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.

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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.

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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.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Jester (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

It’s all a barrel of laughs until Steve from Accounting gets murdered

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

In medieval times, most kings had a court jester to entertain and amuse them. On the night of the annual Masquerade Ball, King’s Court Technologies discovers it has its own jester. While most of the partygoers are dressed in masquerade attire complete with mask and beads, one mysterious character is seen dressed in a fool’s motley and a jester’s cap with bells. However, this jester’s purpose is not to entertain but, rather, to exact revenge on the king’s behalf. Who is this jester and why have they murdered three company employees on the roof? What has really been going on at King’s Court Technologies? Unmask The Jester and find out!

First Impressions:

Hot off the heels of the phenomenal The Dark and Stormy Night, we were thrilled to see yet another incredibly creative theme in The Jester. The Deadbolt Mystery Society has come up with some very interesting stories thematically, and the puzzles don’t slouch on the job either, so we’re always interested to see what new crime has landed on our doorstep each month.

High Points:

The Jester is definitely one of the more challenging boxes we’ve done, and though some of the long run time of this mystery was taken up by our quest for a particular office supply that had gone missing, it still took us a bit longer than usual to crack this mystery. This is not a bad thing however, as this box is full of mind bending conundrums and perplexing enigmas. One of my favorite parts of this case is the sheer number of suspects. There are quite a few more than the usual Deadbolt box, and this mechanic is handled fabulously, starting out as a seemingly overwhelming number of possible murderers, and paring down intuitively as the case progresses. The story itself is subtle, with clues slowly revealing what is really going on, and the slow burn of discovery is excellently paced out. The mystery of it all was beautifully captured, and the climax and denouement of this adventure were perfect.

The game flow is pretty great, and there are multiple avenues of investigation to head down, allowing for a non-linear solve that’s great for solo or group play. During a couple points, we split up to solve some of our favored puzzle types, and whenever we were stuck, there was always something else to explore in the mean time. There are loads of clever puzzles hidden within the evidence of this box, and it is all presented in the usual excellent fashion of a Deadbolt mystery, with a couple of great new styles of presentation that lent a sense of authenticity to the props. Several of these puzzles are also deceptively well layered, with subtle hints signposting how they connect with each other, and the use of one central item was brilliantly done. One of my favorite puzzles was a real conundrum, but was presented simply, and provided a wonderful moment of revelation once the simple, yet effective clue came into focus, shattering all the theories we developed while over thinking things.

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Low Points:

Though we really enjoyed the expanded suspect list, the experience lost that close up examination of the suspects themselves, and therefore we never got to enjoy the wild personalities that show up in many of the Deadbolt cases we’ve worked. While the epilogue delves into the personality of The Jester themselves, I missed getting a look into the mindset of the suspects during the case. One particular puzzle can be rather confusing, and needs a little more cluing in order to allow players to sort out what’s important, what isn’t, and how what is important should be organized. This particular puzzle eventually made sense, but only after a fairly big logical leap was made. The same goes for a particular code that is explained in fairly vague terms, necessitating a fair amount of guess and check before we landed on the most correct answer.

Verdict:

The Jester opens The Deadbolt Mystery Society’s 2020 slate of boxes fantastically, and continues to set a great tone for the mysteries of Valley Falls. As usual, I am looking forward to their next mysteries, and cannot wait to see what this year of sleuthing brings! The Jester is a challenging box, sure to test veteran Deadbolt detectives, but is imminently approachable for new players as well, leaving subtle clues to direct players along in their investigations. I definitely recommend checking it out when you can. 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.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Dark and Stormy Night (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

It was a dark and stormy night…

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website (edited slightly for brevity, full synopsis can be found at the website below):

