Escape Tales: The Book of Rituals | Review

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The Book of Rituals is an interactive puzzle book. As an adept of alchemy, you will learn the secrets of elements and alchemical ingredients to perform powerful rituals. Start your mystical journey now and become a Master of ancient magic!

Completion Time: 10-12 hours
Date Played: June 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

 

Water and alcohol are among the more recognisable ingredients you might find in sun cream. There are many others, but I can’t pronounce them, so it seems wrong to copy the spelling from the back of a bottle and expect someone else’s brain to do the work. H.A. Milton Blake is credited with its creation and – as the Crown paint colour chart places my skin tone somewhere between ‘Writing Paper’ and ‘Fresh Coconut’ – I’m very glad he put in the hours. I was in Spain while I battled with the Book of Rituals. It was 38 degrees. Never has the combination of those ingredients been so needed. Or so I thought…

 

 

Blake dabbled in chemistry, of course, and in the Book of Rituals we’re instead dealing in the more archaic branch of ‘shoving-stuff-together-to-see-what-happens’ known as alchemy. Water and alcohol are still very important here. So are 29 other ingredients, and each requires a puzzle to be solved to learn its true name and value. All these ingredients will be required if you want to tackle the 13 daunting rituals that cover the final pages with any hope of success. Only then will you fully understand this mysterious book.

I say mysterious as this is not your book. At least, you’re not the first owner. Someone else has contributed to these pages packed with elements, ingredients and rituals. Footnotes, ramblings, corrections and improvements have been jotted down to aid you in solving the puzzles and avoiding the supposed corruption the book threatens. A sort of Half-Blood Prince’s Advanced Potion-Making/Darkhold hybrid if you fancy a couple of popular culture reference stickers to slap on the cover.

 

Taming the Book of Rituals

The format is simple but fulfilling. Each element poses a puzzle. The top right corner will let you know which other ingredients (if any) you need to have solved already to put that puzzle together. These may well be later in the book, so there’s no order to speak of. You tackle them in whatever sequence you’re able to with the ingredients you have available. The inclusion of a question mark in your required ingredients list means that the book itself must be used in some way – and these puzzles are a true highlight of this beautifully put together and well-thought-out title.

Each correct solution you enter into the slick website will reward you with a true name and number to write into the fold out section on the back cover. Gradually filling it in is satisfying, but reliance on the site to get to these answers does means that an internet connection is required to make progress. The same website also holds any hints you might need, as well as occasional further information on the formatting of answers.

As you go backwards and forwards through the pages adding your own notes and mistakes to the ones already put in place by the previous owner, it does feel chaotic and immersive. That’s the point. Errors and ruined pages are almost inevitable – something that’s recognised by the creators by way of copies of the key puzzle tables and grids being repeated at the back of the book. Perfect for additional attempts once the originals become indecipherable.

 

The Verdict

The focus in the Book of Rituals is definitely on quality. 45 honed puzzles that, at times, require a huge amount of thinking is certainly preferable to an inconsistent dump of teasers that goes on forever. There’s zero fat on this book. No filler. The puzzles are so well-designed that you know that each is solvable without huge leaps of logic, meaning the temptation to dip into the hints felt non-existent.

I think that’s close to the highest praise I can give. There’s no need to rush. It’s never too daunting or boring. Hints were the last thing on my mind over the week it took me to slowly chip my way through. For those that have done a lot of puzzle books then, sure, there are a few well-trodden ideas contained within, but that’s simply the limitations of the format. What we have here are clever puzzles, laid out in an excellent way, that are sure to provide plenty of entertainment to those that like a challenge.

You can purchase the Book of Rituals here.

Crux Club: Mob Treasure | Review

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Mob Treasure Review: The missing treasure of New York City beer baron Dutch Schultz has captivated countless treasure hunters. On his deathbed, the infamous mobster rambled on incoherently for hours, possibly revealing the location of his hidden millions. The cache has never been recovered. Could the information in Mob Treasure contain new clues to finding the final resting place?

Completion Time: 6 hours
Date Played: May 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

The word gangster has evolved over time. It’s altered to such a degree that upon hearing it uttered nowadays you could be forgiven for conjuring up any one of several images, ranging from a brooding Al Capone (Snorky to his friends) through to the once-relentless Honey G. I even ate a burger a few years back that was boldly labelled as ‘gangster’ because it was topped with spaghetti sauce and was apparently impossible to refuse. It was okay. 6/10. Would probably eat again.

Here in Mob Money, we’re going classic. It’s dabbling in the 1930s public enemies-era of gangsters and mobsters – think Bonnie and Clyde and Machine Gun Kelly – and it’s Dutch Schultz’s famous stash that we’re tasked with locating.

It’s a solid theme. Crux Club has already shown it can successfully create workable and inventive puzzles using far more difficult settings in Rap Star – reviewed here – so our hopes were high going in. Compared to the world of rap, mob culture is teeming with conundrum potential (organised crime over organised rhyme, if you will) and it really doesn’t take long after opening the book to fully appreciate that.

