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.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Framed (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Night at the Museum was a lot more Murder-y than I remember…

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The Valley Falls Museum is home to some of the world’s most exciting art exhibits and archaeological finds. It is also known for its wonderful ancient history curator, Albert McCain. However, everything changes when a successful heist of the museum results in McCain’s death. Based on evidence recovered from the scene, authorities arrest fellow museum employee, Noah Parker, and charge him with robbery and murder. Noah is a friend and calls you immediately, desperate to proclaim his innocence and enlist your help. He is aware of the Will Street Detective Agency’s stellar track record and is hopeful that you will find information that will exonerate him. Solve the mystery of the museum heist, the murder of Albert McCain, and collect the clues that could either free Parker from jail or lead to his conviction.

First Impressions:

When I first read the description of Framed, I couldn’t help but think:
Noah is a friend.
Yeah you know he’s been a good friend of mine.
But lately something’s changed, it ain’t hard to define,
Noah’s got accused of murder and now the problem’s mine.

So anyway, that’s how my mind works. In other news, we’ve been thrilled with the most recent entries Deadbolt has offered up, and it seems like there’s a new mechanic or evolution in the game monthly, so we couldn’t wait to see how Framed would change things up!

High Points:

Like we said, The Deadbolt Mystery Society is always changing and improving, iterating on their highly successful formula from month to month, and keeping things surprising as they go. This month was certainly no exception, packing what seems like even more puzzles than usual into the box, and starting players off with figuring out who the suspects are on their own! I have really enjoyed when Deadbolt has split their recent boxes into two parts, and that extra ah ha moment of discovery when a new envelope is opened works very well for their style of mystery. The designers have also implemented a few new tricks into the investigation, giving us a few new wow moments, including a couple scenes that allowed us to actively investigate some of the museum’s offices! The story is well implemented, and it is interesting to identify what makes the suspects suspicious, and then begin to piece together whether those suspicions are related to murder or… something else entirely. It felt like we really delved into the lives and interpersonal conflicts of the characters in this box, and I enjoyed seeing what these seemingly harmless museum employees got up to after hours.

The experience is very non-linear, allowing us complete freedom to tackle whatever we want over the course of the two parts, and ensuring that even if we stalled out on one puzzle, we could work on something else while our brains rebooted in time to discover the solution. Everything slides together extremely intuitively, and while getting to that point takes a good bit of thinking and solving, the solutions are always a completely smooth, logical fit. The shift from investigation into the suspects to determining the ultimate culprit is fantastic, and there are a few great twists along the way. I really loved how the climax was handled, and enjoyed how it developed into a really unexpected, but incredibly satisfying finale. The props and evidence were all brilliant, and we really loved the inclusion of one strange piece of evidence we just couldn’t stop looking at. “What could the significance be?” we wondered, and when all was revealed regarding this prop, we couldn’t help but laugh. Most of the puzzles involve piecing together multiple layers in order to arrive at the ultimate conclusion, and putting these connections together was a great time, especially for a couple interactions that allowed us to “physically” search certain areas of the museum.

Low Points:

I mean, none for me, but you had to imagine my weird “Jessie’s Girl” parody, so that probably wasn’t great for you.

Verdict:

Framed joins the ranks of The Cabin, Infected, and The Dark and Stormy Night as some of my absolute favorite Deadbolt boxes. The way it successfully changes up the usual Deadbolt formula just enough to evolve the experience, yet still stays true to what we always love about these mysteries, ensures that the whole adventure is a rousing triumph. The difficulty is just right, ensuring that while enthusiasts will still find a lot to challenge them, the game remains accessible to newcomers as well. I recommend this one without reservation! 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!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

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

Gruzzle – The Painting (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

Layers upon layers of puzzling

Theme:

From the Gruzzle website:

A world-renowned museum. A famous painting — stolen! A forgery in its place. A threatening letter. Can you help the museum recover the missing masterpiece before the press and the public discover the theft? Sign up with Gruzzle HQ and receive this mystery in your mailbox. Don’t delay — the museum is counting on you!

First Impressions:

We stumbled upon Gruzzle recently via one of the many fantastic puzzling groups we are a part of on Facebook, and once we’d spoken with the designers for a bit, we couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for their first box! Featuring one of my favorite paintings of all time, and an interesting premise, I was raring to get started once the box arrived on our doorstep!

High Points:

The premise of Gruzzle is simple, a client contacts Gruzzle HQ, and requests help working through a conundrum they are involved with. These cases are packed with puzzles, ciphers, and brain-bending enigmas to solve, and are completely self contained, requiring no outside apps or technology to complete. Though we do love the many subscription boxes and at home puzzling experiences we regularly play, I can’t say that many don’t rely on tech in some way, shape, or form. In fact, I can only think of a couple of the myriad we’ve tried, and neither are a subscription box, so this definitely sets Gruzzle apart as a great, unplugged adventure for families and puzzle enthusiasts alike! The first thing we noticed about The Painting was the fantastic quality of the props included. I don’t think we’ve ever come across a first entry for a subscription box that has such great items included within the game. Not only are there multiple tactile props to play around with, there is an actual locked box inside! I’ve only ever seen physical locks like this in more expensive subscriptions, so it was great to see this sort of touch at a more reasonable price point. I knew we were in for something special the moment we’d opened the box.

