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

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $35 per box

I say!

Theme:

From the Blue Fish Games website:

Inventor Stephen P. Hincks has been tirelessly developing a set of confounding puzzles and he is now ready to present them to you.

Solve his enigmas by pairing mysterious physical materials contained in this cryptic parcel with clues from the online elevator. Use the browser-based elevator to verify solutions and navigate through the floors.

Are you ready to outsmart Mr. Hincks and add your name to the Hincks Hall of Fame?

First Impressions:

When The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks hit my doorstep, I was already excited to take a peek inside, as I was interested to see what sort of puzzling props and confounding curios were included to help us ascend the titular elevator. I was pleased to see a colorful and varied assortment of interesting pieces, and couldn’t wait to see how they all fit together during out journey on Mr. Hicks’s Curious Elevator! (And fit together they did, as this is one of those rare boxes where literally everything was important!)

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High Points:

As a little background, I have a love/hate relationship with puzzle hunts. DASH and Puzzled Pint are generally some good ones that I’ve enjoyed, but far too often puzzle hunts are wildly obtuse, poorly designed games that require players to read the minds of the designers. Luckily though, while The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks is definitely a puzzle hunt style game, we absolutely loved it! It takes the best elements of puzzle hunts while leaving out the frustrating bits, which results in an experience that is an absolute joy to work through! The game contains a moderate to high level of difficulty, but at no point did we feel the need to make herculean logical leaps, as the game flow is beautifully implemented, leading players through the linear path using subtle hints and encouraging out of the box thinking. There is a dense amount of puzzles to work through, and they are all incredibly varied, ensuring that each level of the game remains fresh and exciting. For a team of my wife and myself, there was always plenty to do and though the game is fairly linear, most puzzles have enough layers to work through that no one is going to feel left out during the solving. Due to how creative the game is on the whole, it is difficult to select a favorite puzzle, they’re all that well designed!

I love the theme of an eccentric puzzling dandy creating a town of his own that’s absolutely devoted to puzzles, and I may want to be Mr. Hincks when I grow up. While the theme isn’t strictly important to the puzzling if that’s all you’re looking for, it certainly brings a lot of personality to the proceedings, and instills a light hearted, humorous aura. Almost every single puzzle had multiple layers to puzzle through, and there were mountains of ah ha moments around every turn. To say that this game was a satisfying solve is an understatement. Add to that a couple of surprises that we definitely did not see coming, and I can say that Mr. Hincks’s elevator is easily one of our favorite games of the year. I’m very excited to see what comes next, I’m hoping Mr. Hincks has a few more banal methods of transportation to spice up! Perhaps The Peculiar People Mover of Mr. Hincks? I’d play it.

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Low Points:

Though the run up to the Meta Puzzle was an exciting ride, the climax of the game fell a little flat for us, due to the somewhat simpler nature of the puzzle itself as well as the requirement of popping back and forth between several screens of the interface itself. Though the website is a nice complement to the experience, it sometimes feels as though it gets in its own way, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to close out of some windows, and sometimes, especially at the beginning, it can feel somewhat unintuitive as to what bits of the screen are active. We used a smartphone during the game for easy access, so this may have affected our experience, admittedly.

Verdict:

The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks is an absolute blast! I had an amazing time working through the many conundrums left behind by the eccentric Mr. Hincks, and couldn’t wait for more, leading me to inquire about The Hincks Gazette, the monthly spin off run of puzzles. A review about that one will be forthcoming, but for now, know that I recommend getting your hands on a copy of the 2nd run of The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks as soon as you can! The wonderfully well designed puzzles, great props, and engaging theme make this game a perfect puzzle for players of any experience level. Take a ride on the Curious Elevator here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Blue Fish Games provided a complementary box.

Red Lantern Escape Rooms – The Hardin House Mystery (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 2-4 players

Price: $60 for up to 4 players, $15 per additional player

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

80s Flashback!

Theme:

From the Red Lantern Escape Rooms website:

The year is 1988. You and your high school pals are trying to find out what happened to a classmate who’s gone missing at Hardin House—you know, the house with all the locks and puzzles? The house where a famous archaeologist disappeared without a trace a few years back? The house where people see strange lights and hear odd noises? What could possibly go wrong!?!

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First Impressions:

I’d seen references to The Hardin House Mystery around some of our usual Facebook group haunts, and it seemed like an interesting take on the escape room genre. With photographs of what looked to be a 70s or 80s style home, and an audio based set up, I was interested to see how Red Lantern Escape Rooms approached this genre of at home game, as we’ve only played a couple other of this type before. We were joined by Lee Ballan, creator of one of our favorite lock down experiences, The Pyramid, and we were looking forward to puzzling through this mystery with him!

