The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Scavenger (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:

When Ernest Whitlock, the head of the Valley Falls Historical Society, is found dead from a gunshot wound inside City Hall, the first thing investigators do is check the security cameras. It’s quickly determined that someone took the cameras off-line for the night. This leaves a series of unanswered questions about how Whitlock gained access to the locked building after hours and what he might have been doing there. Those questions are soon answered by a printed invitation found in his jacket pocket. The invitation is from Walter Cline, the founder of a group called the Enigmatic Assembly. The secretive group’s mission statement is to “Shine a light on the unlit corners of the world to uncover secret truths,” and their purpose is to seek out cryptic knowledge that has been lost to history. The letter Whitlock received provides a host of details about an extreme scavenger hunt that will lead six participants to the strangest and most remote corners of Valley Falls and task them with finding the location of a life-changing fortune. Based on this information, the most likely suspects in Whitlock’s death are the five other players listed in the letter. Take up the task that Ernest Whitlock started, play the game the Enigmatic Assembly has set into motion, and be prepared to go into the deepest, darkest places in Valley Falls to find Whitlock’s killer. The Hunt is on!

High Points:

We’ve really enjoyed Deadbolt’s themes lately. They’ve definitely evolved from the standard murder mystery, branching out to different crimes and more elaborate, original styles of murder. They’ve created the murder capital of the world in Valley Falls, but manage to keep things fresh even several years on! Scavenger’s murder mystery slash treasure hunt mash up takes two well worn themes of puzzling boxes, and creates an innovative game that kept us fully entertained throughout! And for a good while as well. Although our average solving time for Deadbolt boxes tends to run about 90 minutes, this one took us a good 2 hours to complete, as the game itself was so incredibly packed with puzzles to solve! There is a fantastic difficulty curve as well, with the initial stages allowing us some easy wins in order to get warmed up, which transformed into a much more difficult challenge as we progressed! The difficulty was never arduous, however, as almost every puzzle was intuitive, and the cluing was fantastically woven into the box. I appreciated how all the puzzles felt original, including a nod to a basic cipher that doesn’t become tedious or force players into a long winded solve. In fact, almost every puzzle can be tackled with teamwork, ensuring that nothing is a solo solve. Scavenger weaves linearity with more open solving well, presenting puzzles in stages, but ensuring there is usually a few different things to explore and solve at any given time. This design does an excellent job of gatekeeping to ensure that players aren’t confused with too much information, while preventing them from feeling as though they are being railroaded through a narrow story. Sometimes open endedness can harm the narrative of a box, but this is not the case with Scavenger, and, as always, The Deadbolt Mystery Society does a brilliant job of characterization and world building to bring an immersive feel to their mysteries. I really loved that we weren’t just chasing the clues left behind by the killer, but following a treasure hunt at the center of the case, it allowed for the game to go places the killer might not have otherwise, sending us on an intense hunt to save the others on the trail of the treasure!

Low Points:

There was only one puzzle in particular that felt like it needed a little more cluing. It was an early one that evoked some musical theming, and though we eventually solved it, it definitely felt as though we were doing a lot of guess an check rather than following the hints provided.

Verdict:

Scavenger is yet another brilliant entry into the case files of the Will Street Detective Agency! Deadbolt has been mixing it up, theme-wise, a lot lately, and what they’ve come up with is pure gold! Watching the evolution of this series has been amazing, and as always, I cannot wait to see how they wow us next! I 100% recommend Scavenger to players new and old, as there is certainly something for everyone in this box. 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.

Gruzzle – The Garden (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

A new type of garden party!

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

Renowned environmentalist, Dr. Billy Onair, has unearthed some seeds from what was thought to be an extinct plant – the oatblossom bush. He has decided to award these precious seeds to the winner of a contest being held on his estate.

The Grasswell Society has entered the contest and wants Gruzzle to help them examine the hothouse, explore the maze, scrutinize the gazebo, and explore the conservatory.

Sign up with Gruzzle HQ to receive this puzzle in your mailbox. Don’t delay – otherwise this rare and valuable resource will be doomed to extinction!

High Points:

I really enjoy a good Gruzzle, and The Garden does an amazing job with presenting a puzzling challenge that begins with a few easy wins to get players warmed up, and gently ramps up the difficulty into more mind bending conundrums! I was impressed with how this box slowly transitioned from, “Huh, a bit easier this time, I might blow through this one,” to, “Phew, that one is solved, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it!” We usually clock in solves at an average of 90 minutes, and this box took a good 120+ minutes for us, so I can absolutely say that the box was filled to the brim with puzzles! The design of The Garden is up to the usual Gruzzle standard, with layered puzzles and extremely intuitive clues that give players just enough of a nudge to ensure they find their way intuitively, while still preserving the challenge. Honestly, this box is so brilliantly designed, I truly have difficulty determining which is my favorite puzzle, there’s just so many to choose from! The whole challenge is really intricate, and I love how Gruzzle always ensures that every prop they include within their boxes is well used. While the experience is mostly linear, stages of the game allow for multiple puzzles at times, and these tend to appear when there’s something really challenging to solve, which allowed us to pop back and forth between puzzles until we had everything solved. The story is fantastic, and I like how it is told in stages, and although there is a lot there, it never feels like the reading is too much or breaks the puzzling flow. While there is a fair amount of decoding, it is succinct, and doesn’t tread into tedium. There is also a certain item that can be ubiquitous in puzzling circles, but it is employed sparingly, and is always well clued when it appears. I also enjoyed a certain easter egg that involved this prop. Overall, The Garden is a masterful piece of puzzling that made for an excellent couple hours of solving!

