Sleuth Kings – Rookie Detective Case 101: The Wolf Among Us (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $15 per box

Alright rookie, I’m putting you on the case!

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Dave Talbot’s life took an unexpected turn when he woke up with a strange bite mark and no memory of the night before. A mysterious note claiming that Dave has been turned into a werewolf is his only clue about what happened. Luckily, the note claims that there is a cure for Dave’s new condition, but there’s a catch – it’s $30,000. Can you help Sullivan uncover the truth about the curse and find the cure before Dave is howling at the moon?

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings will soon be releasing their newest subscription box offering, Sleuth Kings: Rookie Detective. Promising to be a more streamlined and simpler experience for those that would like a quicker mystery at a reduced price, it promises to be a great game for new sleuths, families, and those on a budget. This particular mystery was loosely based on one of my favorite Master Detective cases, Case 013: The Beast Within, a spooky yet silly mystery from last year that we really enjoyed, so we couldn’t wait to dive in!

With that in mind, this review has been written strictly keeping in mind that this is a specifically targeted experience that may not appeal strongly to those seeking a challenge and the rating has been set accordingly.

High Points:

What has been promised as a streamlined experience has absolutely been delivered on. As an experienced Sleuth Kings player, it’s actually a lot of fun to see how puzzles have been adjusted to clue newer solvers in to how certain codes and solutions work. A lot of old school decoding methods that most enthusiasts have learned to spot immediately are tuned to keep a beginner experience level in mind, and really delivers an intuitive game that leads beginning players towards satisfying solves without holding their hand completely. I feel like Rookie Detective is an awesome way to introduce players to the complicated world of puzzle hunts and more complex subscription boxes, something the market really doesn’t have. This box really is a great stepping stone, and something I wish had been around when I was a baby puzzler! The whole experience still retains that great Sleuth Kings polish, and introduces players to the world without being overwhelming.

The props and printed items are just as awesome as those within the usual subscription, now called “Master Detective,” and though there are fewer items, they still look great as ever. Interactions with Sullivan have remained unchanged, and while there are obviously fewer of them due to the shorter nature of these cases, they are just as well implemented and deliver the story excellently. The whole narrative is light hearted, and very humorous in spots, so it makes for a perfect game for families who want to share their puzzling obsession with kids who may not yet be old enough for the Master boxes, but are old enough to be interested in solving alongside their parents.

Overall, even though we are very experienced with Sleuth Kings and puzzles in general, we found ourselves having a lot of fun solving this box. It was just plain fun to work through, and presents a fun, streamlined twist on the formula that I’m sure the target audience for Rookie Detective will absolutely love as well.

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Return to Club Mannaro, where rubes are tricked into thinking they’re turning into Werewolves!

Low Points:

One particular clue makes reference to a number that doesn’t appear, which becomes a confusing typo to start with. Veteran sleuths who may be looking for more Sleuth Kings in their life will probably blow right through these cases, so master detectives will still have to wait for their once a month boxes to come in. However, this box is squarely aimed at those looking for a streamlined game, so in that regard, there’s very little not to like here.

Verdict:

For brand new puzzle detectives, Sleuth King’s Rookie Detective series promises to be a great time! With that in mind, veterans will want to keep their Master Detective subscriptions in place, but may enjoy this box if they have kids or less puzzle inclined friends who would like to join in! I recommend giving this a shot if most puzzle boxes feel too intimidating or if you’re looking to ease yourself into the world of subscription mysteries! Though this is only the first box in the Rookie Detective line, I absolutely think this is a great stepping stone towards becoming a better puzzle solver overall. You can purchase previous cases 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!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

Exit: The Game – The House of Riddles (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $24.99

An enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a house!

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

You and your fellow detectives are summoned to an abandoned house. Never wanting to turn down an unsolved mystery, you arrive at the house. Suddenly, you hear screams and see that the entrance has shut behind you. What’s happening here? Will you be able to crack the case and find your way out of the house?

First Impressions:

Though we weren’t overly impressed with The Catacombs of Horror, I was interested to see how one of the standard new releases would play. This one hadn’t quite released in the US yet, but for my birthday, my lovely wife procured a British copy for me, and we soon got cracking!