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High Points:

The Hardin House Mystery started off with a quick tutorial about how we were going to interact with the game during our adventure. Basically, this game is set up like a somewhat more audio visual Dungeons and Dragons session, but without the dice. A picture of the house or the room of the house we were in would be displayed, and we could ask our Game Master to search whatever we tagged on screen, and as we located pivotal items or areas, a yellow circle would appear to let us know what it was, and sometimes would zoom in on particular points. We could also find hidden easter eggs, which, for us, became a highly entertaining, and often times hilarious obsession! The stage was further well set by including great background sounds and an 80s soundtrack to die for! The whole experience reminded me of one of my favorite Point and Click adventures of late, The Displacement, in that this game uses photographs of real places to deliver a superbly plotted and puzzle heavy experience. Our Game Master’s GMing skills were brilliant, and his enthusiastic descriptions and willingness to improv and play in the space with us was much appreciated. In fact, in true tabletop RPG GM fashion, he was flexible rewarded our crazy ideas when they made good sense. Another game this reminded me of was Gone Home, as the exploration of the titular Hardin House and the slowly evolving story line were a lot of fun, and incredibly interesting. Bits of foreshadowing abound, and each reveal is more satisfying than the last!

Puzzles are great, using each room to their fullest, and hiding clues in plain sight to great effect. The game is mostly linear, with each room tasking players with finding all the important areas and items, which then require some outside the box thinking and puzzling in order to make the connections and arrive at the fantastic ah ha moments that led to opening the door to the next room! All interactions were highly intuitive, and the difficulty curve ramps slowly up, allowing for some easy wins at the beginning for players to find their footing, but introducing some challenging and superbly clever end game puzzles later. Though the game is linear, we traveled through the experience at a good clip, never feeling like any one thing took up too much of our time. Overall, The Hardin House Mystery is easily our favorite audio based escape room we’ve experienced thus far!

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Low Points:

I really don’t have anything critical to say about The Hardin House Mystery. The game went off without a hitch, and our Game Master was brilliant. We had an awesome time, and afterwards couldn’t come up with one low point.

Verdict:

I can certainly say without a doubt that The Hardin House Mystery is the most well designed and perfectly implemented audio escape room we’ve done so far! From start to finish, we were engaged with the story, puzzles, and a unexpectedly joyous hunt for easter eggs. I recommend checking this one out without reservation, and am certain absolutely anyone can have a fantastic time within the mysterious Hardin House! Book your time unraveling the secrets of this 80s adventure here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Red Lantern Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

District 3 Escape Rooms – Haunted (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 2-4 players)

Price: $27 CAD per person (About $19.87 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s actually a real nice house if you can overlook the murders…

Theme:

From the District 3 Escape Rooms website:

The family of this home is searching for a good trustworthy group of people to house-sit their manor for the Winter. During your time there, you learn about the caretaker and the family, the manor’s secrets, and that maybe this isn’t the dream stay you were after.

First Impressions:

District 3 Escape Rooms was recommended to us by the folks at the astounding Mystery Mansion Regina, so we couldn’t wait to see what their neighbors had in store! The spooky theme of Haunted called to me, being a horror themed game, and the sneak peeks I saw of the set during the intro video on their website looked great!

High Points:

The set design of Haunted is really great, starting off in a large room that is just filled to the brim with doors. The massive amount of doors is somewhat unsettling, and gives the experience somewhat of a surreal feeling. There was always the feeling that something horrifying could be around the corner of the balcony or behind any door, and the sense of unease can be palpable. Audio effects came through fairly clearly, though we had to ensure we stayed fully quiet during these moments, as sound came mostly through the room and was therefore slightly muted. Our Game Master/Avatar did a great job of searching the room for us and responding quickly to our directions, even when our directions were largely unintuitive nonsense, along the lines of “push the thingy!” They also did a fantastic job of ensuring that any time something exciting was triggered, the camera was in just the right place to appreciate it. Theming was excellent, and as the story continued to descend into madness, each new room displayed new horrors and surprises to enjoy! There were several awesome moments that were triggered by our progress, and it was interesting after the game to see how it all worked to create an amazingly immersive haunt.

