Sultans of Solve – The Clock Winder (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $39

Theme:

From the Sultans of Solve website:

The clock is ticking and The Clock Winder has promised to murder 7 victims. Can you stop his evil game before it is too late?

Solve puzzles, decode messages, figure out riddles. Put the pieces together to find the fiend who is murdering in Oaks Hollow as part of some sick game. Requires an internet connection, something to scan QR codes, and pen and paper. An online, progressive hint system is available in case you get stuck. This game is single play and intended for teens and adults.

High Points:

The Clock Winder is the first puzzle box from Sultans of Solve, and presents a great, introductory experience for new players. The box itself is filled with a large amount of varied puzzles, perfect for a small group or a solo puzzler that’s looking for a fun couple of hours. In terms of puzzle types, I’d say The Clock Winder collects many of the usual tropes from these sorts of subscriptions, and puts them together to form a fun and intuitive experience that would be amazing for anyone looking to get into the hobby! The experience is linear, allowing the story to develop at the intended pace, and ensures that things remain focused on the task at hand, making this a perfect choice for those who enjoy a more guided experience. The puzzles are still a fun challenge, however, and become increasingly complex as the mystery progresses. Story-wise, we liked how each step marked progression with new story bits and settings, and the search for The Clock Winder themself felt exciting and “in the moment,” rather than passive. I loved how the conclusion set up further stories while still presenting players with a satisfying conclusion, as well as a cute little souvenir! The whole experience is made up of paper based puzzles, and is easy to reset for other players if you’re careful. Though presented through a series of envelopes and paper clues, the experience was not lessened for the presentation. One favorite puzzle included pop culture references, and a highly original solve that was incredibly entertaining to piece together. There were also a few tactile interactions that we always have a great time with.

Low Points:

One late stage puzzle was interesting, but vague. The intended items were difficult to read, and though we knew what we needed to do with them, it was made unintentionally more frustrating than it should have been. Overall, this adventure is on the simpler side, and includes several basic style puzzles that will be great for new players, but might not excite veteran solvers quite as much. A few puzzles include searching for outside knowledge, which isn’t our cup of tea, but is overall fine for an at home, self guided experience. There was a particular inclusion at the end that felt a little out of place, with a somewhat crude joke that might not be for everyone.

Verdict:

The Clock Winder is a great starter box, and a fun first entry into the Sultans of Solve line. I definitely look forward to seeing how they evolve, and where the story might go next! I absolutely recommend this box to new players and veteran solvers who’d like to introduce friends to their hobby, as it is very accessible and does an excellent job of introducing the type of puzzles these subscription boxes are known for. Start your investigation into The Clock Winder here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Sultans of Solve provided a complementary box.

Gruzzle – The Musician (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30.00 month to month, $87.00 for 6 months, $172 for a year’s subscription

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

World famous conductor and composer, Frank Siltz, is missing. His partner and musical collaborator, Clara Munschan, reported that after completing his latest concert tour, Art did not return home.

Clara went to the Concert Hall to check Frank’s dressing room for clues to his whereabouts. There, she found a number of puzzling items clearly left behind by Frank. Despite being a major force in the musical world herself, Clara feels inadequate to tackle this puzzling challenge.

Please help Clara, and the whole musical community, discover what has happened to Frank Siltz!

the-musician.jpg

High Points:

It is rare that a puzzle box is so effortlessly complex, yet intuitive and family friendly, yet Gruzzle is consistently just that! Each new experience from Gruzzle contains some of the most original puzzles I’ve encountered, and even though many are brilliant challenges, the experience is still completely accessible to new players. Puzzlers of any experience level will have a great time working through the disappearance of Frank Siltz, and veteran solvers will find there are a bevy of challenges that will keep them busy for a while! The Musician is filled with varied puzzles as well, and kept us busy for a good couple of hours. Our team of two found that during our solve, though the experience is mostly linear overall, there were no choke points that stymied progress, as everything was intuitive, and contained enough clues that even if we weren’t one hundred percent sure of what to do next, it only took a little more thinking to make the connections! The story is interesting, and builds upon itself as more puzzles are solved and envelopes are opened. It is per usual, a great, mysterious, but still family friendly affair, that allows puzzlers to take things casually without having to worry over much about a murderer lurking around the corner. While we love tracking down murderers and monsters, it is always wonderful to kick back and take it a little bit easier with a Gruzzle box. As usual, this box can be solved almost completely offline, (the final solution needs to be entered on a webpage, but the rest of the game can be played without the need for any tech,) and it is great not to have to worry about flipping through a bunch of webpages or sorting through evidence on your phone. Every single bit of the game is important, with no extraneous bits or red herrings, and it is always fascinating to see how props, sometimes literally, fold in upon each other. The difficulty curve is smooth, and ensures a few easy wins are doled out to get your momentum going, but ramps up the challenge once players are warmed up!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle included a fun reveal as it’s solution, but the method of getting there was amazingly tedious. Definitely worth it, but similar to puzzles that involve a lot of cutting, or long decryptions, the process became a little arduous.

