall I say “unique?” – personalities. Hilda did a great job playing off of us and making the experience all the more entertaining. Because this game seems more naturally inclined to be both beginner- and family-friendly, Hilda’s character seems like the perfect way to tailor the experience to groups. In addition to providing a more immersive experience, our Hilda was able to provide as much or as little direction as we needed.

Pondering Points

Some of the puzzles may make a little more sense in person, and some seem to be of the “you get it or you don’t” variety. They were pretty straightforward overall, but there was one puzzle that was a little unclear for some of us. It wasn’t hard to figure out what we were supposed to do process-wise, but the instructions seemed to (unintentionally) include a red herring in what format the answer would be. It was also a little confusing (for me at least) to figure out certain reference points based on how the instructions were presented.

While the game was generally full of new surprises behind each door, we were surprised when one path seemed to end abruptly.

Lastly, while I liked what they did with the ending, it does rely a little bit on chance. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it might be neat for players to be able to make more choices for this interaction.

Verdict

While I think this game would be all the more fun in person, Daydream Adventures did a great job in turning it into an online experience. The Witch’s Forest is beginner-friendly, and is definitely geared more towards those who are looking for family-friendly fantasy genres. If you’re at all into such dreamland experiences like me, then I highly encourage you to check it out! Book your time in Hilda’s Forest here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Daydream Adventures provided our team with a complementary game.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Framed (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Night at the Museum was a lot more Murder-y than I remember…

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The Valley Falls Museum is home to some of the world’s most exciting art exhibits and archaeological finds. It is also known for its wonderful ancient history curator, Albert McCain. However, everything changes when a successful heist of the museum results in McCain’s death. Based on evidence recovered from the scene, authorities arrest fellow museum employee, Noah Parker, and charge him with robbery and murder. Noah is a friend and calls you immediately, desperate to proclaim his innocence and enlist your help. He is aware of the Will Street Detective Agency’s stellar track record and is hopeful that you will find information that will exonerate him. Solve the mystery of the museum heist, the murder of Albert McCain, and collect the clues that could either free Parker from jail or lead to his conviction.

First Impressions:

When I first read the description of Framed, I couldn’t help but think:
Noah is a friend.
Yeah you know he’s been a good friend of mine.
But lately something’s changed, it ain’t hard to define,
Noah’s got accused of murder and now the problem’s mine.

So anyway, that’s how my mind works. In other news, we’ve been thrilled with the most recent entries Deadbolt has offered up, and it seems like there’s a new mechanic or evolution in the game monthly, so we couldn’t wait to see how Framed would change things up!

High Points:

Like we said, The Deadbolt Mystery Society is always changing and improving, iterating on their highly successful formula from month to month, and keeping things surprising as they go. This month was certainly no exception, packing what seems like even more puzzles than usual into the box, and starting players off with figuring out who the suspects are on their own! I have really enjoyed when Deadbolt has split their recent boxes into two parts, and that extra ah ha moment of discovery when a new envelope is opened works very well for their style of mystery. The designers have also implemented a few new tricks into the investigation, giving us a few new wow moments, including a couple scenes that allowed us to actively investigate some of the museum’s offices! The story is well implemented, and it is interesting to identify what makes the suspects suspicious, and then begin to piece together whether those suspicions are related to murder or… something else entirely. It felt like we really delved into the lives and interpersonal conflicts of the characters in this box, and I enjoyed seeing what these seemingly harmless museum employees got up to after hours.

The experience is very non-linear, allowing us complete freedom to tackle whatever we want over the course of the two parts, and ensuring that even if we stalled out on one puzzle, we could work on something else while our brains rebooted in time to discover the solution. Everything slides together extremely intuitively, and while getting to that point takes a good bit of thinking and solving, the solutions are always a completely smooth, logical fit. The shift from investigation into the suspects to determining the ultimate culprit is fantastic, and there are a few great twists along the way. I really loved how the climax was handled, and enjoyed how it developed into a really unexpected, but incredibly satisfying finale. The props and evidence were all brilliant, and we really loved the inclusion of one strange piece of evidence we just couldn’t stop looking at. “What could the significance be?” we wondered, and when all was revealed regarding this prop, we couldn’t help but laugh. Most of the puzzles involve piecing together multiple layers in order to arrive at the ultimate conclusion, and putting these connections together was a great time, especially for a couple interactions that allowed us to “physically” search certain areas of the museum.

