The Conundrum Box – Welcome to Wilde World (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Big abandoned theme park? What could go wrong?

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

Its a great big beautiful tomorrow.

Explore a 1970s theme park stuck in suspended animation since its founder, William Wilde disappeared mysteriously. Delve into the secrets he left behind, but hurry because someone else is trying to discover the true magic behind Wilde’s legacy and use that power for themselves! This fun-filled adventure will have your team solving amusement park themed puzzles and games. Suitable for all ages, the difficulty is set for new to intermediate players.

First Impressions:

Welcome to Wilde World seemed to be a theme perfect for my wife, Kara. A whimsical theme park full of mystery and animated characters that paid homage to the House of Mouse is just her speed, and the densely packed purple box of puzzles is just mine, so things were already set for an excellent time!

High Points:

The first couple things I noticed about Welcome to Wilde World were two of my favorite things about at home puzzling subscription boxes. One was a Wilde World tote bag, a useful item we can use outside of the game, something that is always appreciated! The other was a 3D printed item for tactile puzzling that also doubled as a large fidget spinner. As we built this item, I was highly anticipating the puzzle to come, as I really love tactile puzzling like this. The theme of the box is ubiquitous throughout, and is visually very cool to pore over. I loved the colorful designs and shifting themes between each of the distinct areas of the theme park, all of which tie into the puzzles well to create a fully fleshed out experience. The Conundrum Box really gets a lot of mileage out of their main attractions, and this experience was no exception. I really love coming back to the big props and using them again, discovering clues and solutions that were hidden right in front of us, locked away until we had just the right information to reveal the satisfying ah ha moments! And there are quite a few of those within, as a few of our favorite puzzles took us by surprise with their well hidden moments of revelation.

The story is a lot of fun, presenting a linear run thorough Wilde World, popping nice homages for fans of a certain other huge theme park in here and there, and integrating some story bits into the puzzles to keep things moving along at a nice pace. One particular puzzle presents a silly narration that was not only a lot of fun to solve, but the jokes were pretty funny, and reminded me of one of my favorite Weird Al originals. I won’t name it for spoilers sake, but it was stuck in my head for a while after our solve. The narration for this puzzle was pretty long, which wasn’t an issue since we solved the puzzle while listening the first time, but there was also a transcript included, so we weren’t worried about having to listen to the whole thing again should we need to find a particular piece of information. There was also a bonus puzzle included within the box, which was a nice teaser for what’s to come!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle deals with colors, and a couple of the colors are off, and a few of them look similar to one another. The inexactness tripped us up a lot, especially since my wife is a little bit color blind. There was another puzzle that was a good idea in general, but the process took a while, so the puzzle itself wore out its welcome with us well before we had finished. There was also an addition into this puzzle that seemed important, but ended up being a red herring with no bearing on the solve. There is also a particular puzzle type included near the end that we tried several times, but the instructions were overly convoluted, so we ended up having to skip it as it just had way too much going on for a really long process puzzle. We recently played this style of puzzle, but simplified, and it remained just as challenging, but much more satisfying to solve since there were not as many moving parts to keep track of, so it would be awesome if future puzzles of this style were streamlined in the future.

Verdict:

Though there were a few stumbling blocks with Welcome to Wilde World, it was an overall satisfying solve. It was certainly a more challenging adventure, so enthusiasts who are looking a bit more difficult than the usual will find a lot to love within. The puzzles are still approachable, and have a few great surprises up their sleeves, however, so patient newcomers will also be able to have a good time with this one. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary review copy.

Ellusion Adventure Games – The Labyrinth: Prequel Puzzles (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $18 for the Prequel Pack (Reviewed here), $195 for the Standard Edition of The Labyrinth, and $275 for the Deluxe Edition (Fancy!)

