The Detective Society: Trouble in Folklore Falls 1 | Review

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Trouble in Folklore Falls Review | Discover the darker side to your favourite folklore characters as you work with the ‘big bad’ wolf to crack the case, in this interactive boxed mystery. A story filled with twists, turns and some laughs thrown in for good measure. A play-at-home mystery adventure, perfect for date-nights, team building, board gamers, crime solvers, mystery fans and everyone in who loves a good mystery story!

Completion Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Date Played: 18/03/2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

 

 

I think I was one of the only play at home mystery game fans who hadn’t experienced The Detective Society, so when Trouble at Folklore Falls landed on my doorstep I was excited to rip it (gently) open. First impressions were positive, the envelope itself was really high quality and the materials provided have been successfully designed to immerse you in the story. We’re talking flyers, newspapers, notes, food packaging – all of which are so professionally made. Please see the photo below, but note – I haven’t included all of the contents in photos to ensure no spoilers!

 

 

The story itself is based on characters from folklore, with favourites such as Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and Humpty Dumpty all under suspicion of kidnapping the community’s beloved pets. Here at The Escape Roomer, we love our pets very, very much. How could they?!

It’s our job to use the evidence provided to compile a suspect list, and deduct who is behind the crimes in Folklore Falls.

 

A trustworthy narrator?

Our guide through the investigation is none other than the Big Bad Wolf, who keeps in regular contact via SMS, email, radio and telephone calls. In fact, this is the best example of using automated communication I’ve experienced. It’s been really cleverly designed so we can speak to suspects, and the most impressive part came in a phone call where what we specifically said dictated different responses from the character.

 

A Puzzling Mystery

The main puzzles you will experience in Trouble in Folklore Falls are logic based. Who was where at what time, and could they have committed a crime? That’s not all though, there are word searches, hidden messages to decipher, fold and cut style puzzles, passwords to hack and podcast episodes to analyse. A little bit of everything to suit all different types of puzzlers, held together with a strong logic puzzle.

This feels like it might be the first Detective Society game where you could get your kids involved. Previous mysteries have been based on more adult themes, and although there may be references for the grown ups only I can see a young adult audience enjoying the puzzles, hearing from familiar characters and really appreciating the experience.

 

A game to keep you guessing until the last moment…

The storyline is brilliant, and keeps you guessing the entire time. You’re never quite sure who to trust, but you’re provided with a great evidence form for note taking. What I particularly enjoyed was that once you’d figured out the suspect, the game wasn’t over. You are directed towards more puzzles to solve and an exciting ending which of course, leads you towards episode two.

The jokes are a particular strong point, though be warned you’ll be cringing!

 

 

The Verdict

This is one of the best play at home mysteries I’ve ever played. The attention to detail is incredible, the mix of media and physical evidence means you’re constantly entertained, the storyline is the perfect mix of crime and humour – I could go on and on.

At the time of writing there are currently 4 available mysteries to solve and the reviews have been brilliant across the board. Trouble in Folklore Falls has done it again, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to finish this case and try the others.

If you want to get started with Trouble in Folklore Falls yourself, head to The Detective Society’s website here.

 

Unsolved Science: Case 01 The Object | Review

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Case 01: The Object Review | Unsolved Science is a challenging cooperative tabletop mystery game for 1-4 players. But instead of locks and puzzles, in this mystery, science IS the game mechanic.
Perform real experiments. Analyze weird data. Become the scientist to figure out why a mysterious object could spell disaster for the world.

Completion Time: 2hr
Date Played: 20th January 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

I was so exited when this game arrived on my doorstep. I’m by no means a science expert, but the idea of performing experiments and analysing data is completely my jam. Then mix that with solving a mystery?! Hand me a white coat and goggles because I’m ready to play.

The Unboxing

This game has clearly been made with a passion for making science fun at it’s heart. The materials are of a really high quality, and allow you to become immersed in the story as though you are receiving components directly from the Planetary Protection Strategy Service. We get a letter, name badges (with space for achievement stickers), a progress tracker, an evidence board, 3 yellow investigation envelopes, an answer envelope and most excitingly, a mysterious object!

Once all the materials have been laid out and we’ve found 4 small clear containers from the cupboard (finally a use for our leftover Gu indulgences), we open the letter to reveal our mission. A mysterious object has fallen into the hands of a questionable intelligence organisation, and they believe it could change the world. But can they be trusted? It’s up to us to uncover the secrets of their puzzling discovery.

Let the Experiments Begin

Using both the instructions and the progress board, the order in which you need to perform the experiments and analyse the data is made really clear which I appreciated. Within each envelope are several experiments, designed to gradually reveal information and test your ever growing knowledge as you progress. You track your findings on the evidence board, which is really useful for remembering the wave of new facts you’re learning, and to refer back to later in the game.

The experiments are a mix of physical tasks and observations as well as analysing a range of photos, charts and various media found online. There’s no need to navigate away from any of the online materials provided, Unsolved Science have created an online portal of information where you can search for key words to help as part of your investigation. I’d really encourage you to use this regardless of your scientific knowledge, as it’s essential in discovering the true nature of the mysterious object.

We really enjoyed the wide range of experiments provided, and found it was a lot closer to solving puzzles than we expected. Asking ourselves why certain patterns or differences were occurring required logic and reason, and discovering the answer was just as satisfying as unlocking a padlock!

