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.

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.

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.