The Conundrum Box – Welcome to Wilde World (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Big abandoned theme park? What could go wrong?

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

Its a great big beautiful tomorrow.

Explore a 1970s theme park stuck in suspended animation since its founder, William Wilde disappeared mysteriously. Delve into the secrets he left behind, but hurry because someone else is trying to discover the true magic behind Wilde’s legacy and use that power for themselves! This fun-filled adventure will have your team solving amusement park themed puzzles and games. Suitable for all ages, the difficulty is set for new to intermediate players.

First Impressions:

Welcome to Wilde World seemed to be a theme perfect for my wife, Kara. A whimsical theme park full of mystery and animated characters that paid homage to the House of Mouse is just her speed, and the densely packed purple box of puzzles is just mine, so things were already set for an excellent time!

High Points:

The first couple things I noticed about Welcome to Wilde World were two of my favorite things about at home puzzling subscription boxes. One was a Wilde World tote bag, a useful item we can use outside of the game, something that is always appreciated! The other was a 3D printed item for tactile puzzling that also doubled as a large fidget spinner. As we built this item, I was highly anticipating the puzzle to come, as I really love tactile puzzling like this. The theme of the box is ubiquitous throughout, and is visually very cool to pore over. I loved the colorful designs and shifting themes between each of the distinct areas of the theme park, all of which tie into the puzzles well to create a fully fleshed out experience. The Conundrum Box really gets a lot of mileage out of their main attractions, and this experience was no exception. I really love coming back to the big props and using them again, discovering clues and solutions that were hidden right in front of us, locked away until we had just the right information to reveal the satisfying ah ha moments! And there are quite a few of those within, as a few of our favorite puzzles took us by surprise with their well hidden moments of revelation.

The story is a lot of fun, presenting a linear run thorough Wilde World, popping nice homages for fans of a certain other huge theme park in here and there, and integrating some story bits into the puzzles to keep things moving along at a nice pace. One particular puzzle presents a silly narration that was not only a lot of fun to solve, but the jokes were pretty funny, and reminded me of one of my favorite Weird Al originals. I won’t name it for spoilers sake, but it was stuck in my head for a while after our solve. The narration for this puzzle was pretty long, which wasn’t an issue since we solved the puzzle while listening the first time, but there was also a transcript included, so we weren’t worried about having to listen to the whole thing again should we need to find a particular piece of information. There was also a bonus puzzle included within the box, which was a nice teaser for what’s to come!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle deals with colors, and a couple of the colors are off, and a few of them look similar to one another. The inexactness tripped us up a lot, especially since my wife is a little bit color blind. There was another puzzle that was a good idea in general, but the process took a while, so the puzzle itself wore out its welcome with us well before we had finished. There was also an addition into this puzzle that seemed important, but ended up being a red herring with no bearing on the solve. There is also a particular puzzle type included near the end that we tried several times, but the instructions were overly convoluted, so we ended up having to skip it as it just had way too much going on for a really long process puzzle. We recently played this style of puzzle, but simplified, and it remained just as challenging, but much more satisfying to solve since there were not as many moving parts to keep track of, so it would be awesome if future puzzles of this style were streamlined in the future.

Verdict:

Though there were a few stumbling blocks with Welcome to Wilde World, it was an overall satisfying solve. It was certainly a more challenging adventure, so enthusiasts who are looking a bit more difficult than the usual will find a lot to love within. The puzzles are still approachable, and have a few great surprises up their sleeves, however, so patient newcomers will also be able to have a good time with this one. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary review copy.

Ellusion Adventure Games – The Labyrinth: Prequel Puzzles (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $18 for the Prequel Pack (Reviewed here), $195 for the Standard Edition of The Labyrinth, and $275 for the Deluxe Edition (Fancy!)

Twists and turns

Theme:

From the The Labyrinth Kickstater:

A crate full of unique physical puzzles, and the story of a lost civilization. Solve the puzzles. Find the treasure. Escape the maze. The Labyrinth is a unique multi-platform experience unlike any other – a combination of an escape room, puzzle hunt, mystery novel, and alternate reality game. You will receive a crate full of everything you need to participate in the challenge from the comfort of your home, including engaging physical hands-on puzzles, puzzle boxes, an online forum, models, photos, printed maps, tools, and ciphers. The goal of the challenge is to move through the rooms of a mythical labyrinth, solve the different clues in each room, and advance to the  center. Each puzzle leads into the next,  and to solve them all,  you will need to think outside of the box!

First Impressions:

The Labyrinth Puzzle Challenge appeared on Kickstarter in July, and was immediately intriguing. Promising to be filled with physical puzzles, and strange items, it certainly had my attention. After speaking with the creators, they asked if I’d be interested in trying out their prequel packet, which, of course I was!

High Points:

I didn’t quite know what to expect going in to the Prequel Pack for The Labyrinth. I knew there would be a run of puzzles, and a few artifacts to toy with, but upon opening up the pack, I was immediately drawn to one item in particular. As I had opened the package a few days in advance, I was chided multiple times for puzzling over it before we were meant to begin working on the puzzles. It was just too cool not to play with! Of course, this item was solved well in advance, but luckily it wasn’t a timed experience, so I can’t be faulted for, say, not listening to the intro and starting to solve puzzles around an escape room. Which I’ve never done, definitely not. This is all to say that the tactile interactions that are included within this pack are great, and I always love when an original design like this is included within these sorts of games. Obvious care has been taken to ensure that each prop is not only well designed, but fits into the lore of the game, and at no point did I feel like any of the puzzles we were solving were included as filler or “because puzzle box.” I really enjoyed digging up the subtle lore of the adventure as we solved, and once we finished up the experience and checked our answers with the designers, a great denouement and lead in to the full adventure was included, further piquing my interest in the full Labyrinth experience.