High Points:

The House of Riddles plays out very straightforwardly, leading most of the puzzles within to be highly intuitive, and allowing for connections to be made through the game flow. The props were highly tactile, and most of the game presented us with conundrums that we would work through using physical pieces of the puzzles. The illustrations throughout the adventure are colorful and inviting, and use this to the game’s advantage by drawing the eye to excellently integrated clues. Perspective is played with in clever ways, and many points of the game present some excellently satisfying solves.

The House of Riddles is one of the easiest Exit: The Game entries, and is therefore a great game for families or new players. The linear nature of the game allows for players to be walked through the experience a little easier, and while there are still tricks to certain puzzles, encouraging players to think outside the box, there is no real need for previous experience with this sort of puzzling experience. Some of the more challenging Exit games definitely require at least passing familiarity with franchise tropes, but luckily this is a great first step for beginners.

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Lots of fun props and a little ball to keep away from the cats!

Low Points:

The House of Riddles is from what I’ve read, one of the first if not the first Exit game released in Germany. If that’s true, it does show in practice, as the game is rather basic on the whole. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but folks who’ve had a bit of experience with previous Exit games will find this particular game very easy. New players might not mind this as much, as this makes the game more approachable, but overall, this game isn’t quite as excellently fine tuned or challenging as others in the series. The story is overall pretty strange, being a fairly loose excuse for the player to be stuck in a giant escape room house. The climax is mostly random as well, and there isn’t much in the way of stakes. The most difficult puzzle is only difficult due to an erroneous clue that serves as a rather large red herring, throwing us off due to the placement of an illustration. We had the right idea, but the clues specifically led us off track. The game is also vastly linear, ensuring some puzzles that require solo work to become major choke points. Especially if your teammate is very precise with their cuts. So very precise.

Verdict:

The House of Riddles, despite being the earliest Exit game, is good fun. Experienced players will blow through it fairly quickly, so veteran players might want to skip it, however, new players will get a great introduction to the series via this game. I personally recommend giving it a shot if you want to scratch the home escape game itch, but your mileage may vary. Overall, I think hardcore enthusiasts will find it an overall fair to middling experience, but new players will love it. We enjoyed our time with the game, but I personally think it was weaker in the challenge department. You can pick up a copy from your friendly local game store today. We recommend checking out The Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC, check out their website here!

7/10 (Good)

The Conundrum Box – Anastasia: The Lost Princess (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Long Live the Romanovs!

Theme:

From the Conundrum Box website:

In 1918 the world believed that Czar Nicholas II and his whole family, including his youngest daughter Anastasia, were murdered by the Bolsheviks in Russia, but you have recently found that that isn’t the whole truth. Now you must race against the Soviets as they try to find the Grand Duchess Anastasia that got away! Find her first and save her from the same grisly fate that befell the rest of her family!

First Impressions:

A new escape room subscription box is always exciting to hear about, but when it comes from an experienced design team who previously ran an escape room business, it becomes a must play! The unique theme of Anastasia captured my attention, as did the promise of longer stories told over multiple boxes in future installments. The day the box hit our doorstep, we couldn’t wait to begin puzzling!

High Points:

One of the first things we noticed about The Conundrum Box is that they successfully portray a historical story through puzzles and an excellent online component that delivers a level of interactivity we really enjoyed. The historical basis for puzzling delivers an experience that we had hoped for from Finders Seekers, but was not found within that particular subscription, so it is awesome to see this gap in the market finally filled! The experience is presented in a non-intimidating fashion, with only a small amount of puzzles and evidence to work through, with several envelopes containing new interactions and props that are opened as the story progresses. This keeps the game well directed, as well as providing an excellent mechanic for traversal though the game’s world.

From start to finish, there is a dense amount of puzzles, and the game remains highly varied throughout, ensuring different puzzling styles are well represented. There is a point in the story where everything starts to kick off in earnest, and this stage of the game delivers some of the most exciting story beats, as well as some of the best, most tactile puzzles. Things become very non-linear at this point, and our team was incredibly engaged with the experience throughout this stage of the adventure. This isn’t to say that the initial stage of the game isn’t fun, but once the initial expository beats have been completed, the adventure becomes extremely immersive! For the most part the game flow is brilliantly smooth, delivering new story revelations, puzzles, and props at a good clip, ensuring the game has fresh new content at every turn. Cluing is extremely well done, especially with particular puzzles, some of which hide their secrets in plain sight, only becoming clear once certain pieces of evidence have fallen into place. This results in some really brilliant moments of revelation, and it is always satisfying.

