The Adventure is Real – Agent Venture (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review is brought to you by me! 😀

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 4-5 (We recommend 4 players)

Price: £8.00 – £10.00 (About $9.89-12.36 at the time of this writing.)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Your mission, if you choose to accept it…

Theme:

From the The Adventure is Real website:

Become a team of secret agents, and execute a daring heist from the comfort of your own home. ​ With a live cast, and digital clues to guide you, all you need is a computer and phone to play online. Can you and your friends pull together to save the day and expose the crimes of an evil corporation? Every Secret Agent needs a world class support team, and this time, that’s you.

First Impressions:

We were excited to once again partner up with the Escape the Roomers for this heist game! When they emailed us about choosing a character role (with specific tasks that we would be individually doing), I was a bit apprehensive. It was not a game format I have personally played in our recent string of online games, and I did not seem to clearly fit any of the role descriptions we were provided. But, I was determined to do my part!

High Points:

We were introduced to the game by our “on-site” avatar, Agent Venture, who started off by going over all the player roles and setting up the format of the game. To my great relief, the description for my character role – the Hacker – was actually quite on point in creating expectations. We had all received a link to our character’s materials, and after hearing our Agent’s explanation, I found it easy to navigate the files due to their helpful instructions and formatting. I also really appreciated how easy it was to figure out what information was needed on each page and what information from the puzzles would produce the answers my team needed from me.

This was a choose-your-own adventure type of game-play, and our experience was largely guided by our own decisions. This provided quite a bit of flexibility of options, and (after discussing the game afterwards) the creators seemed to have been fairly thorough about the different avenues we could choose. Thus, this game design allows for multiple re-plays if you are interested and want to see the different ways the story can lead.

Of course, this takes a lot of adaptability on our game master’s part, and our Agent Venture turned out to be a fantastic guide. He was crucial to making this online experience immersive and I thought he did a fantastic job. He reacted naturally to any decision we made without seeming to miss a beat, and provided game-relevant roadblocks if we ever came up with something that would not work – all the while staying in character. It is definitely not an easy thing to do! He provided us with some great and funny interactions, and showed us through quite an enjoyable story.

This game design also encouraged (read: required) a lot of teamwork and communication from each player since our characters had distinct sets of knowledge and abilities. Though it was a little bit of unknown territory in the beginning, we quickly realized what type of information each of us had and were able to put our different pieces together to figure out what to do. Our Agent was good at helping to guide us if we need any help interpreting or putting ideas together as well.

I found my character’s role to be quite balanced in terms of playtime and the puzzles I had to work with. For the first two-thirds of the game, our team’s decisions led to a large reliance on the Hacker. I really appreciated the difficulty curve, as I am not used to these type of puzzles and was happy for some simpler ones to introduce and get me used to the solving method. (I do admit needing to screen share on some of the harder puzzles though.) When we got to the last third of the game, I was happy that the Hacker’s involvement became more of a supporting role. Prior to this, most of the Hacker-specific puzzles involved a lot of the same solving method, but the latter puzzles allowed for more varied support to the other characters without excluding me completely.

Agent Venture

Pondering Points:

As all choose-your-own-adventure, roleplaying type of games are, your experience will be – you guessed it – heavily based on your own choices and your character role. While this certainly produces many positives, it is important to keep this interactive design in mind with how it might affect your game experience.

I actually lucked out quite a bit in choosing the Hacker character because I seemed to have the most involvement throughout all the game activities, even if I was just providing support. I think this could have been just as easily something another teammate could have experienced instead if our team had made some different choices. However, given my involvement in the multi-player component puzzles, I wonder if the others could have had more “screen time”, even with the Hacker-heavy activities. Admittedly, it is possible I just took a long time to solve things so the downtime for my teammates was more noticeable. Though, this did give them the opportunity to read over all the materials their characters were given.

One thing everyone missed out on was seeing what everyone else could see in their character’s materials. Of course, I definitely understand why the game is setup in this way (and it helps provide a really great and unique experience!), but as the Hacker I didn’t get a lot of the interesting story information that I think my teammates were privy to. And apparently, had we chosen different routes along the way, we could have unlocked some more fascinating details about the non-player characters. (Though, this does add to the re-playability incentive!) If your team dynamic is compatible with it, I might suggest taking advantage of screen sharing with any of the characters – at the very least at the end of the game to see what type of information each of you are/were working with.

