The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Behind the Wall (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

All in all you’re just another corpse in the wall.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Fairmont Estates is a tightly-knit neighborhood in the heart of Valley Falls. The residents are all white-collar and well-to-do, and any of the homes could be featured on the front of any picture postcard…except the one on Bradford Street. That house has been tied up in probate court after the previous resident passed away and has been vacant for the last three years. The house, understandably, has fallen into disarray and been vandalised on occasion by some of the neighborhood teenagers. When a family is finally able to purchase the home, the first thing they do is begin extensive renovations to return the place to its former glory. As demolition and construction are both underway, the owners are shocked when the remains of a reporter that has been missing for the past year are discovered behind one of the walls. Even more chilling is the fact that she seems to have been interred while alive which is confirmed by one final message she wrote that begins: “To whoever finds me, the Fairmont residents all have secrets. One of them did this to me…”

First Impressions:

Deadbolt have been on a roll with some of their best games ever over the last few months, and Behind the Wall certainly seemed just the right type of creepy for me! From the spooky box design to the mysterious murder in the middle of an otherwise perfect-seeming neighborhood, I loved the theme and couldn’t wait to dig in!

High Points:

Behind the Wall sets up a wonderfully twisted mystery to begin, and things just become even more wild from there. There’s a sinister vibe to the proceedings I adored that carries throughout, and is evoked by the items included as much as by the story. The intensity of the situation we find ourselves in never quite lets up, and as we delved deeper into the story, we never quite knew what was going to happen next. Honestly, this one kept us guessing until the absolute end, with a climax that surprised us more than any other recent box has, so kudos to the writers of this wonderfully demented tale! All of this storytelling added yet another wicked facet to the world of Valley Falls, much to the woe of the town, but to my somewhat sadistic delight.

The puzzles included are fantastically creative, with several implemented in interesting ways we’d never seen nor thought of before. These puzzles, as well as the props, are  designed beautifully, weaving a excellent thematic flair into everything, increasing immersion greatly. There are loads of puzzles, and the non-linear presentation of the adventure ensures that players need to stay well organized in order to solve the mystery, and there are some excellent moments of revelation as detectives follow cleverly subtle hints through the intuitively gated game flow. The experience is non-linear for the most part, allowing bigger groups to divide and conquer, or smaller groups and solo players to jump between puzzles as needed. The difficulty curve is very smooth, with some easy wins at the beginning to get things started, ramping up nicely into some moderately challenging interactions, and finishing up with a multilayered meta-puzzle to finish things off. I found Behind the Wall to be enormously satisfying to solve, and cannot name a single puzzle in this one that I didn’t enjoy!

Low Points:

Behind the Wall, though excellent in multiple ways, does struggle a little with delivering the great characterization that previous Deadbolt boxes are known for. The suspects are mostly talked about, rather than talked to, and though some late game interactions do reveal some of their motivations, it would’ve been nice to have at least a little contact with them to flesh them out a bit.

Verdict:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society has been on a tear lately, with great mysteries coming out month after month, each better than the last! I very much enjoyed Behind the Wall, and despite a minor quibble, can easily say this is one of my favorite Deadbolt stories to date. I look forward to seeing what develops from the new revelations contained inside, and highly recommend players new and old check this one out! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code ESCAPE30! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

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

Emergency Exit Escape Games UK – Exorcist (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: Up to 6 connections (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: £60.00 per room (About $75.84 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Try to keep your head from spinning…

Theme:

From the Emergency Exit Escape Games UK website:

Your Haunted house ghost tour has been cancelled due to lock down. You will join your tour guide via a remote live feed link. You and your friends can join the tour from various online locations where you are safe and sound, However you must also get the tour guide to safety away from the evil manor house within an hour. The legend has it that anyone who stays longer than one hour will simply disappear.

Crowley Manor is famously known for strange happenings. Recently in the news again after the disappearance of a priest sent by the Vatican to investigate the Evil that lurks in the House. The father has also left a trail of clues for anyone else to follow if he didn’t make it.

Can You and your Team lead your unsuspecting tour guide to safety?