Dig Deep

The key to solving the mystery of the game is to answer a number of important questions correctly to unlock the best ending online. These questions ask you to dig deep, and take a good look at the evidence you’ve acquired to find the right solution. They are each assigned a difficulty level which gives you a good indication of how much information you need to answer it. We found we didn’t answer the hardest difficulty questions until the very end of the game, so don’t worry if you feel behind at any point, the a-ha moments will come!

If you’re feeling stuck, there is an excellent clue system provided with three levels of hints to help you on your way. There is also an answers envelope, which you can compare your findings to but which will not reveal the answers to the dig deep questions.

But what is the Mysterious Object?!

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you. But I really enjoyed the story behind this game, and I’d like to know what happens next! I don’t know if any follow up games will be a continuation of this story, but the ending certainly left me wanting more.

The Verdict

We absolutely loved playing The Object and found it to be the perfect balance of scientific discovery, fun and mystery. Don’t be fooled into thinking science experiment kits are just for kids, this game is designed primarily for adults and we had an absolute blast while discovering facts we didn’t know before. Unsolved Science have created a unique, exciting new addition to add to the tabletop mystery game community and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. We’ve also chosen to award it the special “Wow Award” for being an especially innovative game!

The Unsolved Science Kickstarter

If you’re interested in playing Unsolved Science’s Case 01, the game will be available in early 2022 via Kickstarter. You can sign up for news and updates by heading to Unsolved Science’s website here.

Hourglass Escapes: NOVA | Review

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Hourglass Escapes NOVA Review | Greetings, crew. Our mission is in great danger. An asteroid storm has disabled our ship–but worse, it damaged the automated drop ship that was delivering the Nova seed. The Nova Seed is needed to terraform Khepri 5, the future home planet of what’s left of humanity! Work together to restore power to your vessel, find the crashed Nova drop ship, and deliver the seed!

Completion Time: 22 minutes
Date Played: 10th February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easy

Hourglass Escapes across the pond in Seattle is one of those companies I will literally never stop recommending. From their consistently high quality digital games, to how much fun we have with our host (usually the owner Seth) each time. Their Evil Dead 2 room was easily one of our highlights of 2021!

So whenever we hear that Hourglass Escape is releasing a new game, you bet we’re first in the virtual queue!

This month the Hourglass Escapes team announced a new ‘play any time’ sci-fi game game: NOVA. In a similar vein to The Navigators and the Call From Beyond, up to 6 players all log on and are immediately transported across the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Our mission, simple! We’re here to rescue the legendary Nova Seed needed to terraform humanity’s new planet. So err, no pressure!

Let’s go where no man has gone before…

Disclaimer, I am a huge sci-fi fan. There’s a reason my username is mairispaceship (that reason being that at the age of 7 I accidentally legally gave myself the middle name “spaceship” but that’s a story for another time). But for this sci-fi loving reason, I’m a big fan of the story of NOVA. It’s probably my favourite thing about the game.

Not a lot of details are given. All we really know is that it’s set in the far future on a spaceship that’s in peril. Cut to sweeping views of your shuttle ship which looks like a cross between The Expanse and Star Trek, and it well and truly affirms your place in the great unknown universe.

Impressive Production Value

I don’t know why on Earth I’m surprised given their track record, but let me just say it again: NOVA had an incredible production value! It was almost like they’d built an entire spaceship from scratch complete with many rooms, hidden passages, and beautiful sweeping views of the cosmos. Walking around- or rather, pointing and clicking in the handy Telescape platform– felt much more like we were playing a multiplayer video game than playing a simple, browser-based escape room.

As a video game designer for my day job – I appreciate that a lot! But it’s also great to see how much love and care the designers have put into the world building. Kudos!

On the topic of ‘Telescape’, the in-browser technology has improved since we last played another point-and-click at Hourglass Escapes. This time our video chat was inbuilt into the system (hooray! No more Facebook or WhatsApp calls in the background!). This ‘Jitsi’ plugin meant that we could see each other and hear each other from within the browser at all times.

One Small Step For Man…

In terms of puzzles, we found NOVA to be quite easy. According to the playtesting, most teams take around 60 minutes to complete, with enthusiast groups coming in around 40.

*pause*

We took 22 minutes!

But I can explain – NOVA is a very non-linear, collaborative game. In each new area you reach there are a number of panels and screens dotted around, each with their own puzzle. With our team of 4 we immediately got into a rhythm of splitting up and solving in parallel. So whereas a room with 4 unique puzzles may easily take 20 minutes (5 minutes each or more), we all solved about one each and raced through each room in no time.

The flip side to that was that we didn’t all experience the same puzzles, which is a downside because the ones I did were a lot of fun and what can I say? I want more!

Each of the puzzles I did encounter all felt very mimetic in the sci-fi universe they’ve created. In short, exactly the kinds of things you would be expected to do on a space ship. Reading radio wave read outs, flicking switches and rewiring the hardware, analysing chemicals, and so on. Nothing challenged us for more than a minute or two and overall – the whole thing felt fun to solve! So no complaints on the difficulty here.

The Verdict

NOVA is another really solid game from Hourglass Escapes and one I’ll definitely be recommending. It’s probably not my favourite game from the company. No, that award goes to Rise of the Mad Pharaoh, but it’s still an all round fun experience with a lot of snazzy graphics and unique puzzles. Those puzzles probably won’t challenge a larger team, but for a beginner room it’s spot on, so definitely one to introduce to your Puggle (puzzle muggle) friends.

NOVA can be purchased and played at any time from Hourglass Escape’s website here.

