Sleuth Kings – Case 022: The Trouble With Wizards (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Alohomora!

Theme:

From the Sleuth King’s website:

Wizard Con is supposed to be one of the best conventions of the year, but Gordon Falco might disagree – someone used it to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit. A mysterious package that showed up on his doorstep is Gordon’s only hope. The sender is missing, but their offer is clear: they can give Gordon the evidence he needs to prove his innocence. The catch? Sullivan has to find and rescue them, first. Can you help Sullivan work a little magic and find the evidence he needs in order to save two men’s lives?

First Impressions:

Time to hit up a con with Sullivan King! Not the usual kind of con Sullivan deals with, but it’ll still be a lot of fun, and hey, you get a free wand out of the deal! Joking aside, this theme is ripe for interesting game play, and we were definitely enthralled by the colorful clues  included with this box! The art design of Sleuth Kings is so unique, and easily one of the things I absolutely love about each box.

High Points:

Sleuth Kings has been on a roll with the massively creative themes lately, and The Trouble With Wizards brings the crime solving to a local convention! The story is another cool set up, with an original setting coupled with a thrilling crime to create an extremely creative mystery.  The inclusion of a new character hinted at during the epilogue of Case 021, A Book A Day, helps expand the Sleuth Kings Universe further, and presents the opportunity to get to know Sullivan a little better. Wizard Con’s awesome spell book brochure, advertising posters and alcoholic potions set up a convincing group of items for this case, as well as bring a sense of whimsy to an otherwise tense life or death mystery. The clues are laid out in a convincing way, and the game flow is incredibly smooth. Each puzzle contributes part of a meta puzzle through a really excellent online interaction, and we very much enjoyed receiving new pieces of the mystery in this way. Even a certain interaction I usually find rather tedious isn’t too bad due to the way it is gradually presented.

The clues included with this mystery are especially layered, more so than usual, which is absolutely saying something! Everything seemed somewhat separate at the beginning, with only a single mysterious thing tying each one together, but as we solved, new and cleverly hidden connections began to emerge. Bringing all the clues together in this way is very satisfying, and the build towards the meta-puzzle was a fun puzzling mountain to climb. Once we had solved the case, there was a small easter egg that allowed us to continue the experience, utilizing some enigmas that we didn’t originally use during the case, which was a cool twist. This helped optionally fill in the back story, and provided a highly satisfying denouement to the experience.

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Yer a wizard, Sully!

Low Points:

We communicated with Sullivan very little during this case, and we really missed the little story breaks that usually accompany an email to Sullivan. They allow for a small respite from puzzling to deliver new story beats, which is a great feature of Sleuth Kings cases. This case felt as though it didn’t have as much build as other cases due to the absence of Sullivan’s jaunts around Dayton or spats with his grandfather when we fed him a new piece of information. This mystery also felt a little easier, and therefore quicker than usual, as one of the main puzzles that takes the most time to solve is a creative, but highly ubiquitous cipher. While it was broken up across the puzzles, keeping us from having to solve too much of it all at once, the cipher did come up a little too much for us at times.

Verdict:

Case 022: The Trouble With Wizards is a great new case that presents some interesting new characters to the meta-story. I’m very interested to see how Sullivan’s relationship with his brother will evolve, especially considering his current investigation into his father’s disappearance. This is definitely an easier case, so it’s a great jumping off point for new Sleuths, but veteran gumshoes will enjoy the story beats that are introduced during the course of this adventure. You can purchase it 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!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

Exit: The Game – The Mysterious Museum (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Night at the Museum

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

You are on a trip to the Florence Natural History Museum, intent on visiting the sunken treasure of the Santa Maria. Your relaxing day at the museum is quickly derailed by an incredible adventure! Can you solve the mysteries of the museum and find a way out?

