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!

20200527_1015591841510716629039282.jpg

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 Deadbolt Mystery Society – Duel (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Now you have another reason to stay indoors.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

One city. Two killers in competition. A twisted game that can only end in bloodshed.

First Impressions:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society continues to cement its place as one of the most creative subscription boxes out there, theme wise, with this game. I love the idea of a couple of crazed killers competing with each other this way, with codified rules just barely keeping the entire thing falling into complete chaos. From the time this game was announced, I was looking forward to it!

High Points:

In addition to the wildly original theme, this box ties together many of the previous boxes into the shadowy organization that’s putting on this murderous event. It’s always lovely to see some nice call backs to other mysteries while each box remains its own, self contained case. Deadbolt has definitely struck an excellent balance between interconnected storytelling while still ensuring that each entry remains its own separate thing. As new boxes include further revelations, I become ever more immersed in the world of Valley Falls. The story line for Duel is great, and the box is slightly more linear in places, allowing for the narrative to evolve more naturally and in a way that evolves over the course of the full duel between the Serpent and the Red Bishop. (#TeamSerpent all day.) Props are great, and everything feels high quality, especially the super cool buttons you can wear to show your support for your favorite killer! My wife and I both liked Team Serpent’s aesthetic more, so we just sort of displayed it on the table as we puzzled. There are several QR codes to work through, but as most are sequential, there’s no need to keep up with multiple tabs, ensuring nothing becomes too chaotic.

The game flow is great for the most part, and allows for smooth transition from spot to spot in the majority of cases. There are a few points of non-linearity, and as there are a couple different threads, those moments can pop up at any point you’re feeling stuck. The main twist on the usual formula is fantastic, with sleuths attempting to discover new victims, determine the point tally for the duel, and trying to catch the murderers before they can wreak more havoc! The game truly makes you feel as if you’re squaring up against a monolithic entity of killers, trying to stop them before they can enact their master plans. The puzzles included are full of great code breaking tasks and creative hidden messages to find, all culminating with a fantastic, in theme meta puzzle that works well as a progress tracker as well. There are a lot of connections to be made, and each step provides a nice revelatory moment of satisfaction. The climax is wonderful, continuing to set up a cool Holmes/Moriarty vibe to the proceedings, and in a new development, the ending/epilogue is fully voice acted!

20200415_1018333436659535688228101.jpg

Low Points:

The linearity of one of the main points is overall well implemented, but we found there to be a choke point or two for one stage of the game that stalled the game’s momentum for a while. There is a bit of a logical leap that exacerbated this, but once we’d figured it out, (with a small hint,) things got back on track. (Another puzzle is very easy to overthink, so as a heads up, sometimes the simplest explanation is the best!) The flow was mostly great, as previously mentioned, but from time to time, once we’d exhausted all other threads, it can become a bit choppy. One puzzle has a ubiquitous cipher that long time puzzlers will find very familiar, though it is a nice inclusion for new players.

Verdict:

Easily one of the coolest themes Deadbolt has released, Duel has a fantastic run of enigmas to enjoy as well! Despite a quibble here and there, overall we found this to be a very fun mystery, and look forward to how the new organization and it’s cast of characters will pop up in the future! There’s been a lot of build up lately in some of the more recent boxes, and I cannot wait to see where the writers go with this. Duel is a more challenging box, but I think it’ll be accessible for new players, as this challenge isn’t insurmountable or unapproachable. Veteran players will enjoy the call backs to earlier boxes that go with said challenge as well, and I can easily recommend picking this one 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.

At Home Games I’ve Loved Before – Recommendations for Sheltering in Place

Hi All!

In place of another review, I wanted to share some of my favorite at home experiences, and make a few recommendations should you be looking for something to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. I know I’m missing my escape room fix, but these are some great substitutes until we can get back in the swing of things! I’m starting with some of the best subscription boxes we’ve played, and intend to deliver some recommendations regarding other at home experiences in the coming days.

Subscription Boxes:

Our favorite Subscription boxes for a rainy day, (or sunny day, or any day really,) are The Deadbolt Mystery Society, Sleuth Kings, and The Conundrum Box. I’ve linked below a few reviews for their best games.

20190515_0935495352451026786306002.jpg

Deadbolt:

Always great for a excitingly themed whodunnit (or who has done this, if you prefer,) Deadbolt has put out some amazing mysteries. My favorite adventures so far have blended some incredible puzzling with entertaining deductions, injecting exciting narrative twists as we eliminate suspects and expose the killer.

The Cabin – The OG 10/10 Halloween slasher box. If it’s available, you need to play it.

Infected – This is another 10/10 that I felt really elevated the whole subscription. The closest thing to an escape room I’ve played at home, this game was an absolute joy to work through.

The Dark and Stormy Night – My current reigning favorite, and a delight for any Agatha Christie fan. I cannot recommend this mystery enough.

Join the Deadbolt Mystery Society or pick up standalone adventures 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!