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A selection of the many, many items to be found within this box!

Low Points:

There was an error in the initial “practice round” puzzle, which we found was a manufacturing problem, luckily this one is solvable otherwise. One particular puzzle caused some confusion as the solution bucked the trend of passwords generally being a word when they include letters, so we were unsure of our answer until we finally tried it. Usually, having an actual word to enter is a great way to ensure players have an immediate check against whether the code is valid, but it’s a small problem since passwords are entered online. Another puzzle requires a lot of guess and check to initially work out, but there is another work around we found that skipped most of this frustration. The adventure gets off to a somewhat slow start, picking up story and puzzle wise about a third of the way through. If you’re a player that doesn’t enjoy reading exposition, this will be a bit of a slog for you. We enjoyed the storyline for the most part, but were definitely more engaged when the non linear puzzling and really exciting moments started to kick off. Though the Adventure mode shows promise, we were somewhat disappointed in the lack of a payoff for the mode itself. A bit of expansion on this could add a whole new layer to the experience, affecting the story depending on how well players do.

Verdict:

Anastasia: The Lost Princess is an good start for The Conundrum Box. While there are a few kinks to work out, this is definitely a new escape room subscription box that I am excited for! With their new three box adventure, Escape from Sleepy Hollow kicking off soon, we cannot wait to see what comes next! I recommend giving this box a shot, as the games are developed by experienced puzzle developers, and The Conundrum Box shows great promise! Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary box.

Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $24.99

Nothing good happens underground.

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

Gloomy crypts lie under the city of Paris. The catacombs swallow city light, riddles, and, apparently, also people. After the mysterious disappearance of a friend in the catacombs, you and your team embark on a search party, making your way through the puzzling underground labyrinth. Will you be able to find your friend in time and escape this cavernous world of darkness? This double-sized EXIT game is presented in two separate parts.

First Impressions:

It has been well documented that Exit: The Game is one of my favorite tabletop escape room experiences, and for good reason. Most all of their games have been high quality, with twists and turns you don’t quite get from other games available via retail. When I heard the newest box would be a two part adventure, I was instantly excited to see what the designers would do with this new, expanded format! Once we obtained it, we quickly got to puzzling.

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A double size box for a double size adventure!

High Points:

The Catacombs of Horror has easily some of the most tactile and engaging props yet. Several puzzles require players to manipulate the items in fascinating ways in order to create some really ingenious reveals. The initial sections of both halves of the game do a great job of easing players into the game before ramping things up with intuitive and challenging, but not overly difficult puzzles. Some of my favorite puzzles within this box were incredibly intuitive, encouraging players to read between the lines and pay close attention to their in game surroundings in order to pick up on key clues, resulting in some excellent moments of revelation as all the disparate parts fall nicely into place. The two part experience delivers bonus items during the second half that ensure the adventure remains stuffed with original interactions, and several of our favorite Exit: The Game tropes can be found within this box. Puzzles themselves trend towards multi-layered, challenging affairs, and when they’re implemented well, they’re astounding to behold, but sometimes the difficulty veers a bit too far into the realm of logical leaps and obtuse cluing. The theme is much darker for this outing, tying the Paris Catacombs to an ancient evil, and the stakes remain appropriately high from start to finish. Our team of two enthusiasts remained engaged with this adventure for a little over two hours, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, time-wise.

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Even more evidence to process than usual!

Low Points:

As noted before, this is certainly Exit: The Game’s most difficult box, even more so than Dead Man on the Orient Express. However, the difficulty is derived far too often from logical leaps and the absence of intuitive clue threads. The connective tissue of several puzzles needs to be beefed up in order to make complete sense, and some of what should be the most climactic interactions in the game become mired in frustration due to deficient cluing. One particular riddle gives fewer clues the quicker you’ve solved so far, and this feels needlessly punitive, a blatant time sink in a series that has so far artfully avoided such puzzles. Another time sink forgoes cluing entirely in favor of a guess and check puzzle that also provides a choke point that will leave any players beyond one waiting around for the moment they can move on. While previous linear Exit games have proven skillful in implementing linearity to the benefit of weaving an excellent story, the linearity of The Catacombs of Horror tends to ignore the story, leaving only choke points and dead zones in the game flow that really kills the atmosphere of the adventure.