Well, I say book… Tome might be more accurate. It’s a surprisingly bulky product and promises a lot on initial viewing. A quick riffle through the pages reveals scant glimpses of a huge variety of puzzles as well as the fact that a slice of the heft is due to the full clues and solutions being included at the back. In that sense it’s a fully contained experience. While clues are also available online, a gentle nudge or complete answer to any individual puzzle is always to hand regardless of your Wi-Fi status. Though, unless your knowledge of New York mob culture is genuinely god-tier, solving everything without leaning too heavily on those back pages is going to require a bit of help from Mr Google.

Mob Treasure Inspiration

“A boy has never wept… nor dashed a thousand kin. You can play jacks, and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with it. Oh, oh, dog biscuit, and when he is happy he doesn’t get snappy.”

Those were the final words of the real-life Dutch Shultz before he died in 1935. These surreal mutterings have been interpreted by some as a coded message revealing the location of a hidden stash that, depending on which legend you choose to believe, may still be tucked away somewhere in New York. People have really searched for it. Now we’re looking for the very same thing within this book. Lines are being gently blurred in Mob Treasure, which helps deliver more immersion than you might expect from a pile of completely monochrome text and illustrations. Discovering the inclusion of actual locations and people that surrounded Shultz during his bootlegging days causes the experience to feel wider reaching than it really is. A clever element that we loved, but this ever-present theme won’t let you forget it’s there, so be prepared if you’re only in it for the puzzles. You’re going to have to walk the walk and – especially – talk the talk if you want to stand a chance of solving some of these pages.

On the subject of solving, as the weight of the book suggests, there’s a lot to mull over here. Depending on exactly what you count as a puzzle, you’re facing roughly 75 total and they come in wealth of forms with surprisingly little true repetition. Structure-wise, the book is divided into 15 shortish sections of five/six puzzle chunks. Each individual teaser provides you with a number, word or phrase that ultimately combine to help with the gatekeeping puzzle at the end of each chapter. It’s perfect for tackling piecemeal and 45 minutes an evening over the course of a week saw our team of two track down Shultz’s cash using only a couple of clues to help us over some of the less logical obstacles.

The Verdict

Mob Treasure is stuffed with of a lot of solid, creative puzzles and a few outstanding ones. It’s the hope of more of the latter that ultimately pulls you forward into the next chapter. While clearly different from each other in terms of presentation, the more plentiful standard conundrums can occasionally end up feeling a little samey if you try to consume too much in one sitting. That’s only natural with so many puzzles crammed in, of course, but taking the book a chapter or two at a time is the recommendation.

The team at Crux Club have committed to the theme totally which offers an impressive level of immersion. While delving into the places, people and lingo of the New York mob is required for some puzzles, we ended up reading a fair number of unrelated articles about Mr Shultz and his antics wholly unprompted. It didn’t necessarily help us with the completion of puzzles, but it was a welcome novelty to have interesting real-world events already pre-built around the mystery we were trying to solve.

 

Head to the Crux Club website to support the team and purchase the game for yourself.

Crux Club: Puzzle Rap Star | Review

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Puzzle Rap Star Review | Crank that beat up, grab the mic and show em’ whatcha got! Puzzle Rap Star is a new puzzle book that will challenge you to prove you got what it takes to level up in the rap game. To play, examine the images and text on each page then bend your mind to crack the codes. You’ll use what you learned to crush your competition in complex meta puzzle rap battles. 

Completion Time: ~4 hours
Date Played: May 2022
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Medium

“Rapping” is not a theme I ever thought I’d encounter here at The Escape Roomer. In fact, I don’t know what category to place this in. It’s also not really a genre I would ever go for myself. For this article I tried to come up with some names of rappers in order to make rap-based-puns, but I got as far as “Eminem” then dismissed him as someone whose peak in the rap industry was a decade before I was born…

…All this to say, I know nothing about rap. But what I do know about is puzzles!

 

 

About the Puzzle Rap Star Book

What began as a Kickstarter by Jan-Luc of Crux Club earlier this year has now come to life in the form of a satisfyingly weighty puzzle book. That’s no joke on the ‘weightiness’, for this puzzle book contains well over sixty puzzles in it spread across six chapters.

The book has a compelling brightly coloured front cover, but is black and white inside. On the one hand, this is great for accessibility (not a colour-puzzle to be found), but on the other hand makes for grey-reading in an otherwise usually quite colourful genre.

At the start of the book you’re offered a QR code with music to listen along to. It’s just the one song with a general hip-hop beat that does help with some of the rhythm based puzzles, but not my cup of tea so I didn’t keep it on long. At the end of the book, you have your hints. This meant that (besides the QR code) the entire experience was self contained. This worked very well, meaning it’s exactly the sort of book you could bring with you on a long trip without internet connection.

 

 

Nothing Rhymes with Puzzle…

The story of the game is told through rhyming couplets- sorry, ‘rap song’. The first few times I encountered this, including in things like the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy, this was novel. Later the style felt more cringe and hard to follow along. For a medium (rap) designed to be spoken aloud, I’m unfamiliar with seeing it written down. Sure, I read poetry, but rap is spoken word, so be prepared to have to say things out loud before they make sense.

