Enigmailed: Puzzle Wrapping Paper | Review

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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 Backwords
  • The Sphere String
  • The Buried Treasure
  • The Crossblock
  • The Net Maze
  • The Antlerbet
  • The Tree Gift
  • The Michael Bauble
  • The Star Crossed
  • The Holly Wood
  • The Poppers

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.

 

 

The Verdict

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
  • Three different puzzling bars
  • A handmade puzzle ornament for your tree

You can buy this, and more, by heading to Enigmailed’s website here.

Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds | Review

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On Circus Grounds Review | 1883, Circus Maester in Dalfsen, the Netherlands. Right in the middle of his opening speech Nicolaas Maester collapses in front of the audience. The ringmaster of Circus Maester appears to have been murdered. It doesn’t take long for somebody to be arrested and for the case to be closed.

Date Played: July 2022
Time Taken: ~2 hours
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Hard

 

A new Kickstarter game?! Argh! Take all of my money! 2022 has been an excellent year for Kickstarters honestly… From Ruff Bluff, to Unsolved Science, to PostCurious’ Light in the Mist, to Curious Correspondence’s Doomensions. But now we have another, just as exciting game to look forward to from the brilliant minds of Studio Stamp: On Circus Grounds. The best part of this one is that it’s already been released in Dutch as Meester, 1883 to rave reviews and a solid 8.7 on Board Game Geek.

From the moment our box arrived and I popped it open on our table, I knew we’d be in for something very special. A small box, yes, but an in calculable number of beautiful documents came pouring out. A locket, a little vial, scrolls upon scrolls. Studio Stamp’s attention to detail is *chefs kiss*, and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

 

 

Come One, Come All

Roll up, roll up, for Nicolaas Maester presents a circus night like no other. Enchanting dancers, lion tamers, fortune tellers, and death defying stunts… But tonight is not a night like any other. Tonight the ringmaster of the circus suddenly, in the middle of the show, collapses dead. The case goes cold, the evidence grows dusty on a shelf, and soon society forgets the curious case on the circus grounds. That is until the mysterious box packed with evidence arrives on your, the player’s, doorstep. Can you crack the cold case and identify the true culprit of that fateful night?

If you couldn’t tell, On Circus Grounds is a lot more in the category of “murder mystery” than “escape room”. For starters, you’re not really escaping anything. For seconds, the experience is all about deduction and paying close attention. There is a medley of characters each with motives as compelling as the other. But to succeed in this case you have to pay close attention to everything they write and every little detail about their person.

Sure, there are quite a few puzzles in the game too, and I think Studio Stamp does a good job of balancing puzzles against story, but more on that later! For now it’s important to know that you’re not looking for a specific number combination or word output. No, the puzzling is softer. In the introduction letter, the game sets out four key questions to answer:

  • Who murdered Nicolaas Maester?
  • What was their motive?
  • What object was used to commit the murder?
  • If applicable, how did the culprit gain access to it?

So, no pressure, hey!

 

 

Roll Up, Roll Up

I chose to play On Circus Grounds in a team of 3 players over a quiet evening, each of us with varying levels of experience in solving games like this, and each of us at various levels into our glass of wine. Given that circumstance, I will say that we definitely struggled with this game. We struggled first with who was who, and then with who did what, and after quite a bit of arguing we weren’t 100% sure on the ‘correct’ answer to input into the website in the end. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s a deeply complex one that should challenge even the most seasoned puzzle enthusiasts.

But the flip side is, this isn’t the first time our very specific team has struggled with a murder mystery case in a box, as regular readers might remember from The Fire in Adlerstein. So I will say perhaps murder mysteries just aren’t quite for us, and that’s okay.

But unlike all the other murder mysteries in a box we’ve ever played, this one had a LOT going for it. For starters, it’s packed with puzzles. A lot of the information is just given in plain text, but a lot more must be solved before it can be used. Think ciphers, folding puzzles, reading maps and so on. So there was never a boring moment in the whole game. For seconds, the quality of the materials was absolutely gorgeous. No, seriously. I kind of want to take the whole game and frame it, it’s that pretty! I’ve never encountered a box with such a consistent level of high quality materials and I cannot believe the retail price is under €50. For that money you get so much material, lovingly hand-made and hand packed, and beautiful to spread out over the table.