While the first half of the game tends to run a bit more smoothly, the second half tends to implement more complicated puzzles which, on its face, is a good idea. Ramping up the difficulty curve is standard. However, the design decisions made in order to present difficult puzzles for the sake of difficulty rather than challenge compounds here, and results in over complicated, red herring filled illogic. This is unfortunately most evident in the ultimate puzzle, which should be a climactic and exciting solve, yet falls flat in practice. In fact, we stumbled upon the solution in a way that is completely opposite to how it was intended to be completed, as integral information was just missing completely from the clues. The experience has two different endings, a good and bad one, and the ending you receive depends on how you solve this final puzzle. Luckily, we pulled the correct card, but I could definitely see a lot of frustration arising from being given only one shot at this puzzle, due to the flawed implementation of the cluing here.

Verdict:

The Catacombs of Horror evolves the Exit: the Game experience, but in other ways is a huge step back for the franchise. While there are many interesting mechanics and clever puzzles to be found, there are also a cavalcade of questionable design decisions and an uncharacteristically uneven game flow. While we ultimately had an alright time with this game, I can’t really fully recommend it, and new players should definitely not try this before any other Exit game. Exit enthusiasts are the definite market for this game, but I’d only recommend checking it out once you’ve finished the rest of the available games. You can pick up a copy from your friendly local game store today. We recommend checking out The Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC, check out their website here!

5.5/10 (Mediocre)

Sleuth Kings – Case 024: Framed (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

I wasn’t me, I swear!

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Sullivan King has found himself in the middle of a murder investigation – only he’s the prime suspect. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Sullivan is on the run from police with only one option: find the real murderer. Can you help Sullivan catch a killer and clear his name before he winds up in prison?

First Impressions:

After the lighter adventure that was Case 023, Framed promised a much more intense mystery, as the client this time was Sullivan King himself! Framed for a murder he did not commit, and on the run from police, he has reached out to us for help clearing his name! I’m sure this wasn’t the excitement he was hoping for after the recent slow days at Sleuth Kings!

High Points:

The clues involved with this case are great, and fit well with the movie theater aesthetic that the box is going for. The puzzles are loaded with hints, and layer upon each other in great fashion. The initial solve is devious, but highly intuitive, and unfolded in stages to develop into a wonderful moment of revelation as we solved. The challenge for the box remains steady throughout, and build towards a fun meta puzzle that caps off the climax in an appropriately exciting fashion. As players solve, new interactions reveal themselves, and there is much more to the box than initially meets the eye, and each new step in the investigation adds another level to the mystery. Props are fantastic and highly tactile, incorporating into their respective puzzles excellently, and giving us some cool interactions to work through. The design of the evidence included is fantastic as well, and the movie poster for the (sadly fake,) upcoming Head Hunter III has a perfect B-movie horror vibe that I really love.

Sullivan’s time spent on the run is well told, and there is a good bit more interaction with him during this case, which brings back some of the fun story tidbits we missed from some recent cases. The hunt is believable, and ties into the overall universe of Sleuth Kings while remaining accessible to new players. The epilogue is a great denouement to the story, and includes a great little bonus in the form of an extra optional puzzle. It’s a great, small addition that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and allows players to help in the investigation just a little bit more.

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Lights, camera, action!

Low Points:

One specific clue uses a cipher that we are familiar with, having done a lot of subscription boxes in the past, but may be very unfamiliar for newer players. The hint section is helpful, but if players are reticent to take a hint, they may be stuck for a while. The in game clue is good, but does require a passing familiarity with codes to decipher at first blush. There is a point at which there is a lot of deciphering to be done, which becomes a choke point if playing with more than one person, as only one can comfortably solve the code while the other is relegated to waiting, or busy work if you make some adjustments to involve them. More than two players is right out for this particular point in the game.

Verdict:

Framed is a great new addition to Sullivan King’s continuing adventures, blending an intense story and great puzzling together into an awesome investigation! I recommend trying it out, especially if you’re a long time sleuth, as this one adds some great story beats for loyal fans. You can purchase previous cases 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!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.