Scarlet Envelope: Tale of a Golden Dragon | Review

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Tale of a Golden Dragon Review | One upon a time in the Kingdom of Severin, the legendary Golden Firedragon escapes the Castle and beats a path of destruction across the countryside. Terrified, the Royals announce a reward for saving their Kingdom, with one condition – the hero should use their head and not their sword! Expect the ironic Medieval fairytale with the DND style of writing, custom illustrations, and, of course, puzzles!

Completion Time: 1hr
Date Played: 23rd January 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

*cue Game of Thrones music*

Dun dun, d-d-dun dun, d-d-doooooo!

After polishing off Chapter 6: Screaming Venice Art Heist with a cheeky break for lunch, Bianca and I were ready to tackle the next game in the series: Tale of a Golden Dragon. The previous game had been quite difficult, so the more gentler paced narrative-driven chapter that followed was a welcome break. Less like a pure puzzle game, and more like an immersive fantasy story… With puzzles! Tale of a Golden Dragon was certainly different.

This chapter was quite unlike any other play-at-home escape game we’ve played, and honestly – the whole subscription is worth it just to play this one chapter. Scarlet Envelope have had 6 chapters to hone and polish their craft and by gosh they’ve done it. I don’t know how it’s possible for a game to still be this refreshing and delightful, but here it is! Hey!

Once Upon a Time in Severin

Tale of a Golden Dragon is your classic fantasy story. Somewhere between Game of Thrones (which I’ve never read), The Witcher (also never read) and Lord of the Rings (which I have devoured like a goblin who had just escaped from a 1,00 year long stay dungeon without books). My point being, I’m no expert in high fantasy, but I recognise it when I see it and this game has it all: Dragons, Witches, Kings and Queens, Legends and so on.

The story in this game follows a King and Queen who decide to raise a dragon all by themselves. Unfortunately this dragon, like any surly teenager, is completely out of control. Your goal is to bring the dragon back into the fold without killing it. Easier said than done, but along your adventure you’ll encounter a host of curious characters to help you.

There was a Bustling Kingdom

There are two things this game does really well. Firstly, those very same characters! Just like a rich RPG game each character has a back story and an amusing personality. From a very drunk wizard, to a chipper dragon trainer who lives several kingdoms across, to two puzzle creators we stumbled across by accident who live in the woods. *cough cough*

Great character design is nothing new to Scarlet Envelope though, from the astronauts in Distress Call from Outer Space, to the staff at Stanley’s Diner, the creators write good characters. Really good characters.

The second thing I loved about this game was the map. Early on in your envelope you’re given a map with co-ordinates dotted all around it. To help you get around the kingdom quickly you’re given a chauffeur- I mean, a dragon rider to courier you around. You can instruct the rider too take you anywhere in the kingdom at any time. Some of the things you encounter will be relevant to the plot, and others will be fun Easter Eggs for the explorers among us. It’s a lot of fun to know you can go anywhere and do anything, and it made the game feel much more like a video game or a Dungeons and Dragons session than a envelope-based puzzle game. For that I’m seriously impressed!

In our playthrough we discovered a lot of fantastic Easter Eggs on the map – so my advice to anyone playing this would be to definitely go back and try to find more! You never know where you might end up.

And a Mystery to be Solved

In terms of puzzles, it’s hard not to compare this game to the previous Screaming Venice Art Heist, purely because we played both one after the other. For that reason I would say this game was a lot easier. Still enjoyably challenging, but no big jumps of logic and no puzzles we needed to use any hints for.

As well as figuring out where to go next, each new location had a brand new puzzle to be solved. In particular, one puzzle stood out as absolutely brilliant fun – a mini game I remember from my childhood, a cross between a rotadraw and a spirograph which was used delightfully. I’d even go so far as to say it’s a puzzle I’ve never ever encountered in a play at home escape game before and I can’t think why not. It’s brilliant!

There was also the usual enjoyable word puzzles, and a few fun logic and slight mathematical ones I’ve come to love and enjoy about Scarlet Envelope. I don’t want to say too much about the puzzles since that would be spoiler territory, so I’ll just leave it by saying we’ve decided to award Tale of the Golden Dragon a very special “Puzzle Prize” badge for particularly satisfying puzzles. In fact, it’s the very first badge of it’s kind we’ve awarded here on The Escape Roomer, so props to Scarlet Envelope for making such a memorably fun puzzle game!

Side Quests

But puzzles, plot and fantasy aside – here are a few additional things we absolutely loved (and thought could possibly be improved) about the experience.

Firstly: THE MUSIC! So full disclaimer, I almost never listen to the playlist Scarlet Envelope provides. Call me old fashioned but I like to do my puzzles in silence… That sounds weird. Probably is hey. But today with Bianca playing along with me, we decided to put on the playlist. The soundtrack that accompanies Tale of a Golden Dragon was, to put it simply: brilliant! From Lord of the Rings Dwarven chants, to Toss a Coin to your Witcher, I found myself singing along on more than one occasion.

So a word of advice – definitely don’t skip this playlist!

The second thing of note was the voice acting. With a lot of text to read in the more narrative parts of the game, we found that some pages were fully voice acted and others were not. Those that were, were fantastic. But I definitely felt like the whole thing should have been voice acted.

(As a side note myself + my VA-in-training partner volunteer our free labour if the creators would like any British accents in the game!)

The lack of, or partial voice acting wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I can imagine that with a larger group of people, pausing to read each page (in your head or out loud) could be tricky. I’m unsure whether the creators plan to continue adding more actors into the game to provide an audio alternative to written text, but it’s something we’d love to see more of because we loved it!