the-garden.jpg

Low Points:

One puzzle we found to be a little bit much, visually. Though the initial stage of revealing the code is a lot of fun, the latter stage of decoding involves some pretty small symbols, and though the process isn’t overlong or arduous, the small symbols can really tickle the eyes, especially for players with dyslexia.

Verdict:

The Garden was an excellent new entry into the Gruzzle archives! The density of puzzles and the elaborate layering that we’ve come to know Gruzzle for is beautifully employed, and the Garden was a blast from start to finish. I highly recommend this one, as its bevy of puzzles, fantastic design, and smooth difficulty curve should be a great fit for players new and experienced alike! Take a trip to The Gardens here! You can use the promo code FIRSTTIME to get $5 off your subscription!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Gruzzle provided a complementary box.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Beneath the Surface (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 dog wanders up to the front steps of The Will Street Detective Agency. A note has been tucked into his collar. The note is written by a woman named Mary who has been kidnapped and is being held somewhere in town by a maniac who has already killed several other women. Mary has somehow managed to use the dog to carry her request for help, and now it is up to you to find her before it’s too late. Retrace the dog’s steps, use clues that the dog may have picked up unknowingly, and find the house where Mary is being kept. But beware! There is more to this case than meets the eye. See if you can find what lurks…Beneath the Surface!

High Points:

After a couple of fantastic deviations from the norm with The Watcher and The Inheritance, The Deadbolt Mystery Society returns to their favorite crime with Beneath the Surface! A killer is on the loose, and without us, Valley Falls doesn’t stand a chance… It’s good to be back! Deadbolt has really hit a stride recently that we’ve loved, coupling their old style, non-linear game play with their newer, envelope based approach that breaks the game into different stages. It has been working brilliantly for them lately, and this entry is no different in that regard! The story is fantastic, and develops as you go, allowing players to feel as though they are moving through the story in real time. This, along with some great twists and turns as new revelations are uncovered gives the game an exciting “on the clock” feel, as well as an awesome unpredictability. The whole chase for this serial killer has a beautifully creepy (without being scary,) vibe to it, and I absolutely loved the rogue’s gallery Deadbolt had in store for us this time! The puzzling itself is really original, with loads of interactions we aren’t used to seeing, which is always awesome to see from an established subscription. Even puzzle types that are a little more basic or ubiquitous to the genre are tweaked excellently to keep them interesting! Each stage of the game is non-linear, and presents a progressively more challenging slate of enigmas. The mystery starts off with a few easy wins to get players going, and ramps it up nicely as the search for Mary heats up! This is definitely one of the smoothest difficulty curves we’ve seen recently, and that, coupled with how perfectly packed with different puzzles this box is ensured that we were entertained for a good two hours!

Low Points:

One puzzle was used twice, which we weren’t used to with most puzzle subscriptions, but after a little backtracking, we were able to figure out what had been missed. Lately I have also heard from several veteran puzzlers that they aren’t fans of interactions that require cutting out, and if that’s you, this box might present some difficulty in that regard. For us, though, these were pretty small critiques for an otherwise amazing entry!

Verdict:

Beneath the Surface was brilliant! A challenging box for veteran solvers, yet still approachable enough that new players will be able to get the hang of things quickly, this entry marries a creepy, well written story with dense puzzling to create a mystery you’ll be dying to solve! I highly recommend this game, and as always, cannot recommend Deadbolt enough. 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 Curious Correspondence Club – Chapter VI: Milton Manor (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $19.95 Monthly, $179.00 Yearly

Join the Club!

Theme:

What started as a simple museum visit has become a international adventure! Chapter VI of The Curious Correspondence Club takes us to the stately Milton Manor for more puzzling solving, intrigue, and brilliant paper craft! Like all good mansions, this one is full of secrets, and is sure to make for a thrilling spot for this month’s caper!

First Impressions:

There’s not much to say I haven’t said before about this amazing subscription. I’m consistently excited to receive the next chapter, and this one is no exception! Upon opening the envelope, I was very excited to see how a particular paper craft prop would work, as well as how these disparate pieces to the puzzle would fit together.