Twists and turns

Theme:

From the The Labyrinth Kickstater:

A crate full of unique physical puzzles, and the story of a lost civilization. Solve the puzzles. Find the treasure. Escape the maze. The Labyrinth is a unique multi-platform experience unlike any other – a combination of an escape room, puzzle hunt, mystery novel, and alternate reality game. You will receive a crate full of everything you need to participate in the challenge from the comfort of your home, including engaging physical hands-on puzzles, puzzle boxes, an online forum, models, photos, printed maps, tools, and ciphers. The goal of the challenge is to move through the rooms of a mythical labyrinth, solve the different clues in each room, and advance to the  center. Each puzzle leads into the next,  and to solve them all,  you will need to think outside of the box!

First Impressions:

The Labyrinth Puzzle Challenge appeared on Kickstarter in July, and was immediately intriguing. Promising to be filled with physical puzzles, and strange items, it certainly had my attention. After speaking with the creators, they asked if I’d be interested in trying out their prequel packet, which, of course I was!

High Points:

I didn’t quite know what to expect going in to the Prequel Pack for The Labyrinth. I knew there would be a run of puzzles, and a few artifacts to toy with, but upon opening up the pack, I was immediately drawn to one item in particular. As I had opened the package a few days in advance, I was chided multiple times for puzzling over it before we were meant to begin working on the puzzles. It was just too cool not to play with! Of course, this item was solved well in advance, but luckily it wasn’t a timed experience, so I can’t be faulted for, say, not listening to the intro and starting to solve puzzles around an escape room. Which I’ve never done, definitely not. This is all to say that the tactile interactions that are included within this pack are great, and I always love when an original design like this is included within these sorts of games. Obvious care has been taken to ensure that each prop is not only well designed, but fits into the lore of the game, and at no point did I feel like any of the puzzles we were solving were included as filler or “because puzzle box.” I really enjoyed digging up the subtle lore of the adventure as we solved, and once we finished up the experience and checked our answers with the designers, a great denouement and lead in to the full adventure was included, further piquing my interest in the full Labyrinth experience.

The puzzles are a good taster for Ellusion Adventure Games design sensibilities, and I feel like their logical style flowed well throughout the experience. There was a complete freedom in what we would work on at any time, with a completely non-linear experience that directed towards one final meta-puzzle to tie everything together. The adventure was of a more advanced difficulty, and while we did have a few critiques here and there, the overall mystery was challenging without being obtuse or frustrating. There is some googling, and while that can be very hit or miss with us, the inclusion within this experience does present some nice “reality blending,” heightening immersion and keeping players engaged within the world-building. I think enthusiasts will have a lot of fun working through this set of puzzles, as it definitely appeals to those seeking a somewhat higher challenge, but the hint system is well set up to ensure that even those newer to the puzzling hobby will be able to have a good time solving at their own pace.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle could use a mite bit more direction. It feels like it could go several places, depending on how it is interpreted, so I didn’t really feel confident in the solve for a while. Eventually we got there, but it felt a little bit like we were guessing and checking rather than putting together the clues to come to a solution. One late game puzzle had several steps to follow, but the very first was somewhat vaguely worded, making the rest of the solve tenuous. A particular important item for this solve was also difficult to read, so it might help for future versions of this prop to be printed in a somewhat more high definition manner. One interaction is super cool, but wasn’t precise enough to direct us precisely, so there was a bit more guess and check involved with this item. The ending of the puzzle set wasn’t 100% clear to us, but I think that was more a symptom of these being prototypes, rather than the full experience, so I’m sure this will be clearer once everything has been finalized.

Also, the Goblin King doesn’t make an appearance. Wrong Labyrinth, I suppose.

Verdict:

The Labyrinth’s Prequel puzzles are very creative, and though there are a few spots that felt just a bit too vague, the experience is, on the whole, extremely creative and a blast to work through. It is especially cool to see how well designed the props, lore, and puzzles are for this ambitious project, and I look forward to seeing how Ellusion Adventure Games continues to evolve! I recommend checking out the prequel pack, and should that pique your interest, upgrade to the full adventure! Begin your journey into the Labyrinth here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Ellusion Adventure Games provided a complementary sample pack.

Blue Fish Games – The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $17 per box or bundle with The Curious Elevator for $51

It’s no Peculiar People Mover, but it’ll do nicely.

