The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Lair (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review was brought to you by me! J

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Nightingale Lane is set off the main road and difficult to see from the highway. In other words, it’s a perfect spot for secrets. When a courier for Coyote Parcel Service needs a signature for the envelope he is supposed to deliver to 148 Nightingale Lane, he peeks through the window in hopes of getting the owner’s attention. What he sees is a room covered in blood-soaked plastic. Could there be a logical explanation for such a sinister sight? Is it possible that this isn’t what it looks like? Or has he stumbled upon the lair of a madman who has managed to keep to the shadows and out of the public eye? Explore the house on Nightingale Lane and find out what’s really been going on there.

First Impressions

I’m not sure why but I kept reading this box’s title as “Liar” instead of “Lair”. To be fair, “Liar” could be at least some sort of adjacent, related title for this box (as well as just many other boxes) so I feel like technically I wasn’t super off. Anyways! On a super, totally un-related note, what’s up with horror themes and teeth?

Yay Points

As can often be expected from the creative team at Deadbolt, Lair contained a cool and creepy story with interesting plot surprises. I really enjoyed the story-related a-ha realizations we experienced, hinted at by various clues on the way. In particular, it was a clever touch the way we were given the key to solving the final mystery and how it fit (or didn’t fit) in with the killer’s plan.

As always, the box contained a huge assortment of puzzles for us to play through. We really enjoyed how story elements emerge as various answers are unlocked, as well as how this contributed to the smooth flow of the game. There were some cool props and story facets in particular that not only made the experience more directed, but also created a more thrilling impetus behind working towards and getting through the next step. 

While all the props were neat, I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that we were (finally?) provided a thorough map of Valley Falls (or at least a good portion of it). I kind of forget that this is a “normal”, functioning (fictional) town given the sheer number of serial killers, crime rings, and just pervasive issues they seem to have. The map itself was an interesting prop and veteran Deadbolt subscribers will definitely appreciate the callbacks to previous mysteries. There were also a couple of new interesting landmarks introduced in this game, at least one of which we wouldn’t be surprised if it were re-visited in future boxes.

The killer of this game definitely had an interesting personality, and we kind of got a Collector-like vibe. Could there be a sequel in the works? At the very least, I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if this box helped create a foundation for later mysteries!

Pondering Points

There was one puzzle in particular that was a bit ambiguous for us in figuring out how to apply the directions we were given. While we knew what we were supposed to do, we ended up spending a bit of time guessing and checking our solution for this puzzle.

Overall though, the puzzles themselves were good. Compared to other Deadbolt boxes, they seemed a little simpler overall, though this is not necessarily a bad thing. The box was still an enjoyable experience!

Final Verdict

The Lair provided a really suspenseful and intriguing mystery experience! I think this box would be friendly for more advanced beginning sleuths, but definitely check it out for yourself 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!

8/10 (Great)

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

Society of Curiosities – Ch.2: The Posey Ring (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review was brought to you by me! 😊

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $19.50/month OR $49/every 3 months OR $179/year

Theme:

From the Society of Curiosities Website:

A mysterious Posey Ring leads you to Victorian England in search of an ancient alchemical manuscript.

Study the artifacts, articles, and expert resources to discover the location the manuscript and dispatch your team to recover it.

First Impressions

I’m always amazed with how much content can be packed into the relatively small envelopes puzzle makers send us, and this game was no exception! If the Posey Ring is anything similar to the Society of Curiosities’ first chapter, I was excited to get lost in another mystery and see what was in store for us this time!

Yay Points

In addition to the multitude of puzzles provided, we were also struck by their variety. I don’t think we needed to repeat any of our solving methods! With so many types, it was impressive how unique and well-themed each one of them was. The props for each enigma were extremely fun to work with and were well-designed, with the game being pretty tactile-based overall. I appreciated many of the interactions and really enjoyed the effects that resulted (science rules! :D). There was even a neat destructible state puzzle, and, as a result of it, we were pleasantly surprised to be left with a pretty decent tasting drink.

The game flow of the Posey Ring was really smooth. For the most part, we were pretty clear on what items we needed to work with each step of the way, and didn’t have much aimless searching. It was very satisfying to see solutions start to reveal themselves as we figured out what props to put together (and how) and to see the puzzle put itself into place.   