I would also say that the language in this book is very much for the American audience. For starters it’s set in Brooklyn, but just the cultural symbols of things like “tater tots” which we just don’t have over here. This proves a problem in a puzzle book as you’re never quite sure what is stylistic rap music language and what is an actual puzzle. Was “tater tot” some kind of cryptic clue I needed to solve? An anagram? A rhyme? Nope, just a processed potato based dish. Whoops! Who knew? Typos aside (for which there were a few I was sure were deliberate, like palendrome instead of palindrome), the language proved exhausting.

The language was a problem for sure, but it raises a bigger problem since most of the book was reliant on specifically slang from a very specific region and era of slang in Brooklyn. If I know one thing about slang it’s that it goes out of date fast. There’s just a few years between my brother and I and the slang we use is very different. I worry that in 5-10 years the sentences in this book I found difficult may become even more so, as they’re removed from the era they were formed in. Or maybe they’ll have a timeless confusion:

“baby-bat saw this bee when taking a spookie dookie. Gotta stay careful cause he couldn’t see, k?”

Whether ten years in the past, the future, or the present, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand that that phrase from the book means.

But linguistic quirks aside, the story follows you, a young rap star keen to make their name in the rap scene. Along the way you meet weird and wonderful characters like “Craz” and “Shotz Doc Menace” ** (whose name flipped between the spelling Shots and Shotz interchangably) and “Buttah Thug” who join you on your quest to find the mystical Book of Rhymes which is the holy grail of rap music – a list of perfect rhymes so that you may “spit good bars” (another amusing linguistic quirk I had to google and I’m sure I’m still misusing it).

Your journey goes through the stages from “Sick Flow”, to “Street Cred” through to “Top Player”, “Dope Hooks” and so on, as you climb the ranks in your own personal rags to riches story. All to culminate in a very sweet ending – one I literally said “Aww” out loud when I finally got to.

 

Puzzle Your Way to the Top

I’ve said all I can say about the problems of language in Puzzle Rap Star, but now onto the positives – the puzzles! Where this book really shines is in it’s puzzles.

Being set in the rap music world, there’s an abundance of language puzzles – as there should be. I’m a sucker for good ones that revolve around beats and rhythm, and this experience had buckets of them. But it wasn’t all language, there were spatial reasoning puzzles, logic grid puzzles, mathematical puzzles, creative ciphers, and even puzzles that involved some fun physical manipulation of the book. Each puzzle felt well balanced and fit in it’s respective universe. In short, it made sense why I was solving each puzzle, to what ends, and most importantly: it was fun!

With such a varied range, I never once found myself bored. The best thing about the format is how it’s possible to pick it up and put it down whenever you please with easy breaks in the form of puzzle chapters.

One of my favourite puzzles (and this is no surprise if you’re a regular reader) was the “Murdah Board”. Cringe spelling aside, this was your classic logic grid puzzle but was complex enough to be packing a few delightful surprises in it, and long enough to last one evening’s session as I sat cross legged on my sofa, pencil in hand, puzzling through the whodunnit.

 

 

The Verdict

Puzzle Rap Star is a puzzle book with a very niche theme, but the creators have managed to pull it off with an enjoyable puzzle game. As I say, it’s never a theme I would personally go for and I can’t imagine that the “escape room enthusiast” and “rap music enthusiast” Venn diagram is larger than a handful of people. Add in the hyper-specific “Brooklyn” rap world into the Venn diagram and your target audience is single figures.

But I commend the creator for doing something that had never been done before!

For me personally, sitting in my apartment on the other side of the world in London, UK with a google search history packed with bizarre slang terms, American cultural icons from the last few days, playing Puzzle Rap Star was… Really weird. I learnt a lot about the culture of rap music.

But the puzzles were a lot of fun. Like, a lot of fun! They were creative and delightful and there were some brilliant moments of “a-ha!”. In particular I loved the use of beats and rhythm. I would absolutely love to see the creators apply the same level of puzzle creativity to a different, more universally accessible theme. Which, apparently the have already with the “Mob Treasure” game I’m very, very much looking forward to.

As a final note, the book is currently available for purchase on Amazon US. Shipping to the UK incurs an additional VAT and Shipping Fee.

Head to the Crux Club website to support the team and purchase the game for yourself.

Christopher Edge: Escape Room | Review

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Christopher Edge: Escape Room Review | When twelve-year-old Ami arrives at The Escape, she thinks it’s just a game – the ultimate escape room with puzzles and challenges to beat before time runs out. Meeting her teammates, Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar and Min, Ami learns from the Host that they have been chosen to save the world and they must work together to find the Answer. But as he locks them inside the first room, they quickly realise this is no ordinary game. From a cavernous library of dust to an ancient Mayan tomb, a deserted shopping mall stalked by extinct animals to the command module of a spaceship heading to Mars, the perils of The Escape seem endless. Can Ami and her friends find the Answer before it’s too late?

Read Time: 1.5 hours
Date Played: Early 2022
Recommended For: Children Aged 9 – 12

 

 

Now, here is the deal. Would I call myself much of a reader? Nope. Would I say I’m the kind of guy who has a few quiet evenings in and loves nothing more than getting lost in a good book? Nope. Has this book changed my perspective somewhat?! Yep!

