The Deadbolt Mystery Society – Hacked (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

Hackerman!

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

When famous Valley Falls hacker, Fluk3, infiltrates the computer database of The Will Street Detective Agency, the act doesn’t follow the usual pattern of anarchy and rebellion. After discovering information in a cold case that relates to the murder of a relative, it becomes necessary to make amends and enlist the agency’s services. Now offering assistance instead of resistance, Fluk3 offers to be the eyes and ears on the web in exchange for helping bring closure to this unsolved mystery.

First Impressions:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society’s reveal of their newest box, Hacked, promised to feature a hacker we briefly encountered during The Secret of Easthaven Forest. It is always interesting when Deadbolt Mysteries call back to previous characters and locations, and Valley Falls and its inhabitants are always interesting to learn about, so our interest was definitely piqued by the Will Street Detective Agency’s somewhat reluctant team up with Valley Falls’ most notorious hacker!

High Points:

One of the things we like most about The Deadbolt Mystery Society is that though there is a basic, (quite successful,) formula to Deadbolt cases, the designers are constantly iterating and experimenting with said formula, ensuring that every experience is fresh and interesting. We always know what we’re getting from one of their mysteries, but we also are excited to see what new mechanic or twist comes along with every box! Hacked is no exception, as it presents us with three cold cases to connect together and solve. Each case is delivered separately, and we were encouraged to pore through each, make connections within them, and then expand our sleuthing to all three together. It was a great set up, and helped the mystery feel like an expansive, devious riddle devised by the killer! The game flows fantastically, and presents a few non-linear paths of investigation to follow across the three case files, ensuring we never felt as though we were stuck on one particular road at any point. Puzzles are clever and challenging, with one in particular I really loved. We ruminated on this one for a while, trying to determine the cryptic meaning behind the clue, and as we looked over other evidence, the purpose of the items and the ultimate solution were slowly pieced together until we reached the beautiful ah ha moment that unlocked it all!

20200722_0943566849287429533124741.jpg

The game is directed subtly by well hidden, but intuitive clues, ensuring that while the next step wasn’t spelled out for us, the tools to move forward were always available. For players that enjoy tackling these boxes as groups, there are more than a few conundrums that work excellently as teamwork puzzles, though they are not inaccessible to solo players. Props included within the box are high quality, and fit convincingly into the theme while still being relevant to the puzzles at hand, ensuring nothing feels extraneous. The story is excellent, and working with FLUK3 to solve a mystery that is personal to them is a lot of fun. The culmination of the experience, and climactic finale contains a few great reveals, and finishes off the game satisfyingly. With most murder mystery boxes, it is always enjoyable to solve the crime and catch the killers, but it is even more enjoyable when you have helped someone along the way, as is the case with Hacked. Assisting FLUK3 with their personal journey for justice adds a lot to the victory of solving the cold cases, and I really enjoyed the work the designers put into fleshing out their backstory.

Low Points:

One puzzle in particular was a bit simplistic, which we aren’t quite used to with Deadbolt boxes. This one in particular had no hidden layers, so we were somewhat surprised when we solved it and the long and short of it was what it was. Another puzzle is similar, but does do a little bit of encoding before the answer is revealed. As the vast majority of puzzles we discover in Deadbolt experiences are usually rather inspired coded messages, this one stood out. 7/23/2020 Edit: One particular puzzle was brilliant, but in piecing together one of the bits of the solution, it came out a bit mangled. We went back over it and it came out the same way twice, but we were able to suss out the intended solution, so it wasn’t egregiously difficult to correct. (We’ve since gone back over this puzzle, and we probably had a case of the dumb regarding the muddled item.) One particular video included is fairly long compared to others, but is a bit unengaging due to the presentation. While it fits well with the theme, it may have been better, in our opinion, to have all the information presented through a web portal for players to read through at their convenience. We had to jump back to it once, and trying to search through a video was a little time consuming.

Verdict:

We had an awesome time working through the cold cases included within Hacked, and really enjoyed the call backs and engaging puzzling that was built into this adventure. Veterans of the Society are going to love finding the many Easter Eggs that have been worked into this box, as well as the challenging enigmas, but newcomers will find the great game flow and subtle, yet intuitive cluing provides an excellent experience as well. I recommend checking this one out, as it is the most fun you can possibly have getting hacked! 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 – Behind the Wall (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $24.99 per box, plus $4.99 shipping

All in all you’re just another corpse in the wall.

Theme:

From The Deadbolt Mystery Society website:

Fairmont Estates is a tightly-knit neighborhood in the heart of Valley Falls. The residents are all white-collar and well-to-do, and any of the homes could be featured on the front of any picture postcard…except the one on Bradford Street. That house has been tied up in probate court after the previous resident passed away and has been vacant for the last three years. The house, understandably, has fallen into disarray and been vandalised on occasion by some of the neighborhood teenagers. When a family is finally able to purchase the home, the first thing they do is begin extensive renovations to return the place to its former glory. As demolition and construction are both underway, the owners are shocked when the remains of a reporter that has been missing for the past year are discovered behind one of the walls. Even more chilling is the fact that she seems to have been interred while alive which is confirmed by one final message she wrote that begins: “To whoever finds me, the Fairmont residents all have secrets. One of them did this to me…”

First Impressions:

Deadbolt have been on a roll with some of their best games ever over the last few months, and Behind the Wall certainly seemed just the right type of creepy for me! From the spooky box design to the mysterious murder in the middle of an otherwise perfect-seeming neighborhood, I loved the theme and couldn’t wait to dig in!

High Points:

Behind the Wall sets up a wonderfully twisted mystery to begin, and things just become even more wild from there. There’s a sinister vibe to the proceedings I adored that carries throughout, and is evoked by the items included as much as by the story. The intensity of the situation we find ourselves in never quite lets up, and as we delved deeper into the story, we never quite knew what was going to happen next. Honestly, this one kept us guessing until the absolute end, with a climax that surprised us more than any other recent box has, so kudos to the writers of this wonderfully demented tale! All of this storytelling added yet another wicked facet to the world of Valley Falls, much to the woe of the town, but to my somewhat sadistic delight.

The puzzles included are fantastically creative, with several implemented in interesting ways we’d never seen nor thought of before. These puzzles, as well as the props, are  designed beautifully, weaving a excellent thematic flair into everything, increasing immersion greatly. There are loads of puzzles, and the non-linear presentation of the adventure ensures that players need to stay well organized in order to solve the mystery, and there are some excellent moments of revelation as detectives follow cleverly subtle hints through the intuitively gated game flow. The experience is non-linear for the most part, allowing bigger groups to divide and conquer, or smaller groups and solo players to jump between puzzles as needed. The difficulty curve is very smooth, with some easy wins at the beginning to get things started, ramping up nicely into some moderately challenging interactions, and finishing up with a multilayered meta-puzzle to finish things off. I found Behind the Wall to be enormously satisfying to solve, and cannot name a single puzzle in this one that I didn’t enjoy!

Low Points:

Behind the Wall, though excellent in multiple ways, does struggle a little with delivering the great characterization that previous Deadbolt boxes are known for. The suspects are mostly talked about, rather than talked to, and though some late game interactions do reveal some of their motivations, it would’ve been nice to have at least a little contact with them to flesh them out a bit.

Verdict:

The Deadbolt Mystery Society has been on a tear lately, with great mysteries coming out month after month, each better than the last! I very much enjoyed Behind the Wall, and despite a minor quibble, can easily say this is one of my favorite Deadbolt stories to date. I look forward to seeing what develops from the new revelations contained inside, and highly recommend players new and old check this one out! 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 – 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!