4a8904ceae554eb59144dd417f5f3f12

Sleuth Kings:

Ever wanted to be a private detective, but just didn’t know where to start? Join Sullivan King as you assist him in solving the various and sundry exciting cases that come across his desk every month! Specializing in code-breaking, an overall light hearted tone, and great world building, we always look forward to seeing a new Sleuth Kings box hit our doorstep.

The Haunting – Sullivan’s newest client has bought a new home, but unfortunately, it may be haunted! Help solve the mystery of what’s going bump in the night, and try not to become a ghost yourself!

Blood P.I. – She plays a vampire detective on TV, and she’s your newest client. She’s also got a stalker who has bought into the whole vampire shtick a little to much. Slick and highly creative, this remains one of my favorite of the many quirky cases Sleuth Kings has to offer.

Sparky – If “Psychotic Killer in a Mascot Suit” isn’t an immediately engaging theme for you, we can’t be friends. This review, written by my lovely wife and escape partner in crime sums up this madcap experience beautifully.

You can purchase these and many 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!

ORient+express+top

The Conundrum Box:

One of the newest subscription boxes we’ve had the pleasure of trying out, their most recent run of games has been fantastic! Delivering not only an Agatha Christie themed mystery, but a 1001 Arabian Nights tale, they’ve been on a roll with great puzzles and wonderful storytelling. I cannot wait for their newest box, The Emerald Isle, to hit or doorstep!

The Great Explorer’s Society and The Orient Express – Being someone who loves a good Agatha Christie novel, this box was an instant favorite for me! Full of fun twists and an exciting climax, this lead in to The Storyteller series really kicked it up a notch for The Conundrum Box as a whole.

The Storyteller Part 1 – Aladdin’s Lamp – After having my heart broken by Unlock’s terrible adaptation of the tales of Scheherazade, The Conundrum Box came to the rescue with this, the first of an amazing two part adventure! Containing some of their most clever puzzling to date, this remains my favorite box of theirs.

The Storyteller Part 2 – Scheherazade –  A worthy follow up to Aladdin’s Lamp, the second half of the Storyteller… er… story, contains another set of great puzzles, some twisty narrative, and great easter eggs and revelations for long time players!

You can subscribe to The Conundrum Box as well as order previous boxes here! Use our Promo Code ERA5OFF to recieve $5 off your first box!

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Pretender (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Not to be confused with the 90’s TV series

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

A group of die-hard fans have been given a chance to spend the weekend with their favorite horror author, Bradley Raymond. Only one of them is not at all what they seem. One of them is a twisted killer known only as The Pretender.

First Impressions:

It’s always good to see a tie in to previous boxes, and The Pretender reaches all the way back to Murder in 3B, the very first, (but still beloved,) Deadbolt Mystery box, to look back into the life of Bradley Raymond, Valley Falls’ favorite horror writer. I am always excited for horror-adjacent mystery solving, so this one seemed right up my alley!

High Points:

The Pretender starts off with a very interesting concept, and The Pretender themselves is a chilling villain, a master of disguise who kills and assumes the identities of his or her victims. The character development in regards to this antagonist may be one of the best so far, surpassing even The Collector in this facet due to the up close and personal nature of the mystery and player’s interactions with them. Other characters and suspects are convincingly portrayed as well, and their possible alibis and identities are integrated well into the mystery. While the brunt of the story is front and back loaded, it is a good one, delivering an enigma that kept us guessing until the fantastic climax and reveal. I also enjoyed the open ended nature of the finale, which provides a mostly satisfying conclusion while still leaving things open ended enough that future appearances and world building are not out of the question.

Props and puzzles are high quality, as usual from Deadbolt, and one particular inclusion adds a great optional story for players to peruse at their leisure. The Pretender is a highly intuitive game, with a fantastic flow and non-linear presentation that kept us fully engaged throughout, minus one point at which we forgot about a vital item we had uncovered, which is totally on us. Clues were very clear, and it was easy to sort out that which was important from that which was not, but answers were certainly not spoon fed, and challenge was preserved though clever puzzling and devious, yet satisfying solves. Signposting is well implemented, and subtle hints direct players towards what goes together. Props are used to their fullest, and I was very pleased to find one that included a couple layers of solving, allowing us to work on the same puzzle from different directions, coming together in the end to reveal its secrets. Elimination of suspects is handled well, and the meta puzzle that involves clearing certain suspect’s names not only adds a fun small puzzle to the mix, but ensures that progress can be cleanly tracked. There are fewer QR codes in this box than some previous adventures, and somewhat more deduction, but codes that lead to password protected items and those which are immediate clues is well identified within the theme.

