The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Seaside Strangler (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

A quaint seaside village sporting taverns, fishing, and brutal murder.

Theme:

From the Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The Will Street Detective Agency has received a tip about The Seaside Strangler murders that has led you, a consulting detective, to nearby Gold Hook Island to investigate.  The tiny island of Gold Hook is home to a mere 32 families and can only be reached by ferry.  With a few eating establishments, stretches of uninhabited beachfront, and The Kingfisher hotel, Gold Hook is a quaint tourist getaway in temperate months and is mostly cut off from the mainland in the winter.  After the National Weather Service announces that a nor’easter is headed their way, the residents of Gold Hook begin to evacuate the island using the small ferry that makes the two mile journey back and forth to the mainland. On its way back to pick up the last batch of residents, the ferry experiences a mechanical failure that renders it inoperable, leaving you and a few other people behind on the island to fend for themselves during the storm.  Not long after the storm begins to hammer the coastline of Gold Hook, one of those left behind is found strangled with a length of strangely knotted rope, leading you to conclude that The Seaside Strangler is one of those who didn’t make it back to the mainland.  The police and Coast Guard are unavailable for the next twenty-four hours due to the extreme weather so help will not be coming any time soon.  Leaving the island is not an option.  Your only choice…determine who The Seaside Strangler is and close a case that the police have been unable to close. 

First Impressions:

I love lighthouses. I bought the fantastic Dark Fall 2 back in the day because it had a lighthouse on the front cover. Also because anything Jonathan Boakes touches turns into gaming gold, but that’s not the point of this article. The point is, when I saw the preview for the newest Deadbolt Mystery Society box, I was smitten with the fog and foreboding lighthouse in the distance. Turns out there’s even more to this box than cool aesthetics, though!

20190114_1139222815677439869351912.jpg

A mystery hundreds of years in the making!

High Points:

Beyond the cool theme of this month’s box, the experience itself is absolutely packed with puzzles, and as always, they are built upon a non-linear game flow that fashions layer upon layer towards the ultimate conclusion! The added bonus with this case, however, is that there isn’t just one mystery to solve! While you’re tracking down the Seaside Strangler, you’ll also happen upon a historical conundrum that has just recently come back into the public eye, for better or worse. These two mysteries intertwine, and the story slowly releases tidbits throughout while building towards the excellent climax. This box takes a cue from my favorite Deadbolt box, The Cabin, by stranding you on Gold Hook Island with the suspects and dropping story related events as you solve. This is always a great touch, and helps add to the immersion and atmosphere that this subscription has become so adept at building.

The puzzles themselves are pretty excellent, with clever bits of evidence scattered among the many items included with the box. These hints are very intuitive and making connections between the myriad of clues is an always satisfying experience. The puzzle solving is well integrated with the storyline, and gives you everything you need to jump between the modern day murders and the centuries old treasure hunt without sacrificing quality between the two. Recently, Deadbolt has taken to focusing how players intuitively approach the investigations, and the case note booklet included within the most current cases is a brilliant way to guide players without holding their hands. Finally, it is appreciated that the QR code madness has toned down a bit, and while the online presence is still there, it is handled in a different way for some parts, which was welcome. Only having one or two tabs open on my phone was a big relief.

20190114_1138502217125391922601454.jpg

Low Points:

There is one particular code that has seen a lot of use not only in Deadbolt boxes, but other subscription boxes, so veterans are going to tear through it without much thought, and it’ll be fairly old hat to boot. Also, the suspects didn’t feel quite as well fleshed out in this box as they tend to in others, most likely because the real focus was the historical treasure hunt, but after catching the Seaside Strangler I felt we hadn’t really learned much about the suspects themselves. In fact, other than the obvious motive, the culprit’s characterization was pretty flat, which isn’t a spoiler since the others were definitely not quite as bombastic as some earlier boxes, Asylum and The Cabin come to mind as excellent examples.

Verdict:

The Seaside Strangler is an awesome step back into the Deadbolt Universe, and I greatly enjoyed the immersive storytelling that returned for this entry. The impending storm and multifaceted investigation is an excellent evolution for the series, and I am jazzed for the upcoming Strange Case of Mr. Mindgame! I one hundred percent recommend giving this box a try. Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code TRYDMS! 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.

Sleuth Kings – Case 016: Flyer Fundraiser (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Eat your heart out Nancy Drew.

Theme:

Teenage crime solver Asuna Yukimura, inspired by the events of Case 009: Part-Time Thieves, has started the Flyer High Young Detective’s Club! She and her friends have solved a few small cases so far, but a recent theft of $40,000 from the school’s fundraiser inspires the Club to take on their biggest caper yet. Johnny Cavallo, Flyer High history teacher, currently stands accused of the crime, but the evidence against him seems just a little too convenient, so Asuna has asked Sleuth Kings to help her crack the case once again!