The Verdict

In a nutshell, we loved Tale of a Golden Dragon. It could well go down as my favourite game of 2022 and makes the whole subscription worth it. If Scarlet Envelope decide to set all future games in the Kingdom of Severin, I’ll be very happy!

*cough cough* Fantasy spin off… Anyone?

From the brilliant writing, to characters, to voice acting, and some of the most enjoyable puzzles I’ve ever had the pleasure of solving… Tale of a Golden Dragon is an almost flawless play-at-home envelope game in my opinion.

You can subscribe to Scarlet Envelope by heading to their website here.

Society of Curiosities: The Glasshouse Ghost | Review

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The Glasshouse Ghost Review | Investigate the strange events at the Winchester Mystery House and solve the case of The Glasshouse Ghost! You can start your mission right away! This game can be played completely online.

Completion Time: 35 minutes
Date Played: 8th January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Our first play-at-home escape room of 2022 goes to Society of Curiosities’ exciting new release: The Glasshouse Ghost. And hey, it’s good to be back playing with Escaping the Closet and our friend Tasha. If this game teases anything for what the landscape of escape games will look like in 2022, then Society of Curiosities have set the bar very high. Every time I think I’ve seen it all in at-home escape rooms, something delightful comes along and surprises me! The Glasshouse Ghost is one of those games. Narrative driven, deductive puzzles, and talking to ghosts via mysterious radio waves – spooky!

The Haunting of Winchester Mystery House

The story of The Glasshouse Ghost follows you, an intrepid team of ghost-hunters, sent in to the Winchester Mystery House – which is a very real place – to find out what is going on. You’re greeted at the start of the game by Taylor, the historian at the Winchester Mystery House. This is of course a chatbot, but in the moment it’s thoroughly immersive and feels like you’re speaking with a real person.

Taylor explains that during recent construction works, secret documents and hidden compartments were found. But with uncovered secrets, come restless spirits. Surely the construction cannot continue until the ghosts are found, identified, and exorcised- wait, that’s probably too strong of a word. In any case, the ghosts need to go.

Remember… Ghosts are all about unfinished business!

But fear not – you’re not alone on your ghost-hunting adventure! Through a straightforward, top-down desk interface, you have access to a number of documents, your in-game mobile phone and most importantly… A radio!

The aim of the game is to find the following:

  1. The name of the ghost?
  2. What happened to them?
  3. What do they want now?

As we discovered each new item within the house – a myriad of exciting documents like photographs, letters, and scribbled notebook entries – our page would update with the new document. Ever the trigger happy one of the group, I spent a lot of time tuning into various radio stations. Occasionally we would find static, but sometimes I would encounter music too. A correct answer gives the correct radio station where the invisible hand of the ghost would guide the words to form a sentence – a little like watching an episode of Buzzfeed Unsolved.

…But in ghost hunting, it’s not quite as simple as ‘input a correct answer’. No, one of the best things about The Glasshouse Ghost was the nuance and subtlety. For starters, the chatbot takes a wide variety of inputs and responds very humanly to them. At no point during the game did we feel like we were just solving puzzle after puzzle – no, we were detectives!

The Glasshouse Ghost takes you on a journey via a winding narrative that has twists and turns and of course, plenty of puzzles along the way. It’s refreshing and entertaining.

Things that go ‘bump’ in the night

One thing to note is that The Glasshouse Ghost does require audio. So don’t be like me and show up to game night without headphones! If you opt to play together via Zoom, you will need to have your PC volume up (to the maximum to catch some of the subtler noises) which doesn’t lend itself to talking out loud. It’s a fine line to balance – but in this particular play through I made do by muting my browser for most of the time, then unmuting it when I needed to follow along with a puzzle.

There are a number of sound-related puzzles in the puzzle, including but not limited to listening for clues, tapping, musical notes, and tests of how well you were listening! For the dialogue, the game offers a written transcript after any major dialogue is spoken. You can get by with the transcript, but for the best experience, listen to everything!

The other thing to note is that if you are playing via Zoom or another video message service, each player will need to input their own codes on their own screen – the game does not automatically update for everyone. This also meant that throughout our four players we all received a different score at the end of the game. Since I spent an embarrassingly long time trying different radio stations and talking nonsense to Taylor, I received the lowest score. The conclusion I draw is that the game will penalise for incorrect answers… That or the ghosts just weren’t very happy with me!

But despite these two small warnings about the tech, The Glasshouse Ghost otherwise ran perfectly well. We played a couple of days before public release – so expected to encounter a few hiccups, but instead had a smooth experience from start to finish.

The Verdict

Overall, we had a lot of fun with The Glasshouse Ghost. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a game like this, but it didn’t disappoint. As we wove our way through the different spaces and uncovered more secrets, a story slowly unfolded in front of us. Everything felt natural and realistic, the back and forth between you and your guide, and the sensitive history we engaged with.

I can’t help but feel like The Glasshouse Ghost is packed with many more secrets we didn’t yet find – and that’s a really exciting feeling. I actually kinda want to play it again. I want to try more radio stations, and I want to spend more time in the Winchester Mystery House trying different things and poking into dark corners.

Society of Curiosities have created something really special. It’s hard to call it a ‘hidden gem’ because it’s no secret this US-based company is one of the most consistently brilliant escape room creators out there – but over here in the UK we were surprised and delighted by what we found within the walls of the Winchester Mystery House. We’re looking forward to (hopefully) future installations!