In a very different approach to the content I normally cover, here I find myself reviewing a book. Not just any book of course, but a book by Christopher Edge aptly titled “Escape Room”. Clearly something definitely worth us checking out at The Escape Roomer. Since the target audience is younger folks and kids, I quickly put my hand up to volunteer myself and I’m very glad I did!

As ever, with every review I will try desperately to not give any spoilers. If you’re still unsure after reading our summary, you can also head to this link to read the first chapter of the book and find out if it’s for you.

 

 This is The Escape…

 

The main focus for me when taking a look at a book, much like in a physical escape room, is immersion. I’m looking for whether I can get a real feel for the atmosphere, the characters, the tension, and so on. With Escape Room, the answer to that question is a resounding yes! For sure, I’m always a little sceptical about genres of books which place you into a wholly unfamiliar environment. However Escape Room manages to hook you in very quickly. Literally after the first few pages of this one, you find yourself drawn towards Ami, the lead character, who this fantastic story revolves around. Slowly but surely, the remaining escape room team are introduced to you. Each given a fitting explanation of their look and personality.

The peril of this book is evident from beginning to end.  Those continual cliff hanger moments when you just cannot put it down. Whilst I’d say this book is aimed towards children in later primary or early secondary years, I found myself personally engrossed in the ever evolving plot with real curve balls thrown in from time to time.

 

 

Don’t Think of this Book in Terms of Escaping from a Room

Speaking of the curve balls, one part of the book really stood out to me. Don’t just think about this as being a book solely based on escaping a room. Closing one chapter, turning the page, opening the next door within the “room” brings a completely new environment each time. Honestly, this book has all the makings of being developed into one of them escape room movie franchises – think big budget, think danger, think excitement!

Whilst this isn’t an escape room puzzle book per se, it certainly has a little sprinkling of clues which the reader can pick up on and appreciate how “rooms” within the storyline can be escaped from.

Be prepared for the heart strings to be pulled at from time to time. The amount of peril our characters find themselves in is relentless, so be prepared for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Constantly escaping from danger, only to be thrust back into it again. There is really no let up for our band of escapees!

 

A Fitting Ending for a Puzzling Journey

The ending of this book is a fitting resolve to Ami’s journey. Clearly from my description above, this is certainly a book where nothing is quite as it seems; so be prepared! My only hope is that there is more to come on this escape room journey. A sequel perhaps? Nudge nudge.

Christopher Edge has a whole host of brilliant books for children, including The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, the Infinite Lives of Maisie Day, and the Longest Night of Charlie Noon. Each of these are equal parts curious and quizzical, transporting kids into magical worlds. We think that any book aimed at the younger audience that introduces them to escape rooms is a double thumbs up in our book. We’d definitely recommend this book for a younger audience, and especially as a birthday or Christmas gift (perhaps tie it into a voucher for an escape room or two and really get them hooked!) But don’t let the target audience put you off if you’re past-teenage years either, because it’s got buckets of charm and I, as an adult, thoroughly enjoyed reading it too.

All in all, a book where your sucked into the environment, thrust into a wonderful world of intrigue with the hope that this endearing gang of strangers can hopefully save the world!

 

 

Click here to get started with Escape Room:

https://www.welcome-to-the-escape.com/

Enigma Fellowship: The Magical Tale | Review

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The Magical Tale Review | Once upon a time in the magical land of Nirgendheim, hidden amongst the wonders of our world, lived Baron Theodore Puffington the Third. A majestic young dragon of just slightly over 300 years old. In a sad twist of fate, Baron Puffington’s tail has disappeared. An untamed dragon’s tale can release chaotic magic across all of Nirgendheim and hurt the folk of this realm. To save Nirgendheim and recover his tail, Baron Puffington cast an ancient spell to find him a champion that can help discover where his tail now lays. A beautiful book appears on your doorstep, reading like a fairy tale and taking you on an enigmatic adventure guided by Baron Puffington himself. Are you the champion of this tale?

Date Played: 26th March 2022
Time Taken: 50 Minutes
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Easy
Recommended For: Kids

Enigma Fellowship’s The Magical Tale is, in my opinion, a game for kids. I say ‘in my opinion‘ as the website is unclear and doesn’t specifically say who the game is for. There’s no age recommendation but given the themes (a little dragon who loses his tail going on an adventure) and the generally easier and more tactile puzzles, it’ll probably appeal the most to those 10 and under. For sure, I can definitely picture puzzlers of all ages enjoying this but to me, it’s best played with little children – perhaps as a family together at bed time in lieu of a bed time story.

As such it’s always a little harder to review something when I’m not the target audience, so I’ll approach this review from a few angles: Did I enjoy it? Would a kid enjoy it? Was it challenging? Would I recommend it? Kinda, Sure, Sometimes, Yes.