Verdict:

As always, Gruzzle has done an amazing job creating an experience that is more than worth the price of admission. One of the few mystery subscription boxes out there that can appeal to puzzlers young and old, neophyte and veteran, I highly recommend subscribing to this excellent puzzling experience! Start your search for Frank Siltz here! You can use the promo code FIRSTTIME to get $5 off your subscription!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Gruzzle provided a complementary box.

The Fairy Tale Files – The Cinderella Murders (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $22

Theme:

From the Fairy Tale Files Website:

A grisly double-murder shocks Fairy Tale Land! Lady Tremaine and one of her two daughters are found stabbed at the manor. The prime suspect is the mistreated stepdaughter Cinderella – she had motive and opportunity. Could it be that simple?

The Fairy Tale Files are immersive escape room style experiences in which you interact with physical game components and also chat with characters, suspects, and witnesses in real-time to solve the case!

As an investigator at the Magical Mishap Agency, you are called upon to shine light on crimes and other strange events troubling this faraway land.

High Points:

The chat bot that is included online as a major part of the game, (you’ll enter all answers and interact with the world through this component,) works supremely well, reacting to everything we did comprehensively, and delivering the next steps and clues quickly once we had solved any particular puzzle. The story develops as you solve, popping up as new clues and tidbits of information within the chat bot. I really enjoyed how it evolved throughout the experience, and how the narrative was integrated into the experience seamlessly. A good mix of puzzles joins the mystery, and is set up to ensure the game flowed smoothly, with a difficulty curve that ensures the experience is highly accessible. Overall, in order to ensure the story develops as it should, the game is pretty linear, and controls the stream of information so that players won’t get overwhelmed with data, and the beautiful props are intuitively called out as players progress. The whole experience gives off a nice, Tim Burton-y/American McGee’s Alice vibe, so if you’re a fan of those properties, you’ll really enjoy the Fairy Tale Files. Accessibility wise, the inclusion of transcripts for audio and cursive items is always great to see, and ensures that more players are able to enjoy the mystery!

Low Points:

We had a lot of trouble getting started, as every mobile device we tried could not get the online interface to work properly, however, on desktop, it worked beautifully, but limited where we could play. As puzzling veterans, this one was a mite bit easier than other experiences, taking us around a half hour to complete, however, beginners will find the experience very accessible, so this is only a low point for expert puzzlers.

Final Verdict:

The Cinderella Murders is a great start to The Fairy Tale Files, and if this is how it starts, I cannot wait to see how the games develop from here! I highly recommend checking this one out if you’re into the theme and art style, and especially think this is a fantastic jumping off point for new players. Get started solving The Cinderella Murders here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Society of Curiosities provided a complementary mailing.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Last Resort (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

A group of co-workers employed by a Valley Falls travel agency have been given an incredible opportunity. The Refuge at Emerald Island is an isolated and exclusive resort that, ironically, none of the travel agents have ever heard of. What makes this opportunity even more special is that they will be the last group to stay at the tropical resort. The week after their stay, the resort is scheduled to be demolished by its owner and rebuilt as an industrial hub. Once the group arrives, they are excited for sand, sun and relaxation. That quickly changes when a member of their team is found dead with a harpoon in the back. The person who committed the crime must be one of the travel agency guests or the resort staff. Trapped on an island with a bloodthirsty killer, the body count is certain to go up as the suspect list goes down. Will you figure out who the killer is before it’s too late?