Verdict:

Agent Venture was a fun and immersive game, and provided a great platform for each player to make their own unique contribution. I would certainly recommend them for anyone looking for a outside the box way to connect during the pandemic or across long distances! Book your time guiding Agent Venture here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Adventure is Real provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crack-A-Nut Mysteries – Root of All Evil (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $155

It’s not so simple as money…

Theme:

From the Root of All Evil Facebook page:

A mysterious crate arrives on your doorstep packed with aged ephemera and artifacts. You are a character in this interactive-literature told through an old journal, newspaper clippings and other peculiar objects. Follow a newly ordained priest as he battles his demons – both real and imagined. Decode puzzles and solve the mystery surrounding an eerie tree on the grounds of the Northern Michigan Asylum. Can you locate the ritual and save the soul of the damned without sacrificing yourself in the process?

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First Impressions:

Root of All Evil arrived at our doorstep along with four other mystery experiences in early June. It was like an early escapist’s Christmas! I hadn’t told my wife it was coming, and she was confused about the weird box that arrived for her. After explaining what it was, (she’s not a huge fan of horror, so I didn’t let it get too immersive,) she was very intrigued! However, the first order of business was to somehow crack open this box that had been nailed shut…

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High Points:

As a narrative experience, Root of All Evil has immersion down pat. From the aged, nailed tight box to the many physical props, including a fantastic centerpiece that ties everything together hauntingly, not one item felt out of place within this experience.  Our favorite part was somewhat surprising to us, as the centerpiece of the experience is a journal that took each of us a little over an hour to read while taking notes. Usually we get burned out reading, but this journal is so superbly written, that once we started, we had to finish! The characterization and world building is incredibly convincing, and drew us into the world of Root of All Evil immediately. We usually play games of this sort together and solve in tandem, but due to the set up of this particular experience, we found that a sort of “solo play, but with joint discussions” made more sense. After we’d finished up the main reading portion, we shared our theories and discoveries with each other, and pored over the other items included within the box. As we made connections, we took on several of the puzzles together, and spent the next couple days mulling the items we left on our game table at our leisure, sometimes making satisfying breakthroughs with the puzzles, and other times just appreciating the beautiful props included, or reading back over our notes in an effort to puzzle over the situation we (fictionally) found ourselves in!

Working through Root of All Evil is a great time, and a lot of care has been taken to make sure this experience feels as realistic as possible. My wife said she truly felt creeped out by the narrative, and as we revealed some pieces of the enigma we had previously only read about, the mystery became even more immersive. There are several points of discovery that are immensely satisfying, and there’s quite a bit to find within this hauntingly beautiful adventure. The climax was exciting, and the developers really spared no effort to ensure that it feels like you’ve truly finished the experience by completing the main objective of the mystery.

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Low Points:

The puzzles within the box are good, but those expecting the mystery to be puzzle focused may be somewhat disappointed. In our experience, solving puzzles tended to either reveal something we already knew, or give us slightly more story, rather than immediately further the experience. Many puzzles are some form of code breaking, so your enjoyment of this facet really depends on how much you enjoy this sort of thing. We did, and there are some well hidden clues, but as the experience is designed to focus on narrative and be solvable without doing the puzzles, so it can feel as though the codes are very secondary. When working towards the ultimate goal of the adventure, sometimes we thought we might like a clue, and were able to get in touch via the Root of All Evil Facebook page, but a self service hint system might work better for players, and prevent questions from needing to be answered personally. Those looking to play this one in a big group may find it somewhat difficult, as my wife and I found the experience really lends itself to solo play, especially when reading the main portion of the game, as previously mentioned, however, this didn’t affect our ability to still enjoy the game together.

Verdict:

Root of All Evil is a beautifully designed and wonderfully written narrative experience that immerses players within its world from start to finish, challenging unwitting participants to uncover an ancient evil, and put an end to the horrors this Pandora’s box releases. Though we would’ve loved the puzzles to have had a bit more bearing on the experience, we did enjoy what was there, and can say that we definitely recommend checking this one out! Begin to dig up the Root of All Evil here! (Click Shop Now to purchase.)

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Crack-A-Nut Mysteries provided a complementary copy.

Sleuth Kings – Case 033: Death of a Stuntman (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Sullest just can’t catch a break…

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

John Malvone is dead and his killer is ready to strike again. What was supposed to be a harmless murder mystery dinner has turned into a deadly party. Nobody knows what the killer wants, but one thing is clear: if they don’t play his game, Sullivan and Celest are next. Can you help Sullivan and Celest put a stop to the twisted party before they end up dead?

