The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

I want to play a game.

Theme:

From the Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When a strange character calling himself Mr. Mindgame kidnaps five suspects in a recent murder, you must play his twisted game in order to determine who the killer is and set the innocents free.  But is his game everything it seems to be or is there a dark secret behind all the trickery? 

First Impressions:

The Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame seemed like it would be a fresh twist on the Deadbolt formula, casting us a pawns in a game being played by a Jigsaw-esque vigilante. This sort of high-stakes mystery solving game is right up my alley, so I was excited to see what was behind the veil of the unusually light theme description that had been posted!

High Points:

I was glad to find that Mr. Mindgame would not disappoint, theme-wise. Immediately we found that we had been cast as detectives by the villainous Mindgame, tasked with deducing who had murdered Jennifer Cochran, and further, making the connections between this murder, and one that Mr. Mindgame had been falsely accused of committing! His methods of confirming our answers and helping us eliminate suspects were exciting, and lent believability to the story, which felt as though it was unfolding in real time. I really enjoy when Deadbolt stories progress in this way, casting us as active heroes, racing against time, rather than as more passive detectives looking through a case file. (Which, to be fair, is still fun, just not as immersive.) The entire experience kept me guessing, wondering what Mindgame was up to, who they could possibly be, and what would happen when we finally won his twisted game!

Puzzles continue to be excellent, with clever clues winding around each other, leading us towards our ultimate goal. Mr. Mindgame is hands down the most difficult Deadbolt case to date, but not unfairly so. For the most part, each piece of the puzzle is intuitive and will reveal their secrets after an engaging solve and terrific ah ha moment. As we peeled back each layer of the mystery, I could definitely feel a sense of momentum building from point to point, until we finally arrived at the climax. The sense of achievement from solving each part of this box was palpable, and truly delivered a satisfying sleuthing experience from start to finish.

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Mr. Mindgame is a Puzzling Poe-esque Poe-t!

Low Points:

The story, while surprising and very entertaining, ends in a way we felt came out of nowhere. While explained well after the fact, there didn’t seem to be much that led up to it, causing it to fall a little flat with us. It was also rather hard to justify our involvement with this case, so overall, we would have liked to see the story fleshed out a bit more during the game itself. Some connections made during the mystery do feel more tenuous than others, with some logical leaps we made, but looked askance at while we were doing so. There were a couple times I posited an answer, which was correct, and when asked how I came to that conclusion, I had to admit it was a degree short of a wild guess. In general, neither of these issues pop up overly often, however.

Verdict:

The Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame is an excellent mystery for Deadbolt veterans and mystery enthusiasts that are looking for a tough, but fair challenge. While newcomers may have more difficulty with this box, Deadbolt’s fantastic hints will keep players on track, allowing for engagement without frustration. I recommend giving it a shot, and look forward to their next adventure, a Wild West adventure I’m sure will not disappoint! 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!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

Sleuth Kings – Case 017: The Cupid Killer (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

My Bloody Valentine

Theme:

After three years of serial murders, the Cupid Killer is on the hunt again, and this time, it’s personal for Sullivan King. The killer, who stalks, taunts, and finally murders couples on Valentine’s Day has been sending Sullivan and his definitely not girlfriend, Celest St. Clair,  increasingly threatening messages, which have culminated in the disappearance of Celest! With the police baffled, and time running out, Sullivan needs your help to find Celest and stop the Cupid Killer’s reign of terror once and for all.

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Even psychotic Valentine’s themed killers can see the attraction, Sullivan! Wise up!

First Impressions:

The romantic tension between Sullivan and Celest has been building for almost half a year now, and though Celest knows exactly what she’s about, Sullivan has been blindingly oblivious to everything. When this case’s theme hit the website, however, we were excited to see that the attraction between the two sleuths had to come to fruition soon!

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Dare to take on Cupid’s Challenge?

High Points:

After the last few, fairly light-hearted mysteries, The Cupid Killer is pretty dark, story wise. For the bright Valentine’s colors and props, there’s an excellent undercurrent of tension and threat that works as an impeccable foil to the explosion of pink and purple Cupid’s Challenge clues. This case definitely boasts the most tightly themed aesthetic to date for Sleuth Kings, and it really impresses. The progression of the clues is interesting also, as we observe the Cupid Killer’s messages and gifts become ever more threatening. These touches lend a sense of urgency to a game that is otherwise not under any sort of time pressure. The overarching plot line ties well into the meta-story without requiring knowledge of previous cases, remaining accessible while still including some great story rewards for the Sleuth Kings faithful. The look into the personal lives of Sullivan and Celest is very entertaining, and the way that Celest’s kidnapping is handled doesn’t fall into the trope of fridging important female characters; leading to an excellent climax we really enjoyed.