High Points:

We really enjoyed Last Resort! It reminded me a lot of an updated version of Cabin, as the story is very well written, placing you directly into the situation rather than investigating an after the fact murder. If you like slasher films, this one definitely plays out similarly. One new thing that the designers at Deadbolt have implemented is the casting of players as a specific main character, rather than a detective with the Will Street Detective Agency. This opens up greater avenues of storytelling, and it shows brilliantly in this box. From the start, there is a sense of unease built by that continues to build, and as we are drip fed revelations that all may not be as it seems, (and it seems pretty dire already,) the mystery deepens until we reach the explosive climax! As a side note, this box can get really brutal at times, which we actually really enjoyed, as it gave a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Overall, I love how the box started off very light, and quickly became much darker! On the puzzle side of things, we liked how the game flow alternated between linear and non-linear, depending on how the story was gate-kept, and we never felt like there were any major blockages to the flow, ensuring that the experience remained smooth throughout. Puzzle density was great, as there were a ton of interactions to work through, and the variety included kept our team occupied and entertained from start to finish. The final line of puzzles does an excellent job of dropping us into a frantic end sequence that really drove home what was at stake! I felt as though all the puzzles were designed in a truly intuitive way, and that the clues allowed us to make connections without feeling as if our hands were being held. There is a lot to figure out at any one moment, but Deadbolt always does an amazing job ensuring that clues subtly point the way. All in all, the combination of great story, original puzzling, and slasher movie vibes definitely delivered one of my favorite puzzle experiences this year!

Low Points:

This box had a lot more math than usual, and I know the puzzle community either loves or hates math, with very little in between, so make sure to take that under advisement if you fall into the latter group. One puzzle in particular was a pretty large leap of logic for us, and could easily be interpreted in several different ways as is, so I feel like another small clue is needed to create a more direct puzzle. Finally, this was definitely one of the easier boxes, which isn’t so much a low point as a heads up for veteran solvers looking for a bigger challenge. I will say the story absolutely makes this one worth it, however.

Verdict:

Last Resort is definitely one of Deadbolt’s most innovative new boxes; remaining familiar while switching up the formula in an exciting new way! I highly recommend checking this one out as even though we found this adventure to be on the somewhat easier side, the story and experience was more than worth the price of admission. 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.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Blast From The Past (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The 80’s were a decade of big hair, MTV, video games, outrageous clothing, and fun. The Valley Falls High School “Class of ‘86” is having a Blast From the Past reunion to relive the glory days of their youth and see old friends that they’ve lost touch with over the years. The reunion is a roaring success until the principal is found strangled to death in his office. Only someone attending the reunion could have killed him. But who? And why? Take a nostalgic step back into the 80’s, find out who killed the principal of Valley Falls High School, and experience a Blast From the Past!

High Points:

Everyone loves the 80’s, right? Although I am only a child of the 80’s in the most perfunctory sense, having been born in the later months of 1989, I did greatly enjoy the music and media of the 80’s as a kid. Though a knowledge of 80’s pop culture helps to appreciate this box further, in no way is it required, though one puzzle will definitely be a breeze if you’re well versed! The box itself is super dense with puzzles and 80’s nostalgia, and does a really good job of integrating some of this nostalgia into the puzzles themselves. The puzzles are also varied to a degree that even with a larger group, (though we recommend no more than 4,) everyone will be able to work on something without any dead time. Deadbolt again does a brilliant job of breaking the game into separate stages, while still allowing for a bit of non-linear detective work. I really love how there are a fair amount of items to go through at any given time, but not so many that players are drowning in evidence. A small touch we really loved in Blast From The Past is that the interviews with suspects, which usually involves a large chunk of reading we generally go through at the beginning of a case, are a bit more spread out, and feel more integrated into the game flow. I think this is a great shift, and would love to see how these are spaced out in the future. One particular puzzle we really enjoyed was spread out throughout the course of the mystery, which began with a simple, but enjoyable logic puzzle, and evolved during the later stages of the game. The props that were provided to facilitate this interaction were great, and we loved the tactile nature as well. Speaking of props, they were all used well, and were excellently woven into the game leaving no room for extraneous objects or red herrings. While there is some decoding, it isn’t arduous or basic, with one particular puzzle using a beloved 80’s item to create a really cool code. Overall, we really loved the density of puzzles and the challenge provided by Blast From The Past, and it afforded us a fantastic 2 hours of play time!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle included an audio clue that emphasized a direction that we thought was part of the game, but in the end didn’t mean anything, leading to a bit of unintended confusion. The epilogue on this one gets a little cheesy with all the on the nose references to the 80’s, but overall ties things up well. Not really a low point, but this is one of the more challenging Deadbolt boxes we’ve played recently, so new players might want to get some Deadbolt experience under their belts, or at least be open to using a hint or two!

Verdict:

Blast From The Past is a tubular new entry into the Deadbolt Mystery Society archives, and delivers an 80’s adventure that shouldn’t be missed! While it ranks on the more challenging end of things for us, we highly recommend this mystery to players new and old. 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.