Puzzling Pursuits – Blackbrim: 1876 (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95; $5 shipping

The police have been kidnapped! Who you gonna call? Puzzle Enthusiasts, that’s who.

Theme:

From the Puzzling Pursuits website:

Set during the Victorian era in the English town of Blackbrim, you are a private detective who has received a package containing mysterious clues from a police commissioner shortly before he was kidnapped. He and the entire police force are being held hostage. To save them, you must solve all the riddles the perpetrator left behind…

First Impressions:

Blackbrim: 1876 is certainly an interesting, sleek looking package. with two separate parts wrapped up in black tissue paper, and a properly mysterious introductory page to set the stage for the rest of the game, it certainly had us intrigued!

High Points:

Blackbrim: 1876 was broken up into two parts, and the first part was an overall alright introduction to the Puzzling Pursuits style of puzzling. While nothing really stood out to me here, this section on the whole was solid. I enjoyed two of the puzzles above the rest, as they were somewhat more seamlessly logical and provided great ah ha moments to revel in. The meta was also enjoyable, and I like how the website to check answers has been set up, it works smoothly and allows for hints to be taken and solutions to be verified without any difficulty or accidental spoilers.

Part two is where Blackbrim: 1876 really shines, however. Sans a couple of puzzles that are similar to puzzles we overall didn’t enjoy in part one, the set up and puzzling is much more clever and refined here. These interactions also tended to be more layered and intricate, allowing for subsequently satisfying solves, as well as loads of multi step, clever conundrums. One particular puzzle looked to me like it was going to be a very difficult, trial and error enigma, but proved to be an elegant mind game that really folded together beautifully once I had teased out what to do. This whole section feels a lot like an escape room, as each puzzle we solved opened up another room, freeing another captive, and leading us closer to the final meta, which ended up being an awesome solve that was hidden in plain sight. The story line itself is also a lot of fun, and the second part really ups the ante narratively, with fun reveals and a finale that ties everything up neatly while still delivering some story threads that could lead to a sequel.

Low Points:

While part two of the game was definitely where things picked up, part one felt like more of a slog. There were a lot of anagrams, and while we don’t necessarily mind those, they just sort of felt like they were there, rather than an active, engaging part of the puzzle. A bit of clean up after the initial solve. There was also a lot of vague googling to do, especially one part which we ultimately skipped since research based googling is something we’ve never really enjoyed. One puzzle in particular required googling, and though we had solved enough of it to skip over the bits we needed to google, it would have been a much more entertaining puzzle without the research. Another puzzle is a great, tactile idea, but doesn’t line up quite as well as it should to ensure confidence in the answers we arrived at. At one point, we needed to take a few hints to move forward with one puzzle that was really stumping us, and they were a little too vague to put us on the right path.

Our only critiques for part two was one more google based puzzle, and a math based puzzle that my wife loved, but I checked out on. That one is a real hit or miss, so if you don’t enjoy math, make sure you play with someone who does. Overall, the only issue is that the cursive style font that is used throughout is difficult to read, even for someone who writes in cursive on a daily basis.

Verdict:

Blackbrim: 1876 was a somewhat uneven experience that still managed to deliver an overall enjoyable time as well as a second half that really captured a nice “at home escape room” feel. Though we had a few gripes with some of the puzzling and all of the Googling, it was still a good time, and I can recommend it easily to enthusiasts that are looking for a somewhat challenging and narrative interesting experience! Start your investigation into Blackbrim here!

7/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Puzzling Pursuits provided a complementary box.

Gruzzle – The Will (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30.00 month to month, $87.00 for 6 months, $172 for a year’s subscription

Where there’s a will…

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

Beloved philanthropist, Dolores Pumbleton, has died! Luckily, she left her massive fortune to her three grandchildren. Unluckily, she also left them a puzzling challenge. Can you help them solve their Nana’s puzzles and earn their inheritance? Sign up with Gruzzle HQ and receive this mystery in your mailbox. Don’t delay — the whole town is counting on you!

First Impressions:

The first Gruzzle, The Painting, was an intensely original, clever new subscription box that really blew all of our expectations for a first time puzzle box out of the water. The anticipation for The Will, therefore, was high. When it hit our porch, I couldn’t wait to see what was included inside!

High Points:

One thing I can definitely say about Gruzzle is that we are still loving the incredibly layered puzzling. We’re constantly impressed by how intricate everything is, and it is clear that a lot of work goes into each puzzle and prop. During the entire experience we were astounded at how well put together absolutely everything was. It was mind blowing how there were times we would come back to different items two or three different times to find that there was even more cryptic information hidden within something we just knew had to have been depleted on the last go round. We also continue to love how tactile everything is, the props and more papercraft based puzzles are so cleverly put together, and we love to see how detailed and densely packed with puzzling each bit is. Though a lot of the game is based on paper puzzling, the designers have done so much to ensure that it never feels basic. The level of creativity is amazing, and there were so many cool touches that we’d never come across before in this sort of game. Furthermore, a lot of work has gone into each interaction to ensure everything feels completely intuitive, and while some work has to be done in order to fully understand what to do, there are no logical leaps or inconsistencies to be found.