Rosemary Clark is one of the world’s most popular and enduring cozy mystery novelists. For the past two years, however, she has lived as a recluse in her hilltop mansion, cutting off contact with friends, family, and the public at large. The reason for her withdrawal from the public eye has been a subject of much debate until earlier this week when Ms. Clark emerged to announce that she had been writing her final novel, entitled “The Dark and Stormy Night.” To celebrate the completion of the book, Ms. Clark invited a small group of her closest friends and associates to Winterwood Manor with the tantalizing revelation that she had featured all of them as characters in the novel. After the guests arrive and dinner has been served, Rosemary reveals that she has spent the last two years leaving her estate in secret to investigate a very specific crime and that the novel contains hints about both the crime and the one who committed it. Poised to reveal more about the plot and the main players in her mystery, Rosemary has just taken a sip of her nightcap when the lights flicker suddenly and then go out for a period of approximately ten seconds. A scream rips through the night and then the lights come back on. Inexplicably, Rosemary is gone. All that’s left where she was standing are a few spatters of blood. After a thorough search of the house, Rosemary is nowhere to be found, and while it’s unclear whether any sort of crime has been committed, there is a definite feeling that something is wrong here. Determine what happened to Rosemary Clark, search through the clues of her final novel to determine the nature of the crime and the identity of the criminal she had been investigating, and solve the mystery of The Dark and Stormy Night.

First Impressions:

The Dark and Stormy Night piqued my interest immediately due to the incredibly creative theme and story that seemed to be promised by the story synopsis. A mystery within a mystery, (within a mystery,) all coordinated by a reclusive novelist who has brought all the players together within her remote mansion reminded me somewhat of the movie Clue. Such a twisty game immediately caught our attention, and we couldn’t wait to get started. It also didn’t hurt that we’d recently watched the amazing Knives Out, which would be a great companion to this box for a mysterious date night!

High Points:

Whereas last month’s box, The Collector, reminded me of a Holmes v. Moriarty showdown, The Dark and Stormy Night reminds me of a great mashup of the Clue movie and an Agatha Christie novel. As I’ve previously stated, Agatha Christie stories are very much my favorites, and I feel that style of mystery is severely under utilized in escape rooms and subscription boxes. Enter Deadbolt Mystery Society with a twisting, turning caper that engaged us from the start and didn’t let go until we’d caught the culprit! This box was jammed full of great props and pieces of evidence, and though it is the third box that comes in the new, smaller format, it seems there’s even more to work through than usual. The story presented had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing throughout, and the puzzles helped further the story through small tidbits of info.

The game flow is fantastic for this box, with a multi-layered run of puzzles and three distinct “levels” to work through. Every moment is filled with enigmas to solve, with several great moments of revelation. One particular one was a puzzles we kept coming back to and mulling over before working on another. When it came down to this puzzle as the last thing we needed to move forward, it all clicked into place, and the satisfaction of solving this deceptively intuitive code was phenomenal. In fact, the way many of the puzzles are solved is subtly clued and well signposted, putting together a immensely fun challenge and ensuring we stayed locked in a battle of wits with these codes rather than frustrated by obtuse puzzles. One of the newer mechanics we’ve only seen once before in Deadbolt boxes has been expanded, and is elegantly worked into the game in a way that creates an additional level of puzzling. This extra step really enhanced the game and lent a bit more complexity to the usual mechanics of a Deadbolt Mystery Society adventure. Once we had entered the climactic part of the game, everything started to fall into place, and while there were still some excellent puzzles to solve, (one of which was beautifully done, presenting us with a logical problem we loved working through; a generally rare occurrence,) the pacing was set up perfectly to become a riveting climax.

Overall, this box does a great job by melding varied puzzles together with intuitive clues while still providing a proper challenge. We loved it, and think anyone who enjoys a Dark and Stormy Night spent reading an Agatha Christie novel will too!

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Low Points:

I honestly cannot think of any low points for this experience. The bar has been raised again, as I think this is the first Deadbolt box we’ve played that gives their previous box, The Cabin, (which I gush about on regular occasions,) a run for its money!

