The Conundrum Box – The Great Explorers Society and the Temple of the Sky Gods (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Ye gods!

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

You have been tasked to retrieve a coveted relic from the Olmec Temple of the Sky Gods before the Great Explorers Society does. Following the notes of Archaeologist Callie Cornerstone, you venture into the heart of Mesoamerican culture to find the famed Amulet of the Sky Gods. Avoid traps and watch who you trust, because time is of the essence!

First Impressions:

Time to meet up with The Great Explorer’s Society again! This time around we would be working against this venerable club of adventurers, which promised to be a cool experience. Further, this box gave off a great “Tomb Raider” vibe, and I couldn’t wait to see what puzzles and traps were in store for us as we delved the depths of the eponymous temple!

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High Points:

As I’m sure long term readers will be aware, The Conundrum Box does a great job telling stories, though at times, we’ve found those stories to be a bit… long-winded, shall we say. I still recommend using a screen reader for some segments, but Temple of the Sky Gods includes two versions of the story, a normal, longer version for those that don’t mind a good bit of reading to go with the game, and a shortened version, (hilariously and aptly called the “too long; didn’t read” version,) which I felt may have been partially tailored to us. This worked fantastically during our play through, and gave us just the right amount of story without becoming overlong, but not too little that we felt lost. The story is an interesting “other side” take on the Great Explorer’s Society, and it was fun to go on an adventure as a rogue treasure hunter rather than a “It belongs in a museum!” type this go round. The twists and turns the game takes along the way are unpredictable, keeping us on our toes the whole play time, as we were never quite able to guess what would happen next!

The game flow was excellent, weaving through a well structured puzzle path, and including some wonderful props to bolster the puzzle solving. I loved the tactile nature of several of the puzzles, including one that held quite a few more secrets than I was initially expecting! Many of the enigmas included provided some supremely satisfying moments of revelation, especially some of the devious challenges that awaited us near the end of our adventure. At no point did the game require leaps of logic or red herrings, and every step of the way felt intuitive. Though the gameplay is linear, there are either multiple steps or a couple puzzles to solve at every level, ensuring that all players will remain engaged. The box is also densely packed with loads of puzzling, as well as a few extra surprises, all of which are absolutely worth the price of admission. The Spotify tracklist included within the extras, as well as the recipes were a great addition, and one bonus recipe found within the box itself was delicious, and I highly recommend trying it out!

Low Points:

This box was great, though on the whole, it didn’t quite feel as involved as previous boxes, and the story, thus far, felt somewhat more disconnected from the other experiences. While this is to be expected for one offs, we’ve grown used to all the boxes weaving together, and perhaps the connections will become clear in future adventures. Though the puzzles weren’t quite as multilayered and intricate as other Conundrum Box games, we still enjoyed this somewhat more straightforward run of puzzles. While we did enjoy some of the wild roller coaster twists presented by the story, one of the final ones wasn’t quite explained in a satisfying way, leaving us to wonder exactly what it meant.

Verdict:

Temple of the Sky Gods is a beautifully constructed challenge, filled to the brim with exciting and satisfying puzzling, immersive extras, and an interesting story! I have loved seeing how The Conundrum Box has evolved with each new box, and can’t wait to see what they come up with next. It goes without saying, but I wholeheartedly recommend checking this one out. 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.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Prison Break (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Not to be confused with the tv show we all forgot about.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Brutality, violence, an attempted prison break, death… or, in other words, just another day at Valley Falls’ most infamous correctional facility. In a place filled with criminals and guards who are just as vicious as the inmates they supervise, anyone could be a killer. The only question is who is responsible for the newest murder…and why did they do it?

First Impressions:

After the insanely creative themes that Deadbolt has put out lately, it was interesting to see that their next box would take place during a prison break. A fairly ubiquitous escape room theme, it didn’t seem quite as exciting as some of the amazingly outlandish ideas they’d used for previous cases, but they certainly didn’t take this time to rest on their laurels! Prison Break may seem like a fairly basic theme, but this box takes things to the next level!

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Let’s all go to prison!

High Points:

Deadbolt continues to iterate, expanding on mechanics and introducing excellent new elements, and this box is no exception. First, there is an extra layer to this box, as some elements for the late game are hidden within an envelope that can only be opened once a certain part of the mystery has been reached. (Well, you could open it early, but what’s the fun in that?) This adds greatly to the immersion by allowing the story to flow between two separate stages, while expertly avoiding gating things off in a way that makes it feel like a choke point. The flow is completely smooth during the transition, and the reasons behind the shift are explained excellently during the story. Secondly, the usual suspect mechanic is upended beautifully, as there is no one suspect to focus on at any time, but rather a shifting set of players that can change at any moment, leading to some great plot twists to keep detectives on their toes!