The Glasshouse Ghost can be played by heading to Society of Curiosity’s website here.

Play Dead London: The Elf Who Stole Christmas | Review

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The Elf Who Stole Christmas Review | In the run up to Christmas, Santa’s workshop is in chaos! There’s so much to do and to make matters worse… SOMEONE has stolen Santa’s Naughty and Nice List! Can you solve the mystery and work out which Elf it was?! This family friendly mystery will be great fun and a way of our detectives young and old to test their interrogation skills!

Date Played: November 2021
Time Taken: 60 minutes
Number of Players: 1 (with 12 random online strangers!)
Difficulty: Easy-Medium

Who, who, who not Ho Ho Ho!

I’ll start this review of with a bit of a disclaimer! – I have never actually played an online zoom “murder mystery” style game before, so had no idea what to expect. When I say I was blown away, I mean I really was BLOWN AWAY!

First thing to mention is the storyline; a really simple affair – someone has stolen Santa’s Naughty and Nice List. It is for you and your team of detectives to work out who did it! Now, Line of Duty this isn’t BUT it pitches perfectly at the target audience – families, work get togethers etc. You don’t want something too taxing – this storyline certainly made the whole thing massively fun!

A photo of the cast pre-lockdown!

So, “how does it work?!” I hear you cry

Simple! You and your team will each be given a specific Zoom login via email which will take you directly to Santa’s grotto in the North Pole. (Ok, well maybe not his actual grotto, but the Zoom backgrounds looked fantastic!). Here you will be joined by Detective Sleigh Bells who will assist you on your mystery!

Detective Sleigh Bells is on hand throughout the game to give you subtle hints to the identity of the culprit and provide additional evidence which has been supplied as you get into the depths of this ever-evolving mystery. The awesome actor who plays Detective Sleigh Bells certainly has a challenge on her hands in being able to manage the game, the numerous players (I believe I was playing with 12 other strangers!), plus the team of naughty elves, who are our suspects! She done an amazing job in juggling all this at the same time plus staying in character.

The Naughty Elves – I Tip My Hat To You!

Speaking of staying in character, this is where the game excels! How the ladies managed to carry this out was beyond me, however you are also joined by a team of naughty elves within your zoom call. Each has a very unique personality and specific job role within the North Pole (I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you their names, but needless to say, they are just as creative as the rest of the game!).

Evidence is mainly provided by Detective Sleigh Bells within the main forum of the game, however cleverly, the Zoom chat is then taken into breakout sessions where you have direct conversation with the elves and have the chance to really interrogate them about their whereabouts, their relationships and their roles. Each actor was phenomenal in staying wholly in character (despite my best efforts to put them off, or tell silly jokes to take them off their stride!). Even though the game is aimed on the humorous side, this hasn’t affected the depth of each individual characters back story – and their improv game was off the scale! Quick wit, on point, clearly not scripted, I tip my hat to each of these ladies in being able to make comedy characters fully believable and allow me to spend an hour just generally being silly and forgetting about the world!

There’s no need to be a Sherlock!

Of course, in spite of this being a comedic online adventure, you still do have to pay attention to what is going on! There are subtle hints here and there which you should jot down in case you need them to build up your case. You certainly don’t need to be the next Sherlock Holmes however! The evidence is quirky, including some cool audio and visual clues, the occasion sing song (which clearly I sung at the top of my lungs!), however make sure to listen closely when discussing directly with the elves. The massive benefit of playing as a large team (even though I knew no one I was playing with), is that you all build up your file of evidence and then collectively come up with your final suspect. There’s no pressure to succeed but you’ll certainly be fully invested after just five minutes of playing this game!

Sooooo much fun!

I’m often sceptical about things that portray themselves to be “humorous or hilarious” but this game certainly succeeded! I’m never the best on video chats, and despite having almost 2 years of non-stop video chats at my office, I’ve always found myself to be a little self-conscious in front of the camera – not here however! Within minutes, I was happily talking to the other players, liaising with the detective and the elves and generally having an absolutely fabulous time. At no point did I feel embarrassed and I came away from playing the game with a massive smile on my face.

Our game finale was suitably fun and we were pitched off into breakout rooms to divulge our evidence before coming all back together to present it, and acknowledge who we felt was the culprit. And between us, I’m happy to say – we succeeded!

There are very few games that I have played within the last three years of reviewing, that leave a lasting impression. This however is one of them. A proper murder-mystery style game, with a brilliant level of immersion, impressive acting, some cool tech elements with audio and visuals and generally just an overwhelming level of fun. I’d urge families, friends and work colleagues to all come together to play this game. It gave me the festive cheer I didn’t realise I was missing!

To book this experience and see what other experiences Play Dead London are running, head to Design My Night

Ratings

Key Enigma: The Butterfly Curse | Review

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Key Enigma: The Butterfly Curse Review | The legend tells that certain people who are blessed with the gift of deciphering and solving the most complex puzzles descend from dark pacts of blood. But now, an evil curse hangs over their shoulders, one that is taking the life of more than a hundred people. 

The Butterfly Curse” is an original horror escape game that mixes physical and digital puzzles with dark narrative to immerse you in a such terrifying experience that it may be impossible for you to distinguish reality from fiction.

Completion Time: 3 hours
Date Played: 28th November 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Challenging

Welp… Definitely a game for a dark night!

We sat down on an extremely snowy afternoon to try out Key Enigma’s game, ‘The Butterfly Curse’. After Mairi had warned us that word on the street was that The Butterfly Curse was a real ‘scary’ play at home game, we were very excited to see what we would find within the ominous red envelope!

