This is paper guaranteed to be recycled – as a seasonal puzzle game! What can you do for the loved one in your life who likes solving problems, adores a challenge, or even thinks they are the smartest in the room?
Completion Time: 1 – 2 hours Date Played: November 2022 Party Size: 1 Difficulty: Moderate
Well, my first present is wrapped and waiting to be placed under the Christmas Tree. You know what that means? It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know Enigmailed is one of my favourite places for puzzles. From their individual games, wacky Kickstarter campaigns, to consistently fantastic Chocolateral series (puzzles, and chocolate? Um, yes please!). So, when I placed a large order before Christmas, I was surprised to find an extra goodie arrived in the package: A few sheets of wrapping paper.
In typical Enigmailed fashion, this is not ordinary wrapping paper. This wrapping paper is quite literally packed with puzzles. No, no, I don’t think you understand. Literally. Packed.
But with such excellent wrapping paper, I had to wrap equally excellent gifts up in it. So I suppose all those Chocolateral bars I’d just bought should probably now be sent off to friends instead of eating them all myself like a chocolate fiend… Ahh well!
Ho ho hope I can solve all these…
The first thing that struck me with each sheet of wrapping paper is how well the puzzles are laid out. Most wrapping papers print little pictures of snowmen or Christmas trees. This wrapping paper does as well, but hidden within each of those illustrations… A puzzle!
Some of the puzzles are spread out over multiple images hidden around and others are a little more self contained. For such a compact, A2 sheet of wrapping paper, there’s a lot of puzzle for your money. In fact, there are 12 puzzles to solve. They are:
The Hexagon Jigsaw
The Sphere String
The Buried Treasure
The Net Maze
The Tree Gift
The Michael Bauble
The Star Crossed
The Holly Wood
Once solved, each of these puzzles gives a single word answer: A festive word, for a festive wrapping paper.
In terms of difficulty… Listen, I always find Enigmailed games err on the harder side. However, this wrapping paper broke that rule slightly in that I found each individual puzzle fairly straightforward to crack. A few easy wins, and a few which took longer to think through. I didn’t do them all in one go, but I did solve most of them solo – all in all, maybe an hour’s worth of puzzling? Maybe a little longer? It’s a ‘game’ best played dipping in and out of and tackling when you need a break from eating Mince Pies and playing Christmas music.
My favourite of the puzzles was probably “Buried Treasure” or “Poppers”, which were functionally similar to solve – and the two I attempted first! Several others ramp up in difficulty, but as you progress you’ll begin to see patterns and understand how the game flows.
Reuse & Regift this Puzzle Wrapping Paper
The second thing I was struck by is what good quality the wrapping paper is! It arrives neatly folded in a protective sleeve, and each sheet is A2 in size and 115gsm silk paper in quality. The colours are bright and poppy – even more so than I’ve been able to capture in these photos, making it a perfect paper to use with yellow or black ribbon. The first gift I tried to wrap with it (a large board game) the paper came in a little too small. I could have used two sheets, but then I pivoted to something more appropriately sized so I could use the one sheet per gift.
The wrapping paper comes in sheets say, rather than a whole roll, as you’ll need to use the entire sheet to solve the puzzles – some details might be hidden elsewhere on the sheet, so if you cut a sheet in half you risk it becoming unusable. For that reason, pick a gift that uses one sheet in it’s entirety for the best puzzling effect for your recipient!
Then of course, the best thing about this? It’s totally reusable. The paper is such good quality it’s unlikely it’ll tear between gifts, and after wrapping, it folds back down into a neat stack to be popped in a cupboard and used again next year. Whilst I’m giving my sheets away this year, wrapping up a set of lovely puzzley presents for friends… I’m quietly hoping those friends will save the paper and wrap their own gifts up in it next year too. Perhaps the sheets will make their way back to me by this time next year, who knows.
Given the Christmas theme of the puzzles, this wrapping paper is only really good for Christmas – but it’s incredibly good value. For at least one, if not two hours worth of puzzling fun for yourself and for your lucky recipient, it’s well worth elevating a fairly normal gift into something extraordinary. With your order, you receive 3 sheets of high quality, brilliantly reusable A2 wrapping paper. Christmas mornings won’t quite be the same again, not least of all because I’ll be instating the rule “all puzzles must be solved before you can open your gift”. So better get puzzling before you hit the Bucks Fizz this year.
All in all, I am so excited to give gifts wrapped up in this wrapping paper as gifts. In fact, I’m more excited for them to see the wrapping paper than unwrap what is inside. No wrapping paper has ever made me feel that way about gift giving, and honestly? I think this wrapping paper will be a regular feature of my gift giving for years to come.
I’d recommend buying the wrapping paper as part of the Chocmas Lucky Dip bundle presently priced at £19.50. In this bundle, you get:
Three sheets of wrapping paper in a protective sleeve
Compendium UI-55 Review | A German U-boat named UI-55 was found in the river Thames. Have you and your team got what it takes to sneak aboard and retrieve all of Britain’s wealth before the German soldier’s return?
Date Played: March 2022 Number of Players: 2 Time Taken: ~50 Minutes Difficulty: Expert!
When we were planning our mini-break to the North we chose Manchester due to the escape rooms. I had heard such fantastic things about UI-55 that it was a bit of a no-brainer. This room has actually won multiple awards, and (spoiler alert) is one of the few rooms I’ve done that I think is well deserving of the hype!
All Aboard UI-55!
The premise of UI-55 is that you have discovered a German U-boat, hoarding plenty of British treasure, and you only have an hour to recover as much as possible. The first thing you’ll realise upon ‘boarding’ is just how massive this room is. For context, it fills an entire floor and is apparently the size of two normal escape rooms put together! However, if you’re worried that this looks like a big rectangle, don’t be! It’s very much structured as a submarine, with long corridors and windy passageways to traverse. I loved the general size, and the attention to detail in that every nook and cranny reads as ‘submarine’. I had great fun running up and down, as the puzzles absolutely cover the space, and you will need to get elements from each area to complete some.
The other thing to be aware of is the sheer amount of puzzles, especially given the 60-minute time. In a normal room, you might expect to complete 10-15. Here there are nearly 30 to complete alone, which each give you a task to complete and then a key to use to retrieve some loot (depending how quickly you locate the right locker). Luckily, you don’t need to complete all of the puzzles – from memory, you only need to complete 21 within the time, with a very clear (and very fun) indication of when you should really move into the final phase of the room (the loot grabbing).
