Sleuth Kings – Case 202: Monster Madness Pt. 2 – DraculArt (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

I will not apologize for Art.

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.

Can you help Sullivan uncover the group’s monstrous secret and bring them to justice before they hurt someone else?

First Impressions:

Sleuth Kings’ new format started out with a strange and interesting foray into investigating a group of kidnappers who proclaimed themselves to be aliens, leaving off with a cliffhanger to keep things mysterious. This time, a group of art thieves has struck, but are strangely only interested in artifacts pertaining to “vampire culture.” Seems like an oddly similar string of thematic crimes has struck Dayton, and only Sullivan King can put a stop to it, with our help, of course!

High Points:

So far the themes of Monster Madness have been weird and wonderful, and I loved the vampire based art heist being carried out during this case. The DraculArt exhibits sounds like the absolute best sort of art exhibition, and the promotional materials included within our case not only integrate into the puzzles brilliantly, but do an excellent job of world building as well. After speaking with the designer, he noted that “the line between goth and cheesy” was thinner than he had guessed, but I think he struck just the right balance to make the art direction of the whole case dark and moody without crossing over into goofiness. The story itself is self contained, but ties into the previous case as some of the mysterious strands begin to tie themselves together through the narrative. Everything slowly built until we were hit by one of the most shocking plot twists we’ve come across in a Sleuth Kings case paying off all the set up from the first two cases in spades! Everything capped off well, and though we ended off with another cliff hanger, the case wrapped up satisfyingly.

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The game flows well, per usual, and despite a small logical speed bump we came across during the second half of the game, everything was immediately intuitive. We appreciated the difficulty curve, which started with some quick challenges, but ramped up into some difficult, but immediately engaging conundrums that were a pleasure to solve. The creativity and variety of the puzzles also ensured that the experience remained fresh for the entire play time. I especially enjoyed some tactile puzzling that was included at the end of the case, which utilized some pieces of evidence I had not expected to be used in quite the way they were! The meta puzzle for this case was well implemented, with a little bit of subtle cluing, and I really liked how it tied another of the long running Sleuth Kings characters into the mystery!

Low Points:

One particular clue is something that folks will either get right away because it is something they’ve done before, or will need a hint to get things going. There may be a few folks in between, but it is a very specific cipher. A few of the codebreaking points in this box lend themselves a little more towards solo play, and one of us had to wait after we figured out the method of solving while the other finished up the process of decoding. One of the clues in the later game is a bit of a logical leap, and needs just a bit more cluing to ensure it isn’t too vague.

Verdict:

After Case 201, we were interested to see what would happen next, but this case truly finished off with us completely invested in knowing how this story continues, and ultimately finishes up! I have a few theories about what’s going on, but knowing Sleuth Kings, when the big reveal comes, I’ll be thrown for a loop. I definitely recommend picking this one up after working through Case 201, as the blend of engaging story telling and clever puzzling is to die for! 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 Conundrum Box – The Storyteller: Part Two – Scheherazade (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

FROM SCHEHERAZADE TO ALADDIN, EXPLORE THE 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS TO DEFEAT THE EVIL VIZIER OMAR

You have been transported within the world of the 1001 Arabian Nights, your mission is to retrieve four genie lamps in order to get back home. Meanwhile, a despicable tyrant, the Vizier Omar, has taken control across all the realm. He has imprisoned the princess Scheherazade and seeks to gain control of the lamps for himself. Travel through two legs of the journey, meeting many of the characters, heroes, and villains of the tales of The 1001 Arabian Nights.

First Impressions:

The initial box we received in the The Storyteller series, Aladdin’s Lamp, was easily the best game The Conundrum Box has put out. Filled with excellent puzzles, and amazing game flow, and, true to its namesake, a well woven story, it easily became one of my favorite at home experiences recently. With the sequel soon to be at our doorstep, I was ecstatic to see what would come next!

High Points:

Part two of The Storyteller Series absolutely nails it with the amount of creatively implemented puzzles, including a incredibly smooth difficulty curve, and a run of highly intuitive enigmas. Signposting between related items is very good, and the clues are subtle, but elegantly implemented in order to preserve a great challenge. We started to see some excellent multilayered puzzles in these recent boxes, and the breaking down of each layer until we came to the final answers was fantastic and full of exciting moments of revelation. One particular puzzle that comes to mind involved a beautifully tactile interaction that built to a great run of really beautiful puzzles, all hidden well in plain sight. We came back to this particular set piece, (a term I never thought I’d use to describe a puzzle in an at home experience, but there you are,) a few times, and each subsequent task was excellently designed. One other large scale prop was densely packed with codes and conundrums, and one early game interaction was excellently creative and fun to solve. Honestly, it became increasingly difficult to determine our favorite puzzle as we worked our way through this box, there are just so many great ones! All of these puzzle threads wrap up nicely within the story, and the climax was perfect, including some easter eggs and tying up some story threads for long time players!

The game flow is incredibly tight, owing mostly to the well crafted linearity, presenting us with only one or two puzzles at a time to preserve the flow and the story progression. Though the box is linear for the most part, most puzzles are workable with a couple or small group, so no one is going to feel left out during the solving. I feel like this tighter focus has really helped the experiences grow, and ensures that the quality of the storytelling and overall adventure comes across so much better. Though we enjoyed the previous series, Sleepy Hollow, for the most part, it could sometimes feel rather scattered due to the more non-linear nature and amount of items available at any one time. The Conundrum Box’s other updates, such as pointing out needed items from previous boxes and updating the interface for mobile and tablets are also highly appreciated!

Low Points:

Typos have been cleared up a lot from previous boxes, but there are still a few noticeable errors here and there; they are getting much less prevalent, however. One particular puzzle had an error that did not derail the game as we were able to determine what the solution should have been using the rest of the puzzle, so this ended up being fairly minor. One particular interaction used somewhat more vague language, making it difficult to know what option for decoding to choose, but as there were only a couple options, it was fairly easy to see when we were on the wrong track and correct course. A slight change to the verbiage here would make things much clearer, however. Finally, there was another somewhat vague item in a late game puzzle, but again, it could only be one of two things, so it’s a very minor issue.

Verdict:

The Storyteller is, so far, my favorite series put out by The Conundrum Box. I absolutely recommend picking these two boxes as soon as you can! They weave a wonderful tale, and integrate some seriously clever puzzling into the narrative, ensuring that this is an awesome escape adventure! I loved these, and can’t wait for the next run of games, starting with The Emerald Isle. 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.