First Impressions:

Leading off from where The Sunken Treasure left off, it’s time to visit the museum to have a look at the treasures we recovered! In pure Exit The Game fashion, however, a shady figure has arrived to make sure our adventures in Florence are much more interesting. As the Exit The Game series continues to innovate, it’s great to see that the stories are starting to intertwine, even slightly, so though this was the box I was the least interested in, it turns out that the game inside is easily a favorite.

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It’s always pleasantly surprising how much puzzling Exit: The Game contains in such a small box!

High Points:

Like The Sunken Treasure, The Mysterious Museum is a story based, linear experience. While linearity can be a problem in escape rooms, I find that the more intimate experience of an at home game really lends itself to telling the story this way. It also allows for the most surprising and crazily themed twist of any Exit game to pop off early and take us on a much wilder ride that we initially expected! Though completely linear, the puzzles require teamwork, as well as a variety of solving styles, as the interactions are quite varied. This is one of the easier games on offer from Exit, but it’s still a fun challenge, and several puzzles are simple on their face, but throw a curve ball to players in order to keep things from being too easy.

The game flow is excellent, as always, and the blend of mental challenges with the tactile and ever mysterious props brings a sense of immersion to the game as well. Our favorite puzzles were perfectly integrated into the game materials, with a couple hiding in plain sight from the start, and one a continuation of Exit’s supremely excellent inclusion of clues where you’d least expect them. The storyline is rather enjoyable, and it’s great to see the designers are willing to include a great twist early on that expands the game so much! It was definitely not what I expected from this theme and game, and the pay off works extremely well. The climax is enormously satisfying, and adds a wink and a nod that I think serves as a fun send off.

Low Points:

One puzzle in particular relies on somewhat colloquial outside knowledge, which is more forgivable in a game like this where the timer doesn’t really matter all that much, but it could still be a frustration for some. For others, it’ll be a fairly juvenile puzzle in a game usually directed towards teens and adults. There’s another puzzle which I loved, but had some background in, which, looking back, may present some difficulty due to a small lack of cluing on how to ensure the item itself activates.

Verdict:

The Mysterious Museum is supremely entertaining, and I highly recommend this one as a starting point for new players. As one of the most approachable Exit games available, it really teaches players how to solve its mysteries intuitively. Exit experts will still enjoy the lighter, but still engaging challenge and story presented by this game, as there are still some original conundrums to solve herein. Buy your copy from your friendly local game store today! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Unlock! Exotic Adventures – The Night of the Boogeymen (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-3

Price: $14.99

1, 2, Boogey’s coming for you

Theme:

Little William has been plagued with nightmares; visions of terrible boogeymen haunt his dreams every night, keeping him awake! It’s your job to help William get a good night’s sleep by exorcising these hideous monsters from his bedroom. But be quick, because the monsters are keen on devouring his dreams and replacing them with horrific nightmares! Beat the boogeymen and don’t wake William!

First Impressions:

The easiest of the newest set of Unlock! adventures tends to be the cutest, and is many times one of the stand out games every time a new set of three releases. Night of the Boogeymen was certainly a very interesting theme, and the box cover seemed appropriately equal parts cute and spooky, so I was definitely interested to see how the game play held up.

High Points:

The art style throughout the game is really fantastic, the designs for the boogeymen are mildly threatening while keeping up a spooky vibe without veering off into family unfriendliness. Which is good, as this set is definitely the most family focused entry since the return of Dr. NoSide. The puzzles and game set up do a great job of instilling a sense of derealization to the game, causing the familiar feeling of the bedroom to become surreal and somewhat eerie. The puzzles line up well with this theme, using a dreamlike logic to tie everything together. The boogeyman mechanic is interesting, presenting a series of mini-boss like stages to the game, and while an attached mechanic is somewhat ill advised, (more on that below,) the splitting up of the game into stages of boogeyman battles is a fun one. Rather than presenting multiple rooms, the game takes you through parts of the room that each boogeyman inhabits, and it’s fun to see how they affect each area. The game is mostly non-linear to a point, however, so it still can keep a larger group puzzling, though I wouldn’t approach with any more than four players, per usual for this type of game.

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The boogiest of men!