As you might expect in a room with such a large variety of puzzles, they are all completely different with a fantastic variety. If one puzzle isn’t your forte (*side eyes the dexterity puzzle*) that’s ok! There is always another puzzle to do instead. Some of these puzzles are available upfront, some require you to complete others to gain the materials you need. It’s fairly obvious which bits go with which puzzles, and what you need to do. There are also clues scattered all over the place in the decor, and even some answers which are available to you right from the start! Completing a puzzle gives you a code, which you use to get some tokens, which are then used to gain keys, which are then used to unlock lockers. Luckily, as a duo the ‘gaining keys’ stage can be skipped, as I can see that this would take quite a bit of time, and personally, I feel is a step too far for any team.
I can only remember what a few of the puzzles were in the game, as I was very much running around like a headless chicken, completing one puzzle and then moving on, but I know I’d love to redo the room just to have the same experience again! I also know I only saw around half the puzzles, with my mum clearing half the sub by herself and me clearing the other half. If you or your teammates are the sorts of people who want to know what everyone has done so far or how they’ve reached their conclusions…this is not the room for you. We had to trust that we each had a grip on what we were doing and that we would call for help if needed, or if there was a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. Even when it came to the co-op puzzles we were so aware of the time we just trusted each other’s instincts, and if we ever found objects we weren’t sure of we checked in with each other to see if they had an idea. Honestly, it’s probably the best teamwork we’ve ever had as we didn’t have time to argue!
Normally I would talk about flow, but honestly here there is so much to do in so little time we were never stuck, bored or frustrated. The team are so slick with their clues too – they know exactly when to give us a nudge, what sort of nudge we needed and clearly could tell what we were each working on.
This room is also an example of my favourite type of room – the type where you don’t need to 100% complete it, but if you have the time and skill you can. This meant we were determined to grab all the loot, so really pushed the time at the end to get all the lockers unlocked and money in the bags.
I could go on and on about this room, but it’s honestly the best room I’ve ever played, and I could easily go and replay it (especially as I know there are a lot of puzzles I didn’t even see the first time!).
As I mentioned in my previous review for the other Compendium rooms, there are some steep stairs to reach the room. However, there are chairs to sit on inside the room itself. It’s a bit dim in places, with lots of reading and colour requirements. There are a couple of puzzles requiring hearing, and some requiring dexterity. No crawling in this one though! You should also be fine if you’re concerned about claustrophobia, as although this was set on a submarine it was actually pretty spacious.
This is a short review because the verdict is simple. This is a must-play room, and we are awarding it our highest award; The Badge of Honour.
I’ve played many of the top rooms in the TERPECA and ‘Escape the review’ lists, but this is hands down my favourite. It’s going to be a long time before this gets knocked out of number one for me!
Welcome to Phantom Peak, known far and wide as the Venice of the West! In this fully-realised steampunk mining town, nothing is what it seems… What is hiding in the vestiges of the mines? What does the charismatic founder of corporate JONACO really seek in this sleepy town? Was the Blimp Crash really just an accident? Dine, shop, play games, go sightseeing, collect clues… explore the town and uncover its mysteries at your own pace for up to five hours in an immersive open-world adventure the likes of which you’ve never seen before!
Time spent: 5 hours
Date Visited: August 2022
Party Size: 4
Mysteries solved: 7
First of all, an important note! I am not an immersive theatre fan. I have only been to one other Immersive Theatre show in London, and in general, I tend to steer away from anything immersive – I even hate live actors in escape rooms! Therefore this review is from my perspective, as a lover of escape rooms and mysteries, rather than immersive theatre. Keep an eye on our site though, as we will be sure to update this with the review from our resident immersive theatre lovers once they have had a chance to visit!
If you’ve become immersed in the Escape Room Industry at all you’ve probably heard the name “Nick Moran” crop up a few times. Nick is the genius behind “Sherlock: The game is now”, Hackers’ new rooms, and “Spectre & Vox”. Now he joins the creative team behind “Phantom Peak”, so we knew this was easily going to be one of the most mysterious immersive experiences in London, hopefully with the emphasis placed on the mysteries rather than the immersion!
So what is Phantom Peak? Phantom Peak is a cowboy / steampunk town that has recently opened in East London. On one hand, you can go and enjoy the food, drinks and various games around town. However, for the more curious amongst us, there are (currently) 16 different mysteries occurring in this small town, with many more set to come as the town expands in the future.
Entering Phantom Peak
The first thing to acknowledge is that, from the outside, Phantom Peak doesn’t look like much. Based a short walk from Canada Water station we found ourselves in a rather dusty car park, looking at a wooden fence. However, just before our entry time (11am) a couple of “townspeople” came out (including Nick himself) to give a bit more of an explanation of what to expect inside the town, and get us set up on our phones (which are crucial for this). We then answered a few questions to get our first trail assigned, and we were ready!
Unfortunately, rather than the nice, large double doors you see here, we were let in the smaller side door, which meant there was a bit of a backlog going in. However, once we were in our expectations were definitely met – we were presented with a real life “boardwalk” from the Wild West, leading to a lake, and even a cave. The set design is beautiful and fully realized, with no half-finished sets or rough finishes. There are so many big and small features of the town, it’s so worth just taking some time to look around. The attention to detail is fantastic, and due to the number of mysteries, you never know if or when something will be relevant! It lead to quite a few fun moments when we finally realised what a certain poster was alluding to, or immediately knew where to go next because we’d noticed something previously. The costumes that the cast were wearing were so beautiful without being over the top, and I also loved that a lot of the guests had also committed to the Wild West steampunk vibe – I’ll definitely need to make more effort next time!
Starting off on the right foot
As mentioned, a lot of Phantom Peak relies on following a mystery on your phone. You answer a few questions, get given the name of your trail, your initial story point, and a place to start and you’re off! These trails make use of the whole of the town, moving back and forth and venturing into a variety of locals. Luckily the people of the town tend to stick to their zones (whether that’s propping up the bar, running their store, or canvassing for votes), so once you know who’s who it’s easy to find them.
To unravel the mystery you will need to talk to a range of characters, utilise the various machines around town, and even do a bit of subtle sleuthing. I also want to give a shout out the gender neutrality of the names – the logical side of me knows this is so that actors can be switched in and out for the same character (which also shows how talented these actors are), but the liberal side of me is excited that at no point do you know whether the character you’re searching for is a man or woman, and even the titles are all gender neutral (‘post-person’, ‘supervisor’).
At one point I was scolded by the Saloon owner for saying I loved a ‘lady boss’, and she quite rightly told me it was just ‘boss’, no need to qualify it or bring gender into it! It was points like this that shows how brilliant the actors were – I really enjoyed talking to them, having fun with them, and have proper conversations with them that made it clear they weren’t just following a script. This aspect made them really feel like fully rounded characters.
It would’ve been nice if things you discovered in one trail (or ways you interacted) carried throughout the day, as at points we finish one trail and discover some sort of big twist, but 5 minutes later we’d talk to the same character and it would be as if it never happened. However, with such a large crowd I understand why this may have been a little challenging.