 

Puzzling through the Circus

So this is The Escape Roomer, we have to talk about the puzzles! Puzzles, there are plenty.

Overall, players can expect to encounter a few different ‘types’ of puzzles. But, this being a game consisting of mostly paper, these puzzles usually fell on the side of ‘cipher’ or word style puzzles which, if I have to admit, erred on the longer side to decode. In general, I can’t over-emphasise how much reading there is to do. We often found it hard to know exactly what to do to tease out the secret message or the secret author of the text, but a quick check of the hints page usually set us along the right way. That said, in many more moments we knew exactly how to decode a puzzle but found the contents of the text so lengthy we again consulted the hints to skip a little manual decoding time.

But when they weren’t lengthy ciphers, the puzzles were great fun! My favourite in the whole game involved a little jar of a curious concoction we needed to take to our kitchen and mix. Whilst it didn’t work perfectly (I blame the unseasonably hot weather we’ve had here in the UK), we understood how it worked and were delighted by the physicality of it. Any puzzle that surprises and delights is a double thumbs up from us.

Mostly, the puzzle output for each item in our box was looking for a connection between two people, or a motive and a person, or so on, but we got there in the end… Sort of, anyway! After 2 hours of sorting and resorting through everything we knew, drawing timelines and striking names off pieces of paper… We were ready to make our deduction! We promptly headed to the linked website to answer a few questions on a futuristic AI style of police database.

Only… We got it wrong!

Whoops… The wrong suspect sentenced to prison? Well this is a cold case and all the suspects are long gone. So, thankfully the game’s finale let us re-choose our answers until we finally got them correct, and we were able to experience the fun finale as it was intended.

 

 

The Verdict

So, we didn’t succeed, but I think that’s okay. Unlike traditional escape games in a box where the answer is super clear, murder mysteries deal in deduction and nuance and small details and meticulous note-taking. Which are all things we’re not so great at. But, the most important part was that we had fun playing the game. A lot of fun in fact! There was plenty for a team of 3 to get along with, and some brilliant moments of discussion between us as we ironed out details. The game is beautiful, the puzzles enjoyable, and I have no doubt this will be a fan-favourite for many armchair detectives for years to come. A round of applause for Studio Stamp, and I highly recommend checking this game out on Kickstarter.

 

On Circus Grounds can be purchased in Dutch via Studio Stamp’s website here. For the English version, back their Kickstarter.

Enigmailed: Nightjar | Review

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Nightjar Review: An anxious mind, struggling to sleep, listens to the crepuscular call of birds as their insomnia continues to plague them. Will this innocuous jar filled with secrets be the key to escaping their torment?

Date Played: February 2022
Time Taken: ~40 minutes
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Hard

Nightjar is my personal holy grail of the escape room-in-a-box world and that makes it incredibly tricky to write a review for it. My brain is saying “lets be analytical and explain to our dear readers what the game is all about” and my heart is screaming in excitement that I actually own a copy sitting on my desk in pride of place. I imagine if I ever achieve my dream of getting hold of Tale of Ord (not likely) it’ll be much the same way.

 

 

Enigmailed’s Nightjar – A Rare Puzzle Game

Nightjar is a small boxed puzzle game, possibly the world’s smallest, as it fits entirely into a small jar around 10x10x10cm. There were only around ~55 copies ever made. The first batch was a part of the annual puzzle game Secret Santa group, where game designers from all around the world are tasked with creating a mystery game for another recipient around the world. Nightjar became something of a cult project thanks to a podcast series the game’s creator, Step of Enigmailed, made to document the game design process. The game was available as a bonus, extremely limited add-on in follow-up Kickstarter, Pouroboros. The game then later cropped up in a charity auction, selling for £110. Then, for a final time 50 or so extra copies were released mysteriously in a ‘blind game drop’ under the name EASTWOOD on April 1st, 2022. Nobody knew that Nightjar would be one of the two games released (the other is ‘Mangetout’ which I sadly haven’t played but definitely will and review soon. Shout out to my chaotic life for making it as yet impossible). Despite the hush-hush around what the games would be, the mystery drop release sold out very quickly. There goes the final batch of Nightjar… For now! A moment’s silence please.

So, that’s a long roundabout way of saying it’s a rare game and for me, a very very coveted one. If my apartment was on fire, I’d run past all my photo albums and holiday trinkets and make sure Nightjar got out safely first. As far as I’m aware, the creator has plans to make just a few more copies which will be released in similarly mysterious fashion. But for the most part, Enigmailed have moved on to other (very exciting) projects.