It had a number of “ah-ha” moments as you always want to see in an escape game, but The Butterfly Curse was also markedly different. There were also a number of ‘AHHHH’ moments, especially when we finally got around to opening that sealed envelope. Al was watching the screen through her fingers at some points, and insisted that we turn the volume down after being made to jump off her seat (on more than one occasion).

Before we started playing this game, Ash already had a fear of butterflies… Turns out, she might have been on to something!

Just your average, friendly BuzzFeed quiz…right?

We’ve all sat and played the classic online quizzes, wondering which Friends character we would be, or which Disney princess we would marry, but we can’t say we’ve ever done an online quiz quite like the one that welcomed us into The Butterfly Curse. It started off so normal… Until everything seemed to go terribly, terribly wrong! We were so impressed at what Key Enigma have managed to create – it is easily one of the most immersive web elements of a play at home game that we have had the pleasure of using.

The introduction was perfectly pitched – it was scary, the puzzles ranged in difficulty, and the general preface of the story was set up so well. We were very excited (read: Al was scared) to see where our journey would take us.

A word of advice: Definitely make sure you play the introduction first – it’s well worth it!

Image (c) Key Enigma

Your run of the mill friendly internet stranger

We soon got our heads stuck into the game, after finding out that we had been cursed by Farglos(!) (which Al kept reading as Fergus lol), to see if we could make it out alive. You are taken in by a helpful internet stranger, who becomes your guide for the rest of the game. The game functions through an online portal, as you solve puzzles using physical components, plus information that you find on the in-game website.

This combination worked really well as you were guided nicely through each step, making it clear which puzzle was next, and what to use when. We really liked this, as it stopped us getting super distracted by exciting items we found in the envelope, which we wouldn’t actually use until about 5 puzzles in. We had to use the hint system a couple of times to get some nudges (Al does not perform well under fear). Luckily, the clue system is set up nicely to give you a few hints before offering the full solution (useful if you really are paralysed with fear – or if you bang your head falling off your chair from a jump scare – looking @ u Mairi).

Welp x2 – what an ending!

The game finishes on an excellent climax, producing one of the most ‘thrilling’ final envelope openings of any game we have played. We had been looking at the mysterious ‘do not open’ envelope throughout our play, wondering what on earth was inside, and whether it would save us from an eternity of being Farglos’ slaves…

No spoilers – but everyone should play the game just for the ending. It was high tension, high drama, and Key Enigma have done really well to re-create the ‘buzz’ of that final puzzle of a real-life escape room. Anyone who has played this will know what we are talking about!

Overall – this was a wonderful game, with clever tricks and turns. Turn off your lights, close the curtains, and hope for the best when you eventually open your sealed envelope…

You can buy The Butterfly Curse here:
https://keyenigma.com/products/horror-escape-room-the-butterfly-curse.

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Swamp Motel: The Drop | Review

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At the centre of London’s criminal underworld lies a centuries-old secret. In 1912, two Bloomsbury bookbinders created a luxurious jewelled binding for a book that became known as The Great Omar. Hugely valuable, the book found a buyer and was packed safely aboard a boat bound for New York. On the 15th of April 1912 the HMS Titanic sank, leaving the book forever lost at sea. Its secrets were never recovered.

Until now. In an unassuming building in London, a sea of secrets is waiting to be revealed. Enter a hidden world as you descend into the dark underbelly of international crime and prepare yourselves to face The Drop.

Will you beat the villain, or become one?

Completion Time: ~ 90 minutes
Date Played: 10th November 2021
Party Size: 4

About one in every ten articles I write, I find myself writing then deleting and re-writing the opening lines over and over. Trying to explain how amazing Swamp Motel’s latest immersive experience “The Drop” is one of those times. I mean, where do we even begin?

In an exciting race against the clock, The Drop transports players to the criminal underworld of London in search of a long lost and highly valuable book. For those 90 minutes, we were the stars in our own action thrilled drama and my heart didn’t stop pounding once. The Drop is an experience like no other and if you’re fans of escape-room type immersivity, it’s unmissable.

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

Introducing Swamp Motel

Swamp Motel is an award-winning immersive theatre company, best known for creating Plymouth Point, The Mermaid’s Tongue, The Kindling Hour – now known collectively as the Isklander Trilogy. Most recently the team was also involved in creating Panic: The Experience in collaboration with Amazon Prime. The Drop marks a departure from their at-home genre however, with it’s first live, in-person experience since lockdown.

Located at 55 Aldgate High Street, The Drop takes place in an unassuming office building owned by ‘Hopkins Stearne’ – oh hey, I recognise that name from Isklander! We knew we were in for a treat.

What to Expect in The Drop

The Drop takes place in small intimate teams of 2 – 4 players and is strictly limited to 20 sessions per day. It’s somewhere between playing an escape room, experiencing live immersive theatre, and starring in the latest James Bond film. In my case, a shorter, rounder, blue haired James Bond – but let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and run with it.

Players arrive at the mysterious Hopkins Stearne offices, are greeted by the receptionist, and then told to head into the lift and up to Floor 3. It’s very hard to tell where your game begins (or ends, for that matter) but it’s all part of the immersive world Swamp Motel have created to feel a little lost and apprehensive.

So let’s address the elephant in the room: Lifts. If the trailer weren’t a giveaway, The Drop largely takes place inside a lift. Or an elevator, for our American audience. If you are claustrophobic there is a safe word, but one thing that is important to keep in mind is that The Drop is just a game and as realistic as it may seem, you aren’t in any danger.