The props provided are great, as usual, and include some opportunities for tactile puzzling, which I always enjoy! Everything fits thematically within the prison itself, and there are some fantastically creative ideas within this box. A favorite of mine included a little state hopping through a fantastic coded message, and most of the codes served up by Prison Break are brilliantly varied, allowing for a wide array of solving styles to shine. Though the experience is mostly linear, (which benefits the story, ensuring that it takes a natural track,) there were a few points at which there were multiple puzzles to solve, and we never reached any choke points that stymied progress unnecessarily. The mystery itself is a great challenge, but works intuitively, ensuring that while there are mind bending puzzles to solve throughout, the solutions never feel illogical or unfair, as connections are easily made once the subtle clues leading to them are uncovered. This box is absolutely dense with enigmas as well, and it feels even more chock full due to the exciting new blast of puzzles that appear once players reach the halfway point.

Low Points:

While the story was certainly interesting, the climax and epilogue wasn’t quite as exciting as some recent boxes. This is a somewhat minor point, as it’s still a good send off for the box, and is more a comment on just how awesome some of the recent climactic endings for Deadbolt have been. There are a couple points during the game where the text is very difficult to read due to the small size of the font. Mostly this is due to the amount of information being conveyed, but from time to time, it detracts from the experience.

Verdict:

Prison Break is a great take on a usually basic theme, expanding not only the “prison” genre of escape experiences, but the Deadbolt formula itself. I really enjoyed all the new mechanics and twists that were included within this box, and was pleasantly surprised by how excellent the experience was, as a whole. A great challenge for veteran solvers, but approachable for newcomers, this is definitely a great mystery to pick 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!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

The Conundrum Box – Emerald Isle (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Theme:

From The Conundrum Box website:

The Great  Explorer Society’s resident Irish historian,  Dr. Ronan Gallagher has devoted the waning years of his life to the study of the fairy realm and the magical beings of Ireland.

His obsession came decades prior when his wife died of Influenza in the 1790s.  He heard the banshee’s call, and he dedicated his life to unlocking the mysteries of the unseen world, the realm of the fairies.  Ultimately, he believed that if he could capture a banshee, he would be able to reverse the death of his wife.  However, the banshee eluded him.  He became obsessed with Leprechauns, believing that they were the lowest level of fairy,  and therefore his gateway into the fairy realm.  He thought once there, he could finally capture a banshee and bring back his lost love. Nobody has seen Dr. Gallagher for months now, and you, the newest member of the Great Explorers Society, were sent on this meaningless errand… errr, special mission to find out where Dr. Gallagher is.  Most members of the GES believe that the old kook probably finally caught himself in one of his leprechaun traps and has met his end, others believe that he is held somewhere remote, and only steps away from finally achieving success.

Either way, he owes the society his dues, so go collect… errr, figure out what he is up to!   The last contact the society had with him was an empty dues collection envelope with a return address to his cottage in a remote village of Ireland.

First Impressions:

The Emerald Isle was definitely a hotly anticipated box for me, as I’m always interested in all things Celtic! Just off the heels of the fantastic Storyteller series, I could not wait to see what The Conundrum box had in store for us this time. This absolutely sounded like the most fantastic due collecting errand we’d ever been sent on!

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There is a lot to do before this guy is gonna cough up his dues money.

High Points:

I was certainly excited about the theme, and The Conundrum Box delivered on the Celtic vibe in spades. With their extras page for every box, there are a few recipes and historical notes, along with what have been some very excellently curated Spotify playlists to build upon the immersive experience of the adventure. The Emerald Isle’s playlist is one I’d be happy to listen to at any time, and I really appreciate the effort the designers put forth to ensure the game is just that much more special. The story itself was a lot of fun, and tracking down our missing comrade through the realms of the fae, (for his dues, of course,) was appropriately exciting. I really enjoyed the inclusion of one particular character, whose trickery and general begrudging helpfulness was enjoyable to engage with. I still recommend a page reader for some of the longer sections of narrative, but the story included within this chapter of The Great Explorer’s Society is wonderfully woven, and probably my favorite of the lot.