The game flows excellently through a linear progression, and the game translates well to the virtual space. We enjoyed working together through many of the teamwork based puzzles in order to uncover the many secrets this otherwise unassuming house was hiding, and many of the interactions provided great ah ha moments that left us feeling satisfied. Clues were included subtly, but were clear enough to ensure each part of the process of solving the room was intuitive, yet challenging. One particular puzzle I really liked incorporated a lock itself into the puzzling, something I can’t say I’ve seen done before in any of the escape experiences we’ve done! Other puzzles are just as creative, with some solutions hiding deviously in plain sight, we just had to figure out how to find them. At the end of the game, we received points based on our time and how well we completed the room, with achievements for no hints, escaping with a good chunk of time left, and being the Online Division leaders for the room! I love District 3’s point based system, and the achievements were a lot of fun to see as well, as it added a extra special personal touch to the conclusion of the game.

Low Points:

Being one of District 3’s older rooms, it isn’t quite as evolved as some of their newer rooms may be, but we feel this works to their advantage as these sorts of rooms tend to work well virtually. Despite the more solution to lock style of gameplay, we had a great time, but I do know that some enthusiasts prefer a different style of game. Some puzzles may feel familiar to veteran solvers, but overall, I think District 3 does a good job of ensuring these interactions stay fresh as possible. One particular puzzle is a great idea, but suffers from players having to kitbash a method to ensure it is audible viturally between multiple remote sites. It may be helpful for there to be an additional inventory item once teams have demonstrated they know the concept of what is to be done, just in case audio degrades.

Verdict:

Haunted is a great spooky virtual game, and we had an amazing time working through the mystery of the Manor! This game would be perfect for players of all experience levels, as it challenged our group of veterans, but never becomes so difficult as to be obtuse. We had an awesome time with our Game Master, and cannot wait to see what District 3’s next online game is like. I absolutely recommend this room, and you can book your time house sitting here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: District 3 Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Get Lost Escape Rooms – Operation P.R.A.T. (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-4 players

Price: £15.00 (About $18.86 at the time of writing.)

Who you gonna call?

Theme:

From the Get Lost Escape Rooms website:

You are part of the Paranormal Research Anomaly Taskforce. You have been contacted by the infamous Dr Richard Hole to assist in his latest paranormal palaver. Dr R Hole has somehow found himself in a pickle, he appears to have picked up a paranormal pal. He’s issued a desperate plea for help in banishing his unwanted guest as it is proving to be quite the nuisance. Particularly when he’s having some issues keeping PRAT running! Do you have what it takes to identify and eradicate the bothersome ghost?

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Dr. Richard Hole, such an accomplished man!

First Impressions:

I’ll admit, as someone who loves puzzles, I will give high preference in choosing what sort of games we play to anything with a horror or supernatural theme, followed closely by lighthearted, comedic games. Luckily, Operation PRAT is both! A supernatural investigation with a naturally hilarious tone that was easily right up my alley. Not only that, but we would be working with the illustrious founder of PRAT, Dr. Hole! We invited our friends at EscapeTheRoomers, as we were sure they’d be great comrades for this ghost hunting adventure, and got to work.

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So excited to work with our pal, Dr. R Hole!

High Points:

One of the best things about Operation PRAT is the humor behind it. The video interludes and silly, almost absurd humor was something I really appreciated. Many escape rooms and puzzle games try for comedy, but it’s rare that designers can pull it off well, so I was pleased with how funny I found the game’s jokes. The story line was fun and light-hearted, with enough mystery to keep us invested in how things would turn out for the esteemed Doctor. The adventure itself starts out with Dr. Hole presenting us with his spooky predicament, and giving us a mysterious file as well as access to the PRAT website. There’s a lot of interesting information to go through, which was very well written and organized, with great clues subtly included throughout. Having read through most of the documents initially given, it was highly satisfying to come across a new puzzle that triggered immediate, intuitive connections with what we had read. The game itself flows well once we were able to get all the information settled, and though there was a big information dump at the beginning, it wasn’t overly arduous to manage. From there, things are mostly linear, with a new conundrum presented as we delved deeper into the mystery. The wins started off easier, with a smooth difficulty curve that slowly worked towards what I’d call a moderate challenge. Though things never got mind bendingly challenging, we very much enjoyed the difficulty level. There is a great variety of research puzzles, (which I usually dislike, but here are presented in a way that makes them much more fun than usual,) logic puzzles, and codes. There was certainly something to appeal to each member of our team of four, keeping us engaged throughout the experience.

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Ghosts are horrifying. They ruin SO many good sheets!