Theme:

From the Blue Fish Games website:

If The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks was a book, The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks would be its prequel novella. Which should I play first? Both are stand-alone games that don’t need to be played in a certain order. That being said, Play the elevator first! The Elevator introduces you to the world of Hincks and ramps up the challenge level slowly, The Stairs throws you into the deep end right away!

First Impressions:

Team Blue Fish seems to have a finger on the pulse of what sort of puzzles I like, as evidenced by their other fantastic products, The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks and The Hincks Gazette. When The Curious Stairs was announced, I knew I had to play it as soon as possible! The second it arrived, I wanted to tear into it, seeking out its puzzling secrets, but had to wait a couple of interminably long days in order to finally crack it open. It was well worth the wait.

High Points:

The Curious Stairs of Mr. Hincks makes its home in a deceptively small box. Upon cracking it open, however, I found there were a lot more props than I had originally expected to see. Though there are only four stages of the game, each stage is filled to the brim with puzzling! I say stages because each one is a multi step (ha!) process that engages several props that all tie into mini puzzle hunts of their own. The process of solving each of these puzzles is part of the fun, as there isn’t any direct hint as to what needs to be done on the surface, but with some outside the box thinking and a generous application of logic, the solutions reveal themselves in an intuitive and immensely satisfying way! Each prop is used to its fullest, and I love how the many layers of puzzling build atop one another until the final code word or phrase reveals itself. Blue Fish Games are masters of creating intricate webs of puzzling, and I think the amazingly well constructed design is what I love most about their products. Though many of the previous Hincks products present mainly word games and puzzles, (which isn’t a bad thing, in my estimation,) this particular game is an evolution that goes beyond the usual paradigm to present an astounding run of varied puzzles. One in particular is a puzzle that involves moving around a map using a prescribed set of rules, something I’ve tended to dislike in the past, but Blue Fish Games has somehow managed to take this puzzle style, streamline it, and make it one of my favorite puzzles they’ve created to date!

The experience is strictly linear, but flows beautifully, with just enough built in clues to ensure players are never stuck for too long in any one section. The intuitive nature of the game is slyly hidden, and doesn’t feel as though it is holding your hand, simply guiding you though a fantastic wonderland of puzzling. The game itself took us a little over an hour and a half, which is about the same run time as The Curious Elevator, so there’s definitely a good amount of play time wrapped up in this small box, and for $17, it’s an absolute steal. I am consistently astounded at how beautifully crafted each experience Blue Fish Games produces is, and how tightly designed their puzzles are, and can say without hesitation that whatever new experience they develop next, I am here for it. Here’s hoping it’s the Peculiar People Mover. Or maybe a in depth, puzzling adventure starring The Curious Corn Chip of Mr. Hincks…

Low Points:

The final puzzle is great, but can be a bit more confusing than I think was originally intended due to there being a bit of extraneous information included that can lead down a couple of unintentional red herring rabbit holes. The puzzle is challenging in its own right, so tightening up this particular section won’t make it too easy, but rather remove the only bit of frustration we came across with this game.

Verdict:

As always, Blue Fish Games has come up with another brilliant puzzling masterpiece! Though The Curious Stairs is a much more challenging experience, the conundrums included are always fair, clever, and amazingly satisfying to solve. While there are fewer individual puzzle stages, they are even more layered and intricate than those included with The Curious Elevator, making this a great follow up to that game. I absolutely recommend giving this one a shot, especially if you’re an existing fan of the Hincksiverse. Start your climb up the Curious Staircase here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Blue Fish Games provided a complementary box.

The Panic Room – The Exorcism of Isabelle (Review)

Location: Your home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 1-6 – we suggest 1-3

Price: £12.50 ($16.57 at the time of this writing)

Do y’think Isabelle knows Annabelle?

Theme:

From the Panic Room website:

We received some documents from a friend, who was researching the history of the house he just bought. The history is pretty disturbing. People who lived in it previously were convinced the house was haunted.