The game flow itself is just as tight as the aesthetic. The case itself is certainly not insubstantial, but there is always an excellent sense of progression throughout the adventure. The puzzles are fantastically themed and tie into the Cupid Killer’s strange machinations appropriately, with his taunts and games feeling almost Riddler-esque. One particular puzzle is one we’ve seen a few times before, but with an added twist that breathed new life into what could otherwise have become tiresome. The game itself is well layered as usual, but there are some great points at which the puzzle path takes a few twists back around cleverly, and opens up new riddles we hadn’t noticed before. There’s even a killer cookie recipe that can actually be made and, from what I hear, tastes delicious! Finally, as of this case, Sleuth Kings no longer sends out your epilogue letter for delivery a few days after you’ve solved the case. While this does hurt the immersion factor ever so slightly, it’s nice to have some closure immediately close at hand. Sullivan still sends a follow up email regarding the meta-case a few days later, ensuring that your Sleuth Kings Solving High (TM) lasts a few extra days.

One last note, even if you don’t need a hint, check out Celest’s hint files included online after you’ve closed the case. Even if you don’t usually prefer to use her hints, for this one, it adds a lot to the story and closes what otherwise could seem like a plot hole. I have never seen a hint system tied so excellently into the story before, and Celest’s observations were a fantastic way to flesh out some aspects of the story. I’m glad we ended up needing a hint, because it would’ve been a shame to miss out on the easter eggs hidden within her hint files.

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Instant Epilogue Gratification.

Low Points:

There is one odd red herring-ish prop that didn’t seem to have a specific purpose, which was a bit confusing. We’ve become rather used to everything tying into a puzzle or furthering the story in some way, so when an item wasn’t utilized, it took us off track while we tried to deduce its purpose. We also felt as though one puzzle could benefit from a slight bit more cluing, as it didn’t perfectly line up with everything available, leading to a bit of uncertainty as to its validity.

Verdict:

Boasting a Valentine’s themed serial killer, some awesome story based payoff for long time fans, and a dense amount of puzzling, Case 017: The Cupid Killer is one of my favorite cases Sleuth Kings has released so far! Though completing some key previous cases would help players catch all the references, it’s still a great jumping off point for newbies, and I highly recommend it! This case can be purchased 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!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

Finders Seekers – Sydney, Australia (November 2018 Box Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players: We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Crikey!

Theme:

Each month, Finders Seekers invites you to accept a mysterious mission from the head seer. These “finds” are located in cities around the world and involve high stakes, cryptic puzzling, and shadowy societies! You’ll need a clever mind and some google-fu in order to piece together the puzzles and complete the find! And when you do, you might even receive a reward! This month takes place in Sydney, Australia, land of big dangerous animals that want to kill you!

First Impressions:

This one is a little late, so for background, after we completed the horrendous Mont St. Clair box, we had cancelled our subscription. You can read the linked review for more details, but to summarize, it was really that bad. However, our subscription had apparently recently charged us, so we received one last box. We sat on it for a while, as we had plenty of other excellent games to play though and were wary of the quality of this box, which was originally released in October of 2017.

High Points:

The initial puzzle is a real brain teaser that was truly a pleasure to solve, with satisfying ah ha moments peppered throughout the solve. There are a few more clever interactions we had a good time with, but the rest of the box didn’t really stand up to the great set up that this puzzle promises. There’s an excellent logic puzzle set up with a very high stakes story moment, which requires careful attention to detail and feels rewarding to complete. The fun facts and historical notes that are included throughout the experience make this an excellent game to present in a school based or family learning environment. The experience is blessedly non-linear, which has always been a boon when solving Finders Seekers boxes, and allows the game to prevent becoming bogged down by getting stuck on a puzzle.

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G’day from Australia!