The puzzles are a good taster for Ellusion Adventure Games design sensibilities, and I feel like their logical style flowed well throughout the experience. There was a complete freedom in what we would work on at any time, with a completely non-linear experience that directed towards one final meta-puzzle to tie everything together. The adventure was of a more advanced difficulty, and while we did have a few critiques here and there, the overall mystery was challenging without being obtuse or frustrating. There is some googling, and while that can be very hit or miss with us, the inclusion within this experience does present some nice “reality blending,” heightening immersion and keeping players engaged within the world-building. I think enthusiasts will have a lot of fun working through this set of puzzles, as it definitely appeals to those seeking a somewhat higher challenge, but the hint system is well set up to ensure that even those newer to the puzzling hobby will be able to have a good time solving at their own pace.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle could use a mite bit more direction. It feels like it could go several places, depending on how it is interpreted, so I didn’t really feel confident in the solve for a while. Eventually we got there, but it felt a little bit like we were guessing and checking rather than putting together the clues to come to a solution. One late game puzzle had several steps to follow, but the very first was somewhat vaguely worded, making the rest of the solve tenuous. A particular important item for this solve was also difficult to read, so it might help for future versions of this prop to be printed in a somewhat more high definition manner. One interaction is super cool, but wasn’t precise enough to direct us precisely, so there was a bit more guess and check involved with this item. The ending of the puzzle set wasn’t 100% clear to us, but I think that was more a symptom of these being prototypes, rather than the full experience, so I’m sure this will be clearer once everything has been finalized.

Also, the Goblin King doesn’t make an appearance. Wrong Labyrinth, I suppose.

Verdict:

The Labyrinth’s Prequel puzzles are very creative, and though there are a few spots that felt just a bit too vague, the experience is, on the whole, extremely creative and a blast to work through. It is especially cool to see how well designed the props, lore, and puzzles are for this ambitious project, and I look forward to seeing how Ellusion Adventure Games continues to evolve! I recommend checking out the prequel pack, and should that pique your interest, upgrade to the full adventure! Begin your journey into the Labyrinth here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Ellusion Adventure Games provided a complementary sample pack.

Blue Fish Games – The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $17 per box or bundle with The Curious Elevator for $51

It’s no Peculiar People Mover, but it’ll do nicely.

Theme:

From the Blue Fish Games website:

If The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks was a book, The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks would be its prequel novella. Which should I play first? Both are stand-alone games that don’t need to be played in a certain order. That being said, Play the elevator first! The Elevator introduces you to the world of Hincks and ramps up the challenge level slowly, The Stairs throws you into the deep end right away!

First Impressions:

Team Blue Fish seems to have a finger on the pulse of what sort of puzzles I like, as evidenced by their other fantastic products, The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks and The Hincks Gazette. When The Curious Stairs was announced, I knew I had to play it as soon as possible! The second it arrived, I wanted to tear into it, seeking out its puzzling secrets, but had to wait a couple of interminably long days in order to finally crack it open. It was well worth the wait.

High Points:

The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks makes its home in a deceptively small box. Upon cracking it open, however, I found there were a lot more props than I had originally expected to see. Though there are only four stages of the game, each stage is filled to the brim with puzzling! I say stages because each one is a multi step (ha!) process that engages several props that all tie into mini puzzle hunts of their own. The process of solving each of these puzzles is part of the fun, as there isn’t any direct hint as to what needs to be done on the surface, but with some outside the box thinking and a generous application of logic, the solutions reveal themselves in an intuitive and immensely satisfying way! Each prop is used to its fullest, and I love how the many layers of puzzling build atop one another until the final code word or phrase reveals itself. Blue Fish Games are masters of creating intricate webs of puzzling, and I think the amazingly well constructed design is what I love most about their products. Though many of the previous Hincks products present mainly word games and puzzles, (which isn’t a bad thing, in my estimation,) this particular game is an evolution that goes beyond the usual paradigm to present an astounding run of varied puzzles. One in particular is a puzzle that involves moving around a map using a prescribed set of rules, something I’ve tended to dislike in the past, but Blue Fish Games has somehow managed to take this puzzle style, streamline it, and make it one of my favorite puzzles they’ve created to date!

The experience is strictly linear, but flows beautifully, with just enough built in clues to ensure players are never stuck for too long in any one section. The intuitive nature of the game is slyly hidden, and doesn’t feel as though it is holding your hand, simply guiding you though a fantastic wonderland of puzzling. The game itself took us a little over an hour and a half, which is about the same run time as The Curious Elevator, so there’s definitely a good amount of play time wrapped up in this small box, and for $17, it’s an absolute steal. I am consistently astounded at how beautifully crafted each experience Blue Fish Games produces is, and how tightly designed their puzzles are, and can say without hesitation that whatever new experience they develop next, I am here for it. Here’s hoping it’s the Peculiar People Mover. Or maybe a in depth, puzzling adventure starring The Curious Corn Chip of Mr. Hincks…

Low Points:

The final puzzle is great, but can be a bit more confusing than I think was originally intended due to there being a bit of extraneous information included that can lead down a couple of unintentional red herring rabbit holes. The puzzle is challenging in its own right, so tightening up this particular section won’t make it too easy, but rather remove the only bit of frustration we came across with this game.

Verdict:

As always, Blue Fish Games has come up with another brilliant puzzling masterpiece! Though The Curious Stairs is a much more challenging experience, the conundrums included are always fair, clever, and amazingly satisfying to solve. While there are fewer individual puzzle stages, they are even more layered and intricate than those included with The Curious Elevator, making this a great follow up to that game. I absolutely recommend giving this one a shot, especially if you’re an existing fan of the Hincksiverse. Start your climb up the Curious Staircase here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Blue Fish Games provided a complementary box.

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.