Low Points:

I mean, none for me, but you had to imagine my weird “Jessie’s Girl” parody, so that probably wasn’t great for you.

Verdict:

Framed joins the ranks of The Cabin, Infected, and The Dark and Stormy Night as some of my absolute favorite Deadbolt boxes. The way it successfully changes up the usual Deadbolt formula just enough to evolve the experience, yet still stays true to what we always love about these mysteries, ensures that the whole adventure is a rousing triumph. The difficulty is just right, ensuring that while enthusiasts will still find a lot to challenge them, the game remains accessible to newcomers as well. I recommend this one without reservation! 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!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: The Deadbolt Mystery Society provided a complementary box.

Gruzzle – The Painting (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

Layers upon layers of puzzling

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

A world-renowned museum. A famous painting — stolen! A forgery in its place. A threatening letter. Can you help the museum recover the missing masterpiece before the press and the public discover the theft? Sign up with Gruzzle HQ and receive this mystery in your mailbox. Don’t delay — the museum is counting on you!

First Impressions:

We stumbled upon Gruzzle recently via one of the many fantastic puzzling groups we are a part of on Facebook, and once we’d spoken with the designers for a bit, we couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for their first box! Featuring one of my favorite paintings of all time, and an interesting premise, I was raring to get started once the box arrived on our doorstep!

High Points:

The premise of Gruzzle is simple, a client contacts Gruzzle HQ, and requests help working through a conundrum they are involved with. These cases are packed with puzzles, ciphers, and brain-bending enigmas to solve, and are completely self contained, requiring no outside apps or technology to complete. Though we do love the many subscription boxes and at home puzzling experiences we regularly play, I can’t say that many don’t rely on tech in some way, shape, or form. In fact, I can only think of a couple of the myriad we’ve tried, and neither are a subscription box, so this definitely sets Gruzzle apart as a great, unplugged adventure for families and puzzle enthusiasts alike! The first thing we noticed about The Painting was the fantastic quality of the props included. I don’t think we’ve ever come across a first entry for a subscription box that has such great items included within the game. Not only are there multiple tactile props to play around with, there is an actual locked box inside! I’ve only ever seen physical locks like this in more expensive subscriptions, so it was great to see this sort of touch at a more reasonable price point. I knew we were in for something special the moment we’d opened the box.

The puzzles included were an absolute delight to work through as well. Each stage of the mystery involved some incredibly creative solves, all of which integrated into the theme well. Though the story was somewhat light, it allowed for the focus to remain squarely on the puzzles, which were truly the star of the show. The puzzles were multilayered and clues included were multi-functional unlike anything I’ve seen before in this sort of medium. I really loved how we were able to come back to certain items and discover ever more information by using different new props and solving methods revealed by other solutions. It was truly satisfying to crack each new code, and not one puzzle felt stale or overdone. Even when using an old standby of puzzle boxes, a code most enthusiasts will be familiar with, Gruzzle implements another layer or two of puzzling to ensure the interaction isn’t just another code breaking puzzle. Almost everything we came across was something new to us, or a well implemented refinement of more classic puzzling. The game flow was linear, and everything flowed smoothly as we made intuitive logical connections, working our way to the great conclusion.

Low Points:

During our experience, there was a particular misprint that allowed us to obtain a clue very early on, and it dulled the luster of a certain reveal since we had already sussed out the answer. We also had one puzzle that required a certain rule to be followed that wasn’t overtly clear at first. It was simple enough to make the connection, but resulted in some confusion since we weren’t sure initially what was going wrong. I’ve discussed both of these items with the designers, however, and the full release should negate these concerns. We also noticed that since the experience takes place, for the most part, completely offline, this experience differs somewhat in that most solutions direct players towards opening new envelopes, which for us was a little anti climactic. The designers have some good ideas on how to ensure solving remains exciting, however, (and the puzzles are more than a delight to solve,) so I remain confident that Gruzzle will continue to iterate and evolve!