One thing we noted while playing is that we love how Gruzzle is how it is, at its core, just a super friendly and approachable experience. Most boxes have deep, dark mysteries or grisly murder investigations, and while I love that sort of thing, it is still really nice to tackle something a bit more light hearted. Gruzzle truly feels like a game that welcomes you in for a challenge and invites you to solve along at your own pace. However, even though the game is family friendly, it is overall still very complex and properly challenging, ensuring that enthusiasts will still get their puzzling money’s worth! Also, while the theme is somewhat lower stakes than, say, escaping a murderer or solving the crime of the century, it still manages to be incredibly engaging and we felt deeply immersed for the entire two hour game. To really drive home how well designed The Will is, there was a specific puzzle that fell into a genre we usually dislike, but it was designed in such a way that we had a lot of fun teaming up to take it down! The finale of the game was brilliant, and included yet another bonus puzzle that displayed all the best parts of a Gruzzle box fantastically.

Low Points:

In the previous Gruzzle box, we felt that the answers sort of took away from the experience, as they generally just named the next envelope to open. This time, they do feel overall more natural, but still fall into the same sort of category. Being an almost completely offline experience, I’m not sure how this can be made to feel more natural, but it’s one of the few critiques we have. One specific puzzle type shows up more than once, which feels repetitive, but is over quickly, so it isn’t an arduous thing. Finally, one particular puzzle that shows up later has an issue with tedious searching, and the presentation makes it somewhat more difficult to keep track of progress without making your own copies. Overall, though, these are very small things that didn’t detract overmuch from the experience.

Verdict:

Incredibly fresh and original, Gruzzle continues to demonstrate how incredibly creative they can be, and is fast becoming one of our favorite subscription boxes, easily! We adored this box, and absolutely recommend it to newcomers and enthusiasts alike, as the approachable, yet challenging puzzling is sure to be engaging for all types of puzzler! The Will ships November 2nd, and you can receive it by signing up by October 31st here! You can use the promo code FIRSTTIME to get $5 off your subscription!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Gruzzle provided a complementary box.

Sleuth Kings – Case 203: Monster Madness Pt. 3 – The Cure (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

The Monster Mash

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Sullivan King had only heard whispers about a new criminal group – until their reign of terror made things personal for him.

The group – filled with self-proclaimed zombies, vampires, and other monsters – has its hand in everything from selling drugs to abducting people. Although they have police baffled, Sullivan is sure of one thing: he’s going to do whatever it takes to stop them.

First Impressions:

The third installment in Sleuth King’s first long form series has arrived, and it’s time for zombies to take the spotlight! I have really enjoyed this wild and weird theme, and couldn’t wait to see where last month’s cliffhanger picked up! With Sullest hanging in the balance, the stakes were high!

High Points:

Sleuth Kings has done a brilliant job of tying together a longer term story rather than the usual one shots, and I’m very glad to say that their excellent characterization and world building fits perfectly within this new style of case. While overall the experience stays mostly the same, mechanically, having a longer term story allows us to get more invested with the narrative, and has us looking forward to what comes next even more than usual. It reminds me of the special series in which Sullivan was searching for his father, a group of cases that had us itching for the next part of the story every three months. I definitely think this method of case delivery has been a success, and look forward to future multi month cases. Case 203 in particular ties up the cliffhanger from last month excellently, which is good, because my wife was starting to get worried about her ongoing Sullest shipping, but doesn’t let us off the hook too easily, as there’s quite a bit of puzzling to be done before we can breathe a sigh of relief! The climax caps things off well, and not only sets up the finale, but delivers a bonus puzzle to keep things rolling along. I always love getting an unexpected puzzle, and this one is no pushover.

The puzzles themselves are overall very good, and generally intuitive, so don’t be like us and over think them. They’re not overly obvious, and do require some thinking, but if you’re starting to build a conspiracy theory board, you might be on the wrong track. The props are great, and continue to provide some fun items to keep as mementos, though if we ever play certain cases again, we’ll have to remember to scour our fridge or display shelves to make sure we have everything. I really loved the ideas behind the puzzles, as well as how they integrated into the story, and one particular character was a lot of fun to investigate. Sleuth Kings are masters at delivering a light hearted story along with a great puzzle flow full of logical, but mind bending enigmas!