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

What followed was 90 minutes of a whirlwind adventure that took us through several jaw-dropping physical spaces. To me, the highlight of the experience was how much attention to detail went into each set. Swamp Motel take blurring the boundaries of what is real and what is fiction very seriously, and this is no more evident than in the spaces they create.

At times the story was a little hazy. It’s easy to forget why you were there or who each character was. But I think that’s a natural sacrifice of having a fast-paced game: sometimes those small jigsaw pieces which come together to make a whole picture at the end are lost in the noise.

But if you are narrative driven, then keep in mind that your quest is to retrieve the book of The Great Omar, assumed lost to sea in 1912 when the HMS Titanic sank. The catchy tag line of the experience is “Will you beat the villain, or become one?” which perfectly sets the stage for the shady, criminal underbelly you’ll encounter. After all, sometimes the best way to beat a villain is to become one yourself!

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

“Not gonna lie I’m a little bit stressed…”

In terms of the puzzles, they were a little on the easier side and largely weighted towards the beginning of the experience. That said, being on the ‘easier’ side is no criticism and worked really well for a fast-paced experience like this. In each unique area there was at least one puzzle to be solved, not to mention the brilliant meta puzzle of cracking the whole case and figuring out what is going on.

Whilst we don’t want to spoil anything for any players, we will mention that these puzzles felt right at home in an escape room but had the added benefit of being extra mimetic – meaning they weren’t solving codes for the sake of it, everything made sense in the universe.

Thankfully, in case you get stuck, you have a near constant line of communication between various live actors and Swamp Motel staff who take a Games Master role in co-ordinating the experience and nudging teams along who may be struggling. Compared to escape rooms where phones are not allowed in the room, The Drop actually requires you to have fully charged phones – you’ll need them!

In one moment involving a text-chat, an “Are you okay?” message popped through. By this point most our the group were occupied with solving puzzles or trying not to get killed. So the most calm and collected in our group coolly typed back his response:

“yeah I’m not gonna lie I’m a little stressed”

In hindsight, I think that completely sums up the entire The Drop experience. From start to finish there’s no relief from the action. You’re on your toes and moving fast – and we loved every second of it!

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

The Verdict

To reveal too much more about the game would take away from the amazing experience. Expect the unexpected – The Drop is packed with twists and turns and some brilliant reveals. So what we’ve mentioned in this review is just a part – and a small part at that – of what you can expect when you play.

After the game we were very lucky to be invited to the press reception where we got a chance to talk to the creators of the show. It made me realise that they had a huge vision in mind when they put the experience together, and really pushed the boundaries on what is possible in a live immersive experience.

Tickets to The Drop are £39.95 and the game runs from now until December 31st, 2021. With such a limited number of spaces, you’ll regret it if you miss it! Be sure to book The Drop quickly before it sells out!

The Drop can be booked on www.thedropexperience.co.uk

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Fast Familiar: The Curse of the Burial Dagger | Review

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The Curse of the Burial Dagger Review | When everyone is a suspect, and a killer is on the loose, is anybody safe? A mansion near Dundee, 1923. Susie Sato finds herself investigating a murder when her great-uncle and host Lord Hamilton is found dead in his private museum, an ancient Egyptian burial dagger protruding from his back. Could it be the curse of the dagger, an object Lord Hamilton was warned not to remove from the tomb? Or could something else have caused his death?

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 20th October 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Narrative Driven (aka easy-ish)

Fast Familiar are one of those ‘experience creators’ who I have all notifications switched on for. When they create a new game – whatever it looks like – I’m first in line in the metaphorical queue at midnight to get my hands on it. The Curse of the Burial Dagger was no different. Even though it’s not quite an escape room (technically it is a forensic science game), it’s got buckets of that light hearted comedy, fun puzzles, and rich diverse characters I come to expect of all Fast Familiar games. It’s also been developed in collaboration with the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science. Meaning, it’s also educational.

How quickly can I press play?! Will I be judged if I play twice, or even three times?

Another huge fan of the Fast Familiar series, Rebecca and I teamed up together to take on the new, murder mystery challenge on a Wednesday evening in October where the stars were out outside and murder was afoot within!

An Introduction to Forensic Science

Our main character, the lovable Suzie Sato (who I may have a slight crush on) is a forensic science student. In this adventure, she’s walked right into a murder scene – the perfect opportunity to put her skills to the test! This is where you, the players come in. Suzie talks directly to the camera in a series of graphic novel style panels and its up to you, the players, to draw conclusions from the evidence presented and the interviews she conducts.

This is what I mean when I say it’s not exactly an escape game. No, this is a visual novel game which is occasionally broken up with a puzzle or two, and at the end you must make a judgement on who you think the killer truly is. There are two things you want to watch out for when solving this game:

  • What the characters say – hidden among the jokes and humorous encounters are some real nuggets of truth. Who said they were where, when, and why?
  • The conclusions from the scientific and mathematical puzzles you solve with Suzie. What do they really tell you about the scene?

Science is Fun

In terms of those mathematical and scientific puzzles, these are rooted in real life forensic science techniques, and players can expect to grapple with a number of styles including mathematical puzzles, chromatography puzzles, fingerprint analysis, and so on. There are also more ‘traditional’ escape room style puzzles, including jigsaws and spot the difference and cross-referencing data.