However we did find the phone aspect a little too hand-holdy in parts, particularly where the casts and clues were giving us some clear directions to follow, only to realise we had a few more questions to answer in the phone before we got to that point. However, it was also a nice safety net so we weren’t totally in the dark at any point, and the townsfolk were all very knowledgeable and ready to lend a clue if needed.
The Puzzle Posse
At this point, I need to talk about the mysteries themselves, because oh my word they were so much fun! If you are thinking the mysteries will just be about missing hats and rogue bandits you’re so wrong (mostly), and even the ones that started quite meekly had an interesting twist. There’s also one facet of every story that will appear quite quickly, and I absolutely loved this part of the town lore. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say the town has a clear mascot, which I adored and found so creative. The way it features in each story and throughout the town was so much fun and so creative.
The mysteries themselves weren’t that hard – for the most part, they involved talking to a townsperson, using one of the machines to find some information, or finding a hidden clue on a poster or in a certain location (which we were mostly guided towards). I would say don’t come into this expecting complex puzzles and the need to be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s ok! It wasn’t until we were discussing our experience for this review that we realised we didn’t really ‘solve’ all that much, but somehow we hadn’t noticed at the time because we were having so much fun. The story building was also thorough and immersive – we always knew why we were going somewhere, and what we were meant to be doing next.
In the end, we managed 7 trails, out of a possible 16 (so far). I’m not sure how you’d get over 8 (due to the nature of the questions), but apparently, I’m metagaming here, as I know some people managed 11 during the 5-hour slot! This included taking plenty of breaks for delicious food, necessary water, and of course a romantic (?) boat ride. You receive a souvenir at the end of each trail, but other than being a keepsake these didn’t appear to have been used for anything. I’d love to see these used for something in the future, or even have some form of souvenir ‘guidebook’ you could purchase to store them in (and therefore see all the uncompleted trails you have yet to do!). I’d also love some sort of specific souvenir to display on your person (such as a badge) so that as you wander around you can see what other people have done, and it might also give the characters more material to play with.
In terms of the machines, they were all fun and easy to use, but by the 3rd or 4th time using them the shine wore off a little. I think this could easily be solved by just not saying which machine needed to be used – we became familiar with what number of letters/numbers led to each machine fairly quickly, and then that would have added a small amount of puzzle solving to the puzzle instead. Either that or potentially making them a little more complex to use. In fact, it might have been nice to have some more complex trails to do – we did one that could potentially be called ‘adult’, but I think it would’ve been easy enough to tone down the content for a family.
Mystery trails aside, there was clearly a larger mystery at work in the town. We worked out enough (from the wider lore and stories) that something was a miss, but never worked out the overall mystery or how to solve it. I absolutely love this. There’s clearly a lot of wider lore that is dropped into each mystery if you pay attention, and many conversations to have. I’m not sure if there’s much ‘hidden’ around the town that wasn’t part of one of the 16 trails, but then again I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.
Rooting and Tooting
Of course, there is plenty more to do here when you want a break from a puzzle (especially as the time slots are 5 hours). There are 3 food stores (4 including Gelato) as well as a couple of bars. We tried the burgers, chips, and tacos and they were all absolutely delicious. I also have a ‘beer float’ from the Gelato stand, which was perfect on such a hot day.
As well as food and drink, there’s also a variety of fun carnival games, which are harder than they look, and you’ll need to beat 3 of them to become a real citizen of the town. Unfortunately, I only managed to earn one rosette, so I have no clue what happens when you have all three!
There are also a couple of events that only happen at a certain time, likely to give everyone a chance to explore the town a bit more first. I only took advantage of one of these, but will be sure to do the other next time! You can also browse the variety of shops for your variety of needs (and walk away with some nice souvenirs). The town itself was also completely accessible – everywhere was flat, which ramps up and down where necessary. We didn’t use any stairs and believe all the doorways were wide enough for a wheelchair. We were there for 5 hours, which was actually the perfect amount of time. I was personally getting a bit frustrated by my non-enthusiast friends who were taking lots of breaks, and definitely flagging by the end, but I admit I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stay much longer.
This town ain’t big enough…
I absolutely loved our time, and I will absolutely be returning, but there were definitely a few niggles here and there which will hopefully be ironed out as the experience expands. For a start, we heavily relied on my phone, which meant the battery ran down quickly. Luckily I had packed a portable charger, but even then I was down to 30% when we left. For such a phone-heavy experience, I was surprised by the lack of charging stations in the town – I can imagine some rentable power packs would be a big hit here!
The walkways are also quite narrow, so we often found ourselves walking slow behind a queue of people, or waiting a while to get into a shop. This died down at certain points throughout the day (down to events, food breaks, or just people leaving), but it was definitely a bit harder at the start. Staggered start times would solve this, but then of course it would be hard to monitor when people’s 5 hours were up. In a similar vein, there were times we were essentially following another couple doing the same trail, either waiting for them to finish their conversation with a character so we could have the same one, or just listening in. Sometimes this was fine, due to the occasional puzzle that needed some time to solve, but otherwise, we got into the groove of using those moments to grab another drink rather than following on their tail. I’m not sure what the plan is for the expansion, but I’d love to see some bigger areas, perhaps with new characters to talk to and new machines to use!
What’s the verdict?
This is hands down my favourite experience I’ve done in London. I’d even go so far as to say I’d rather come back here than go to another London escape room. At less than £40 for a ticket, which covers 5 hours, it’s a real steal on price too!
You can be as immersed as you want to, but the characters don’t necessarily approach you or force you to put on an accent if you don’t want to, which was great for my friends who were less sold on this aspect. The mysteries were just really fun stories, and although the puzzles weren’t that complex I don’t think you’d be disappointed because so much else is going on.
I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone, and cannot wait to return to Phantom Peak.
Tickets for Phantom Peak can be booked on their website
Micro Macro Crime City Review | MicroMacro: Crime City includes 16 cases for you to solve. Each case includes a number of cards that ask you to find something on the map or uncover where someone has gone or otherwise reveal information relevant to a case. The city map serves as a map in time as well as space, so you’ll typically find people in multiple locations throughout the streets and buildings, and you need to piece together what happened, whether by going through the case card by card or by reading only the starting card in the case and trying to figure out everything that happened for yourself. Will you be able to answer all questions about the case without fail?
Completion Time: ~4 months Date Played: Early 2022 Party Size: 1 – 3 Difficulty: Easy – Medium
Micro Macro Crime City is, dare I say it, one of the best things I own. It takes pride of place on my board game shelf, I have been playing it non-stop since I received it as a Christmas present in 2021, and it’s the first game I whip out when friends come round for board game night. Sadly, several months later I have now completed the game. The rest of 2022 is looking bleak and crimeless and I’m already wondering what I’ll do with my life post-Micro Macro.