Low Points:

The game starts off a little slow after the introductory video, just due to the amount of information thrown at players to start. There is a small clue to get things started, but since there’s a good bit to have a look at, it’s easy to get started down a rabbit hole and sidetracked for a while. In fact, we had the next puzzle in line solved before we were able to solve the first, so a small bit of gatekeeping might help prevent players from getting ahead of themselves. (I still do recommend reading over everything first, as it will be immensely helpful later, however.) Some passwords are very long, which can be a bit strange for folks used to shorter, succinct words or numbers. For veteran puzzlers, some puzzles might feel overly familiar, as a few are old hat for escape room enthusiasts. I still had a fun time with them, but they may be banal for long time puzzlers. We needed a hint or two a couple times, but the hints were at times a bit too vague for our liking.

Verdict:

Operation PRAT was a fun time, and a great hour long diversion for us during the lockdown! I think newcomers to the puzzling world will like this the most, as it presents a fun thematic game that introduces some standard puzzle concepts well, but as a escape game enthusiast, I still had a great time working through all the conundrums presented, so I think there’s something to entice veterans here as well. I recommend trying it out if you have a chance here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Get Lost Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Logic Locks – Amsterdam Catacombs (Review)

Kara’s Note: This was *totally* written by Brandon. 😉

Editor’s Note: It was not.

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-7 (We recommend 4-6 players)

Price: See website for details.

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Prepare for The Descent

Theme:

From the Amsterdam Catacombs website:

Social distancing and/or unable to visit us? We will bring the horror to you!
The Amsterdam Catacombs now invites brave and foolish investigators into its dark depths in the form of a live video online experience.  Virtually connect to your friends and our actors and immerse yourself in this theatrical online horror escape room. Are you willing to face your fears and unravel the mystery of the demonic forces that shelter beneath the church?

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First Impressions

I was impressed and surprised to hear that “The Catacombs” would take place in an actual basement of a cathedral. I had some reservations about doing the room due to the scary factor, but I had heard really amazing things about it, so I gritted my teeth and carried on!

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High Points

It’s probably no secret that I am not a fan of horror-themed games (despite how many I end up playing), so it’s a good thing I had a chance to do this room virtually because I would definitely never ever be doing it in person. It was a scary experience even without actually being in the room, and I can only imagine how useless I would become if I actually were doing it in person. (As a disclaimer, I should mention that apparently I was the only one of my teammates actually affected like this, so it “wasn’t that scary” – still, I beg to differ). But, I do think my reaction speaks highly of how well Logic Locks did in creating an immersive experience.

Immersion into the game started from the beginning, as we were dropped into the streets of Amsterdam and given a nice introduction to the area as well as the cathedral and the lore of the game. It’s definitely helpful they had the basement of a cathedral to naturally instill some ambiance, but even without it, I think Logic Locks would have had no problem on their own building a great set from whatever space they were given. It’s clear how thoughtful their design was, as the space seemed very creatively used and filled with a lot of thematic props and elements that were a visual adventure on their own. The auditory elements added great touches, and definitely enhanced the atmosphere and story effects that the game elicited.

In addition to the set, our avatar did a great job of developing a rapport with us, making us feel involved and that we really were on this journey with him. He really helped set the tone for the game and was a very believable and natural character. (Also, I would just like to take this time to give a shout-out to all the in-person avatars/staff/game masters out there holding up cameras for 60+ minutes and having to maneuver around rooms and do puzzles while managing our ability to see into the rooms. We appreciate you!)

The different conundrums we were faced were expertly woven into the game’s set and theme, and really drove the story forward. It created a smooth flow of puzzles, and their linear nature helped things from being overwhelming. There was a lot of moving parts and interactive elements with the puzzles and game effects that were really neat to see played out (especially from a virtual distance ;)). They all seemed to be unique from each other, and there was a good mix of difficulty in our solves.

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Pondering Points

While our avatar was great at guiding us through the game, there were one or two instances in which some teammates noticed that he was a little too helpful with the puzzles. In these times, our avatar took a bit of initiative in completing a solve or working out a puzzle based off very little prompting/stream of consciousness thought from us. Certainly, this makes absolute sense for the longer process puzzles to do this once it’s clear we know how to solve it, but there were some leaps the avatar made that made us wonder why he did something. Of course, this type of approach may be more preferable to some groups more than others, and it might not always be clear when a group is actually directing a solve vs. word vomiting (for lack of a better description), but just something we noticed.

Given the location of the game, it is unsurprising that we had just a couple of connection issues with our on-site avatar, but overall not too bad.

Final Verdict

This game was definitely an experience, and I would highly recommend anyone who isn’t too horror-adverse to check it out. Even though we played it virtually, Brandon is still excited to play it if we are ever in Amsterdam, as there seems to be some additional interactive components available in-person. I’ll leave it to him to experience those though. 🙂 Book your time in the Amsterdam Catacombs here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Logic Locks provided our team with a discounted game.