Low Points:

One puzzle points towards a pattern, but it needs another hint to pinpoint exactly what pattern that is. We used some extra information to solve this one, and unfortunately, though we were able to deduce some sort of pattern, it wasn’t the most correct pattern. I could definitely understand the workings from the back end, but a mite bit more refinement will ensure this one only has a singular answer. A couple of puzzles within this case will feel a bit familiar to long term sleuths, so these interactions may be somewhat easier for the experienced.

Verdict:

Case 203 is a great continuation of the Monster Madness story line, and we are anxiously waiting for the epic conclusion this October! I highly recommend picking up this series, as it is a fun, multilayered run of puzzles and fun mystery, and you can never go wrong with Sleuth Kings. 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!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Circle (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Something terrible is brewing in Valley Falls… as usual.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When Jodie Wong hosts a group of her closest friends for an evening of fun, she decides the entertainment will be a game called The Circle that requires everyone to write down one anonymous fact about themselves. The group will then take turns guessing which fact corresponds to which person. She decides to make things even more exciting by having everyone type out their fact on an antique typewriter that was owned by a murderer named Nicholas Hundley. Things get weird, however, when there are more messages than participants and one of the notes reads, “I killed a person once. Tonight, I’ll kill another.” No one admits to writing the note, and everyone goes home thinking it was nothing more than a bad joke. It doesn’t seem funny the next day when Jodie is found murdered in her home. Was Jodie Wong killed by one of those closest to her who attended the party? Or was the typewriter a conduit through which something sinister entered this world? Enter The Circle and find out.

First Impressions:

It’s the official, (not really official, but…) start of Deadbolt’s spooky season! The fall has traditionally had some fantastic creepy boxes, and it looks like this September and October will be no different, with The Circle and next month’s Lair bringing the strange and supernatural themes I love! From the moment I saw this box’s cover art I was excited, and absolutely had to crack the box open the same day we received it.

High Points:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society has delivered some fairly dense puzzling mysteries lately, and The Circle is no slouch in regards to the amount of puzzles it contains. There are quite a few connections to be made, puzzles to be solved, and codes to break, and as has become the norm recently, there are new items to find during each new stage of the game. I have been loving the multi-part set up of recent Deadbolt boxes, and the ah ha moments that are derived from opening a new envelope and finding just the right prop to connect with something you’ve been puzzling over previously are fantastic! Another innovation for this box is an expanded focus on narrative. Though Deadbolt already does a great job of weaving stories into their experiences, The Circle in particular focuses even more on expanding the lore and upping the world building. I also loved how the climax and epilogue were expanded within the box, allowing us a deeper insight into the finale, and leaving us with some revelations we were not expecting! It is astounding how Deadbolt continues to evolve month to month, delivering innovations into their mysteries that I didn’t know I wanted, but am always excited to receive.

Though the story is somewhat darker than usual, it never becomes overwhelmingly dour, and bits of comic relief or lighter moments help to ensure the solving remains enjoyable. The puzzles are beautifully integrated into the story, and there are loads of interesting characters to meet and interact with along the way. It is always interesting to see what new Valley Falls resident we will meet next, and one character that assists with the investigation will definitely be someone I’m watching out for in future spooky boxes! There are several great call backs to older boxes for veteran detectives, and the vast array of excellent props tie everything together nicely. The whole process of solving The Circle is brilliant, as the mysterious and suspenseful vibe weaves throughout the proceedings amazingly. While we solved each new puzzle, small revelations hinted at different threads of investigation, and though we theorized regarding what might truly be going on, the final revelation was truly an excellent surprise. Puzzles are very intuitive, and it always makes sense as to what comes next during the excellent game flow, even though determining the solutions might be a bit trickier. A couple of great puzzles felt enormously satisfying once the solves clicked into place, and all points were logical and required no leaps or sorting out of red herrings.

Low Points:

The PDFs pack a lot of information inside, but sometimes, these were a bit hard to read. Since only our phones have QR readers, we had to open the links and then transfer them to our desktop so we could more easily read what was on screen. For a smoother experience, it might be ok to have a couple PDFs for those with less ability to read the smaller letters. There was one puzzle in particular that is ubiquitous on Facebook, and while it isn’t a bad puzzle per se, it is a puzzle type that didn’t quite fit in with the other, more clever enigmas that Deadbolt usually dreams up. There were also a couple other interactions that were a little more simplistic than we were used to, whose connections were somewhat more spelled out, but these were, fortunately, not frequent.

Verdict:

Overall, The Circle is a great new addition to Deadbolt’s unofficial spooky lineup, and I love the even bigger focus on narrative, new mechanics, and expanded ending seen in this box. Though we found it to be a bit easier than usual, there were still loads of puzzling, and some clever surprises I’d recommend to any mystery lover, especially those who like a bit of supernatural fun to spice things 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!

8.5/10 (Great)

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

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.