The game flow worked well, with a difficulty curve that started with a few easier wins to get the ball rolling, culminating in some deviously clever and challenging puzzles as we made our way towards the climax! Though mostly linear in nature, there were usually at least a couple puzzles revealed during each stage of the game, allowing us to divide and conquer as we solved, or take a break from a particularly difficult conundrum. For the most part, it was clear what bits went together, and many of the enigmas come together intuitively to provide some great moments of revelation. A puzzle similar to one I really enjoyed from The Storyteller makes another appearance, but iterates on the design, expanding how it is solved and creating a great challenge that was hugely satisfying to unlock the secrets of. I also thought that a puzzle we used to “make a new friend,” as it were, was brilliant, using colorful, multilayered clues to find our new pal.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle is clearly very clever after having solved it, but the cluing can sometimes feel almost too subtle due to the overload of information from the time the clue is found, to the point it needs to be engaged with. Since several props need to be used multiple times, (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,) and there is a lot of information to go through, (especially as more envelopes are opened,) clues appearing somewhat nearer to their relevancy might prevent the flow from becoming mired. The late game was definitely bogged down through the need to review everything, breaking the flow, and though the revelation of what we needed to do was satisfying, it was a slog to get to that point. We found one other puzzle had a small typo, causing a letter to be off, but it was still easy to identify what the code was meant to say otherwise. Overall, this box was fun to quest through, but it was missing a little bit of magic that was what made The Storyteller such an immediately gripping box. This may be due to the amount of paper handouts that are included with Emerald Isle, which are quite as tactile as the many props The Storyteller provided.

Verdict:

In all, the Emerald Isle is a good time, with a dense assortment of challenging, yet approachable puzzles, ensuring that Conundrum veterans and new players alike will be able to enjoy the fantastic story within. While the game flow tends to flag a little at the end, on the whole, I absolutely recommend checking this game out, as the clever puzzling and great storytelling are one hundred percent worth the price of admission! Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary review copy.

Sleuth Kings – Case 032: Two Ring Circus (Review)

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

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Are those… bells?

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Sullivan’s office has been ransacked and one thing is clear – the Moretti crime family is behind the break-in. The thieves were after a diamond and found one – just not the one they wanted. Instead, they stole a wedding ring that once belonged to Sullivan’s late mother. Worse, before they could sell the ring, they managed to lose it. Can you help Sullivan race against the Moretti family to get his mother’s ring back?

First Impressions:

FYI, Though I’ve attempted to be vague, there may be some potential, unintended (but hopefully harmless) meta-spoilers. Read at your own risk. 🙂

While waiting for Brandon to set up the box and email Sullivan, I decided to take a quick skim of the “Investigation Report”. I immediately noticed “ring” and “keep this from Celeste” and became SUPER excited about the not-so-subtle implications! I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but do humbly propose to all Sullest fans: do this box ASAP as this is an ultra-important case! 😊

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Brace yourselves, this is the most important case you’ll have solved to date!

High Points:

This was such a fun and light-hearted story! It’s pretty obvious that I particularly enjoy the Sullest boxes and am (perhaps unusually) very invested in their relationship, so it’s no surprise that this is one of my favorite boxes of late.

Sleuth Kings is fantastic at story continuity as well as character consistency. It always gives us some chuckles to see Sullivan’s consistent character among the cases – in this case, his hilarious attempt at being mysterious, (for a detective, he’s not the best at keeping secrets – at least from us.) A seemingly small thing, but I was also happy to see that Celeste’s contribution to the case, (via her hint system,) was updated to reflect how she can still be involved while still being kept in the dark. I was also delighted to be instantly gratified with the epilogue for this case – and that’s all I’m going to say about that. ^_^

Also, it’s very amusing to me to think of the big bad crime family of the case figuring out how to code their secret messages into such family friendly material. We inadvertently guessed what the answer to the final solution of the case would be as a joke, and were pleased when that turned out to be right!

Storyline aside, the box itself was a fun and smooth experience. It was probably one of the fastest boxes we’ve solved. Overall, I really appreciated how the puzzles were set up. One puzzle in particular was structured in an extremely helpful way. When we first started solving it, I was concerned that there would be multiple possible answers, leading to a guess and check situation. However, I was happy to have worried for nothing!

The box was enhanced by its cute and well-designed props. In addition to being visually exciting, it also made it easy to find and link together props and clues. Even though some clues and solutions were exclusive to a single prop, they inter-wove with the other material as the puzzles built upon each other in pretty straightforward and linear fashion. It’s amazing how multi-purposeful everything can be.

Pondering Points:

We did end up bypassing one of the puzzle interactions by accident, and it was very clear to us that we missed something. After we solved the case, we used Celeste’s hint system to help us backtrack and figure out what was supposed to happen. It was certainly an interesting puzzle and subtle by nature. I’m not sure if this means the puzzle was hackable and/or the clues weren’t strong enough for us, (though honestly, we could’ve misinterpreted the puzzle/clues completely.) However, I suppose this can also be a good sign, (in a way,) in that clearly the solution makes sense! In retrospect, I do think we would have easily solved it the right way had we looked at the Clue Analysis or Celeste’s website though, and would highly recommend them if you’re stuck.

