The Curious Correspondence Club – Chapter 1: The Custodian’s Keys (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $19.95 Monthly, $179.00 Yearly

Join the Club!

Theme:

From the Curious Correspondence Club website:

Welcome to the M.B. Franklin Museum of Natural History, a place of knowledge, learning, and curiosity.

When a serendipitous discovery grants you an audience with the Museum’s Custodian, a peculiar occurrence launches the hunt for a secret hidden within this storied institution.

Will you be able to unlock the secrets?

First Impressions:

The Curious Correspondence Club’s first chapter arrived in a small to medium sized envelope, but I was impressed with how much was packed into the game, as well as how high quality everything was!

High Points:

The Curious Correspondence Club is absolutely dense with puzzling, and for $19.95 (or less with a yearly subscription,) this game is more than worth the price of admission. The clever inclusion of every single item as part of the puzzling or story is extremely well executed, and upon opening the envelope, I was intrigued to see that even this was used as part of the experience, delivering the mysterious introductory story as it folded out. I was consistently thrilled to see that even the most innocuous of props became a part of the story, and the many ah ha moments that were delivered via connecting these props together were supremely satisfying. Though this game mostly relies on paper props, the experience always feels incredibly polished and fun to work through, and the adventure’s theme is well portrayed by the myriad items included. The story itself is highly mysterious, and had us hooked from the start, it sort of reminded me of a somewhat more grounded version of the video game Control, and that is absolutely a good thing. The videos that are included as an intro and epilogue are well voice acted, and they started and capped off the experience fantastically.

The game flow is incredibly smooth, and allows players to work on the initial puzzles non-linearly at their own pace, and great, tiered hints are provided for those who need a little more direction, ensuring that frustration remains absent from this game. The variety of puzzles is excellent, and I really love how everything fits together intuitively from start to finish. I really love how puzzles built on each other over the various exhibits, and reading through everything helped narrow our investigative routes organically. The meta puzzle was easily my favorite part, as all the information we’d collected came together into a really cool and climactic finale, introducing us to a mysterious world of secret societies, and setting up upcoming adventures amazingly. Without a doubt, this was one of the most exciting at home games we’d played recently!

Low Points:

The set up of the game can allow players to skip one puzzle by process of elimination, though that may be a high point for players who come across a more difficult puzzle they’d like to jump over. For players that are looking to complete every puzzle, the final conundrum they solve will be spoiled somewhat. One puzzle combines a couple more banal interactions, including seek and find and counting elements that aren’t overly exciting.

Verdict:

Without a doubt, I can say that I recommend The Curious Correspondence Club to anyone looking for a new puzzling subscription to try! Enthusiasts and newcomers to the hobby alike can look forward to a beautifully crafted hour or two of engaging puzzling that’s well worth the price. I absolutely love the clever puzzling, as well as look forward to seeing how the intriguing meta-story plays out, and cannot wait for the next envelope to arrive! Join The Curious Correspondence Club here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

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

Modern Treasure Hunt – The VOC Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: €49.95 ($59.02 at the time of writing)

Hunting for treasure in the comfort of your own home!

Theme:

From the Modern Treasure Hunt website:

The VOC Treasure is an #AtHomeMystery treasure hunt. It is an adventure based on a true story that took place at the end of the Dutch Golden Age. It is a 1-4 player (maximum of 6) experience allowing you to play solo or coöperatively. Larger groups can compete or also work together using multiple boxes.

First Impressions:

The VOC Treasure came to us from the Netherlands one day, packed inside a nice wooden box, and holding some very interesting treasures to puzzle through. We had quite a backlog to work through, but the tempting wooden box continued to call to me until we finally got a chance to uncover its secrets! Spoiler alert, it was absolutely worth the wait.