All jokes aside, it’s a fantastic game and I couldn’t wait to flip over the very final card in the very final mission to be able to say I completed the whole thing. It really took me back to days as a kid where my parents would be at fancy dinner parties and I’d be hiding in a corner somewhere with a copy of Where’s Wally. I haven’t felt that kind of joy since becoming an adult.
*sheds a tear*
Image (c) Micro Macro
About Micro Macro Crime City
So why are we reviewing the game on The Escape Roomer? True, it’s not really an escape room. But it is a deductive detective game absolutely packed with puzzles and we review plenty of those.
The general flow of Micro Macro Crime City is as follows, you open up a case and read the first card in that case. It has a picture of a crime and a short description of what the crime is, for example a murder or a heist, or some other nefarious deed. Essentially, it tells you what you’re looking for and vaguely where to start, such as the Market Place or by the Pier. Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, you head to the next card in the deck and you flip that over to find your next question. For example, “where was the victim before they got killed” and then “who was the victim meeting” and so on and so on. Over the course of a number of cards you slowly retrace back in time and put together the pieces surrounding the case. If you prefer more of a challenge, the game suggests that players only read the first card and instead try to figure out the case for themselves.
Each case takes a comfortable amount of time to solve. The earliest in the game, rated 1 or 2 stars by the game’s internal difficulty rating, are easy and take just a few minutes. The most difficult (5 stars) could take 15 minutes and upwards. Towards the end of the game many of the cases take so many delightful twists and turns I found myself using coins and odd objects around my apartment to mark ‘places’ in the map where significant parts of the case occurred, just to keep track.
Because of the structure of individual cases, it’s very easy to pick up and put down – provided you have a large enough playing area of course (29.5 inches x 43 inches). For me, this made it such a fun past time. If I had a spare half an hour on a Sunday afternoon I’d put the kettle on, make a cup of tea, and play through a case or two. When friends came over I’d whip it out and suggest an earlier case. Even if I’d already played them I’d usually forgotten by that time and could play along again. The game is never too demanding, if you want to complete it in one session you could, or you can pace it out like I did over four whole months.
We’d recommend this game for a maximum of 3 players at a time, this is for a purely functional reason – when too many heads are pouring over the map it’s very easy to bump into one another or block each other’s light. The optimal number is probably 1, but I always prefer to play games with friends. It is also worth double-y mentioning that if the name weren’t a giveaway, the theme is definitely not suitable for children under a certain age. I’m not sure what that age is, I’ll let parents make that choice for themselves, but despite the cartoon characters there’s plenty of murder afoot in this city.
A Modern Where’s Wally Game
What is most impressive about this game is how it does so much with such a limited amount of materials. The only thing you receive is a large map and a number of cases. Thats it, the rest of the game is up to you. No dice, no turns, just you and your friends pouring over a map trying to spot tiny details. And yet it is so unbelievably fun! The artwork in particular is absolutely fantastic and unbelievably detailed. By now I’m sure I’ve spotted every detail, and yet even writing this review when I glance over the map beside me I notice something new.
Since the whole thing is in white line art, I’m impishly tempted to colour it in. Conversely, unlike many escape games this one is easily playable multiple times – you could keep yours pristine and sell or trade on once you’ve finished.
Again, I hate to sound like a broken drum but this game? You just can’t beat it. *ba dum dum tsk*
It’s the most fun I’ve had so far this year and sure, it’s only April, but I’m fairly sure Micro Macro Crime City is going down in my personal hall of fame. I never, ever want to get rid of the box and I’m already planning which of my friends I can buy copies for later in the year. It is worth every single penny. For sure, it was a Christmas gift, but going back to it there’s almost no price too high I would have played for this game and at it’s current retail price (~£20) it’s a steal for the amount of fun you’ll have.
Currently Micro Macro are working on new games including a kids version with a little less murdery undertones. The website also has a number of extra content to tide you over until new releases come out, which can be viewed here.
As a final note, I’ve decided to award this game the special The Escape Roomer Badge of Honour, awarded to games we thought were incredible. For it’s sheer innovation, puzzliness, and literal months worth of fun contained in such a small box, Micro Macro Crime City is something very special and I cannot recommend it enough.
If you want to purchase Micro Macro, you can head to their store here.
Curse of the Dark Review | Investigate the mystery of a doomed village and its cursed castle in this thrilling escape room game! You couldn’t resist the allure of Mordengraf: a remote mountain village, overshadowed by an imposing Gothic castle and haunted by a spate of mysterious disappearances. Could there be truth in the hushed whispers of a ‘creature’ stalking the area? As you look for answers, your investigation takes a sinister turn. Captured by an unseen force, you must escape the castle’s dungeon or become the creature’s latest victim. But you only have three hours before the creature resumes its hunt.
Completion Time: 3+ hours Date Played: 6th May 2022 Party Size: 3 Difficulty: Medium
It was only a little while ago that I had the pleasure of playing through Professor Puzzle’s “Danger in the Deep” so when I heard that they had another escape game out but double the length, I jumped at the opportunity. The former is easily one of my favourites of 2022 so far, and I was eager to see how their sequel would perform. It was time to dim the lamps, light some candles, pour some red wine (because of course, vampires), and crack open the game.
The story goes that you, an investigator, receive a mysterious letter from someone known only as “J”. A monster lurks in the castle at the corner of a village and many of the villagers blame the monster for the recent disappearances. Your job is simple: investigate and get to the bottom of the mystery. But before long you find yourself sucked into the castle and soon to become the monster’s next victim. That is, unless you can puzzle your way out!
How to Play Curse of the Dark
Curse of the Dark is nothing if not very ambitious. Written in large letters on the front of the box is a total play time of “180 minutes” which of course, can (and probably should) be split into two parts at 90 minutes each. Our team of 3-4 players decided that we’d set aside an entire evening to complete the experience. From 6pm on a dark and stormy Saturday evening we sat down to a bottle (okay, maybe two bottles) of red wine, plenty of snacks and spooky music in the background.
180 minutes? Pfft. We ended up concluding the game with a successful win at around midnight 🤯
This would put the game in more comfortably at 6 hours long, but even I’ll admit that’s a bit silly. The point being is this game, despite the recommendation, be enjoyed at any pace by any sized group and is definitely the most fun when you break it up with wine and snack breaks. So long as your goal is to have fun, you can’t go wrong with Curse of the Dark. So don’t be worried if you take a lot longer than the recommended time.