Most all of the technical interactions were intuitively placed throughout, and really boosted our experience of the game. At one point, we were directed to an interesting website that provided some great interactions, and honestly, I just appreciated the puns. There were also multiple video clips that displayed different plot points, and featured our text-based bot friend performing the interactions we guided him to do and the results of those actions. These clips were really helpful in immersing us into the mystery and were just really fun to watch.

Our bot-friend was seamlessly integrated, and really enhanced both the direction and feel of the experience as well. The bot’s character had a fun personality, which came through not just with the video clips that depicted his actions, but also his responses to our messages. We were even able to goof around with him a bit, which was impressive!

Pondering Points

There was one point in the game where we were surprisingly lost. After a lot of hint taking, we realized we missed a puzzle by not telling our bot-friend something that we had actually already found earlier. It wasn’t intuitive to us that we would need to convey this particular finding, and we lost some time since we didn’t receive the clue directing us to and helping us figure out to solve a certain set of props.

Final Verdict

The Posey Ring was a really fun and immersive home game experience, and I would highly recommend this chapter, (as well as the first,) of the Society of Curiosities’ subscription mystery games. This one in particular had an added bonus of the second half feeling similar to an escape room, which my partner (of course,) appreciated. Check them out for yourselves here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Society of Curiosities provided a complementary mailing.

Puzzling Pursuits – Blackbrim: 1876 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95; $5 shipping

The police have been kidnapped! Who you gonna call? Puzzle Enthusiasts, that’s who.

Theme:

From the Puzzling Pursuits website:

Set during the Victorian era in the English town of Blackbrim, you are a private detective who has received a package containing mysterious clues from a police commissioner shortly before he was kidnapped. He and the entire police force are being held hostage. To save them, you must solve all the riddles the perpetrator left behind…

First Impressions:

Blackbrim: 1876 is certainly an interesting, sleek looking package. with two separate parts wrapped up in black tissue paper, and a properly mysterious introductory page to set the stage for the rest of the game, it certainly had us intrigued!

High Points:

Blackbrim: 1876 was broken up into two parts, and the first part was an overall alright introduction to the Puzzling Pursuits style of puzzling. While nothing really stood out to me here, this section on the whole was solid. I enjoyed two of the puzzles above the rest, as they were somewhat more seamlessly logical and provided great ah ha moments to revel in. The meta was also enjoyable, and I like how the website to check answers has been set up, it works smoothly and allows for hints to be taken and solutions to be verified without any difficulty or accidental spoilers.

Part two is where Blackbrim: 1876 really shines, however. Sans a couple of puzzles that are similar to puzzles we overall didn’t enjoy in part one, the set up and puzzling is much more clever and refined here. These interactions also tended to be more layered and intricate, allowing for subsequently satisfying solves, as well as loads of multi step, clever conundrums. One particular puzzle looked to me like it was going to be a very difficult, trial and error enigma, but proved to be an elegant mind game that really folded together beautifully once I had teased out what to do. This whole section feels a lot like an escape room, as each puzzle we solved opened up another room, freeing another captive, and leading us closer to the final meta, which ended up being an awesome solve that was hidden in plain sight. The story line itself is also a lot of fun, and the second part really ups the ante narratively, with fun reveals and a finale that ties everything up neatly while still delivering some story threads that could lead to a sequel.

Low Points:

While part two of the game was definitely where things picked up, part one felt like more of a slog. There were a lot of anagrams, and while we don’t necessarily mind those, they just sort of felt like they were there, rather than an active, engaging part of the puzzle. A bit of clean up after the initial solve. There was also a lot of vague googling to do, especially one part which we ultimately skipped since research based googling is something we’ve never really enjoyed. One puzzle in particular required googling, and though we had solved enough of it to skip over the bits we needed to google, it would have been a much more entertaining puzzle without the research. Another puzzle is a great, tactile idea, but doesn’t line up quite as well as it should to ensure confidence in the answers we arrived at. At one point, we needed to take a few hints to move forward with one puzzle that was really stumping us, and they were a little too vague to put us on the right path.