High Points:

One thing that is immediately apparent about The VOC Treasure is that it is a beautifully designed game. The props are all authentic feeling and sturdy, and feel as though they are made to last. Each item is important, and beyond looking good, even the most standard piece of the game plays a major role in the puzzle solving. Not one bit felt extraneous, and it is always wonderful to find a game that has zero fluff included. This amazing attention to detail and design doesn’t end with the presentation, as the puzzles and game flow are excellent as well. Even a particular puzzle that seemed, at first glance, like it would be a slog proved to be an engaging and challenging solve. Code breaking is included, but is non-standard, ensuring that the process to solving is interesting and allows players to engage with something beyond the usual pig-pen/ceasar cipher banality that some games can fall into. The meta-puzzle for this game builds fantastically through each of the challenges, and it is a lot of fun to work through all the way through. Once all the information has been collected in order to solve this enigma, the logic puzzle at the end is properly challenging, but immediately intuitive, ensuring that players aren’t led to logical leaps or red herrings. The whole experience flows beautifully, and it is a brilliant time to work through each logical step in order to finally locate the VOC treasure!

The VOC Treasure is a moderate to high challenge game, and it definitely took our experienced team a full two hours in order to fully complete the game. While some of the conundrums included are very difficult, they were always fair, and just required us to look at things from a different angle to test out a new theory borne from a new piece of information. Once methods of solving have been set up and the ah ha moments have been arrived at, it is generally easy to complete the solve, and there are no arduous processes to muddle through during these puzzles. The experience remains fast paced and enjoyable throughout, and while the complexity of the game has not been sacrificed, Modern Treasure Hunt has ensured that the entire adventure remains an absolute joy throughout.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle can be easily skipped, and though we went back to reveal its secrets, it didn’t quite have the ah ha moment coolness it could have, had it been gatekept better. Another puzzle that underwhelmed took place on a really cool prop, but ended up being a bit too seek and find-y for our tastes. Though the story set up is cool, there isn’t a proper climax, so things felt as though they were left hanging.

Verdict:

The VOC Treasure is a wonderful time, and we absolutely enjoyed every second we spent with this box of excellent puzzling! I absolutely recommend this experience to enthusiasts, as the challenge was more than worthy of our time, but new players will be able to enjoy this one as well, as the intuitive nature of the game and the well layered hint system ensures that players of all skill levels will find something to love. Order your search for The VOC Treasure here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Modern Treasure Hunt provided a complementary box.

Mental Health Break This Week

Hi All,

Sorry for the delay in posting, I’m taking a quick mental health break from working on writing and finalizing our recent reviews in order to make sure I’m caught up on other personal and professional matters. We’ve got caught up on a lot of the backlog, but I don’t want to put out anything rushed that hasn’t been properly edited and worked on, but we’ll be posting reviews for Blackbrim, The VOC Treasure, and DTF: Drag Task Force from Mystery Mansion Regina next week!

Thanks for your understanding, I hope you and yours are doing well during the COVID times.

Scarlet Envelope – Envelopes One and Two (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-3

Price: $20 monthly

Secret Societies sure do love their puzzles…

Theme:

From the Scarlet Envelope website:

Envelope One: Something confusing was delivered to your mailbox. The items in an envelope seem to be from different times…and worlds! Slowly you realize that a mysterious Secret Society is watching you as you try to pass this unusual test. Will you accept a challenge?

Envelope Two: Paris, 1899. Colette, a gorgeous cabaret dancer, disappears. Her dressing room is full of confusing leads: among the jewelry and love notes, you find a threatening letter and some truly unexpected things from the past. Who is she..? Find Colette and reveal her dark secret!

First Impressions:

From the moment I saw Scarlet Envelope advertised on Kickstarter, I knew I had to give it a try! A myriad of creative themes, the promise of a exciting puzzle adventure, and a excellent price point all called to me. In a sea of new puzzling experiences, this one was the one I was most excited for, as it certainly would be interesting to see how many puzzles the designers could pack into a single envelope. (Spoiler alert, it is a LOT more than I thought.)