Verdict:

I am thrilled to say that Gruzzle’s first outing is an absolutely brilliant time! The designers have done an excellent job ensuring the experience is fresh and delivers multiple satisfying ah ha moments. We cannot wait to see what the designers have in store for their next box. I highly recommend subscribing now, as The Painting will ship on September 8th, 2020! Sign up by September 6th here, and you can use the promo code FIRSTTIME to get $5 off your subscription!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Gruzzle provided a complementary box.

Swamp Motel – Plymouth Point (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 1-6 (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: £35.00-40.00 per team (About $45.71-52.24 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 75 minutes

How deep does this rabbit hole go?

Theme:

From the Swamp Motel website:

Plymouth Point is an immersive, online detective game that takes you from the comfy confines of the Plymouth Point Residents Watch into the heart of a deeply unsettling conspiracy. Played on an internet browser, teams will need to follow clues, crack codes and hack passwords in an attempt to find out why a missing resident has vanished. Part escape room, part immersive theatre and all online, Plymouth Point relies on you to peel back the layers of the mystery to find Ivy before it’s too late.

First Impressions:

We have really enjoyed all the virtual escape rooms we’ve visited over the past few months, and it is really great to be able to visit rooms we might not have been able to otherwise, but some of the best experiences we’ve had lately have been rooms and adventures that were developed solely for the online platform. Plymouth Point is just such an experience, and we were excited to see how this more story focused game would play out!

High Points:

For players looking for something new and exciting, Plymouth Point absolutely fits the bill. An interactive detective story full of puzzling enigmas and devious twists, we had an astoundingly good time attempting to find Ivy and discover why she’d disappeared in the first place. The game integrates some marvelous videos into the experience, all of which are well acted and ensure the immersion remains intact throughout. Small tidbits of the greater mystery are solved as we worked through the clues, and some late game revelations just oozed with a barely restrained foreboding. This immersion isn’t only present within the video, as the mystery escapes into the real world as well, utilizing familiar social networking, previously existing websites as well as ones created for the game itself, and messages between the characters themselves. Truly, Plymouth Point uses the online platform to its fullest, ensuring the line between fact and fiction are completely blurred during the entire experience. The mystery has multiple paths players can take, all culminating in an explosive finale that ties up the enigmas presented, but absolutely begs for a sequel at the same time. Should Swamp Motel decide to expand the world of Plymouth Point, we are here for it, no question.

Plymouth Point’s puzzles are mostly research based, tasking players with uncovering the truth by looking into the darkest corners of Ivy’s life, and tracking down what happened to her in the days leading up to her disappearance. Every interaction makes perfect sense within the world of the game, and does an excellent job of showing, not telling by deeply integrating the storyline into every action. Gameplay is brilliantly intuitive, and the signposting is just subtle enough to come naturally to players without seeming forced or overly obvious, and every revealed secret came with a massively satisfying ah ha moment for our team. The adventure is mostly linear, with one specific goal at any point, but since there is loads to investigate at any given time, each player feels engaged with the game as they share information and piece together solutions together. For only £35.00-40.00 per team, this experience is imminently affordable and a great value for the huge amount of enjoyment we got out of the game. We were still talking about it for a few days after, and I cannot wait to see what Swamp Motel comes up with next!

Low Points:

The beginning of the experience was a bit slow, as there was a fair amount of information to go through, and only vague ideas of where the information could be applied. Just a slightly subtle clue could help move things forward a bit smoother here. Passwords were also not standardized like other games with virtual components, meaning there was a bit of guesswork in figuring out if the password included capital letters or not.

Verdict:

Plymouth Point is an astoundingly immersive experience, combining the best features of virtual escape rooms and interactive theatre in order to deliver an adventure that is truly captivating from start to finish. I recommend checking it out as soon as you can as the mystery behind the disappearances in Plymouth Point is not to be missed! Gather your team of online investigators and uncover the conspiracy here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Swamp Motel provided our team with a complementary game.