Our only critiques for part two was one more google based puzzle, and a math based puzzle that my wife loved, but I checked out on. That one is a real hit or miss, so if you don’t enjoy math, make sure you play with someone who does. Overall, the only issue is that the cursive style font that is used throughout is difficult to read, even for someone who writes in cursive on a daily basis.

Verdict:

Blackbrim: 1876 was a somewhat uneven experience that still managed to deliver an overall enjoyable time as well as a second half that really captured a nice “at home escape room” feel. Though we had a few gripes with some of the puzzling and all of the Googling, it was still a good time, and I can recommend it easily to enthusiasts that are looking for a somewhat challenging and narrative interesting experience! Start your investigation into Blackbrim here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Puzzling Pursuits provided a complementary box.

Gruzzle – The Will (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

Where there’s a will…

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

Beloved philanthropist, Dolores Pumbleton, has died! Luckily, she left her massive fortune to her three grandchildren. Unluckily, she also left them a puzzling challenge. Can you help them solve their Nana’s puzzles and earn their inheritance? Sign up with Gruzzle HQ and receive this mystery in your mailbox. Don’t delay — the whole town is counting on you!

First Impressions:

The first Gruzzle, The Painting, was an intensely original, clever new subscription box that really blew all of our expectations for a first time puzzle box out of the water. The anticipation for The Will, therefore, was high. When it hit our porch, I couldn’t wait to see what was included inside!

High Points:

One thing I can definitely say about Gruzzle is that we are still loving the incredibly layered puzzling. We’re constantly impressed by how intricate everything is, and it is clear that a lot of work goes into each puzzle and prop. During the entire experience we were astounded at how well put together absolutely everything was. It was mind blowing how there were times we would come back to different items two or three different times to find that there was even more cryptic information hidden within something we just knew had to have been depleted on the last go round. We also continue to love how tactile everything is, the props and more papercraft based puzzles are so cleverly put together, and we love to see how detailed and densely packed with puzzling each bit is. Though a lot of the game is based on paper puzzling, the designers have done so much to ensure that it never feels basic. The level of creativity is amazing, and there were so many cool touches that we’d never come across before in this sort of game. Furthermore, a lot of work has gone into each interaction to ensure everything feels completely intuitive, and while some work has to be done in order to fully understand what to do, there are no logical leaps or inconsistencies to be found.

One thing we noted while playing is that we love how Gruzzle is how it is, at its core, just a super friendly and approachable experience. Most boxes have deep, dark mysteries or grisly murder investigations, and while I love that sort of thing, it is still really nice to tackle something a bit more light hearted. Gruzzle truly feels like a game that welcomes you in for a challenge and invites you to solve along at your own pace. However, even though the game is family friendly, it is overall still very complex and properly challenging, ensuring that enthusiasts will still get their puzzling money’s worth! Also, while the theme is somewhat lower stakes than, say, escaping a murderer or solving the crime of the century, it still manages to be incredibly engaging and we felt deeply immersed for the entire two hour game. To really drive home how well designed The Will is, there was a specific puzzle that fell into a genre we usually dislike, but it was designed in such a way that we had a lot of fun teaming up to take it down! The finale of the game was brilliant, and included yet another bonus puzzle that displayed all the best parts of a Gruzzle box fantastically.

Low Points:

In the previous Gruzzle box, we felt that the answers sort of took away from the experience, as they generally just named the next envelope to open. This time, they do feel overall more natural, but still fall into the same sort of category. Being an almost completely offline experience, I’m not sure how this can be made to feel more natural, but it’s one of the few critiques we have. One specific puzzle type shows up more than once, which feels repetitive, but is over quickly, so it isn’t an arduous thing. Finally, one particular puzzle that shows up later has an issue with tedious searching, and the presentation makes it somewhat more difficult to keep track of progress without making your own copies. Overall, though, these are very small things that didn’t detract overmuch from the experience.