Where Curse of the Dark differs from *checks notes* pretty much every other escape game I’ve ever played, is it’s fantastic use of space. It’s somewhere between a tile-based, almost “worldbuilding” game with Cluedo, and Unlock! mixed in. As a team of intrepid investigators, you reveal and place new tiles that build up an immense, sprawling castle around your movements as the game progresses. Past the halfway mark and you’ve already strayed into 3D territory with an enormous stained glass window and not one but two brilliant tall towers standing at either edge of the board. Until we flipped each new tile it was impossible to know where our story would take us, but each room was as fantastical as the previous and each twist and turn as exciting as if we were watching a movie.
Visually, this game is gorgeous. Each tile is a top-down view of a specific room, but as mentioned the game occasionally forays into 3D, building up a complete picture of an enormous ‘spooky castle’. I happen to know *taps nose* that each tile was modelled in 3D on a computer and then rendered top-down to create a large but well proportioned environment. The edges of each tile often had an overlap or matched up directly to where the next room was. Only a few times did we need to slide the whole model across because we’d built too close to the edge, but thankfully figuring out how to lay out your castle isn’t one of the puzzles. There’s a handy guide as you go.
See the Day Turn into Night…
In terms of puzzles, there are 22 in the game, but if that number sounds low I can assure you it is not. Curse of the Dark is big. No, I don’t think you understand. It’s packed with possibly hundreds of pieces, cards, tiles and objects. We found that throughout our experience, objects we’d discovered earlier in the game often didn’t come into play until hours later – resulting in more than a little panicked rummaging throughout the boxes. So a fair warning when we say that this game is big – it’s worth keeping track of what you’ve used and are still to use.
By the end of the game we found that there were a few cards we hadn’t drawn from the deck, but thankfully the game has a very robust clue system to keep you on track if you’re unsure. On only one occasion did we accidentally brute force a puzzle, and only then we realised this because we’d left a card we’d needed to solve the puzzle in the deck without spotting it. This goes to show that the puzzles whilst not too difficult nor too easy, seem well pitched for an enthusiast to comfortably potter through.
Throughout the experience, my favourite puzzles involved anything that was 3D – what can I say? It’s a lot of fun picking up the great big bell tower and pretending you’re King Kong as you push and pull bricks out haphazardly. Other puzzles take you away from the physicality of the game and onto a simple web-based application which worked well, but the bulk of it took place via a system of cards and ’tiles’. As with many games, there were some puzzles we got right away, but plenty more we needed to use hints (a scratch-off system). In each we were looking for a secret hidden symbol to proceed.
…Through the Darkness, There’s the Light
In terms of the question of age rating and accessibility , Professor Puzzle recommends 14+. In terms of theme, I’m not so sure about that. There’s the odd splatter of blood and an allusion to nefariousness, but it’s ultimately quite a light-hearted, Vampire themed romp and nothing I wouldn’t have loved as a kid. The real question is whether or not somebody is able to sit still for the full 3 hours and remain engaged and interested – so I’ll leave that at the discretion of parents.
There are a few puzzles that involve sound, so someone who is able to hear well is recommended, but I believe it may be possible to solve those with the visuals. Some of the scenes are darker and will involve Similarly there are some moments in the game where colour is referenced, but if I remember correctly, none of the solutions hinge upon being able to identify colours, so it’s also colour-blind friendly.
Unlike previous games in Professor Puzzle’s catalogue, Curse of the Dark comes with a free download of the printable elements of the game. This means that after destroying certain components during your gameplay, you can print them off at the end to reset the game perfectly back to the beginning. In an era of being more environmentally conscious, I commend the creators for making this game not single-use, and encouraging folks to re-gift it on. That said, I won’t be giving up my copy of Curse of the Dark any time soon. Oh no, by contrast I plan to reassemble some of the coolest 3D components and put them on my shelf in pride of place.
If you can’t tell from my gushing, the verdict is we really did have a great time playing Curse of the Dark. From the fantastically fun puzzles that consistently manage to surprise me, to the beautiful visuals (2D and 3D), to a very spooky vibe that made our board game night perfect. There were a great many “a-ha!” moments, so many I’m sure my co-players got sick of my insisting “wow thats a clever puzzle” by the end of it. For that reason, we’ve chosen to award it our Badge of Honour which is awarded to games that achieve five stars from us across the board, and it’s well deserved too.
For sure it will attract a slightly more niche audience than other games in the Professor Puzzle catalogue coming in at ~3 hours of gameplay. Compared to other ‘escape room in a box’ games you see on the high street, this one is three times the length. But in this way it’s also excellent value for money.
Typically in ‘The Verdict’ I like to recommend who I’d buy this for. The answer for this one is simple: everyone. I could see myself playing this with family members old and young, enthusiasts and newbies alike. I’ve no doubt it’ll be a big hit for Professor Puzzle and can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Rating: Just….wow! Completion Time: 53 minutes Date Played: 13th March 2022 Party Size: 4 Recommended For: People of all abilities who want to have a brilliantly satisfying hour of fun!
New building, who dis?
At Escaping the Closet we have been fond fans of Escape Quest Macclesfield for a long time, and having completed all of the rooms they had to offer pre-pandemic, we were so excited to hear that they had new stuff in store for 2021, as we weren’t sure what could top what we had already played! They reopened in October 2021 with their shiny new building and their shiny new unique concept- The Chapelgate Mysteries; a series of games set across different periods of time but all taking place in the Chapelgate district. We were delighted with this idea and so excited to finally be able to plan a return to Escape Quest. The first of the Chapelgate Mysteries quests to open is Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe, a familiar name as we had already played this game at their previous premises…. However, FEAR NOT, as although the OG Curiosity Shoppe was brilliant, the new, improved version was 99% new. Trust us when we say, it does NOT matter if you have played the previous version of the game, you will be sure to have to use your head (all the while being WOWED) throughout the game!
It’s bigger on the inside!
Upon arriving at Escape Quest, Elaine (side note, the friendliest GM ever) advised us of our mission. Turns out Mr Copplestone was a bit of a genius and actually managed to invent time travel. Unfortunately, in the present day, he’s down to his last Time Echo Crystal (‘what’s one of those?’ I hear you say. They’re what power the time machine, of course, what else?!), but there are Time Echo Crystals a-plenty back in his shop in1873. But, time travel being one of those risky businesses, with the portal only holding itself open for an hour, we were charged with being the ones to head back there and try to gather as many of the Time Echo Crystals as poss. Easy, right?! Well, not when you aren’t sure just how many of them forgetful Mr Copplestone has left behind! Well, at least 8 are required to successfully make it back to present day, so that is the minimum goal, but there could be MANY MANY MORE (spoiler, there are MANY)!