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First Impressions:

I love a good horror room, and this one looked like it would really bring the terror. Exorcists and Cult stories are a favorite of mine, (as evidenced by our favorite live escape room of all time,) so I had high hopes for Emergency Exit’s first foray into the remote escape game space.

exorcist-room

High Points:

After the game, our Game Master mentioned they were new to virtual escape rooms, but  with how polished this experience is, I was honestly surprised that they hadn’t been doing this sort of thing for a good while! Exorcist is easily my favorite virtual experience we’ve done, and that’s no mean feat. The whole adventure is incredible, with an immersion level that absolutely sets the bar for this sort of game going forward. We were glued to our screens for the full run time, enraptured with the situation we found ourselves in. It was like being participants in our very own found footage horror film. Many rooms claim their rooms are like being in a movie, but there are very few in which it truly feels this way, and Exorcist creates this atmosphere seemingly effortlessly. Set design, lighting, sound effects, and a few surprising design elements capture the oppressive and terrifying Crowley Manor beautifully. Our tour guide continually engaged with us, imparting “facts” and lore about the manor as well as quipping back and forth with us for comic relief now and then, giving a very convincing performance that elevated things greatly. Unlike many other games, he also appeared on screen, rather than being behind the camera, which made him feel like a member of our team rather than just our “avatar” for the room. While our cameraman, Liam, was silent during the adventure, he too came across as a convincing character based off a few key segments of the game. Liam also provided some very steady camerawork, which was appreciated by my wife, who tends to get a little queasy during games with shakier cameras.

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The story line of Exorcist is also brilliant, injecting the room with some amazing slow burn horror, as well as building on the horrific atmosphere the other elements support. For the amount of horror rooms we have done virtually, this one has my wife’s seal of… “approval,” we’ll call it, in that it actively scared her despite being a remote game. In fact, she told me that had we actively been in the room, she would’ve noped right out of there. So if you’re looking for a truly scary horror experience, this is the game for you! At various points during the room, we activated some prerecorded videos that fit seamlessly into the game, and they moved the story along well while presenting small puzzles for use in the game also. Things became ever more intense as our time continued to tick by and our tour guide became more and more terrified, culminating in an exciting and unexpected climax that left us clamoring for more!

The game itself flows through a mostly linear set up well, and it is certainly a good idea to pay good attention to the tour guide, who literally gives a tour of the room to start. Emergency Exit does a fantastic job of ensuring players know every important bit of the room, and keeping good notes will ensure you’re able to keep track of everything. Though there is no inventory system for this game, I didn’t miss it, and our tour guide ensured that we knew exactly what we had, and gave subtle clues to what we might need to work on next. The difficulty curve works a treat, starting off with some easy wins, and finishing with some challenging, but amazingly satisfying, multi-layered puzzles. Every puzzle is integrated into the theme of the game, and at all times, the adventure feels immersive and real. The experience kept our group of four escape room veterans puzzling up to the last couple minutes, and I can definitely say we felt as though we earned our escape once the credits rolled.

Exorcist

Low Points:

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Verdict:

Unequivocally, I can say that Exorcist knocks it out of the park, and raises the bar for remote escape experiences across the board. The amazing production values, awesome game mastering, intuitive puzzling, and engaging story line all weave together into an adventure that must be experienced. This game wowed me from start to finish, and I absolutely cannot recommend it enough. I cannot wait to escape with them again and find out what new horrors await us! Book your tour of Crowley Manor here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Emergency Exit Escape Games UK provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Escapist NZ – Red Hill Asylum (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  2-5 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: NZ$75 per room (About $48.67 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Enter the darkest depths of your imagination…

Theme:

From the Escapist NZ website:

You are the star and writer of super popular TV Show called Ghost Stoppers. Your work takes you and your time all around the world to investigate haunted old buildings with colourful back story. This time it takes you over to the Red Hill Asylum where the town’s people have reported hearing blood curling screams at night.

The Police have been asked to investigate, but found nothing despite the presence of heavy armed vehicles in and around Red Hill Asylum.

As you begin filming, your night took an unexpected turn as you and your crew found something unusual at the haunted Red Hill Asylum. Will you disprove the ghost story this time? Or is there something more sinister lurking beneath the surface.

First Impressions:

As someone who has enjoyed listening to and running Escape This Podcast audio escape rooms for my wife, I was excited to finally get to do an audio escape room as a player! Escapist NZ has created the Red Hill Asylum to operate like a cross between tabletop roleplaying and escape rooms, and I couldn’t wait to see how the experience would stack up! And what better way to get my start than with a creepy haunted asylum?