 

 

Meet Baron Theodore von Puffington the Third

The Magical Tale is a saccharine sweet tale of a young (only 300 years) purple dragon called Baron Theodore von Puffington the Third. Theo, as his friends call him, is in training to be a Draco Magus, a grant protector of the magical realm. One day he decides to go to the spa, a magical place where he can soak away in the warm mud. Before he can enter the spa, he must remove his tail- for some reason this detail made my stomach churn even though it’s fairly innocent- but when he emerges from the spa his naughty tail has flown away off the cause mischief.

This sets up the story for a whirlwind adventure where you, the player, travels across the land, meeting with the weird and wonderful magicians, solving puzzles, and rescuing Theo’s tail. There are eight chapters in the story and eight puzzles to be solved at the end of each chapter. The general format is that our dragon hero Theo encounters somebody in trouble – a broken bridge, overgrown reeds, and so on. It becomes apparent that the naughty tail has been causing havoc. Oh dear! Each chapter has you solve one puzzle that is contained within a little envelope at the end of each. The answer for which is a spell. Luckily for you there’s a handy spell checker at the start of the book where you can check you’ve got your spell correct and what the result of the spell was. If correct, you may proceed!

The thing I enjoyed most about The Magical Tale was exactly this – the style of gameplay. In particular, how the whole game was offline. It was an ingenious method of checking my answers were correct and moving on. There’s nothing immersion breaking like needing to put a book down and go look online for an answer, and the Enigma Fellowship team have absolutely nailed this here. On that train of thought, it was also a lot of fun speaking the spells out loud- okay okay there’s no requirement to cast them out loud, but if I figure out a spell you bet I’m going to loudly shout it. Just in case magic is real.

 

 

A Fun Family Game from Enigma Fellowship

If you are a child between the ages of say, 6 – 11 you’re probably going to love this book. It’s simple language, a straightforward and uncomplex story, has bright colours and illustrations, and accessible puzzles that largely centre around using your fingers. If you’re an escape room enthusiast, this probably won’t be for you. Unless you’re really into dragons, fairytales, or cool collectable puzzle games bound in wood. Or maybe I’m just too old and cynical to be charmed by dragons and fairytales anymore…

*sobbing into a big glass of merlot over my lost childhood*

That said, if you know a kid around the right age who loves dragons… This is your way to introduce them to the wonderful world of puzzle solving.

Each of the puzzles in this game is very accessible to kids. Kids love tactile puzzles. There was plenty of folding, and sliding tokens around boards, and even a really fun ‘weaving’ puzzle which reminded me of games I used to play in the playground with friends (does anyone remember scoubidou strings?). The creators have pitched the puzzles at the perfect level, and whilst even I struggled once or twice to get going on a puzzle or two, it was usually fairly intuitive to get going and spot the hidden spells in the puzzles.

 

 

Did I mention it’s handmade wood-bound?

Another really lovely thing about this book is that it’s been lovingly hand made and bound in wood. This probably is some of the reason why the game comes in at a comparatively high price point – around £52 GBP. It’s clear a lot of attention and care has gone into making this, and it’s even got a lovely fabric edge and is tied up neatly with a little white ribbon.

When I was a kid I ended up over-reading my favourite books until each of them were completely destroyed, absolutely covered in cellotape and hanging off with no spines. I do not believe this book would have held up against my destructive childhood self, so it’s a consideration if you do give this as a gift. Maybe it’s one to keep up on the top shelf and play with with supervision.

Furthermore, the game is packed with illustrations. The dragon himself is illustrated by Mim Gibbs Creates, who is the partner of our good friend Armchair Escapist. It’s so cool to see enthusiasts and creators working together to make awesome games. The other illustrations appear to be stock imagery of fantasy worlds in a water-colour style.

 

 

The Verdict

Ok, so I’ll get straight to the point. Did I enjoy this? Honestly not really. But that’s okay because it really wasn’t for me. I am old and cynical and was never that interested in fairytales when I was little. But what I can say is that I can totally appreciate how great of a game this would be for it’s actual target audience – young children, families, and dragon enthusiasts. It’s got a charming, Disney-esque story of a fantasy world and a string of enjoyable puzzles supporting the game. Any game or book that gets the next generation into puzzle games is a double thumbs up from me.

It’s clear that all the creators have put a lot of love and effort into the game and it’s sure to make a great gift for young puzzlers across the world. So if there’s a young person in your life with a birthday upcoming, you should definitely consider this book.

 

The Magical Tale can be purchased from Enigma Fellowship’s website here.

Wacky Wheels: Longest Night in Bell-Ville | Review

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Longest Night in Bell-Ville Review | Winter is coming to Bell-Ville and the villagers are totally unprepared. Not only do they have to prepare the celebrations of The Longest Night, they also have to make sure that they safely cross ‘The Frozen Wastelands’. Can you help them get ready on time?

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: December 2021
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: Families

A puzzle wrapped in a story between the pages of a magical book that arrived on my doorstep just before Christmas Eve… What could be more magical and festive? The Longest Night in Bell-Ville is the latest “Mystery Story” from Netherlands-based creators, Wacky Wheels. With their very highly rated play at home games finding a lot of popularity in the escape room industry, I was very excited to finally have my hands on a Wacky Wheels experience.

