Crack-A-Nut Mysteries – Root of All Evil (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $155

It’s not so simple as money…

Theme:

From the Root of All Evil Facebook page:

A mysterious crate arrives on your doorstep packed with aged ephemera and artifacts. You are a character in this interactive-literature told through an old journal, newspaper clippings and other peculiar objects. Follow a newly ordained priest as he battles his demons – both real and imagined. Decode puzzles and solve the mystery surrounding an eerie tree on the grounds of the Northern Michigan Asylum. Can you locate the ritual and save the soul of the damned without sacrificing yourself in the process?

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First Impressions:

Root of All Evil arrived at our doorstep along with four other mystery experiences in early June. It was like an early escapist’s Christmas! I hadn’t told my wife it was coming, and she was confused about the weird box that arrived for her. After explaining what it was, (she’s not a huge fan of horror, so I didn’t let it get too immersive,) she was very intrigued! However, the first order of business was to somehow crack open this box that had been nailed shut…

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High Points:

As a narrative experience, Root of All Evil has immersion down pat. From the aged, nailed tight box to the many physical props, including a fantastic centerpiece that ties everything together hauntingly, not one item felt out of place within this experience.  Our favorite part was somewhat surprising to us, as the centerpiece of the experience is a journal that took each of us a little over an hour to read while taking notes. Usually we get burned out reading, but this journal is so superbly written, that once we started, we had to finish! The characterization and world building is incredibly convincing, and drew us into the world of Root of All Evil immediately. We usually play games of this sort together and solve in tandem, but due to the set up of this particular experience, we found that a sort of “solo play, but with joint discussions” made more sense. After we’d finished up the main reading portion, we shared our theories and discoveries with each other, and pored over the other items included within the box. As we made connections, we took on several of the puzzles together, and spent the next couple days mulling the items we left on our game table at our leisure, sometimes making satisfying breakthroughs with the puzzles, and other times just appreciating the beautiful props included, or reading back over our notes in an effort to puzzle over the situation we (fictionally) found ourselves in!

Working through Root of All Evil is a great time, and a lot of care has been taken to make sure this experience feels as realistic as possible. My wife said she truly felt creeped out by the narrative, and as we revealed some pieces of the enigma we had previously only read about, the mystery became even more immersive. There are several points of discovery that are immensely satisfying, and there’s quite a bit to find within this hauntingly beautiful adventure. The climax was exciting, and the developers really spared no effort to ensure that it feels like you’ve truly finished the experience by completing the main objective of the mystery.

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Low Points:

The puzzles within the box are good, but those expecting the mystery to be puzzle focused may be somewhat disappointed. In our experience, solving puzzles tended to either reveal something we already knew, or give us slightly more story, rather than immediately further the experience. Many puzzles are some form of code breaking, so your enjoyment of this facet really depends on how much you enjoy this sort of thing. We did, and there are some well hidden clues, but as the experience is designed to focus on narrative and be solvable without doing the puzzles, so it can feel as though the codes are very secondary. When working towards the ultimate goal of the adventure, sometimes we thought we might like a clue, and were able to get in touch via the Root of All Evil Facebook page, but a self service hint system might work better for players, and prevent questions from needing to be answered personally. Those looking to play this one in a big group may find it somewhat difficult, as my wife and I found the experience really lends itself to solo play, especially when reading the main portion of the game, as previously mentioned, however, this didn’t affect our ability to still enjoy the game together.

Verdict:

Root of All Evil is a beautifully designed and wonderfully written narrative experience that immerses players within its world from start to finish, challenging unwitting participants to uncover an ancient evil, and put an end to the horrors this Pandora’s box releases. Though we would’ve loved the puzzles to have had a bit more bearing on the experience, we did enjoy what was there, and can say that we definitely recommend checking this one out! Begin to dig up the Root of All Evil here! (Click Shop Now to purchase.)

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Crack-A-Nut Mysteries provided a complementary copy.

Sleuth Kings – Case 033: Death of a Stuntman (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Sullest just can’t catch a break…

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From the Sleuth Kings website:

John Malvone is dead and his killer is ready to strike again. What was supposed to be a harmless murder mystery dinner has turned into a deadly party. Nobody knows what the killer wants, but one thing is clear: if they don’t play his game, Sullivan and Celest are next. Can you help Sullivan and Celest put a stop to the twisted party before they end up dead?

First Impressions:

Though this is a Sullest case, furthering the whirlwind romance of Sullivan and Celest that began with Case 011: Midnight Secrets, I’m taking back over the reigns for reviewing this one from Kara, which is a shock I’m sure! I’ve enjoyed the evolving meta story between these two, and am glad to see that they still can’t manage to stay out of trouble, even during their pending nuptials!

High Points:

We always enjoy Sullest cases, and Death of a Stuntman is no exception. While a self contained mystery on its own, it furthers the interweaving story line, and gives some interesting updates on the characters; one especially shocking! The story was great, including some fantastic characterization, as well as some new revelations on a particular, sometimes contentious relationship, and the ending presents a great twist! In fact, some veteran players will no doubt enjoy some of the subtle foreshadowing that precedes the ultimate climax. This case does a great job of “inviting” players to the murder mystery/engagement party while still presenting an interesting, high stakes case to solve. The props are great, and fit in with the theme of a murder mystery dinner party well, and the tactile nature helps players feel more involved with the story. Certain bits of the game that generally remain constant from case to case are excellently changed up in order to fit this game’s more personal theme, and touches like these are always exciting to see.