Verdict:

The Dark and Stormy Night is a brilliant mystery that presents a conundrum that kept us guessing from start to finish! Boasting a run of exciting, multi-level puzzles, and supremely intuitive solves, this box is an absolute must purchase! I recommend any experience level check this one out, as it is a great challenge for veteran detectives, but is definitely still manageable for newcomers with a bit of out of the box thinking. 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.

The Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Collector (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Hello detective. I want to play a game.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When someone doesn’t pay their mini storage bill, the unit is eventually auctioned off to the highest bidder. Retired detective Arthur Dukes just purchased one of these mini storage units in hopes of reselling the contents for a profit. Art was hoping for a big score, but was disappointed to find that he’d won a virtually empty storage unit aside from a single box. However, after opening the box and seeing some of the contents his heart began to race and his palms became sweaty. Instantly, memories from his career with the Valley Falls Police Department flashed before his eyes and he was taken back to the times of tracking down some of the city’s most notorious serial killers. It now appears that a new evil has awoken in Valley Falls.

First Impressions:

After the announcement of The Collector as November’s Deadbolt Mystery Society box on their facebook page, I was filled with anticipation for this particular mystery! Though I’m personally a bigger fan of the supernatural enigmas Deadbolt has produced, this particular serial killer seemed to be a cut above the others that we’ve chased down. This one was actively taunting whoever found their secret hideaway, and the almost Holmes vs. Moriarty set up was super intriguing. When this box arrived, we couldn’t wait to begin hunting down this deranged killer!

High Points:

The search for The Collector’s latest victims starts off with a bang, and the adrenaline of solving is maintained throughout the adventure. I really love the set up, the desperate chase, and the astounding climax, which really does deliver some great story points and implications for further confrontations with the seedy underworld of Valley Falls. Each solved puzzle presents marked progress, and allows for more story to be uncovered, ensuring the mystery remains satisfying from start to finish. The Collector themselves is a tricky adversary, and their machinations and taunting reminds me of the great Holmesian villain Moriarty in more ways than one. As their motives and methods are further expounded on, the entire ordeal becomes ever more sinister, lending an impetus to work quickly, before they can strike again. The Collector definitely presents it’s enigmas as a clash of minds, and is all the more immersive for it!

Beyond the fantastically enjoyable story and devious villain, the puzzles included with the box are gloriously dense, layered, and clever. We really loved working through this one, and as we moved from point to point, the connections, while subtle, fell into place intuitively. Once we had put together the pieces of The Collector’s clues and plans, the game flow rolled along at a smooth pace. Per usual, the set up is very non-linear, allowing for players to approach the investigation in whatever way they see fit, and when one puzzle becomes too confounding, there’s always something else to work on until the light bulb goes off. And when it does, it is always enormously satisfying. The clues and props are presented wonderfully, and everything fits within the theme. While there are many QR codes to work through, none feel extraneous, and those that require passwords and those that do not are well presented in a superbly natural way. One of my favorite things about this box is it’s ability to present players with clues that are hidden right out in the open, waiting for detectives to finally make the connection and receive their reward for solving!

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The search for The Collector is on! And it begins… with a cute cat wearing sunglasses!

Low Points:

While not necessarily a hard and fast low point, it should be noted that some of the clues here even more subtle than usual, which could trip up folks less well versed in picking up said clues. We tended not to have this problem, save for one particular clue that completely flew over our heads (combined with a solve that we didn’t use for a good while, totally our fault for being so shamelessly disorganized,) so those who are easily frustrated might want to try a different box before tackling this one, which can be somewhat more challenging due to this particular facet of the investigation. One small bit of advice for potential detectives, don’t overthink, a lot of issues can easily be solved that way.

Verdict:

The Collector is another astoundingly good mystery from The Deadbolt Mystery Society! The implications of the story and the possibility for further exploration into the underworld that is presented by this box have me absolutely ready for the next stage of this investigation! I absolutely recommend checking this one out, especially to those who enjoy true crime and all the mad thrills that come with such a who done 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.