Low Points:

This is an older box that has been rereleased without any meaningful update, and it absolutely shows. The props feel much cheaper than more recent boxes, and the whole experience is sparser on the whole. Many of the puzzles are easy to glitch past, even accidentally, and we found that at the end of the game, we still hadn’t used one set of props and were unable to solve one of the more obtuse puzzles but were still able to easily complete the meta puzzle, which was a weird unscramble game wherein buttons marked as hints were one hundred percent necessary for those who do not speak fluent Aussie slang. Luckily, a friend of mine is a true blue Australian native, so this puzzle was very easy for us to complete, but I can see casual solvers having difficulty with this one. It’s basically one step down from having to unscramble or decode words that aren’t from your native language. Most puzzles are fairly basic, and are based off of themes and mechanics that most experienced players will have solved before, and will not be very exciting for newcomers either.

Verdict:

Sydney, Australia was definitely a more finely tuned and well designed experience than Mont Saint Clair, but still doesn’t hold a candle to the Finders Seekers golden period of the Athens, Petra, and Mexico City boxes. The fact that a box from over a year ago that hasn’t been updated in any way was the main offering did not instill enough confidence in me to consider resubscribing either. As my fiancée has noted, this would make a really great homework assignment, but doesn’t really justify its $30 price tag. If you’d like to sign up anyway, you can do so here. If you sign up through our link, we’ll earn credits towards a free box, and can bring you more content! You can read the rest of our Finders Seekers reviews here!

5/10 (Mediocre)

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Seaside Strangler (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

A quaint seaside village sporting taverns, fishing, and brutal murder.

Theme:

From the Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The Will Street Detective Agency has received a tip about The Seaside Strangler murders that has led you, a consulting detective, to nearby Gold Hook Island to investigate.  The tiny island of Gold Hook is home to a mere 32 families and can only be reached by ferry.  With a few eating establishments, stretches of uninhabited beachfront, and The Kingfisher hotel, Gold Hook is a quaint tourist getaway in temperate months and is mostly cut off from the mainland in the winter.  After the National Weather Service announces that a nor’easter is headed their way, the residents of Gold Hook begin to evacuate the island using the small ferry that makes the two mile journey back and forth to the mainland. On its way back to pick up the last batch of residents, the ferry experiences a mechanical failure that renders it inoperable, leaving you and a few other people behind on the island to fend for themselves during the storm.  Not long after the storm begins to hammer the coastline of Gold Hook, one of those left behind is found strangled with a length of strangely knotted rope, leading you to conclude that The Seaside Strangler is one of those who didn’t make it back to the mainland.  The police and Coast Guard are unavailable for the next twenty-four hours due to the extreme weather so help will not be coming any time soon.  Leaving the island is not an option.  Your only choice…determine who The Seaside Strangler is and close a case that the police have been unable to close. 

First Impressions:

I love lighthouses. I bought the fantastic Dark Fall 2 back in the day because it had a lighthouse on the front cover. Also because anything Jonathan Boakes touches turns into gaming gold, but that’s not the point of this article. The point is, when I saw the preview for the newest Deadbolt Mystery Society box, I was smitten with the fog and foreboding lighthouse in the distance. Turns out there’s even more to this box than cool aesthetics, though!

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A mystery hundreds of years in the making!

High Points:

Beyond the cool theme of this month’s box, the experience itself is absolutely packed with puzzles, and as always, they are built upon a non-linear game flow that fashions layer upon layer towards the ultimate conclusion! The added bonus with this case, however, is that there isn’t just one mystery to solve! While you’re tracking down the Seaside Strangler, you’ll also happen upon a historical conundrum that has just recently come back into the public eye, for better or worse. These two mysteries intertwine, and the story slowly releases tidbits throughout while building towards the excellent climax. This box takes a cue from my favorite Deadbolt box, The Cabin, by stranding you on Gold Hook Island with the suspects and dropping story related events as you solve. This is always a great touch, and helps add to the immersion and atmosphere that this subscription has become so adept at building.

The puzzles themselves are pretty excellent, with clever bits of evidence scattered among the many items included with the box. These hints are very intuitive and making connections between the myriad of clues is an always satisfying experience. The puzzle solving is well integrated with the storyline, and gives you everything you need to jump between the modern day murders and the centuries old treasure hunt without sacrificing quality between the two. Recently, Deadbolt has taken to focusing how players intuitively approach the investigations, and the case note booklet included within the most current cases is a brilliant way to guide players without holding their hands. Finally, it is appreciated that the QR code madness has toned down a bit, and while the online presence is still there, it is handled in a different way for some parts, which was welcome. Only having one or two tabs open on my phone was a big relief.