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings is fantastic at developing fully realized characters, and Asuna is one of the most fun assistants Sullivan has ever worked with. Full of teenage bravado and witty quips, I was excited we would get to hear more from her during this case! As it is also a sequel of sorts to one of our favorite cases, Part-Time Thieves, we knew we were in for an excellent adventure once we cracked open the box!

20190109_0952203202772265072293995.jpg

Join the Young Detective’s Club and solve the case!

High Points:

The puzzles within this case are phenomenal! Multi-layered, but approachable, with intuitive solutions and so many ah ha moments, they deliver a game flow that is incredible fun to work through. As always the puzzles are perfectly integrated into the theme, and wouldn’t feel out of place in any high school, with clever and sometimes devious little clues that are extraordinarily satisfying to solve. Though the case, we felt, was a little on the easier side, it never felt like a chore or dipped in quality at any point. We’ll take a shorter adventure of amazing quality over a three and a half hour slog any day! Still, there’s quite a bit to do, and the layers and connections between the clues and extra information will have you bouncing between each one in a flurry of excellent mystery solving!

Cracking codes at Flyer High is always a lot of fun, as the world-building that Sleuth Kings has done to bring the school to life is impressive! The nostalgia, frustrations, and teenage optimism that is conveyed throughout the case makes it so immersive, and it is woven expertly throughout the experience. The characters are brought to vivid life by dialogue so keenly on point you feel as though a teenager must’ve written it. Very rarely has a subscription box felt so realistic as this one, so I absolutely must commend everyone involved with writing this case! Beyond this, the case is chock full of fun easter eggs from past cases, and every time a new one popped up, it brought a smile to my face, so veteran Sleuths will definitely not want to miss this one! As a related side note, if you are interested in reading some of my life-changing poetry, this case is absolutely for you.

20190109_0952024796842074160379196.jpg

Ah, my old Alma Mater is still printing my most popular poem to date on their lunch menus. Kinda miffed they’re calling me a senior… I’m only 29!

Low Points:

We were able to jump around in the story at the end by accident, which had us scratching our heads for a minute since we did things out of order, so some information was revealed early, but there was just one step we missed. We went back and solved the other part, and it was entertaining, though it was less surprising since the ultimate solution to that part had already been revealed. That’s mostly on us though, so it’s a very small complaint.

Verdict:

I am glad to say that Case 016: Flyer Fundraiser is a more than worthy sequel to Part-Time Thieves! Expanding on the setting and puzzling of the previous case while still filled to the brim with all the high school charm we loved so much, I absolutely recommend picking this one up, and snagging Case 009 as well for the full experience! This case can be purchased from the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, (which you absolutely should because Case 017 looks astounding,) 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!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Toymaker (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Wouldn’t you like to play?

Theme:

From the Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Late last year a series of grisly murders in the town of Valley Falls captivated the world.  A handful of victims were abducted at various points throughout the month, killed in gruesome ways, decorated to resemble popular children’s toys, and gift-wrapped for the police to find.  Among those “toys” that were created and left for the authorities:  a life-sized Jack in the Box that caused a spring-loaded victim to pop out of the top when the handle was cranked, a Nutcracker doll decorated with greasepaint and blood, a robot that was created from both human and mechanical parts, and a marionette whose movements could be controlled via a series of cables that were attached the victim’s limbs.  The gift cards attached to each one were all signed by someone calling themselves “The Toymaker.” Police were closing in on the culprit when The Toymaker stopped killing, causing the trail to grow cold.  They have continued to pursue leads throughout the year, but they haven’t had any real breakthroughs in a while.  Earlier this week, a new “gift” arrived from the killer, and it is reasonable to assume that the murders will start anew.  If the pattern holds, there is only a very finite amount of time to investigate before The Toymaker goes underground again.  No doubt The Toymaker has more “toys” in mind to create so lives are at risk.  

First Impressions:

I really enjoy The Deadbolt Mystery Society’s unique brand of deductive puzzling, and hunting down deranged serial killers is a favorite theme for me, so The Toymaker sounded like it’d be right up my alley. My fiancée, however, isn’t quite as into spooky horror themes, and the creepy cover of the box remained covered for her benefit until we could begin the game. Porcelain dolls are just spooky! I definitely got a much more horror based vibe from this box, and couldn’t wait to start, however!