First Impressions:

Though this is a Sullest case, furthering the whirlwind romance of Sullivan and Celest that began with Case 011: Midnight Secrets, I’m taking back over the reigns for reviewing this one from Kara, which is a shock I’m sure! I’ve enjoyed the evolving meta story between these two, and am glad to see that they still can’t manage to stay out of trouble, even during their pending nuptials!

High Points:

We always enjoy Sullest cases, and Death of a Stuntman is no exception. While a self contained mystery on its own, it furthers the interweaving story line, and gives some interesting updates on the characters; one especially shocking! The story was great, including some fantastic characterization, as well as some new revelations on a particular, sometimes contentious relationship, and the ending presents a great twist! In fact, some veteran players will no doubt enjoy some of the subtle foreshadowing that precedes the ultimate climax. This case does a great job of “inviting” players to the murder mystery/engagement party while still presenting an interesting, high stakes case to solve. The props are great, and fit in with the theme of a murder mystery dinner party well, and the tactile nature helps players feel more involved with the story. Certain bits of the game that generally remain constant from case to case are excellently changed up in order to fit this game’s more personal theme, and touches like these are always exciting to see.

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The puzzles are fantastic, and I really enjoyed how the game started off with a somewhat easy, but supremely creative, win. The solution was elegant, and involved a little bit of thinking outside the box to determine the correct way of looking at things, leading to a great ah ha moment to get the ball rolling, from there, the game flow is mostly smooth, with one speed bump that was compounded by our overthinking, which I’ll talk about more in a minute. As we worked through the clues and uncovered new bits of information, we were able to intuitively put together the pieces as we moved through the linear game flow, and though we short circuited one part, we do see what that particular part of the game was going for. The difficulty curve is good, and directs into some really interesting challenges towards the end, and I think even the most hardened Sleuth Kings veterans will find an excellent challenge within this case.

Low Points:

One clue is a bit unclear, leading us to jump directly over a specific step. This led to us solving one of the final puzzles the hardest way possible, and while we were able to crack that particular nut, it would’ve been somewhat easier had the cluing been clearer, directing us along the game path. This is partially our fault, as we probably should’ve realized that this particular level of difficulty probably wasn’t intended, but it does give us dubious bragging rights for solving this one on an unintended hardcore mode! We went back to the puzzle we skipped in order to see what we had missed, and the set up for this logic based puzzle was somewhat confusing, which may have exacerbated things somewhat. One particular puzzle will look familiar to veteran Sleuth Kings detectives, but we haven’t seen this one in a while, and it is tweaked slightly to keep things relatively fresh, so it is a minor point.

Verdict:

The wedding bells for Sullivan and Celest are ringing louder and louder, but the mysteries don’t let up! We loved working through this case’s creative puzzles and uncovering the excellent story within. Though long time sleuths will get the most out of the meta story, this is still a great mystery for newcomers, and I recommend it fully. You can purchase this and other previous cases from the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, you can use the promo code ESCAPEADVENTURE to get $5 off your subscription here! You can also read the rest of our Sleuth Kings reviews here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

BrainXcape – Room 228: Do Not Disturb (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 2-4 players)

Price: $49 for up to 2 devices, $15 for each additional device

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

You may never want to leave!

Theme:

From the BrainXcape website:

Locked in the hotel by a madman. Trapped and tormented me for days Thank god you picked up. Please, tell me what to do.  Help me, HELP ME.

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First Impressions:

BrainXcape is one of those spots we’ve heard a lot about, and really have wanted to check out, but haven’t gotten the opportunity yet. Luckily, even though we’re stuck at home due to COVID-19, we are able to virtually travel to New York and try out their new virtual escape!

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High Points:

Room 228: Do Not Disturb has a beautiful set, the same one that is used for their Haunted Hotel live game. In fact, this is one of those games in which we would love to be there live, as the whole experience from a set design standpoint was astounding! This game is completely different from the live version, allowing even those who have visited before to enjoy a brand new run of puzzles and story. The game itself is very immersive, and almost feels like live interactive theatre, as no pre-game rules or briefing was included, and our experience started with the in room avatar reaching out to us for help in escaping his captivity. The avatar was our only line to the game world, with no dedicated game master beyond them, but he assisted in searching the room and helping reveal certain key points by subtly guiding us around. They played an excellent character, though at times I did think it felt somewhat less interactive than we were used to. The inventory system is great, and ties into the immersion of the room as well by also providing some backstory on the hotel, as well as integrating into puzzles seamlessly. Game flow was mostly linear, and it was fairly intuitive, minus some late game interactions, and all the puzzles followed a stream of logic that didn’t fall into the territory of enormous leaps or red herrings. The immersive theatre nature of the game was definitely the selling point however, as most puzzles felt secondary to the storyline.