High Points:

Chapter VI felt like a fresh new experience, but at the same time, contained vibes reminiscent of Chapter I, encouraging us to visit a collection of different rooms in a non-linear fashion in order to draw out all the mansion’s secrets before presenting us with a brilliant meta puzzle to tie everything together! Each room contained an intuitive puzzle that required us to think outside the box and make connections between the other props and rooms. The puzzles were excellently designed, and presented a moderate level of difficulty that provided a balance between smoothly flowing fun and brain busting challenge! All of the enigmas included were multi layered, and I really love how The Curious Correspondence Club consistently ensures that every single puzzle they create is original and full of ah ha moments. There hasn’t been one puzzle which I’ve felt “been there done that” about, and I know that I can rely on the designers to create something new and mind blowing every single month! I really loved the presentation of the decoding puzzles in this chapter, and it is really cool how these instances can be solved in multiple ways, allowing for all types of thinkers to be involved.

One of the major props was amazingly designed, and I really loved interacting with it. It was also the focus of a lot of the puzzles, but managed to feel interesting each time, and we were always excited to return to it. A lot of the puzzles rely on more indirect clues, so a keen eye is required, but the information is not so hidden that it feels unfair. This allows for players to arrive at some immensely satisfying conclusions, revealing the solve organically. One prop in particular wasn’t used by us until later, and once we realized its significance, we were blown away by how satisfying it was to solve the clue. This chapter felt to me like the most dense of the six so far, and is easily my favorite run of puzzles overall. From the non linear set up, to the astounding props, as well as some of the most intriguing conundrums yet, I absolutely adored the experience!

Low Points:

Some of the fonts can be a little difficult to decipher. Generally, Curious Correspondence games help with immersion by including “hand written” fonts where applicable, but there’s always a line between authenticity and readability that unfortunately gets crossed a bit too far from readability for this one.

Verdict:

Chapter VI of The Curious Correspondence Club deserves all the praise it can get, as it serves up a run of puzzles that are excellently challenging, but are still accessible enough that newcomers can solve them with some thinking. I really adore this subscription, and cannot wait for Chapter VII to arrive! I highly recommend subscribing, and you can join The Curious Correspondence Club here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Curious Correspondence Club provided a complementary envelope.

The Detective Society Season 2: The Sudden Silence of Timothy Lee – Episode 1 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-3

Price: £168.00 for a full season, £30.00 a month for a subscription (Six episodes)

Theme:

From the Detective Society website:

Timothy Lee has fallen into a coma and no one can work out why. His doctor suspects foul play, but there’s one thing that’s missing: evidence. There’s more to Timothy’s condition than meets the eye.

You’ll need to use the tactics of a real detective, solving puzzles and using your investigative skills to discover the truth about Timothy Lee.

First Impressions:

I’m always excited to hear about new subscription boxes, and a lot of folks seemed to love The Detective Society Season 1, so when the creators reached out about reviewing Episode One of their new season, I was excited, to say the least! Once the box arrived at our door all the way from the UK, I couldn’t wait to get started!

High Points:

The first thing that really stood out to me about The Detective Society is their amazing sense of humor. I absolutely loved reading over every little bit, and taking part in a few optional interactions that didn’t move the game forward, but were definitely worth it for the chuckle. Though it was immediately obvious the experience would be much more investigative than we are used to, it was clear that this experience wouldn’t be forcing us into Sherlockian deductions or one and done guesses as to what the solution would be, instead taking a much more engaging and entertaining approach by encouraging us to make deductions as we progressed and not revealing the answer if we happened to guess wrong. Putting together the many clues and following up with characters via email was excellently implemented, and ensured the entire experience remained immersive from start to finish.

Though we received many of the clues up front, it was easy to determine what was relevant at any given time, and there were no red herrings to be found. Though the game is pretty strictly linear, (we did work on one step a little before we knew the significance, but that was more us feeling out the flow of a new game,) it doesn’t feel restrictive, and while we did not use the clues during the game, having a look afterwards confirms they are exhaustive and well layered for each part of the experience. We really enjoyed the narrative experience, and were pleased that instead of being a strictly story based adventure, there was still plenty of thinking and interaction required on our side, something narrative games sometimes tend to leave out. Overall, this first episode is a solid start, and we are very interested to see how the story and the difficulty curve develop from here!

Low Points:

The box itself is beautiful, and thin enough for easy storage, but even without being taped closed, the tabs did not want to give up the prize inside. We had to cut it open, which means it doesn’t close back very well, but it’s a minor thing in the grand scheme. We had a little trouble starting off, mostly due to not knowing quite how these boxes work, and it wasn’t totally clear that what we assumed was the ultimate objective was actually the first thing we needed to do. Mostly our bad, but it’d definitely help if it was clearer that this was our starting point. As more experienced players, this box took us a bit less time than average, and for players who are very experienced, this might be more suited as a solo adventure, just based on how things are presented. The game is more narrative and making connections based rather than outright puzzling, so folks who are looking for a more puzzle focused adventure may be disappointed. Overall, however, pretty much everything in this section is a very minor critique.

Verdict:

The Detective Society has delivered a truly exciting start to their second season with this episode! Delivering a mystery that immediately snared our interest, well designed clues that tie into each other beautifully, and a bevy of websites and characters to interact with, this is certainly an adventure that can’t be missed. I’m intrigued to see how this mystery develops, and can absolutely recommend this one without reservation! You can join the Society here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Detective Society provided a complementary copy for review.