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.

The Armchair Detective Company – The Kidnapped Crossworder (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $75

Game design is a highly dangerous profession.

Theme:

From The Armchair Detective Company’s website:

Mr. Alfred B. has invented a new game. Eager to show it off, he brings it to his local crossword puzzle enthusiasts’ club. However, the prototype is stolen soon afterwards, and he begins to suspect his fellow club members of foul play. He sets about gathering evidence…only to disappear himself.

This Mysterious Case contains lots of code breaking puzzles (don’t we all have a never-ending secret desire to play with decoder wheels?) and a winding plot with a cadre of secretive characters. It’s up to you to find out who stole the prototype, and the location of its inventor!

First Impressions:

When the box arrived from The Armchair Detective Company, I could already tell this was going to be a special experience! The box itself had an aged look and feel, and even gave off a not unpleasant woody smell, adding to the mystique. I could not wait to crack this one open and give it a go, and once we did, there was just so much to explore!

Mysterious boxes within mysterious boxes!

High Points:

This experience is definitely priced at a premium, but is absolutely worth every penny of the $75 asking price! The beautiful boxes and locks included lend an immersive quality to the game that cannot be beat, and the handcrafted nature of the props included is just amazing. The game is just a joy to interact with on all levels. So many puzzles and clues are included, as well as a plethora of engaging story items that really draw you into the mystery. The game is set up perfectly for multiple players, as it is completely non linear from the start, allowing you go begin puzzling wherever you like! This also allows each player to solve puzzles that play to their strengths and preferences, making this an excellent and highly unique date or board game night activity. So much of this adventure is incredible and tactile, bringing the experience of an escape room into your home in one of the most convincing ways I’ve ever seen.

Most puzzles are some form of code breaking, but the myriad ways that this is done keeps the game flow feeling fresh from start to finish. The threads of each puzzle’s path are intuitive and challenging, eliminating any ambiguity. There really aren’t any hiccups to the flow either; we were constantly working on something new or making narrative connections throughout our time with the game. Overall, the amazing attention to detail, immersive storytelling, and tight puzzling make this just one of the most mind blowing at home experiences currently available on the market!

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Pro tip: Use a big table. This is what the game looked like when we were finished. We are a highly organized people. (Some items shown aren’t part of the game. The PlayStation Vita, for instance.)

Low Points:

We noticed that we did not solve everything once we had reached the ending, so when we did finish, it was a bit of a surprise. We weren’t 100% sure where the conclusion would be, and we used some deductive reasoning since we were under the impression some of the unsolved puzzles would require further locked away items. Luckily, we didn’t have to guess at any point to come to our conclusions, and the puzzles were just as fun to solve later. In total, there were only two of the many puzzles that were left unfinished at the end, so it still absolutely felt like a full experience.

Verdict:

The Kidnapped Crossworder is easily one of the greatest home puzzling adventures money can buy. If you’re looking for a game that combines a thrilling mystery with mind bending enigmas that lead to a great meta-puzzle, you absolutely cannot go wrong with The Armchair Detective Company. I cannot wait to see what comes next from them, as the upcoming larger boxes, (The Druid’s Catacomb and The Star Crossed Scientists,) look like an amazing time! You can order your copy of The Kidnapped Crossworder here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Armchair Detective Company provided a complementary reviewer’s copy.