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Low Points:

Though the climax of the room was interesting, the game just ended, cutting off our zoom meeting and falling sort of flat overall. One of the best part of escape rooms is having a chat with the game master or owner after to ask questions about the rooms and generally debrief with your team, but in this case, we were suddenly cut off. The puzzles included were fairly simple, and there weren’t a huge amount to work through, so as an experienced group, we blew through the experience quickly. This game, as it stood when we played it, would probably be great for new players, but enthusiasts might be disappointed with the simpler nature of this game. One escape room cliche was used a few times, and wasn’t terribly well clued, leading us to perform a few aimless actions in order to get certain parts of the game to trigger.

Verdict:

Room 228: Do Not Disturb is a fun diversion built specifically for a virtual audience, and we had a fun time working through the puzzles, but I would recommend a few more interactions and some debrief time after the game in order to round out the experience for more experienced players. New players are going to have an excellent time here, but I’d recommend enthusiasts go in with tempered expectations overall. I do think the game is still worth checking out for the story and room design alone, however. Book your time in Room 228 here!

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7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: BrainXcape provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Mystery Mansion Regina – Night Terrors (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $26.25 CAD per person (About $19.33 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 75 minutes

Sweet dreams…

Theme:

From the Mystery Mansion Regina website:

After finding one of his childhood drawings, Alex is suddenly plagued by nightmares of the “Sleepyman.” Seeking to rid himself of these nightmares, Alex turns to a hypnotherapist.

Playing the role of his subconscious, you will need to help Alex figure out what is causing his nightmares… before it’s too late.

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First Impressions:

Night Terrors was one of those games I’ve had my eye on since first seeing that it was being advertised in one of the many Escape Room Enthusiast groups I’m a part of. The creepy theme and promise of a seventy five minute room is always an easy way to capture my attention!

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High Points:

I was thrilled to find that Night Terrors was designed exclusively as a remote escape game. While a lot of games being offered remotely are existing live games that have been adjusted in order to cater to a remote audience, I’ve not seen very many games of this sort that were built from the ground up to be played online. This ensures that every puzzle is integrated excellently for a zoom call, and the story line is set up brilliantly in order to immerse players within the world of The Sleepyman. From the word go, we became Alex’s subconscious, greeting him when he awoke in his nightmare, guiding him around in order to discover the many puzzles, and disturbing him with eerily accurate Old Gregg impressions. Alex remained in character the full time, delivering an immersive and character driven experience, despite our constant joke cracking, and we had a great time leading him through his nightmare, uncovering old memories, and unlocking the secrets he thought he’d forgotten! Points during the game where Alex recovers specific memories are well implemented, mechanically and thematically, and there were always astounding new surprises to find within the creepy bedroom. Atmosphere is excellent, and ensures that players are kept on their toes, waiting for the next horrific shoe to drop. The climax of the room is fantastic, tying off loose ends and keeping us guessing until the end.

The game flow of this room is astounding, with subtle cluing and excellent gating that ensures players remain focused on the task at hand, while providing an excellent challenge throughout.  There are certainly enough puzzles to keep a team busy for the full seventy five minutes, and while the game is mostly a linear experience due to the nature of online escape rooms, I never felt like there was a moment in which we weren’t engaged. Interactions are insanely clever, with some fantastic thematic touches here and there, as well as a penultimate puzzle that ties together a few bits we thought were just presented in passing to keep things spooky. Even the linear game flow focused through a single GM allows for moments of teamwork, which is always a triumph of design, and honestly, even times where I tried to step back a little to watch others work, I still felt fully involved with the game. A few of my favorite puzzles included small hints as to how they worked, and deducing their importance provided some great moments of revelation! On the whole, working through this room was immensely satisfying, and will remain one of my favorite escape adventures during this quarantine.

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Low Points:

Really, the only thing I can think of we weren’t quite so keen on in this room was there is a particular clue that is somewhat vague, and seemed to communicate one thing to us, when the opposite was true. This led to us spending a fair amount of time spinning our wheels until we finally took a clue to clarify things. We spoke with the owners however, and they seemed interested in clarifying this clue in order to ensure it wasn’t confusing.

Verdict:

I’d love to see the world of The Sleepyman explored more, and would jump at the chance to play another room that relates to this story, as the puzzles were just as clever as the story! Night Terrors is one of the most immersive remote games available to date, and highly accessible to new players while simultaneously delivering a challenge worthy of a veteran group. I absolutely recommend giving this game a shot as soon as possible. Book your time within Alex’s nightmare here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

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