Low Points:

Puzzles sometimes become entirely too dreamlike in places, requiring logical leaps that don’t quite make full sense, but work anyway. Several moments of old school adventure game logic carried a couple of the interactions, leading us to need to smush whatever we could together until we finally arrived at a correct conclusion. Though the puzzles were mostly good and present a serviceable game, they aren’t amazingly memorable. None really stood out to me as excellently creative or beyond the usual for Unlock! games. Overall, they were just fine. There are a couple of gotcha moments as well, which present reasonable answers just to pop you with a negative penalty just because. Generally, negative feedback shouldn’t come from doing something reasonable, or something that the game urges you to do, but Night of the Boogeymen absolutely does. Worse, one of the results is a card that outright tells you they’re wasting your time. None of this really drove the experience forward, and once we’d dealt with the issue, nothing was added to the adventure or storyline, it was just a speedbump for speedbump’s sake.

On that note, a new mechanic for this box is called “Constraints.” Negative effects that come into play when a boogeyman is revealed. These are mostly arbitrary conditions that I recommend completely ignoring, as they don’t really add anything to the game. There is a small story related reason for their inclusion, (thus their categorization as mostly arbitrary,) but they certainly didn’t add any fun to the game, so we quickly cast them aside in favor of just playing normally. Obviously, if you get to them and find them interesting, go ahead and use them, but this is one of those times when throwing out a rule made the game much more fun for us, which I generally encourage, having a background in Tabletop RPGs.

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Highly recommend completely ignoring these cards unless you think they’ll be fun. 

Verdict:

Night of the Boogeymen is a serviceable Unlock! adventure, and certainly one of the most family friendly, but looking back on it, the game is just OK. Good enough for an hour’s fun, but ultimately not very memorable, with some mechanics that serve to frustrate rather than entertain. I’d give it a shot if you’ve already played the other Unlock! boxes, but until then, there are much better adventures to be had. We bought ours at the ever excellent Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

6/10 (Alright)

Sleuth Kings: Case 021 – A Book A Day (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Poor Bear.

Theme:

From the Sleuth King’s website:

Jen Hunker and Sullivan’s mom spent their lives creating a non-profit organization called A Book A Day. Now, the FBI has accused Jen of using the program to smuggle drugs and is threatening to arrest her and shut it down. Sullivan and his grandfather, Samuel, have agreed to work together in order to clear Jen’s name, but even that might not be enough. Unless they’re able to find the real smuggler – and fast – A Book A Day will be destroyed. Can you help Sullivan clear Jen’s name and save the organization that his mom devoted herself to?

First Impressions:

I didn’t quite know what to expect with this box, theme wise, but when we started retrieving the evidence from our Case envelope, I could tell we were in for another awesomely quirky Sleuth Kings case! We received what looked to be some pages from a cute pet themed children’s book (that involved the world’s most put-upon teddy bear,) an adorable bookmark, and some notes and flyers from A Book A Day, all of which peaked our interest. It certainly looked like a great time on the surface, but how did it play? Spoiler alert: It played fantastically.

High Points:

This might just be the cutest Sleuth Kings mystery ever, but it certainly does not skimp on the mystery and puzzles! The difficulty curve is one of the smoothest I’ve seen for the series, starting off with an easy win to start things off, and culminating in some of the most original and exciting puzzles we’ve solved with this subscription yet! The props are used in intuitive and creative ways, and parts of the game we figured were finished came back with even more layered puzzling to do. It was very satisfying to dig so many clues out of these items, and most of them were extremely well hidden until we had uncovered a piece of information that tied everything together. Though we ran through this one a little quicker than usual, it definitely wasn’t because this game was overly simplistic, rather, it just clicked for us through the game flow.