20200318_1154188315822147929923153.jpg

Low Points:

Though the theme is appropriately original, and the characters interesting, The Pretender didn’t quite grab us as much as previous boxes. I think it may be that the story doesn’t quite develop during game play as much as it usually does, but to keep this in perspective, the story is still better than most at home experiences, so it’s a minor quibble. One particular puzzle didn’t quite line up for us, but it was intelligible despite a typo or two. Finally, the climax was interesting, but the epilogue didn’t quite stick the landing, with a few strange errors committed by the villain of the story, though I have a few theories about how those might actually be intentional, serving a greater plan, but I suppose a sequel would be needed to confirm these.

Verdict:

The Pretender is a great mystery box, and I really enjoyed the original theme, engaging characters, and well developed puzzling. This box was moderately challenging, and I think enthusiasts are going to have a lot of fun with the highly original mystery and puzzles included. New players will love this one as well, and I can easily recommend it to anyone looking for a conundrum to solve! 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 Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Secret of Easthaven Forest (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

There’s something unnatural in that there forest.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When a group of mischievous kids sneaks into Easthaven Forest to escape the prying eyes of their parents and have some fun they are surprised to see a dark stranger dragging a body wrapped in plastic through the brush. They get closer to try and see what is going on and watch in horror as the killer meticulously covers the body up with leaves and scrub so that no one will see it. When one of the kids accidentally steps on a dry branch, alerting the killer to their presence, he gives chase, intent on keeping his secret a secret. The kids hightail it back to town on their bikes and head straight to the police station to report what they saw. After several hours of searching in the forest, the police finally locate the body. However, given a recent string of disappearances, they have a theory that more bodies may be hidden in the woods. You and your colleagues at The Will Street Detective Agency have been hired to consult on this case and dig deeper for evidence that will lead to the killer’s capture. The kids are reluctant to say much out of fear that the killer will be coming to silence them for good so you have your work cut out for you. Find out as much as you can from the kids and identify the mysterious stranger in the woods. Easthaven Forest is a place where many dark secrets live and thrive. If you investigate this case properly and turn over the right stones, you may learn what some of them are and they may change much of what you’ve come to believe about Valley Falls.

First Impressions:

I can’t tell you how excited I was for The Secret of Easthaven Forest. The kids on bikes/Stephen King’s IT vibes were real with this one, and as Stephen King is my favorite author, I couldn’t be more thrilled. As of this writing, I’m actually reading back through his entire body of work, so this was great timing! The day this hit our stoop, we had dinner and immediately set about solving the mystery.

High Points:

The Secret of Easthaven Forest is one of the smoothest Deadbolt boxes we’ve played in terms of game-play and connections between puzzles. Everything is incredibly intuitive, providing great connections between puzzles and solutions while still keeping these sign posts subtle to maintain the challenge level. Each clue on every puzzle thread flowed well into one another, and there were several threads to follow at any given time, ensuring that if players are stumped, they can always find a new thread to unravel while they ponder the previous one. This non-linearity also makes this a fantastic box for teams or couples who enjoy solving separate puzzles in tandem. The mechanic for figuring out the suspects has been tweaked, and an extra layer or two has been added, adding to the level of immersion as all these extra steps have a story based reason for their inclusion. Overall, this clever method of suspect deduction is really cool, and greatly to the mystery. The game itself involves a lot of code breaking, but there is a great variety between each enigma, and while a couple of these codes will be very familiar to those that have played many puzzle boxes or puzzle hunts, they’re still presented in a way that keeps them feeling fresh. New players will benefit from the intuitive set up of these codes, and at no point will any outside research need to be done in order to solve the box.

This box is one of the best recent boxes for world building and characterization. While we love The Jester, it did feel at times that we never really got to know the characters and suspects as well as we would’ve liked, but The Secret of Easthaven Forest really adds some fantastic touches to the people involved with the story, giving us a fleshed out sense of their personalities and quirks. The expansion of Valley Falls’ lore through the mystery  of local cryptid Red Fang is engaging as well, and fits perfectly within the mysteriously established world of the town. There are several side stories and each new plot point is integrated into the puzzle solving excellently, ensuring that it doesn’t feel as though we are jumping back and forth between puzzling and receiving exposition. The climax is great, and ties all the loose threads together while still providing a spooky cliffhanger to finish things off, and I absolutely love that a particular part of the adventure is left open for possible further investigation.

20200212_0846121047640882191352773.jpg

Low Points:

One puzzle seems to be a bit of a stretch story-wise, and we were a bit surprised at it’s inclusion, as it didn’t quite fit the usual puzzle type of Deadbolt experiences. The only other downside to this one, for us, was that it was a quick solve, however, as veterans of puzzle solving and mystery cracking, it happens sometimes when everything lines up just right. Long time fans should be aware that this one is a little easier, but it is absolutely worth it, as it’s a fantastic time.

Verdict:

The Secret of Easthaven Forest is a gloriously fun time, and a great introduction to the series for new players with it’s incredibly smooth game flow and variety of intuitive code breaking puzzles. Experienced players should also give it a go, as the entertaining puzzles and fantastic story are all absolutely worth it! 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!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

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