Verdict:

Incredibly fresh and original, Gruzzle continues to demonstrate how incredibly creative they can be, and is fast becoming one of our favorite subscription boxes, easily! We adored this box, and absolutely recommend it to newcomers and enthusiasts alike, as the approachable, yet challenging puzzling is sure to be engaging for all types of puzzler! The Will ships November 2nd, and you can receive it by signing up by October 31st 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 – The Circle (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Something terrible is brewing in Valley Falls… as usual.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When Jodie Wong hosts a group of her closest friends for an evening of fun, she decides the entertainment will be a game called The Circle that requires everyone to write down one anonymous fact about themselves. The group will then take turns guessing which fact corresponds to which person. She decides to make things even more exciting by having everyone type out their fact on an antique typewriter that was owned by a murderer named Nicholas Hundley. Things get weird, however, when there are more messages than participants and one of the notes reads, “I killed a person once. Tonight, I’ll kill another.” No one admits to writing the note, and everyone goes home thinking it was nothing more than a bad joke. It doesn’t seem funny the next day when Jodie is found murdered in her home. Was Jodie Wong killed by one of those closest to her who attended the party? Or was the typewriter a conduit through which something sinister entered this world? Enter The Circle and find out.

First Impressions:

It’s the official, (not really official, but…) start of Deadbolt’s spooky season! The fall has traditionally had some fantastic creepy boxes, and it looks like this September and October will be no different, with The Circle and next month’s Lair bringing the strange and supernatural themes I love! From the moment I saw this box’s cover art I was excited, and absolutely had to crack the box open the same day we received it.

High Points:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society has delivered some fairly dense puzzling mysteries lately, and The Circle is no slouch in regards to the amount of puzzles it contains. There are quite a few connections to be made, puzzles to be solved, and codes to break, and as has become the norm recently, there are new items to find during each new stage of the game. I have been loving the multi-part set up of recent Deadbolt boxes, and the ah ha moments that are derived from opening a new envelope and finding just the right prop to connect with something you’ve been puzzling over previously are fantastic! Another innovation for this box is an expanded focus on narrative. Though Deadbolt already does a great job of weaving stories into their experiences, The Circle in particular focuses even more on expanding the lore and upping the world building. I also loved how the climax and epilogue were expanded within the box, allowing us a deeper insight into the finale, and leaving us with some revelations we were not expecting! It is astounding how Deadbolt continues to evolve month to month, delivering innovations into their mysteries that I didn’t know I wanted, but am always excited to receive.

Though the story is somewhat darker than usual, it never becomes overwhelmingly dour, and bits of comic relief or lighter moments help to ensure the solving remains enjoyable. The puzzles are beautifully integrated into the story, and there are loads of interesting characters to meet and interact with along the way. It is always interesting to see what new Valley Falls resident we will meet next, and one character that assists with the investigation will definitely be someone I’m watching out for in future spooky boxes! There are several great call backs to older boxes for veteran detectives, and the vast array of excellent props tie everything together nicely. The whole process of solving The Circle is brilliant, as the mysterious and suspenseful vibe weaves throughout the proceedings amazingly. While we solved each new puzzle, small revelations hinted at different threads of investigation, and though we theorized regarding what might truly be going on, the final revelation was truly an excellent surprise. Puzzles are very intuitive, and it always makes sense as to what comes next during the excellent game flow, even though determining the solutions might be a bit trickier. A couple of great puzzles felt enormously satisfying once the solves clicked into place, and all points were logical and required no leaps or sorting out of red herrings.

Low Points:

The PDFs pack a lot of information inside, but sometimes, these were a bit hard to read. Since only our phones have QR readers, we had to open the links and then transfer them to our desktop so we could more easily read what was on screen. For a smoother experience, it might be ok to have a couple PDFs for those with less ability to read the smaller letters. There was one puzzle in particular that is ubiquitous on Facebook, and while it isn’t a bad puzzle per se, it is a puzzle type that didn’t quite fit in with the other, more clever enigmas that Deadbolt usually dreams up. There were also a couple other interactions that were a little more simplistic than we were used to, whose connections were somewhat more spelled out, but these were, fortunately, not frequent.

Verdict:

Overall, The Circle is a great new addition to Deadbolt’s unofficial spooky lineup, and I love the even bigger focus on narrative, new mechanics, and expanded ending seen in this box. Though we found it to be a bit easier than usual, there were still loads of puzzling, and some clever surprises I’d recommend to any mystery lover, especially those who like a bit of supernatural fun to spice things up! 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.