But how did it hold up? And what exactly is a mystery story?

Wacky Wheels Mystery Stories

To put it simply Wacky Wheels’ mystery stories series (this being the second, after The Fugitive’s Escape) are puzzle games in a book. If you’re familiar with play-at-home escape rooms in general, you’ll know that most can be printed at home, mailed to your home, or even bought in a box. There’s no reason Longest Night in Bell-Ville couldn’t have been any of those things, but the creator has made the choice to put this story in book format. And heck, it works so well.

The reason this works so well for this particular game is how the story is set up. It’s a linear experience where players read each page as they work their way through the game. The main character (in this case, you!) works their way through different locations in the fictional town of Bell-Ville and the story slowly unfolds across the 30 pages towards a conclusion.

Of course, there are puzzles along the way too – no puzzle game would be complete without them of course. These can be found at the bottom of every page and can be solved in any order. So if you’re stuck, you’re encouraged to come back to a puzzle later. To validate your answers along the way, you’re given a QR code and will need to create an account on the website to log your answers as you go. In all honesty, you can still play the game without doing this… But more on that later!

Welcome to Bell-Ville

The story of The Longest Night at Bell-Ville is an excitingly festive one. You play a resident of Bell-Ville, a floating world travelling the world from within a giant snow globe. One of the biggest annual celebrations – the longest night – is nearing, but the town is woefully underprepared. What’s more the town is about to pass over the Frozen Wastelands – a dangerous place! No wonder everyone in this town is panicking!

And yet despite that, your job isn’t easy. One quote in particular around mid-way through the book sums up my thoughts exactly:

Why is everybody in Bell-Ville always communicating in riddles?!

To ‘save the day’, you must complete 11 tasks, and each task comes with it’s own puzzle to solve. These tasks range from finding food, music, activities, lighting the lights, and so on. Typical party preparation stuff.

But despite the drudgery of running around and doing everyone else’s jobs for them, the story is so light hearted and fun it’s a joy to read-or should we say, play? The Longest Night in Bell-Ville perfectly plugs that post-Christmas, pre-New Years Eve week when you lose track of what day of the week it is anymore. The characters are written well, the illustrations across the book are absolutely gorgeous, the dialogue is fun, and the puzzles are enjoyable too!

So, how did I get on?

In terms of puzzle difficulty, we’d put this at around ‘medium’. A few took just minutes to solve, and others had me scratching my head for a while – and roping in family members to take a second look over my shoulder.

I chose to play The Longest Night in Bell-Ville as a solo puzzler, and did so whilst on a family break with almost no access to the internet. Which in hind-sight was possibly a mistake. On the one hand, I had a great time reading and playing through he book curled up in front of a fireplace with a mug of mulled wine at my side. On the other hand, I missed out on some of the competitive, leader board fun.

When I later did gain access, I’d forgotten most answers and one of those I did remember my phone’s auto-correct unhelpfully corrected into an incorrect answer. Or so I think? The online element doesn’t provide correct answers, simply logs your score on the leaderboard. So it’s hard to tell!

In the end I decided to skip on the online- part altogether and simple enjoy the game as a fun, book-based analogue experience. The truth? I kinda prefer it that way! I like my books more when I don’t have my phone with me and it would have been nice to be able to check my answers too – but that’s just my humble opinion! The Longest Night in Bell-Ville can be played in any way you like and is just as fun.

The Verdict

The Longest Night in Bell-Ville is a fantastically fun little festive themed puzzle book that we think would have a perfect Christmas gift for families or solo puzzlers of all ages. Despite some tech issues (my fault), playing the game was a real highlight of my Christmas break and I’d be sure to recommend this. It’s very well-priced at £8.50 and is available in both English and Dutch.

To purchase The Longest Night in Bell-Ville, head to Wacky Wheels’ website here.

Ultimate Quest: The Power of Four | Review

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Ultimate Quest: The Power of Four Review | Designed to be played by a group of four (remotely or in person), a series of seven puzzles have been split into four parts. You must work together and describe what you see in front of you in order to solve them! 

Completion Time: 40 minutes
Date Played: 17th October 2021
Party Size: 5
Difficulty: Medium

Four is a powerful number… Especially in the escape room world! It’s pretty much the perfect team size. This is one of the reasons I get very excited when I see an escape game for exactly 4 players. In our weekly play-at-home escape room session, team Escaping the Closet, our friend Tasha and I thought we’d try something a little different: The Power of Four.

The Paper Labyrinth

The Power of Four was born of the 2020 lockdown and is a spin-off game connected to Ultimate Quest’s Paper Labyrinth series.

Flick from page to page as you try to complete the riddles and puzzles of The Paper Labyrinth.
One book-wide adventure. Can you complete it?

The Paper Labyrinth is our best selling book series and a collection of puzzles and riddles that are all interconnected in some way, be it leading you to another page within the book, or being a component of a puzzle you are already working on. The series comprises of two main parts; ‘The Paper Labyrinth’ and ‘Return to the Paper Labyrinth’, as well as a spin off activity ‘The Power of Four’.
 