The puzzles included were an absolute delight to work through as well. Each stage of the mystery involved some incredibly creative solves, all of which integrated into the theme well. Though the story was somewhat light, it allowed for the focus to remain squarely on the puzzles, which were truly the star of the show. The puzzles were multilayered and clues included were multi-functional unlike anything I’ve seen before in this sort of medium. I really loved how we were able to come back to certain items and discover ever more information by using different new props and solving methods revealed by other solutions. It was truly satisfying to crack each new code, and not one puzzle felt stale or overdone. Even when using an old standby of puzzle boxes, a code most enthusiasts will be familiar with, Gruzzle implements another layer or two of puzzling to ensure the interaction isn’t just another code breaking puzzle. Almost everything we came across was something new to us, or a well implemented refinement of more classic puzzling. The game flow was linear, and everything flowed smoothly as we made intuitive logical connections, working our way to the great conclusion.

Low Points:

During our experience, there was a particular misprint that allowed us to obtain a clue very early on, and it dulled the luster of a certain reveal since we had already sussed out the answer. We also had one puzzle that required a certain rule to be followed that wasn’t overtly clear at first. It was simple enough to make the connection, but resulted in some confusion since we weren’t sure initially what was going wrong. I’ve discussed both of these items with the designers, however, and the full release should negate these concerns. We also noticed that since the experience takes place, for the most part, completely offline, this experience differs somewhat in that most solutions direct players towards opening new envelopes, which for us was a little anti climactic. The designers have some good ideas on how to ensure solving remains exciting, however, (and the puzzles are more than a delight to solve,) so I remain confident that Gruzzle will continue to iterate and evolve!

Verdict:

I am thrilled to say that Gruzzle’s first outing is an absolutely brilliant time! The designers have done an excellent job ensuring the experience is fresh and delivers multiple satisfying ah ha moments. We cannot wait to see what the designers have in store for their next box. I highly recommend subscribing now, as The Painting will ship on September 8th, 2020! Sign up by September 6th here, and you can use the promo code FIRSTTIME to get $5 off your subscription!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Gruzzle provided a complementary box.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Catch Me If You Can: The Collector Part 2 (Review)

Kara’s Note: This review was brought to you by me! 🙂

Location: Your Home!

Players: We recommend 2-4 Players

Price: $24.99 + shipping

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

The Collector has returned to finish the grisly business he began last year and the stakes are higher than ever. He’s abducted someone very close to you and has given you a deadline of 24 hours to catch him. Failure is not an option. It’s time to put an end to The Collector’s reign of terror. Difficulty Level: 8/10 Note: This is a sequel to The Collector. We do not recommend purchasing this box if you haven’t done The Collector.

First Impressions

At last – the long awaited sequel to the Collector! The first box ended on a highly mysterious note and set up an extremely interesting story, so I was curious to see how Deadbolt would follow-up and resolve this killer mystery.

Yay Points

I am very happy to report that the story did not disappoint! Instantly, details of Part One rushed back to me as the premise of this new case was revealed. The introduction was a nice segue from the first box and set up this mystery well. As we advanced through the plot, it was clear how well-crafted the story was as well. The conclusion to this two-part saga was very fulfilling, as the Collector’s motivations and actions culminated into a climactic ending that left me satisfied.

I am always impressed by just the sheer amount of items that are packed into each Deadbolt box, and this one did not disappoint. Once we laid everything out, it was pretty easy to match the various pieces of evidence together so that things quickly become manageable. We had a clear starting point due to the physical set-up of certain evidence. Though this involved some initial non-linear solves, the rest of the box quickly led down an intuitive path.

The puzzles themselves were extremely well-developed. They were multilayered, multifunctional, and included a lot of good twists. It was really clear where to apply the solutions, and some of solutions themselves had an additional benefit of helping to establish a pattern for solving a subset of puzzles. Also, the design of the puzzles was well thought out, as crucial parts for solving later puzzles were hidden until the story was ready for them. (As someone who accidentally jumps ahead to puzzles, I was pleasantly surprised at this aspect since it prevented me from solving parts too early.)

As usual, we enjoyed a diverse amount of puzzles in this box, and appreciated the easier wins at the beginning before the game ramped up the challenge. There were also some nice tactile interactions that I thought were clever ideas, and as always the puzzles were well integrated into the storyline and were just plain fun to solve. Overall, we felt like this box was ever so slightly easier than Part 1, boasting a moderate to higher range of difficulty.

Pondering Points

There was one puzzle early on though that was a bit of a leap for us. To be fair, it’s possible we were overthinking things. Perhaps a smaller additional clue would have been helpful to guide us to the right path.

There was also one puzzle that we felt was a little misleading, as the process for solve this conundrum depends on the accuracy of interpreting certain pieces. However, one part is misrepresented in guiding us to the solution. While we were able to figure out relatively easily what we were meant to do, we feel like this part could be clarified so that there is no question.

Final Verdict

I would highly recommend The Collector Part 2 (and of course, Part 1, which we recommend doing first in order to ensure you get the full story experience). The plot is intriguing and the puzzles are a fun set of challenges. These boxes would definitely be better suited to those who are more familiar with puzzling though, as they might be slightly overwhelming to beginner sleuths. 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.

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.

20200812_1000422534574737010282223.jpg

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.