High Points:

Overall, the first two envelopes for Scarlet Envelope are really great, containing a wealth of puzzling and a dense, multilayered experience that is woven into itself nicely, ensuring that the whole experience feels interconnected and well designed. Each envelope not only provides a large variety of props inside, but also includes digital items and locks to solve, expanding the experience greatly. The story is properly mysterious, and I like the meta narrative that has been included, which I won’t comment too specifically on to prevent spoilers, but I am indeed very interested to see where how deep this rabbit hole goes!

Chapter One is an introduction of sorts, sending along a small newspaper and an assortment of various and sundry items, all of which, if players have been keeping tabs on some of the revealed themes, hint towards future experiences Scarlet Envelope has in store! I really love this foreshadowing, and am interested to see if and how they tie into future games. This envelope was completely non-linear, with a bevy of puzzles that all tie into a final solve that was intuitive and entertaining to put together. I really enjoyed how many of the clues were very subtle, but lead the player just enough to ensure that once all the connections have been put together, they happen upon a fantastic ah ha moment. This occurred frequently, and the multilayered nature of the game, coupled with the tactile feel of all the props, was immediately engaging. I love how well this envelope works as an introductory experience, and as a teaser it definitely had us looking forward to the next envelope!

Speaking of, Chapter Two was more of a story based experience, including a narrative that sets up the mystery of the missing Colette. This game flung us directly into the deep end, delivering several enigmatic items, tasking us with determining the meaning behind them. This was a much more difficult experience than the previous envelope, but was appropriately rewarding, serving up a story that includes a fantastic twist and climax that we did not see coming at all! The ah ha moments in this game are much more hard won, but when I solved them, it felt like a triumph. Most of the difficulty of this game relies on well hidden cluing and out of the box thinking, ensuring that the experience remains fair and well crafted. Several moments feel hugely creative, and I can’t quite pick out my favorite puzzle from the lot, there were so many great ones! Everything culminates well during the final solve, and the mystery must be fully explored in order to complete the game, which I loved, as there were no ways to short circuit the game at the end. Overall, the premise is fantastic, and I cannot wait to continue our time hopping journey next month!

Low Points:

For Envelope One, there were a couple typos that accidentally allowed me to solve a particular puzzle using these accidentally connected typos. This has since been corrected however, and shouldn’t be a problem any longer. Another puzzle is more of knowing who someone is, and while outside knowledge isn’t as much a bad thing as it is in escape rooms, either knowing a bit of trivia or googling it has never been the most exciting puzzle to us.

In regards to Envelope Two, for experienced players, you’ll probably notice something about one prop that will lead you down a particular rabbit hole, but I’d recommend not doing so, as this skips one excellent puzzle. This item was a great surprise, but I did notice that getting it to do what it was supposed to was a bit more destructive than was probably intended. The glue was just a bit stronger, making it so that a reset wasn’t exactly seamless. Luckily, there will be a reset pack for this item for folks who’d like to ensure their game remains in peak condition. For this game being only the second entry of a planned 13, the difficulty ramps up greatly. While on the whole this wasn’t unwelcome, there are points at which the logic can be tenuous, requiring some leaps. There’s one in particular that we couldn’t for the life of us make the connection on, and when we took a hint, were still thrown off due to an unintended red herring. Though I love the video that accompanies the ending, there is an ongoing character that uses a voice modulator, which can make things hard to understand. Subtitles would definitely help out here, however.

Verdict:

Scarlet Envelope is a brilliant new subscription that I highly recommend, based off their first two games. Envelope one starts things off gently by introducing players to their style of mystery, but the experience ramps up from there during envelope two, providing almost two hours of puzzling adventure! I highly recommend checking this out, and can easily say that newcomers and enthusiasts alike will love the experience due to the inclusion of a “Starter” and “Experienced” difficulty level. Start your journey into the mysteries of the Scarlet Envelope here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Scarlet Envelope provided a complementary review copy.