Of course, us being very much up to the challenge, we hopped into the time machine, listened carefully to Mr Copplestone’s advice and jet-set ourselves all the way back from 2022 to 1873 (tbf it was a welcome change to leave 2022). And then there we were on Chapel Street and our jaws literally hit the floor because we LITERALLY were on Chapel Street, home to taverns, pharmacies and of course the target location, Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe. We spent time peering in the shop windows (until we managed to get ourselves in at least), reading the signs and posters displayed on the street and searching high and low for those pesky Time Echo Crystals! There was so much to take in and oh so much to do, we felt like we were in a literal escape roomer’s heaven! The space is vast and yet there is such close attention to detail- everything is there for a reason whether that is for a puzzle itself, or the immersion of the quest, we were astounded by the thought that has gone into every inch of it!
Teamwork makes the dream work
It seems we managed to bring the dream team along, with Tasha and Lucy as honorary Escaping the Closet members, as we fell straight into a rhythm of exploring Chapel Street and solving the mysteries it contained. Of course, with so much space to explore and so many potential Time Echo Crystals to find, this is as you would expect, a non-linear game. We split up to make our way around, often switching up the pairings for a fresh set of eyes on a puzzle.
The room integrates the time machine (dutifully holding open the portal for us) with Chapel Street brilliantly, and we did many a dash between a Victorian era shop and the time machine for important Time Echo Crystal related business. We enjoyed this and felt it really added to the fun of the game as it gave a real sense of urgency and accomplishment as we made progress on our mission.
The puzzles are cleverly put together, and solving each one was satisfying. Every time, the solution just made sense (and the importance of that in escape rooms cannot be understated- there’s nothing worse than still not quite getting it, even after you’ve managed to solve something) However, on the contrary, there’s nothing more satisfying than that A-HA moment when you finally work a solution out as all of the parts fall into place, and that happened so. many. times. in Mr Copplestone’s! Multi-layered puzzles, where you have *that* additional step to reach the solution when you find the first attempt was good but not right, observational puzzles, logical puzzles, code-based puzzles, riddles…. the list goes on. And on. AND ON! There really is something for everyone in there, and that meant we as a team often circled round a puzzle, each taking a turn at looking at it and piecing our different perspectives together until… that magic CLICK when the penny dropped and we got it.
As we mentioned, the puzzles make sense, and we had no trouble working out which clues we should be using together for the most part. But if clues are needed, a brilliant AI based inside the time machine is always on hand to give a nudge in the right direction.
Something for everyone
As well as having lots of different types of puzzles, Escape Quest have done something brilliant with the mission in Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe, as it has been created as a game which is truly for all abilities. We kind of alluded to this earlier when mentioning that the minimum requirement to successfully complete the game is to retrieve 8 Time Echo Crystals. However, if you’ve managed this and have time to spare, you can collect as many of the crystals as you can (allowing for more trips through time, and who doesn’t want that?!). We understand that the average team will collect a number of crystals somewhere in the teens, but this offers the opportunity for success for the more inexperienced teams, families with young children and party groups, while seasoned experts can challenge themselves to try and find all the possible Time Echo Crystals.
Now, it’s actually classified how many Time Echo Crystals there actually are back in 1873, but we were determined to try our best to find them all, and we impressed ourselves (and Elaine and Mike) by managing to get ALL [CLASSIFIED] Time Echo Crystals with time to spare- for once searching was not our downfall!! Apparently only a few teams have managed to find all of the Time Echo Crystals, and even fewer with so much time left- apparently we came very close to Team Squared (the UK’s RedBull escape room team), so we were very pleased with our effort!
Escaping the Closet being extremely proud of their success with finding the Time Echo Crystals
Elaine and Mike have outdone themselves with their first quest in the Chapelgate Mysteries and we are already so excited for what’s in store in the next chapter (which we believe is travelling to an early C20th Chapel Street, although what mission awaits us there we are not so sure…). It’s safe to say we will be booking back in for the next mission as soon as it is available!
Mike and Elaine have thought about absolutely EVERYTHING in the room, and the attention to detail is impressive. The immersion has been created to the finest level, and we are still so amazed that they have created a full street and can’t wait to visit it through time! To top it all off, they are the most lovely, welcoming hosts, and you can absolutely see their passion and love of what they do in every aspect! We are very much looking forward to returning to visit them again.
The puzzles are brilliant and varied; the space is visually stunning; we had one of the most fun escape experiences we have ever had with this room; Mike and Elaine have created a super original; innovative concept with this room; the game is exceptionally immersive and we can’t think of another room quite like it! As they are outstanding in every category for which we award, we have decided to award Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe a Badge of Honour, our highest award, which we think is incredibly well deserved for the hard work and love Mike and Elaine put into their rooms.
Wizards Against Lizards Review | You are invited to join the Wizards Against Lizards Remote Intelligence Agency. Teams of WALRIA agents are working together online to investigate, infiltrate and finally defeat the Annunaki Menace! You are welcome to join WALRIA as a passive observer but your team will require at least one active agent, as there are mysteries to be solved, and challenges to be met.
Date Played: 23rd August 2021 Number of Players: 13 Difficulty: Easy Time Taken: 1hr 45 minutes
I absolutely love finishing an immersive experience and thinking “Woah, what the heck was that?!”
You know the ones I mean… Those once in a lifetime experiences that are met with blank expressions from your friends after you confusingly try to explain them the following day.
“Well err, you know how so many world leaders are actually Lizards hell bent on human suffering, well last Saturday I teamed up with some Wizards on Zoom and we basically infiltrated the Lizard HQ and…”
Okay so maybe it’s better I let the trailer do the talking:
I couldn’t wait to play the cult classic Wizards Against Lizards after picking up a Play Pass at RECON 2021. As part of the fun of the annual Room Escape Convention, there’s an optional Play Pass upgrade which gives you access to a number of live escape room events. Honestly, it was worth it for Wizards Against Lizards alone and I’ve still got heaps more games to play on the Play Pass!
Absurdist, Surreal, Immersive Theatre… On Zoom!
How to describe Wizards Against Lizards? It’s totally bizarre. In a good way. For sure it’s not your typical escape room game, but in amongst the conspiracy theory fun are plenty of puzzles to keep you on your toes. There’s also one theatrical sequence that is very close to an escape room at heart, making it a pretty well balanced game for all audiences.
The story goes that you join the ancient secret wizard organisation WALRIA (Wizards Against Lizards Remote Intelligence Agency) to go up against an equally ancient, but very evil lizard enemy: The Annunaki! Since you yourself are not a wizard (awwww), you’re able to successfully go where wizards cannot and infiltrate their top secret organisation. The first plan of order, pitch a brilliant business idea to one of the lizard leaders and get them on your side. Once you’re in, stop the sacrifice!
Sounds simple? Well, not so fast. Our team ended up with a little more danger than we bargained for – but a no less hilarious and fantastic experience nonetheless.