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High Points:

The somewhat unconventional nature of this room was explained well to start, and it basically boiled down to the room being a much more intuitive version of an old school LucasArts game, as rather than typing, for example, “take eye from witch,” we’d explain what we wanted to do verbally to our Game Master, and they’d describe what happens. Everything worked intuitively, as moving around and interacting with the room was a completely smooth experience. To get us started, we took turns searching the room, and after were let loose to work through the experience between ourselves as ideas formed. The story line and presentation were great, with pictures being provided to us to more fully flesh out the map of the room and show us the things we interacted with. I really appreciated the sinister art style and subtle clues that were hidden within these pictures, and felt that these really added to the immersion. The escape room vibe was captured well through our GM’s descriptions and the game flow, and there is an undercurrent of creepiness that I appreciated.

Puzzles flowed well through the mostly linear gameplay, (though there are non-linear points, unless we were stuck, the nature of the game requires a small level of linearity at most times,) and each level of the game is intuitive, with connections that make solid logical sense. At no point did I feel we were hindered by “adventure game logic” that required us to make herculean leaps, nor were there any red herrings to lead us down unnecessary rabbit holes. Though the logic and connections come together cleanly, the game is not without a challenge, however, and the difficulty curve smoothly works towards more complex puzzles. In fact, several of my favorites were very creative, leading to some excellently satisfying moments when we finally sussed out what the solutions were. Overall, I had an awesome time with this game, especially as a tabletop role-playing game player and game master myself.

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Low Points:

The ending was unexpected, as we thought there’d be another room in which we’d clear up one final loose end, but things just ended, undermining the climax somewhat, which was a shame, as the rest of the story was engaging and I was excited to see how things came together in the end. A little extra story to ensure the ending feels complete would definitely remedy this well. The inventory system is rather unwieldy, as items are only added, not removed, and things can get buried fairly easily. It was functional, but didn’t quite work as smoothly as we’ve seen in other games.

Verdict:

Red Hill Asylum was a great first audio escape room for me, and I had an excellent time working through the creepy room. The light to moderate difficulty would be great for new players, but the puzzles are creative and challenging enough to keep an enthusiast entertained for the hour. I recommend giving it a shot, and look forward to trying out their new audio experiences in the future! You can book your ghost hunting delve into Red Hill Asylum here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Escapist NZ provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Travel Quest – The Pyramid by Lee Ballan (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 6, 2 for each team.

Price: €13 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Let’s split up, we’ll cover more ground that way!

Theme:

From the Travel Quest website:

 Welcome to The Pyramid – an online puzzle game for three teams! Each team can be one person, a couple, a family, or a group. You will be between three paths in the pyramid – the red track, the green track, and the blue track. In each puzzle, each team will only get a part of the information. In order to advance in the game, the teams need to communicate between them and cooperate, in a journey to the top of the pyramid. Since each team has their own information, you can play the game through Zoom/Skype/any other platform you’re comfortable with!

blue pyramid

First Impressions:

We were invited to scale the Pyramid with our new friends at EscapeTheRoomers and Society of Curiosities, (you should check out SoC’s fantastic first by mail puzzle game, which we’ve reviewed here,) and were excited to try out this Game Masterless, team based at home game!

pyramid status

High Points:

The Pyramid began with a quick story about how our teams had stumbled across an ancient pyramid. Finding three entrances, we split up to seek the treasure inside! From there it was up to us to work together to overcome the ten levels of the pyramid in order to reach the top and claim the treasure! We weren’t sure what to expect, but this game exceeded our hopes, delivering a truly enjoyable, team based experience. The game flow was beautiful, and while linear, ensured that each member of our expedition was involved somehow, with each team receiving a part of the whole puzzle. In the early stages, the difficulty was low, and we initially thought we may just blow through the game, but as we worked our way up the pyramid’s levels, the challenge continued to increase, leading to some fabulously clever conundrums to solve. These puzzles were wonderfully varied as well, even subverting our expectations and allowing some of our more artistically creative teammates to shine during one really great interaction. The puzzles near the end were my personal favorites, as they worked all six of our brains until we were able to reach some beautiful moments of revelation! One in particular demanded good teamwork, and presented a code type I’d never seen before, and it wasn’t the first time I was amazed by the developer’s creativity either.

Each path seems to be equally important, as since each is given a part of the singular puzzle for each level, there’s no “curse of the less interesting room” to be found within the game. Every puzzle in intuitive, and the logic is wonderfully clean between clues and solutions, even during the most challenging bits. It’s also wonderfully simple to verify a code is correct, as it’s always incredibly clear whether you’re on the right track or in the weeds. I appreciated how excellently the puzzles wove between the paths, and I think the game’s variety ensured each team played an integral part during the adventure. This was easily one of my favorite at home experiences during our quarantine, and we cannot wait to see what the developer comes up with next!