The strangest thing is, that as soon as these people tried to combat whatever it is that lives in the house, they soon start to exhibit some erratic behavior and slowly lose their mind. Three previous owners committed suicide within a month from the first time they talked to someone about the “spirits” that possess the house. Our friend got close, closer than anyone, to the secret of the house. He is sure that it’s not about the house itself, but… a doll. A creepy old doll, that was left in the attic. It remained in the house for a century, and our friend was sure, that it is the source of misfortune for anyone living in the house.

Our friend knew something can go terribly wrong during his investigation, so he sent out copies of his research in case something happens to him. Today he fell out the window on the second floor of the house. He’s alive, but barely. Who knows, what awaits him when he wakes up if the curse is not lifted from the house.

Our goal is to follow the research friend did, to find out the names of the demons possessing the doll and exorcise them forever…

First Impressions:

We had a fantastic time working through The Panic Room’s Online Sherlock Holmes and CSI: Stranglehold escape games, and after having another browse through their website, I couldn’t help but be drawn to their new Puzzle Book section. I’ve been looking for a good puzzle book that wasn’t just simple at home puzzles like Sudoku or a mostly disconnected set of puzzles like Journal 29. The Panic Room seemed to have exactly what I needed in the form of The Exorcism of Isabelle, a horror themed puzzle book that looked to be just my style!

Creepy doll? Check. Weeping blood? Check. You have my attention.

High Points:

I received The Exorcism of Isabelle as a PDF, allowing me to test and review the game pre-release, and though it was a print and play game for me, the pages were still very clear, and well designed. Each page contains a bit of story, background, or a puzzle of some sort, and it is up to the players to make connections between the pages to determine the names of the nine demons possessing the creepy doll that has been haunting Amityville. An online exorcism sheet was provided, allowing for immediate feedback on whether answers were correct, and rather than just being a simple answer sheet, sound effects and graphics have been included to ensure even entering solutions is an immersive experience. I absolutely love the soundtrack that has been included with the experience as an optional add on, and it has been beautifully curated to ensure maximum spookiness. The book is presented as the journal of one of Isabelle’s most recent victims, and I liked how story tidbits were integrated into each page through his mad scribblings and notes. The experience was packed with conundrums, and I really enjoyed how puzzles looped through multiple pages, ensuring every bit of the book was used to its fullest. The creepy story of a possessed doll was wonderfully implemented, and the introductory video was well produced, setting the stage fantastically.

Puzzles were intuitive, and each solution was clearly some sort of Eldritch name. While the names themselves were not standard words and phrases, it was pretty clear when a solution was correct, even before entering them into the online answer sheet. This experience felt like more than just a standard puzzle book, with physical mysteries to solve, and some tactile items that lent a more interactive feel to the adventure. The puzzles are presented in a completely non-linear fashion, and players are free to work on whatever they like while making their way through the game. As a solo player, this allowed me to jump around if I ever became stuck, and groups will be able to divide and conquer if they prefer, ensuring there are no specific choke points to get tangled up in. All the puzzles integrated well into the story, and on a couple separate occasions, the real world was mixed into the game to great effect. I really enjoyed how these puzzles were set up, delivering some really interesting interactions I was not expecting! Overall, I had an awesome time with The Exorcism of Isabelle, and am looking forward to trying out more of The Panic Room’s puzzle books and print and play games!

Low Points:

The game was of an easier overall difficulty for enthusiasts, as some connections were a little more direct than I was used to in some places, but this will be a boon for newer solvers. One particular puzzle was a great, tactile interaction, but sometimes it was difficult to determine how the items lined up with precision and confidence. Luckily, it wasn’t overly difficult to select what could fit and determine what made the most sense. One particular puzzle had a few letters that were semi ambiguous as well, but with as with the previous critique, there were still a limited set of letters that were possible, allowing it to be solved with just a little bit of guess and check. In speaking with the designer, however, I found them to be very open to feedback, and I’m sure these issues can be resolved before the full release.