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Low Points:

There is one particular code that has seen a lot of use not only in Deadbolt boxes, but other subscription boxes, so veterans are going to tear through it without much thought, and it’ll be fairly old hat to boot. Also, the suspects didn’t feel quite as well fleshed out in this box as they tend to in others, most likely because the real focus was the historical treasure hunt, but after catching the Seaside Strangler I felt we hadn’t really learned much about the suspects themselves. In fact, other than the obvious motive, the culprit’s characterization was pretty flat, which isn’t a spoiler since the others were definitely not quite as bombastic as some earlier boxes, Asylum and The Cabin come to mind as excellent examples.

Verdict:

The Seaside Strangler is an awesome step back into the Deadbolt Universe, and I greatly enjoyed the immersive storytelling that returned for this entry. The impending storm and multifaceted investigation is an excellent evolution for the series, and I am jazzed for the upcoming Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame! I one hundred percent recommend giving this box a try. 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!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

Sleuth Kings – Case 016: Flyer Fundraiser (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Eat your heart out Nancy Drew.

Theme:

Teenage crime solver Asuna Yukimura, inspired by the events of Case 009: Part-Time Thieves, has started the Flyer High Young Detective’s Club! She and her friends have solved a few small cases so far, but a recent theft of $40,000 from the school’s fundraiser inspires the Club to take on their biggest caper yet. Johnny Cavallo, Flyer High history teacher, currently stands accused of the crime, but the evidence against him seems just a little too convenient, so Asuna has asked Sleuth Kings to help her crack the case once again!

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings is fantastic at developing fully realized characters, and Asuna is one of the most fun assistants Sullivan has ever worked with. Full of teenage bravado and witty quips, I was excited we would get to hear more from her during this case! As it is also a sequel of sorts to one of our favorite cases, Part-Time Thieves, we knew we were in for an excellent adventure once we cracked open the box!

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Join the Young Detective’s Club and solve the case!

High Points:

The puzzles within this case are phenomenal! Multi-layered, but approachable, with intuitive solutions and so many ah ha moments, they deliver a game flow that is incredible fun to work through. As always the puzzles are perfectly integrated into the theme, and wouldn’t feel out of place in any high school, with clever and sometimes devious little clues that are extraordinarily satisfying to solve. Though the case, we felt, was a little on the easier side, it never felt like a chore or dipped in quality at any point. We’ll take a shorter adventure of amazing quality over a three and a half hour slog any day! Still, there’s quite a bit to do, and the layers and connections between the clues and extra information will have you bouncing between each one in a flurry of excellent mystery solving!

Cracking codes at Flyer High is always a lot of fun, as the world-building that Sleuth Kings has done to bring the school to life is impressive! The nostalgia, frustrations, and teenage optimism that is conveyed throughout the case makes it so immersive, and it is woven expertly throughout the experience. The characters are brought to vivid life by dialogue so keenly on point you feel as though a teenager must’ve written it. Very rarely has a subscription box felt so realistic as this one, so I absolutely must commend everyone involved with writing this case! Beyond this, the case is chock full of fun easter eggs from past cases, and every time a new one popped up, it brought a smile to my face, so veteran Sleuths will definitely not want to miss this one! As a related side note, if you are interested in reading some of my life-changing poetry, this case is absolutely for you.

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Ah, my old Alma Mater is still printing my most popular poem to date on their lunch menus. Kinda miffed they’re calling me a senior… I’m only 29!

Low Points:

We were able to jump around in the story at the end by accident, which had us scratching our heads for a minute since we did things out of order, so some information was revealed early, but there was just one step we missed. We went back and solved the other part, and it was entertaining, though it was less surprising since the ultimate solution to that part had already been revealed. That’s mostly on us though, so it’s a very small complaint.

Verdict:

I am glad to say that Case 016: Flyer Fundraiser is a more than worthy sequel to Part-Time Thieves! Expanding on the setting and puzzling of the previous case while still filled to the brim with all the high school charm we loved so much, I absolutely recommend picking this one up, and snagging Case 009 as well for the full experience! This case can be purchased from the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, (which you absolutely should because Case 017 looks astounding,) 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!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.