How to Stop the Lizard People
To stop the lizard people, you have three easy tasks:
Complete your training
Infiltrate the lizards
Stop the sacrifice!
In terms of how the game plays out, it’s all drive via a series of actors (shout out to our host Leanne) on Zoom. The game requires a lot of active audience participation – so many not be the best for a smaller team who prefer to keep quiet. Have at least one person on the team who loves improvising, or some Dutch Courage to help. You never know when being able to talk yourself out of a stick situation with the lizards will come in handy!
In terms of puzzles, hardcore enthusiasts probably won’t be challenged by the game. There are a few very puzzle-y moments in the story but they’re there to serve the narrative and won’t take too long to crack. With the exception of one part that felt very close to a remote avatar escape room, largely players can expect to scour documents and read source material in search of clues.
I particularly enjoyed the moment where we took to Google Maps to discover something new. There’s also one meaty logic puzzle that our sub-team didn’t quite crack in time, but overall nothing too challenging!
The real Fun Factor to Wizards Against Lizards isn’t the puzzles, but it’s those moments of brilliant improvisation and how the actors react to what you say! Early in the game your team needs to come up with a suitably lizard-y pitch to get you in their good books. We got to think of the worst possible business idea, create a presentation, and then pitch it on the fly. Hilarious!
Wizards Against Lizards is such a hidden gem and an all round hit escape room experience that’ll go down as a cult classic for sure. What started as a real life adventure played in and around the UK can now be played online via Zoom and the world is a lot better off for it.
It plays on pop culture with just a dash of light-hearted conspiracy theory to create a surreal romp around the lizard world, hosted by several fantastic wizards (and one sinister lizard).
We’ve decided to award it the Badge of Honour (right) for ticking so many boxes and is an absolute “must play” while you still can!
The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg Review | In the unlikely event something goes awry, you’d probably be embroiled in a comedy conspiracy across the town and its websites, cooperating with your group in live games, puzzles, and challenges and maybe even saving the world.
Date Played: 9th September 2021 Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Easy Time Taken: 1hr 30min
On a quiet, rainy Thursday evening here in the UK our team (consisting of Alice, Nick and Mairi) all logged in to our virtual tour of the small town of Little Sodaburg. Little Sodaburg is a relaxed seaside town, home to a beautiful castle ruin, a great river, and the factory of the universe’s most popular soda drink (that’s fizzy pop to us Brits).
In this self-described Choose-Your-Own-Advent-Tour, we could explore any part of the town we wanted, hosted by our enigmatic Sodaburg tour guide (Jessica Lachenal). So off we ventured, fully expecting to enjoy a fun hour long walk around the town then return home in time for tea. What could possibly go wrong?
The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg
Little Sodaburg was founded in the late 1300s and prides itself in it’s town slogan of “The Town With the Effervescent Essence“. This reputation comes from the largest employer in the area: Wahoo Fizz! The factory sits proudly in the North East of the town, truly putting this whole area on the map! Folks just can’t get enough of Wahoo Fizz!
Little Sodaburg also famous for having a very small, cute and fluffy dog mayor, who got to wave at on our tour!
Hello there Little Arfarf! 👋
But hold on a moment. I hear you asking:
“This isn’t actually just a tour of the town, right?!“
No! This is a brand new at-home escape room experience from the geniuses at Meridian Adventure Co.
Time Travel is Fishy Business
Your true goal in The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg is to uncover a terrible secret about the town and if you can, reverse it and save the world. To help you, you have the power of time travel. Sounds strange. Bare with me on this one.
What begins as a lovely tour around a peaceful town quickly devolves into a web of fishy conspiracy spanning hundreds and thousands of years. We found ourselves plunged into an immersive, theatrical experience like no other! We raced through history to find clues and other details on a series of detailed web pages and interactive online elements, all whilst chatting to a cast of quirky characters including a cleaning robot and some fishy world leaders.
Beyond this, the less said about The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg the better. The experience is utterly wacky! We had no idea what to expect going in, and at every moment in the story no idea what could possibly happen next. To an extent… Whatever would happen next was up to us! It’s a Choose-Your-Own-Advent-Tour, remember!
On the one hand, for sure it’s a linear story with a neat beginning, middle and end. But considering, it felt very unscripted. If we’d suddenly done something unexpected, Sodaburg would have adapted around us. Perhaps its one of the best examples of interactive fiction (or at least, simulated so) in the at-home escape room industry today!
Getting Around Little Sodaburg
Let’s talk about the technology for a moment. To create this whirlwind adventure, Meridian Adventure Co have built a browser based digital interface and wow – it’s robust! The game offers inbuilt video chat, and each activity automatically adjusts to support the number of players (2-6, in case you were wondering).
There are a number of components to the gameplay. As well as your video chat, players have multiple text inputs, and the game provides a series of links all players must visit. At first I assumed these were just static links we all had to look at separately. However, as the game progresses it becomes apparent that these links we’re given are completely collaborative!
The whole feeling of the game, with it’s choose-your-own direction, interactive elements, and unique web pages had the feeling of an adventure played out on Roll20. There were realtime maps with characters moving around the screen, and clickable interfaces that sent items and keywords to one another via otherwise regular looking websites. The cherry on top? This game involves Time Travel. Revisiting a website which I’d assumed we didn’t even need anymore reverted it to a different era version of the site. What a fun Easter Egg!
For sure, if I’m putting my cynical hat on for a second, this is a Games Mastered game. There’s probably a little bit of smoke and magic going on behind the scenes that us players don’t see. But this experience was nothing if not utterly immersive and delightful at every turn.
Puzzler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg
In terms of puzzles and difficulty, we found The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg on the easier side. This works perfectly for a game like this however, giving players time to easily move through puzzle-roadblocks and get into the brilliant narrative and gameplay. In short, the puzzles serve the gameplay and are at a level accessible to all rather than being difficult for difficult’s sake.
Typically in our review we’d give a couple of notes about what sort of puzzles to expect, so you know to look out for in case of accessibility. But again, to admit any of the puzzles here would be spoiling the fun. So we’ll say this: expect to work together in your team. Expect to hack and dig through the internet. Expect interactivity at all times. But most importantly expect to really enjoy yourself.
The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg is easily one of the best games we’ve played. Period.
It’s hard to still be impressed this far into lockdown, hundreds of ‘at home escape games’ later… And yet every single element of Little Sodaburg was delightful and innovative. It’s funny, it’s light-hearted, and it’s packed with hidden details. There’s also a strong element of self awareness. For all the fun in the game, it leaves you with an important message about the global climate crisis too.
If you only play one more at home game ever again in your whole life, make sure it’s The Traveller’s Guide to Little Sodaburg.