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Low Points:

The difficulty curve is very smooth, but some of the puzzles may be very difficult for newer players due to the puzzle hunt-y nature of the beast. The ultimate puzzle especially is one I could see giving new players problems, as we were on the cusp of taking a hint before having a breakthrough. This puzzle in particular may feel overly vague and leave players frustrated if they don’t have prior experience with this sort of game. Luckily, there is an ability to take hints during the game, so as long as folks aren’t overly reticent to take a few to kickstart things, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. It would be nice to have a subtle hint nearer to the start regarding certain mechanics that come into play later, but I’m not sure how this could be implemented without giving a fair amount of the challenge away. It’s a balancing act, to be sure.

Verdict:

The Pyramid is a brilliant new team based game that we had an absolute blast with! Very rarely have we come across a game that demands quite the level of teamwork that this one does, and the experience is a joy to work through. I recommend this one without reservation, and think puzzling veterans will love the challenge it contains! New players will enjoy this as well, though it may prove a bigger challenge than some other available experiences. Book your quest to the top of The Pyramid here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Lee Ballan provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

The Conundrum Box – The Great Explorers Society and the Temple of the Sky Gods (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Ye gods!

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

You have been tasked to retrieve a coveted relic from the Olmec Temple of the Sky Gods before the Great Explorers Society does. Following the notes of Archaeologist Callie Cornerstone, you venture into the heart of Mesoamerican culture to find the famed Amulet of the Sky Gods. Avoid traps and watch who you trust, because time is of the essence!

First Impressions:

Time to meet up with The Great Explorer’s Society again! This time around we would be working against this venerable club of adventurers, which promised to be a cool experience. Further, this box gave off a great “Tomb Raider” vibe, and I couldn’t wait to see what puzzles and traps were in store for us as we delved the depths of the eponymous temple!

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High Points:

As I’m sure long term readers will be aware, The Conundrum Box does a great job telling stories, though at times, we’ve found those stories to be a bit… long-winded, shall we say. I still recommend using a screen reader for some segments, but Temple of the Sky Gods includes two versions of the story, a normal, longer version for those that don’t mind a good bit of reading to go with the game, and a shortened version, (hilariously and aptly called the “too long; didn’t read” version,) which I felt may have been partially tailored to us. This worked fantastically during our play through, and gave us just the right amount of story without becoming overlong, but not too little that we felt lost. The story is an interesting “other side” take on the Great Explorer’s Society, and it was fun to go on an adventure as a rogue treasure hunter rather than a “It belongs in a museum!” type this go round. The twists and turns the game takes along the way are unpredictable, keeping us on our toes the whole play time, as we were never quite able to guess what would happen next!

The game flow was excellent, weaving through a well structured puzzle path, and including some wonderful props to bolster the puzzle solving. I loved the tactile nature of several of the puzzles, including one that held quite a few more secrets than I was initially expecting! Many of the enigmas included provided some supremely satisfying moments of revelation, especially some of the devious challenges that awaited us near the end of our adventure. At no point did the game require leaps of logic or red herrings, and every step of the way felt intuitive. Though the gameplay is linear, there are either multiple steps or a couple puzzles to solve at every level, ensuring that all players will remain engaged. The box is also densely packed with loads of puzzling, as well as a few extra surprises, all of which are absolutely worth the price of admission. The Spotify tracklist included within the extras, as well as the recipes were a great addition, and one bonus recipe found within the box itself was delicious, and I highly recommend trying it out!

Low Points:

This box was great, though on the whole, it didn’t quite feel as involved as previous boxes, and the story, thus far, felt somewhat more disconnected from the other experiences. While this is to be expected for one offs, we’ve grown used to all the boxes weaving together, and perhaps the connections will become clear in future adventures. Though the puzzles weren’t quite as multilayered and intricate as other Conundrum Box games, we still enjoyed this somewhat more straightforward run of puzzles. While we did enjoy some of the wild roller coaster twists presented by the story, one of the final ones wasn’t quite explained in a satisfying way, leaving us to wonder exactly what it meant.

Verdict:

Temple of the Sky Gods is a beautifully constructed challenge, filled to the brim with exciting and satisfying puzzling, immersive extras, and an interesting story! I have loved seeing how The Conundrum Box has evolved with each new box, and can’t wait to see what they come up with next. It goes without saying, but I wholeheartedly recommend checking this one out. Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

8.5/10 (Great)

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