While we found the puzzles to be overall fairly easy, it’s very possible the clues to the final puzzle need to be stronger or contain more direct hints for newer players who don’t have a puzzling background, (I certainly would’ve never thought of it before playing these boxes with Brandon.) The method of solving this puzzle is likely either to be something you know or don’t know. Seasoned players may find the in-puzzle hints to be enough, but newer players may need to utilize the hint system more or possibly do some internet searching.

Verdict:

This box is one of my personal Sleuth Kings favorites, and I would highly recommend it. I think it’s a great introduction to puzzling for newer players, and would also be a fun adventure for veteran sleuths. I’m also super stoked to see what’s next for Sullest! 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.

Society of Curiosities – Madok’s Lost Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-3

Price: $39 plus shipping every 3 months, or $149 per year (4 mailings.)

Good things come in small packages.

Theme:

From the Society of Curiosities website:

You receive new information that could lead to the discovery of the lost treasure of Captain Edus Madok. Study the artifacts, articles, and expert resources to track down the location of the treasure and dispatch your team to dig it up.

First Impressions:

Society of Curiosities sent along a mysterious envelope recently, and I was already impressed by the attention to detail and passion for immersion the second I had a peek at the weathered mailing and strange looking objects inside. Though when I first emptied out the contents, I was wondering how much gameplay there could actually be. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised!

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Magic card not included.

High Points:

Society of Curiosities may be one of the most brilliantly immersive at home games I’ve played in a while. The absolutely stunning attention to detail of the props, the inclusion of some great reveals, and reality questioning research items discovered later truly immerse players within the Society of Curiosities like no other game has for us. It reminds me a lot of the AR PC game Missing: Since January and its sequel Evidence: The Last Ritual. I whiled away many hours with these game researching using myriad provided resources you could never tell were real or not, and Madok’s Lost Treasure captures that same feeling perfectly. So many of the puzzles incorporate things you never really would think would be part of a subscription puzzle game, and the experience is made all the better for it. Every single bit of the game is not only important, but woven into the story itself, and while other games generally had moments where I think, “we have to overlook this out of place bit due to the nature of the experience,” I never once felt that during our time searching for the Lost Treasure! Everything is just so well connected and navigation within the game world feels so natural; the designers should be commended on that alone, and we haven’t even touched on the puzzles yet!

The game flow works incredibly smoothly, and after a big dump of items and information at the beginning to sort through, it becomes easier to make connections and begin solving. This game is amazing, as though we had to engage in a fair amount of research, it is presented in a way that makes the googling and poring over information fun rather than an arduous exercise in tedium. I was absolutely thrilled that what is usually one of my most hated chores in any game became engaging, immersive, and purely fun. That alone proves to me that Society of Curiosities knows exactly what they’re doing. Puzzles are filled to the brim with great moments of revelation due to this masterful game design, and both my wife and I were very pleased with ourselves as we put together the pieces of some really masterfully designed and subtly clued interactions, sometimes even before it seemed like we should! The adventure taken as a whole was easily one of the most satisfying games to solve we’ve come across, and truly raised the bar when it comes to world building!

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It may not seem like much on the surface, but there’s a lot of content hidden about!

Low Points:

The first stumbling block most folks will come across with this experience may be the price tag. At $39 plus $6 shipping for quarterly purchasers (one game is released every three months,) that may be a steep cost for the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I do think the adventure is worth it, and absolutely understand where that price tag comes from, but I do know as veteran players of these sorts of games, we did blow through it, coming in a bit below the lower end of the estimated 2-5 hours of game time. However, newer players may find themselves taking longer, so your mileage may vary. Again, the experience is very worth it, but I want to mention it for those for whom cost matters greatly, myself included.

For us, the final puzzle got a bit convoluted, and though we had come across the items required to advance, one in particular is VERY deviously hidden. As a non-spoiler hint, make sure you look at literally everything, as it is all important. It’s a small thing, but that one item started to become frustrating due to how immediately well it was hidden, and how early on it was introduced. We were able to skip over one key point of the game, as my wife is brilliant at codebreaking, pulling out one of the quickest unintended solves I’ve seen in a game. The clue we skipped was therefore easy to miss, and is important later for another puzzle, but the set up seems to encourage players to take the route we did. These are both small quibbles related mostly to gate keeping of clues, however, and were the only in game shortfalls we came across.

Verdict:

Madok’s Lost Treasure is the start of something special for Society of Curiosities. Though there are some bumps in the road at the end, we had a gloriously fun time playing through. The many moving parts required to provide this type of experience go off without a hitch, and I really look forward to seeing where the journey takes us with their next adventure! Start your journey seeking the buried treasure here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Society of Curiosities provided a complementary mailing.