That being said, I think it is fair to say this case, in spots, is much more intense than usual. There were several descriptions and visuals that my fiancée did not enjoy, and I skipped over these parts of the case for her benefit. These were mostly due to a particular startling image as well as the descriptions of the murder victims. Nothing over PG-13 and luckily, nothing completely integral to the case was too intense, but I felt a trigger warning of sorts would be helpful for those trying to determine if this case is right for them. Personally, I quite enjoyed this darker turn, but I know that this sort of thing isn’t for everyone.

High Points:

This is Deadbolt’s most challenging box yet! The puzzles and clues left behind by The Toymaker are maliciously clever, and tie excellently into the theme. I especially enjoyed the broad variety of puzzles, some of which can feel very odd at first, but build towards satisfying revelations as more evidence is added to the growing pile. I am very much enjoying how new case files are compiled into booklets, and though the suspect list returns to it’s former method of inclusion, the way they are presented has been updated and fits well within this particular investigation. Further world building of the town of Valley Falls is fantastically developed during this case, and every new box of late feels like they’ve been building towards… something. It’s perhaps just speculation on my part, but there are some ominous inclusions in each box that make me feel like our investigations might be hurtling toward something big. Whether that’s just the thrill of detective work leaking over into imagined clues, or a possible big reveal, it has been a lot of fun to develop theories all the same!

The mystery itself is high quality, with a fair amount of evidence and information to sift through. I enjoyed how seemingly random bits of information become clear clues as we solved our way through the game. Attention to detail has always been important with Deadbolt Mystery Society cases, but The Toymaker truly ramps up how it layers details within each leg of the journey. I was also thrilled to see that some of the elements of real time detective work returned during this case, as we were tasked with gaining entry to particular parts of the Maroon District and talking to new and interesting characters. I really hope this is a continued trend, as it lends an amazing sense of immersion to each case.

20181220_0903214427735439470415010.jpg

Delve into the seedy underbelly of The Maroon District, and bring The Toymaker to justice!

Low Points:

We solved one particular puzzle quickly and easily, but in trying to enter the password, we consistently were told it was incorrect. I am assuming that we committed a typo, but it was frustrating due to the style of the puzzle. It’d be nice to have a way to see what we are typing into the password window. A lot of the story of The Toymaker is packed into the ending of the case, and while it’s a great story, it would’ve been even more engaging to have it sprinkled throughout the game itself, with tidbits emerging via solved puzzles. The connective tissue of the experience was lighter than usual, with more tenuous logical leaps to be made, rather than the more directive puzzles of past boxes, causing the game flow to feel much more choppy. There are loads more QR codes involved with this case, and they all seemed to come into play at the same time for us, leading to a fair amount of chaos, (and so many open windows on my phone.)

Verdict:

The Toymaker is another enjoyable entry into the files of The Deadbolt Mystery Society, but burgeoning sleuths should be warned, it’s definitely one of the more challenging cases we’ve solved! Newcomers might want to hold off on this one until they have solved a case or two with the Society, but veterans will enjoy stitching together the devious clues left behind by The Toymaker! Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society here! Right now, you can get 30% off your first box with the Promo Code TRYDMS! You can also see the rest of our Deadbolt Mystery Society reviews here!

8/10 (Great)

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

Sleuth Kings – Case 015: Fashionably Late (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

It’s called fashion, honey. Look it up.

Theme:

The great fashion designer Stella Stone was working feverishly on her masterpiece, a dress design that was sure to stun the world with it’s elegance! Unfortunately, she passed away tragically young, but not before she could secret the design away from her most bitter rival. Fast forward almost one hundred years later, where Sullivan King has been hired to find the design by a descendant of Stella’s, Poppy Farthing. The more things change, the more they stay the same, however, as Poppy has a rival searching for the designs as well, and the race is on between Sleuth Kings and Hard Boiled Investigations! Luckily, Sullivan has an ace up his sleeve to help with this case… you!

First Impressions:

As much as I love taking down serial killers and mad kidnappers during Sleuth Kings cases, the lighter cases always have an irresistible charm about them. This almost one hundred year old mystery dating back to the roaring twenties was definitely something new and exciting, and knowing Sleuth Kings, it would be a highly immersive case!

High Points:

Sleuth Kings cases are always very carefully layered, with puzzles that build upon each other almost as elegantly as Stella Stone’s designs, and this case is no exception. In fact, Case 015 felt like one of the most challenging, yet satisfyingly complex cases to date. The interconnectedness of this case delivered some highly original puzzling, and made sure that every bit of the game felt important and well clued. Props included within are even more well done than usual, with excellent hand-crafted aging and twenties inspired designs that stay true to the mystery’s theme. I especially loved the buttons included with this case, as they gave me something to fiddle with while we solved, and were absolutely something we expected to find in a dressmaker’s shop! Honestly, Sleuth Kings’ world building skills are second to none, and it’s a joy to have a glimpse into their version of the prohibition era.