Ultimate Quest

Although, as a spin-off game, The Power of Four is no less packed with puzzles. For a game on the shorter and more straightforward side, it still took our team around 40 minutes to puzzle through the whole thing and we had a lot of fun doing so!

Essentially, The Power of Four is available as a short book, or a zipped folder of 4 PDFs which are essentially direct scans from the physical paper based version. We opted for the latter and purchased the digital download version. Where the book encourages you to draw on pages, we made use of Microsoft Paint to work our way through the book collaboratively.

Visually speaking, the game is quite plain – but then again it quite literally is just a PDF from a book. There isn’t a lot of room for creative graphics, what you see is what you get.

Each Player Has 1/4 of the Puzzles

Each PDF has 10 pages in it, and each person has 7 distinct puzzles to solve in the game. However, if the gname weren’t a giveaway these are all collaborative puzzles. Meaning each player has a 1/4th of the puzzle and you should all work together closely to solve them.

As a game, this makes it quite similar to other collaborative multiplayer games such as SCRAP’s Escape From The Two Base Stations, or Lee Ballan’s The Pyramid. But where those are for 2 and 3 players respectively, The Power of Four is for 4 players.

To explain the types of puzzles players will encounter would borderline on spoilers, so I’ll instead just say that the only way to solve them is by carefully describing what you see on your sheet and then working together to piece the information. The difficulty comes in not knowing what everyone else can see, but it’s good fun working together to crack the codes. Of course, there is also a meta-puzzle spread out over the individual puzzles which reveals itself at the ending.

The Verdict

Where we normally reserve our weekly escape game session for Telescape or live avatar games, The Power of Four was refreshingly different. Whilst the PDF version was fun, I imagine purchasing the book would make the experience even more tactile and special – but we still enjoyed getting together over a Zoom call to puzzle through the experience.

One more thing to mention is that we’ve rated The Power of Four as 5 stars for value. This is because the digital download version of the game is only £3.49 and since it’s a four player game this puts it as one of the cheapest hour’s worth of escape game fun on the market: Just 87 pence per head!

If you opt for the physical copy of the book, you’ll also receive a discount code to download digital copies too for free, in case you want to play with people online. It’s a nice business model all round!

The Power of Four can be purchased as a digital download PDF or as a paperback book on Ultimate Quest’s website here.

Ratings

Escapages: Vice Versa | Review

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Escapages Vice Versa Review | Two strangers are meeting, heading for the same destination. One is a murderer; the other a victim. But who is who?

In this unique and ground-breaking book, 46 puzzles have been placed alongside a gripping narrative. The only way to solve the puzzles is to have a companion work through the puzzles, using the other edition of this book. Whether sitting next to each other, or on the other side of the world, you will need to work together to discover the truth.

Ratings

Theming: 4/5

Puzzles: 3/5

Format: 5/5

Fun Factor: 5/5

Overall: 3.5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

An Escape Game… In a book?

YES! Aptly named company EscaPAGES creates escape room style puzzle content in BOOK format.

We’d previously got our hands on Journal 29 and were enjoying playing these puzzles as a great way to pass time on long train journeys (well, before COVID anyway…) or as a rainy afternoon activity. Journal 29 completed, we now wanted to find a new puzzle book adventure to enjoy during lockdown!

Escapages have a whole host of puzzle books on offer, but we decided to opt for a concept that stood out to us the most: a set of two books which contain clues and keys to ‘unlock’ the overall answer to each puzzle. This seemed perfect to us as here at Escaping the Closet we come as a pair!

There are two different adventures of this two-player ilk: Escape the Compound and Vice Versa. Although Escape the Compound sounds brilliant (each puzzle’s answer forms a compound word, from the clues provided in each version of the book), one of the editions is easier than the other, making it accessible for parents to play with children, or an avid puzzler with a newbie. As both avid puzzling fans, we figured we would not be able to decide who got the easier copy, so this helped swing it for us to opt to try Vice Versa!

Heads, or Tails?

As a cooperative puzzle escape book, you need to buy both editions of Vice Versa. Escapages distinguish between these by calling them Heads Edition and Tails Edition. In other words, if you have the Heads Edition, in order to successfully solve any of the puzzles, you will need a partner playing with the companion: Tails Edition.

We (fittingly) flipped a coin to work out who would get which edition and got stuck straight into Vice Versa. The beauty of puzzle books like this is that they can be played at any time. There’s no need to set aside a full hour for escaping, even if you’ve only got a spare 15 mins, you could probably fit in a puzzle or two!

There are 46 puzzles to complete in Vice Versa, meaning you can chip away at it however you fancy… One puzzle a day, a marathon puzzle sesh, or anything in between! We found a happy medium of fitting in a stint of about 5-10 puzzles each time we picked up the books, so we could thoroughly immerse ourselves back into the story and feel like we’d had our puzzling fix!

How does Vice Versa Work?

Well, in the words of Escapages themselves:

‘Sometimes you’ll have half a puzzle, and they’ll have the other half. You’ll have a code, and they’ll have the key to that code. Using your wits and the occasional internet search, you will work to uncover the buried third story, hidden within puzzles, codes and ciphers.’