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The puzzles are fantastic, and I really enjoyed how the game started off with a somewhat easy, but supremely creative, win. The solution was elegant, and involved a little bit of thinking outside the box to determine the correct way of looking at things, leading to a great ah ha moment to get the ball rolling, from there, the game flow is mostly smooth, with one speed bump that was compounded by our overthinking, which I’ll talk about more in a minute. As we worked through the clues and uncovered new bits of information, we were able to intuitively put together the pieces as we moved through the linear game flow, and though we short circuited one part, we do see what that particular part of the game was going for. The difficulty curve is good, and directs into some really interesting challenges towards the end, and I think even the most hardened Sleuth Kings veterans will find an excellent challenge within this case.

Low Points:

One clue is a bit unclear, leading us to jump directly over a specific step. This led to us solving one of the final puzzles the hardest way possible, and while we were able to crack that particular nut, it would’ve been somewhat easier had the cluing been clearer, directing us along the game path. This is partially our fault, as we probably should’ve realized that this particular level of difficulty probably wasn’t intended, but it does give us dubious bragging rights for solving this one on an unintended hardcore mode! We went back to the puzzle we skipped in order to see what we had missed, and the set up for this logic based puzzle was somewhat confusing, which may have exacerbated things somewhat. One particular puzzle will look familiar to veteran Sleuth Kings detectives, but we haven’t seen this one in a while, and it is tweaked slightly to keep things relatively fresh, so it is a minor point.

Verdict:

The wedding bells for Sullivan and Celest are ringing louder and louder, but the mysteries don’t let up! We loved working through this case’s creative puzzles and uncovering the excellent story within. Though long time sleuths will get the most out of the meta story, this is still a great mystery for newcomers, and I recommend it fully. You can purchase this and other 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!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

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.

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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.

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.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Prison Break (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Not to be confused with the tv show we all forgot about.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Brutality, violence, an attempted prison break, death… or, in other words, just another day at Valley Falls’ most infamous correctional facility. In a place filled with criminals and guards who are just as vicious as the inmates they supervise, anyone could be a killer. The only question is who is responsible for the newest murder…and why did they do it?

First Impressions:

After the insanely creative themes that Deadbolt has put out lately, it was interesting to see that their next box would take place during a prison break. A fairly ubiquitous escape room theme, it didn’t seem quite as exciting as some of the amazingly outlandish ideas they’d used for previous cases, but they certainly didn’t take this time to rest on their laurels! Prison Break may seem like a fairly basic theme, but this box takes things to the next level!

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Let’s all go to prison!

High Points:

Deadbolt continues to iterate, expanding on mechanics and introducing excellent new elements, and this box is no exception. First, there is an extra layer to this box, as some elements for the late game are hidden within an envelope that can only be opened once a certain part of the mystery has been reached. (Well, you could open it early, but what’s the fun in that?) This adds greatly to the immersion by allowing the story to flow between two separate stages, while expertly avoiding gating things off in a way that makes it feel like a choke point. The flow is completely smooth during the transition, and the reasons behind the shift are explained excellently during the story. Secondly, the usual suspect mechanic is upended beautifully, as there is no one suspect to focus on at any time, but rather a shifting set of players that can change at any moment, leading to some great plot twists to keep detectives on their toes!

The props provided are great, as usual, and include some opportunities for tactile puzzling, which I always enjoy! Everything fits thematically within the prison itself, and there are some fantastically creative ideas within this box. A favorite of mine included a little state hopping through a fantastic coded message, and most of the codes served up by Prison Break are brilliantly varied, allowing for a wide array of solving styles to shine. Though the experience is mostly linear, (which benefits the story, ensuring that it takes a natural track,) there were a few points at which there were multiple puzzles to solve, and we never reached any choke points that stymied progress unnecessarily. The mystery itself is a great challenge, but works intuitively, ensuring that while there are mind bending puzzles to solve throughout, the solutions never feel illogical or unfair, as connections are easily made once the subtle clues leading to them are uncovered. This box is absolutely dense with enigmas as well, and it feels even more chock full due to the exciting new blast of puzzles that appear once players reach the halfway point.

Low Points:

While the story was certainly interesting, the climax and epilogue wasn’t quite as exciting as some recent boxes. This is a somewhat minor point, as it’s still a good send off for the box, and is more a comment on just how awesome some of the recent climactic endings for Deadbolt have been. There are a couple points during the game where the text is very difficult to read due to the small size of the font. Mostly this is due to the amount of information being conveyed, but from time to time, it detracts from the experience.

Verdict:

Prison Break is a great take on a usually basic theme, expanding not only the “prison” genre of escape experiences, but the Deadbolt formula itself. I really enjoyed all the new mechanics and twists that were included within this box, and was pleasantly surprised by how excellent the experience was, as a whole. A great challenge for veteran solvers, but approachable for newcomers, this is definitely a great mystery to pick 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!

9/10 (Excellent)

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