Since The Curse of the Burial Dagger is recommended for players aged 10 and above, it’s not too difficult. Yes, we did get very hung up on the maths puzzle, but so did I when we played Bad Altitude earlier this year.

In addition to traditional puzzles, there’s a really interesting murder mystery deduction mechanic to the game which really sets this game apart from others in the genre. Along the way you as players can make deductions and assumptions by ranking different statements as “likely” or “not likely”. At any time you can go back and alter your statements if you change your mind or make a mistake. This was really cool and unlike anything else I’ve seen in a murder mystery game, but it just worked so well! It also set up the premise of what you need to be looking out for.

A Lesson in Brilliant Storytelling

If you took out all the interactivity and just made this a graphic novel book, heck I’d still buy it. If you turned it into a TV show, I’d binge it. If you did this experience in any other medium it would still be excellent – and that’s good storytelling! One of the best things about Fast Familiar is that they always get this spot on.

For starters, there’s the characters:

  • Suzie, played by Ami Okumura Jones
  • Syed, played by Jamie Zubairi
  • Lady Hamilton, played by Rachel Donovan
  • Struana, played by Sarah Waddell
  • Hywel, played by Delme Thomas

Then, there’s the humour. With excellent writing from Dan Barnard, Delme Thomas and Rachel Briscoe I’d expect nothing less – but The Curse of the Burial Dagger is particularly amusing and jsut enough twists to keep us hooked right until the end.

The Verdict

The Curse of the Burial Dagger is a fantastic experience. Unmissable if you’re a fan of murder mysteries, and something a little outside of the box if you’re more of a traditional escape room audience. Once again Fast Familiar have nailed it and their new game is perfect for all audiences.

The Curse of the Burial Dagger can be booked on Fast Familiar’s website here.

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E-Scape Rooms: The Sword of Drakul | Review

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E-scape Rooms: The Sword of Drakul | Review | Retrieve the sword of the dragon king and save the kingdom in this online escape room game. 

Completion Time: 46:24
Date Played: 18th October 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

If we could give an award for the most exciting and dramatic intro to any at-home escape room game, The Sword of Drakul would claim it! Seriously, I felt like I was watching the intro to HBO’s latest fantasy drama rather than an escape room.

Game of Thrones, eat your heart out!

On an October Monday – not our typical escape room day of the week – Escaping the Closet, our friend Tasha and I sat down to try the brand new game from E-scape Rooms. Please note, we played the game a couple of days before it’s official launch, meaning it’s possible the game has been tweaked slightly (read as: improved), so take this review with a pinch of salt!

Kings and Dragons and… Goblins!

The story of the Sword of Drakul is an exciting one. We arrive on the scene at the end of an incredibly long war between dragons and humans. So deadly that many a city had been burned to a crisp under the dragon’s tyrannical rule. The king of this great land, after trying every ‘conventional’ method, soon turned to magic to try to stop them – bewitching his most trusted soldiers into dragons themselves to fight them off.

However those six soldiers soon turned against the king and killed him to stop their power from being reversed at the end of the war. However, this also meant that the only secret to stopping these power-crazed dragons died with him. Legend has it the only way to stop the is to recover a mythical sword from deep within the king’s armoury.

It just so happens our crack team of escape room enthusiasts are up to the job. This isn’t our first rodeo and we’ve broken into (and out of) many a king’s armoury before. It’s time to save the world!

Start in the Catacombs…

The Sword of Drakul is played on a platform called Telescape. This means that players have a 360 degree view of each new space and may click into anything for a closer look. Furthermore, you’ll be able to see each other’s mouse mark on the screen to see which puzzles they’re working on in real time. In The Sword of Drakul, when an object is clickable, a dragon’s eye appeared and blinked at us, so no red herrings here.

What was most impressive about this at-home escape room however was those 360 degree views. In most Telescape games, they’re recreations of real life spaces captured with a 360 camera, but E-scape have gone a step further and created a whole new world that felt like it was right out of a video game!

We started in the Catacombs before moving throughout the castle in search of the hidden chamber, solving puzzles along the way – but each time we encountered a new space it took our breath away. The sheer detail! How can this be real? Absolutely gorgeous.

The Dragon King’s Puzzles

Overall, the puzzles in The Sword of Drakul felt really well themed to the setting. When I think of fantasy castles, I think of dusty old games of chess, huge stone pillars with unusual inscriptions and mysterious mechanics lost of time, and of course plenty of dragon motifs! This about sums it up for this at-home escape game, and players can expect to encounter a lot of different puzzles suited to a small group of players.

In particular, my favourite puzzle involved a maze and a goblin. This was also one of the most collaborative puzzles in the game where Ash and I separated ourselves at other ends of the room communicating directions and instructions out to one another. Collaborative puzzles are a theme throughout the game, and on many occasions we had to work together with two, or even three of us split between different screens. As such, we’d recommend it for at least a team of three!

There was one puzzle which didn’t gel particularly well with us, but we were lucky to be playing an early access version of the game and could ask the creator directly what the correct solution and method to solve it was. Once explained, it made a lot more sense!

The Verdict

Overall, we really enjoyed playing the Sword of Drakul. It’s also one of the prettiest Telescape games we’ve seen in a long time – for that reason, we’re awarding it a Diamond Badge (left) reserved for the best looking games in their genre!

This would be a fantastic game for anyone who is a fan of the fantasy genre – or anyone who simply wants to be impressed! There’s something for everyone in this game and we were delighted with it from start to finish.

The Sword of Drakul can be booked on E-Scape’s website here.

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