Thanks for reading our The Traveler’s Guide to Little Sodaburg review. The game can be booked directly on their website here.
The Escape Roomer has moved away from the pink-blue colour scheme of our previous website towards dark green, a gold accent, and a prominent rainbow flag. The new logo is anchored by the outline of a door – I mean, aren’t we always trying to escape through doors?! And the rainbow flag reflects how proud we are of our LGBTQA+ foundations. Furthermore, the six stars represent our current official and unofficial contributors that bring the special sauce to The Escape Roomer. Finally the whole site rebrand is topped off with vintage, risograph print style – a cheeky nod to our original 80s style website! 💃
This rebrand was greatly needed as we grow and find our identity within the wiser escape room and video game community! We’re a collaborative project created to celebrate this wonderful industry and every day we’re amazed by the support we receive in return. As such we hope the rebrand is the start of something even more amazing, and we can’t wait to fly our colourful new logo high!
Standardised Escape Room Ratings
The second biggest change we’re bringing to The Escape Roomer is a standardised rating system. Historically, we’ve not used stars to rate our rooms, but in 2021 this is changing.
There’s a lot of talk in the escape room enthusiasts community about whether 5 star ratings work or not – but generally there seems to be a consensus that they are helpful for quickly finding good rooms and games to play! We hope this change makes The Escape Roomer more easier to navigate!
At the head of every review, we’ll indicate the following:
Date Played Number of Players Console*if applicable Difficulty Time Taken
And at the bottom of every review, you’ll be able to find more detailed ratings out of 5 stars on each aspect of the game, including:
At Home Games
Theming Decor Puzzles Immersion Innovation Fun Factor Value Overall
Theming Quality Puzzles Immersion Innovation Fun Factor Value Overall
Theming Puzzles Visuals Immersion Innovation Fun Factor Value Overall
The Escape Roomer Special Badges
Finally… From time to time we come across truly amazing games and want to award them with a special badge on The Escape Roomer. If you’ve spotted a badge on a review, find out what it means on our Awards Page.
The Vandermist Dossier Review | The Vandermist Dossier is a treasure trove of beautiful, touch-real evidence from an old missing person’s case in a tiny Dutch village. Untouched since the 1970’s, will you follow the clues and figure out what happened to 19-year-old amateur sleuth Abigail Vandermist?
Date Played: 28th August 2021 Number of Players: 1 Difficulty: Comfortably Challenging! Time Taken: 1 hour 15 minutes
The Vandermist Dossier is a brand new mystery box by the creative duo behind Diorama, Ruud and Tristan. It follows a missing persons case in a small Dutch town that quickly unfolds into Cold War secrets that could tear the titular family apart. This game officially launches on Kickstarter in September, but we were very lucky to get our hands on an early copy and WOW! Just wow!
Could this be one of the most exciting Kickstarter games launching this year? It might just be.
But let’s get into why…
Het Boekanier Dossier
What makes The Vandermist Dossier special is that it is based on an earlier, Dutch-language game by the same creators: Het Boekanier Dossier (“The Buccaneer Dossier”). Wildly popular in the Netherlands and around the world, the creators have since been hard at work with the help of Manda Whitney translating it into English and have even added several brand new puzzles to the rich world of Het Boekanier Dossier.
This gets a double thumbs up from us, as these tweaks and changes evidently introduce huge improvements on the already popular original game. Where the original averages a neat 8.5 on Board Game Geek, with the wealth of content, brilliant puzzles and engaging story, perhaps this version will push 9 or even 10.
The Vandermist Family and the Backwards Town
The story of The Vandermist Dossier picks up with a mysterious letter and box labelled ‘Vandermist Dossier’ arriving in the post to you. The letter is from a lady named Helena Vandermist who would like to enlist your help in a missing persons case. The missing person: Her sister Abigail.
Though the case is nearly 40 years old and definitely cold by now, Helena never gave up hope of finding her long lost sister and you might just be her last option. In the box, Ms Vandermist has sent you everything she’s found out about the case over the years, including letters from her sister Abigail, newspaper clippings, old passports and some rather curious coded messages.
No detail is spared and everything in the box felt genuine and handmade. What follows is a deep dive into the 1970s tracking down the movements of the young girl as she uncovered secrets of her own family intertwined with the fate of the town. It’s hard not to give anything away, but this game will take you into the heart of the Cold War with some surprising twists of fate.
Crack the Codes, Crack the Case
In terms of puzzles, The Vandermist Dossier has enough content to last between 1 – 2 hours and felt really well balanced the whole way through. The game is clear on where to start and each subsequent piece of evidence has breadcrumbs to lead to the next, and the next, and so on.
It’s also fairly clear which existed in the original game, with a few translations to make them flow more easily in English, and a fair few more which felt fresh. There were two in particular which I couldn’t believe would work… But they did! All in all this game is full of surprises to delight players: A few things I’d never seen before, a few moments of hunting through documents and squinting really hard and a few ciphers I thought I recognised but still managed to say “wow” at.
Overall, in terms of difficulty I’d rate this one as comfortably challenging. As a team of just one, I used a few hints here and there to keep me on track and confirm what I thought I knew already… But better yet if you have any additional players you can bring into the mystery and help bounce ideas and puzzle solutions around!
If you want to make the most out of your copy of The Vandermist Dossier, wait until an overcast evening, brew a strong cup of tea (or a tipple of your choice), and invite a close knit team of your best investigator friends. Since the story centres around two sisters, it would also make a lovely collaborative story to unfold with a close sibling of your own. But since mine is 11 and far more interested in Minecraft, solo play works fantastically too!
“Alexa, what are some synonyms for incredible?”
But seriously, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed The Vandermist Dossier. It ticks a lot of boxes for me personally: The Cold War… And even colder cases! Espionage, Missing Persons, European Small Towns… All packaged in a really neat and high quality box you could complete in an afternoon. The best part? There are two more boxes in this trilogy to come!
What I love the most is how much passion the creators have brought to the project. It’s a labour of love and the culmination of many people who love what they do! Many times when playing “boxed escape rooms” I’m delighted to find one or two keepsakes, such as a cute cipher wheel or a lovely coin. Every single item in The Vandermist Dossier I’d like to take out and frame… Beginning with the hand drawn map and the vintage feeling newspaper.
Back The Vandermist Dossier on Kickstarter
If you want to support Ruud and Tristan to bring The Vandermist Dossier to life further, you can back them on Kickstarter from last September. At the time of writing, a whole month before the launch of the Kickstarter, I have a beautifully high quality copy of the game in my hand. Whilst there may be a few production tweaks between now and fulfilment, this game is gorgeous and it’s ready to go. With such an enthusiastic creator team, it’s sure to be a fun Kickstarter.