In essence, it’s really important to communicate clearly between the both of you, to see how your unique parts of the puzzle align to give you a solution. No sneaky glances at the other person’s book!

More than just pieces of the puzzle

But, Vice Versa is more than just a puzzle book- within the pages a gripping narrative has been created, making this a story-driven puzzle book, providing that nod to a more escape room feel than a standard puzzle book. In Vice Versa, each edition tells the story of two people whose lives are linked in a curious way- both are on a journey towards one another, but one is a killer and the other a victim. But which is which? The parallel storyline provides twists and turns leaving you guessing right to the end, who is the murderer and who is innocent. 

You have co-operative puzzles set alongside an immersive storyline. But that’s not all; each section of the story provides subtle hints linked to its associated puzzle – everything is relevant!

Sometimes we found it could be really helpful to take a step back and look at everything related to the puzzle on a macro level…  What links are there between each of our sections of the story, and between the story and the puzzle? We found that key words in the text could literally be the key to unlocking how to approach the puzzle. Remember those parallels between the two storylines? While they throw each character’s intentions and motives into question, make sure you pay attention to them!

The A-ha Moment!

When you have pulled together all the relevant pieces for a puzzle, you can check whether you are right! Each puzzle is fully supported with a QR code linking to the Escapages website, so you can check as you go. Getting a solution correct unlocks for you a ‘key’ word. This is a word shared across both books, and make sure you hang on to all of these solutions!

But it’s not over once you’ve solved all 46 puzzles (is it ever really over?!) Oh no, you are in for a TREAT, because there is still one final piece to unlock- a third, shared story! Could this be to do with those key words we told you to keep a hold of? Maybe, just maybe… 😉 (Yes, yes it is).

Do these two individuals know one another? Who is the killer? What is their motive? You’ll have to pick up a copy of Vice Versa with your best puzzling companion to find out! (And hope to not turn out to be the killer…although thinking about it, it doesn’t seem so great to be the victim either…. Maybe it’s best to just flip a coin for it!)

Peek a boo(k) – Am I the killer, or are you?

You can buy Vice Versa from Amazon for approximately £7 per book (don’t forget you need both Heads and Tails editions!), or go to Escapages’ website to find out more about the other great puzzle books they have on offer!

Extraordinary Investigations: The Morgan File

A missing investigator … A lost treasure … A sinister conspiracy.

Rating: Educational
Completion Time: 3 Days
Date Played: 26th of July 2020
Party Size: 1 (+2)

Before I begin the review, I want to issue a quick content trigger warning! This game is set in the immediate post-WWII era and uses real historical people in it’s narrative including senior Nazi officials. You, as the player are retracing the steps of a missing treasure hunter searching for lost Nazi Gold. Gameplay involves researching and studying real life articles from, of, and about Nazi Germany. Players will also encounter references to “torture”, “assassination” and “death squads”. Some players may find these topics distressing.

Extraordinary Investigations: The Morgan File is super realistic! For sure, it’s called a ‘Puzzle Novel’, but I’m not sure where the history ends and the fictional ‘novel’ begins? Which feels so refreshing! I love learning new things whilst I play and The Morgan File strikes that balance that very well.

You, the latest recruit to the XIU (Extraordinary Investigations Unit) are given an exciting cold case. A treasure hunter gone missing and a peculiar trail left behind in his wake. All you’ve got to help you is the collection of evidence in each chapter of the book and an online portal where you can document your findings.

As someone who has worked in investigative roles, I cannot emphasise the ‘realisticness’ enough. Yes, this is exactly how it works in real life. You have to use google, a LOT. You don’t get given the correct answer, you need to figure it out. Wikipedia will become your new best friend. This book gives you all that. Can’t figure something out from the evidence? Well, you’d better be prepared to go into the internet archives and find what you need there.

It’s really unique in that way. Yes, I am aware of the arguments in the escape room / escape game world to “keep all knowledge needed contained within the game”. But I’m also aware of the opposite, “be realistic, let players research themselves.” Extraordinary Investigations: The Morgan File is a great example of the latter.

Since it’s an escape room ‘novel’, don’t be daunted by my long time spent on the game. It’s the kind of thing you can pick up and put down again with absolutely no obligation to complete in one go. In fact, some of the puzzles will definitely be better solved once you’ve slept on it. After all, Extraordinary Investigations doesn’t offer any answers, only clues. If you get stuck, you just need to keep at it!

I’ve marked the game as a DNF because well, I got stuck! There were 3 puzzles throughout which I found fiendishly difficult. One of them I emailed the creator to ask for help, the other 2 had a finite number of possible answers, so easy enough to guess. I know… I know! It’s not in the spirit of things, but sometimes you have to think outside the box. I wanted to see the game through, by any means! 😉

At some point in the future, I’m going to return to the game and try to crack those last few puzzles, but for now I had enough to write for the review and wanted to get this post out to celebrate it’s recent launch. In particular, I reckon this is a good gift for all the ‘dads’ out there. So I might just rope my old man in, with his superior knowledge of WWII history!

Extraordinary Investigations can be purchased for £14.71 on Amazon, the website can be found here.