Final Verdict:

The Exorcism of Isabelle was a loads of spooky fun! I had a brilliant time working through the many puzzles and interactions, and loved how tactile the experience was at times. Full of cleverly implemented enigmas and original puzzling, I absolutely recommend picking this book up when it releases on September 18th, 2020! I look forward to seeing what The Panic Room comes up with next, and am pleased to say their puzzle books were exactly what I was looking for. Pick up a copy of these haunting puzzles here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Panic Room provided our team with a complementary game.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Framed (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Night at the Museum was a lot more Murder-y than I remember…

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The Valley Falls Museum is home to some of the world’s most exciting art exhibits and archaeological finds. It is also known for its wonderful ancient history curator, Albert McCain. However, everything changes when a successful heist of the museum results in McCain’s death. Based on evidence recovered from the scene, authorities arrest fellow museum employee, Noah Parker, and charge him with robbery and murder. Noah is a friend and calls you immediately, desperate to proclaim his innocence and enlist your help. He is aware of the Will Street Detective Agency’s stellar track record and is hopeful that you will find information that will exonerate him. Solve the mystery of the museum heist, the murder of Albert McCain, and collect the clues that could either free Parker from jail or lead to his conviction.

First Impressions:

When I first read the description of Framed, I couldn’t help but think:
Noah is a friend.
Yeah you know he’s been a good friend of mine.
But lately something’s changed, it ain’t hard to define,
Noah’s got accused of murder and now the problem’s mine.

So anyway, that’s how my mind works. In other news, we’ve been thrilled with the most recent entries Deadbolt has offered up, and it seems like there’s a new mechanic or evolution in the game monthly, so we couldn’t wait to see how Framed would change things up!

High Points:

Like we said, The Deadbolt Mystery Society is always changing and improving, iterating on their highly successful formula from month to month, and keeping things surprising as they go. This month was certainly no exception, packing what seems like even more puzzles than usual into the box, and starting players off with figuring out who the suspects are on their own! I have really enjoyed when Deadbolt has split their recent boxes into two parts, and that extra ah ha moment of discovery when a new envelope is opened works very well for their style of mystery. The designers have also implemented a few new tricks into the investigation, giving us a few new wow moments, including a couple scenes that allowed us to actively investigate some of the museum’s offices! The story is well implemented, and it is interesting to identify what makes the suspects suspicious, and then begin to piece together whether those suspicions are related to murder or… something else entirely. It felt like we really delved into the lives and interpersonal conflicts of the characters in this box, and I enjoyed seeing what these seemingly harmless museum employees got up to after hours.

The experience is very non-linear, allowing us complete freedom to tackle whatever we want over the course of the two parts, and ensuring that even if we stalled out on one puzzle, we could work on something else while our brains rebooted in time to discover the solution. Everything slides together extremely intuitively, and while getting to that point takes a good bit of thinking and solving, the solutions are always a completely smooth, logical fit. The shift from investigation into the suspects to determining the ultimate culprit is fantastic, and there are a few great twists along the way. I really loved how the climax was handled, and enjoyed how it developed into a really unexpected, but incredibly satisfying finale. The props and evidence were all brilliant, and we really loved the inclusion of one strange piece of evidence we just couldn’t stop looking at. “What could the significance be?” we wondered, and when all was revealed regarding this prop, we couldn’t help but laugh. Most of the puzzles involve piecing together multiple layers in order to arrive at the ultimate conclusion, and putting these connections together was a great time, especially for a couple interactions that allowed us to “physically” search certain areas of the museum.

Low Points:

I mean, none for me, but you had to imagine my weird “Jessie’s Girl” parody, so that probably wasn’t great for you.

Verdict:

Framed joins the ranks of The Cabin, Infected, and The Dark and Stormy Night as some of my absolute favorite Deadbolt boxes. The way it successfully changes up the usual Deadbolt formula just enough to evolve the experience, yet still stays true to what we always love about these mysteries, ensures that the whole adventure is a rousing triumph. The difficulty is just right, ensuring that while enthusiasts will still find a lot to challenge them, the game remains accessible to newcomers as well. I recommend this one without reservation! 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!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

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