Speaking of the game flow, it kept a great pace throughout, leaving no real lulls or moments where we were at a loss for what to do next. One particular puzzle required a bit more pondering than the others, but the investigation didn’t feel stalled, rather, there was just a bit more sleuthing to do! The storyline for this case is a lot of fun, and Samuel, Sullivan’s grandfather, returns for more crotchety old man antics. Sullivan and Samuel’s interactions are great, and a light hearted way to progress the mystery. There are excellent easter eggs hearkening back to previous cases, as well as some literary ones as well during the Kings’ trip to the library. The climax of the adventure is fantastic, and reveals some information that might expand the Sleuth Kings Universe in the future, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!

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This case is the inspiration for the new book, Luna and Friends Take Down the Drug Smuggling Ring.

Low Points:

One clue requires a passing familiarity with a certain type of cipher in order to complete without the Clue Analysis, I feel. Luckily, we busted that one without the clues since we enjoy the slightly more difficult version, but some players may need to pop over to the Analysis just for this one if they don’t have this familiarity. It’s mostly obvious, but for newer players, it might present a bigger logical leap.

Verdict:

We loved working through Case 021 – A Book A Day, and always enjoy the quirky and splendidly put together themes that Sleuth Kings delivers! I think this one would especially be a great start for new players, as well as a solid entry for veteran Sleuths. I can certainly say you can’t go wrong with this case. You can purchase it 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!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Sanitarium (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?

Theme:

Return to Saturn Hills Asylum, where yet another murderer has struck! This time, a newly hired nurse has been found dead, and a few mysterious clues are baffling local authorities. It’s up to the Deadbolt Mystery Society to crack the case, and determine if there isn’t more to this killing than meets the eye.

First Impressions:

Asylum, one of Deadbolt’s first mystery boxes, remains one of our favorites. I had great props, a chilling mystery, and a rogue’s gallery that was second to none. When Sanitarium was announced, I was thrilled to hear we’d be returning to the harrowing halls of Saturn Hills. Though we were introduced to an all new cast of crazed characters, this new caper was absolutely a satisfying sequel.

High Points:

Sanitarium follows up the amazing Infected with another elegantly crafted and interestingly themed adventure. The recent boxes have been even more creative than usual, with themes that really catch our attention. Though Sanitarium is a spiritual sequel of sorts to Asylum, in that it returns to Saturn Hills, the story itself is all new, and has plenty of surprises right out of the box. The conspiracy runs deep here, and the murder committed is much more complex than initially realized. I love that the suspects were all part of a RPG group, and this element of the game makes the usual suspect elimination mechanic of Deadbolt even more engaging than usual. The cast remains just as colorful as Asylum’s, and though there are fewer suspects in general, they remain larger than life personalities that will haunt your investigation throughout!

The game flow is superb as always, and the puzzles vary from simple wins to deeply layered mind games. As a non-linear experience, there’s always plenty to do, and when we were stuck, we could easily pop over to another piece of evidence for a while until a lightbulb went off in our heads. Some of the more challenging puzzles we solved within this box were enormously creative, and may be the most satisfying moments of revelation we’ve gotten from Deadbolt. I continue to feel the more escape room like vibe from this box, and though it isn’t quite as escape room-y as Infected, it still scratches that itch well for me.

The story is twisty, and new turns are always exciting as puzzles are solved and the narrative develops. Each bit of story satisfies while adding further mystery to the experience, and the climax and epilogue are great at tying up the game while planting some conspiratorial seeds in the fertile soil of Valley Falls. It really does feel like something bigger is afoot throughout, and we were and still are raring to find out how everything will culminate!

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Murder, mayhem, and a quick game of Wastelands of Warael!

Low Points:

Many of the clues for this box were hidden within readings of interviews, which we don’t generally mind, but the text did feel more dense this go round, and I know some folks aren’t fans of that sort of thing. Other than that, I can’t think of anything that could be categorized as a low point!

Verdict:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society continues to knock it out of the park with their newest boxes, setting up new and increasingly threatening conspiracies throughout the town of Valley Falls. It feels like something is building, and we are excited to see what’s coming next, as these newest themes have been ultra creative and fantastically fun. If you’re not a subscriber already, you should be! 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!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

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