The game flow is silky smooth, and the puzzles lead into one another perfectly, yet still maintain a level of challenge that veteran sleuths will adore. The game remains accessible, however, and never reaches the point of being obtuse. Sleuth Kings has perfected the art of putting together a case worthy of Sherlock by including hints within clever details, and encouraging detectives to pay close attention to all the clues. This case really shows off how satisfying it is to notice the little things and strikes a perfect balance of hidden clues, fiendishly cunning puzzling, and a well told story.

20181219_1024301592321599985992925.jpg

Case 015 has it all! Puzzles, mystery, and buttons!

Low Points:

There were several points within one puzzle where additional information was included that seemed to serve no real purpose. It was a small red herring, (unless of course, it was a side puzzle we never figured out,) but led us down a side trail that we were fortunately able to quickly rule out. Other than that, we loved this one!

Verdict:

Case 015 continues Sleuth King’s run of brilliance, and delivers an enticing mystery filled with original puzzles wrapped within an unexpected, but wholly immersive, theme. This one is truly a favorite, and it is always a thrill to see how this subscription continues to evolve! Even though this is probably one of the more complex cases on offer, I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable mystery to solve at home! This case can be purchased 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.

The Enigma Emporium Presents: “Wish You Were Here” (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $15.00

Having a great time, wish you were here!

Theme:

You, a well known codebreaker and private detective, have been sent a envelope of mysterious post cards, the first of which is a taunt from a highly confident criminal, and the rest seem to be full of cryptic messages or the garbled ranting of an incoherent madman. It’s up to you to determine which, and follow the leads wherever they may take you!

First Impressions:

Compared to other mystery mailers and boxes we’ve received, this one seemed very slight. With the main experience containing five postcards (kickstarter backers get a special sixth epilogue card,) we weren’t expecting it to take overlong. Appearances can be deceiving however, as with an average of 4-5 puzzle on each, there’s quite a few puzzles to explore within each postcard.

High Points:

There’s definitely a good 1-2 hours of puzzling involved with the cards depending on your experience level, and for the most part, once you surmount the initial learning curve, the game flow rolls along pretty well. An excellent hint page is set up to help should you get stuck, though in our case, we decided to plow through as many enigmas as we could, and sweep up the leftovers later. This seemed to work pretty well, and the hints gave us a good push to get us back on track for the most part. Each postcard works within an intuitive theme, and makes researching the puzzles and figuring out how they interact with each other a delight. In fact, some of the initial puzzles we solved deliver some really awesome ah ha moments, proving that with even a few simple props, The Enigma Emporium can provide an amazingly satisfying solving experience.

My favorite postcard, for example, is the science based card. Working through it flows so perfectly, as each puzzle stays within a concise theme and hints each other one phenomenally. Some clues are cleverly buried, but when everything clicks it does so in such an intuitive fashion, it feels as if the pieces of a jigsaw are falling together perfectly within your mind. The storyline for the experience is fairly standard mystery fare, but reveals itself at pace perfect for keeping your attention fastened to the cards. The final system for solving the mystery is fantastically done, and finishing the meta puzzle is climatic and gratifying.

wp-15451537811876452570819479638641.jpg

6 cards, infinite* puzzling possibility! (Infinite puzzles not guaranteed.)

Low Points:

Anyone who knows me (or has talked to me about puzzles for longer than five mintues,) knows that I abhor process puzzles. It’s unhealthy, really. There are a few contained within Wish You Were Here, and luckily, most of them are painless. However, one puzzle was painfully similar to one from Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run series. This style puzzle really kicked off my hatred of process puzzles, so seeing it and knowing what we had to do was a bummer. Luckily, it was nowhere near as ubiquitous and mind numbing as Dispatch’s version, but at the same time, that particular postcard felt like a slog during an otherwise brisk run of ah ha producing puzzles. While most of the puzzles included were fairly consistent, there was one in particular that felt overly random, lost within a sea of red herrings. The only other gripe we had was that one style of puzzle tended to show up overly often, losing it’s luster rather quickly even though it was dressed within differing riddles.

Verdict:

Wish You Were Here is a fun experience for intermediate to veteran puzzle solvers. I feel like most folks who are new to code breaking games or puzzle hunts will get lost quickly, but the sweet spot of difficulty will challenge those who have enjoyed this type of mystery before. (And have a code sheet handy!) I recommend this one as a gift to the mystery game lover in your life, (especially if that’s yourself!) and for the price, these jam packed postcards cannot be beat! Get lost in the mystery here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Enigma Emporium provided a complementary envelope.