Escape One Algarve – Final Call (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 1-6 Devices (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: €60 per room (About $70.45 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Remember, when escaping the zombie hordes, a bridal boutique is the best place to hole up!

Theme:

From the Escape One Algarve website:

Zombies have taken over the city. Resources are running out and you’re facing the challenge of your life. Find your boarding code for the last flight to safety in the military-appropriated… bridal boutique?? Do you have what it takes to earn what you need to survive?

First Impressions:

Our virtual escape room jaunt has taken us some crazy places, but a bridal boutique in the middle of a zombie apocalypse definitely takes the cake for originality! We couldn’t wait to try this one out when we first heard about Escape One Algarve, and it certainly did not disappoint!

High Points:

Final Call’s theme, as previously mentioned, is wonderfully original! A bridal boutique zombie escape room is something I don’t think I’d ever have thought of, but I’m glad someone did, because it is truly one of my favorite themes, up there with Vampires v. Unicorns. The humor is implemented well, and meshes with the horror themes without overshadowing each other, ensuring that both the scares and jokes come through effectively. The set design also exhibits some of this fantastic duality, with a beautiful bridal boutique’s pleasant charm being invaded by zombie heads, military ammo boxes, and no shortage of blood! There is a fair amount of tech involved with this room, and it all translates well, with many sections of the room bolstered by interactions that have been implemented within the inventory system to ensure that more tactile interactions are able to be experienced by the players. There are also a few great B-movie style videos that pop up during key points of the game to complement the story, as well as provide a few jump scares and/or laughs. One of these videos in particular was very well done, leading to a climactic moment we absolutely did not expect! The finale was awesome, and we really enjoyed how the in person interaction that Escape One Algarve normally provides has been translated to the remote experience seamlessly.

Puzzles within the room are great, and flow well, with a non-linear set up that allowed us to bounce around the room at our leisure, taking on puzzles as they came, and making intuitive connections throughout. There were a couple moments where we came across some escape room standbys, and it was fantastic for us to be able to engage in these teamwork based puzzles we hadn’t been able to enjoy for a while due to COVID. I’ve never seen a physical teamwork puzzle work within a remote room, but Escape One Algarve has figured out a way to make it not only function, but be a entertaining interaction that engaged the whole team. For the most part, the puzzles were excellently creative, and it was really cool to see how they integrated into the theme itself. Many times, with some out of the box thinking, we made connections that we wouldn’t ordinarily expect, leading to great ah ha moments. I really enjoyed one of the late game puzzles that capped off a room long item collection in a satisfying way, and I loved how most all of the puzzles gelled in a way that made them feel interconnected. Overall, this is a great room that has some amazing ideas, and executes on them fantastically.

Low Points:

There was one puzzle in particular that we weren’t overly fond of, but luckily for us, we managed to skip it by using something else in the room to determine the answer. Unfortunately, that puzzle wasn’t meant to be solved at that point in the game, so it sort of threw off telescape’s inventory flow, and we missed out on a couple cool interactions. The owners did let us go back and have a look at the telescape interactions we had missed, and assured us that they would go back and fix the clue that allowed us to jump ahead in the game flow by accident. I’ve noticed that Telescape inventory alerts can be strangely loud and grating depending on what the settings are, and unfortunately, the alerts in Final Call were very loud. We also had a spotty connection to start, so I abandoned my device and joined in on my wife’s computer. This is to be expected due to the long distance between the US and Portugal, but I did miss a few things at the start.

Verdict:

Final Call is a great escape room to play from home, and I’m glad we happened upon it! A brilliant escape room experience filled with remote friendly puzzles and excellent surprises, I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a horror experience that mixes in a good bit of comedy as well. Final Call is definitely a beginner friendly room that still packs a good challenge for enthusiasts, and virtual players will have a fantastic time booking their flights out of zombie infested territory here!

8.5/10 (Great)