The second thing to note about Nightjar that adds to it’s rarity is that it is single-play. Almost every component in the game is destroyed, making it impossible to replay. Believe me, I tried to be extra careful. There’s also no reset pack. So of those ~55 copies ever made. Let’s say 90% of them were played. Which leaves… A very small number of this game out in the wild. Oof, my heart aches! I haven’t yet seen any of these games go up for sale, but I’ve no doubt whichever seller does will fetch a high price. But don’t do that. Keep it. Putting all the rarity and speculation aside, Nightjar was a genuinely very fun game and if anyone has a copy I’d encourage them to play it, enjoy it, and let it live on in your memory. Besides, you’ll have the jar to keep as a memento, like I have.

So, the history of Nightjar out of the way… Tell me about the game!

 

 

From Dusk to Dawn

If you didn’t know Nightjar was a puzzle game, you’d never be able to tell.

Your first impressions would be “oh, this is a jar of marmite”.

Then you’d realise something was up, you’d open it, and think “oh, this is a jar of sleep-aid things”.

Then you’d move on with your life and never realise just how brilliant the combination of objects hidden within the jar are. Yes, yes, they are just sleep aid things. But in true Enigmailed fashion there’s a riddle, inside an enigma, wrapped in a mystery locked inside. I won’t give any spoilers as to exactly what can be found inside except to say it’s a small medley of things you might turn to if you were having difficulty sleeping. You might dim the lights and pour yourself a cup of tea, you might try to block out the world outside, and you might use some nice smells to help you drift off. You might do anyway. Might… Might… Might.

In terms of quality, Nightjar is handmade in very small batches, so there’s a lot of attention to detail and care gone into the game. There’s a mix of real-life objects modified to suit the puzzle game, and further materials which are handmade or printed from scratch.

 

 

Falling Asleep is the Yeast of Your Problems…

The gameplay of the game is such that you can start with any object inside the jar and each object will lead to the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a puzzle loop that, when solved correctly, should bring you full circle over the course of 30 – 60 minutes.

It’s a quiet, introspective game best played in a team of 1. Probably also best played in the evening before drifting off to sleep yourself. But that’s not to say the puzzles were easy. Far from it, in fact! I always seem to find Enigmailed puzzle games on the harder side. I don’t know if that’s just me, or if they genuinely are. Cut to several years worth of playing them and I finally think I’m beginning to understand what type of answers the puzzles are looking for – and yet I still spent a good amount of time puzzling and wracking my brain over a few. At the time of writing there wasn’t a clue system (this may have changed), but Step was on hand to offer a little nudge if I needed it.

Above anything else, from the moment I opened up the jar to the very final puzzle I solved, Nightjar captured my imagination. It’s ability to set such a powerful theme, tell such a lovely story, and engross me with some brilliant fun puzzles with such a tiny number of materials squeezed into such a small jar is second to none. Yes, I had to use a magnifying glass a few times, but it was well worth it.

 

The Verdict

Normally at this time in a review I’d talk about who we recommend this game for and where it can be purchased, but with Nightjar that’s a little tricky. Firstly, I’d recommend it for everyone. Secondly, if you want a copy, you’ll have to try to convince Step to make you one, or scour the various Facebook forums for anyone selling theirs. Good luck in your quest, it’s well worth the reward at the end.

If you’re interested in getting into Game Design, Nightjar and it’s associated podcast are a 101 on fantastic game design, thinking outside the box, and creating puzzles out of unexpected everyday objects. As a game designer myself, if I ever create a game that is 1/10th as good as Nightjar, then I’ll consider my life a success. A round of applause for Step and Enigmailed. But even if you don’t play Nightjar, give the podcast a listen and subscribe to Enigmailed’s newsletter anyway. They’re both brilliant and will both give an insight into the weird and wonderful mind of the creators of this game.

 

Nightjar is no longer for sale but you can read about the project here.

Escape Room Geeks: The Gilded Carcanet | Review

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The Gilded Carcanet Review | An ancient treasure has been said to be buried on a small island outside the coast of Turkey. Little is known about it and its existence has been heavily debated in the archeology community. Professor in archeology, Bartholomew Wilson, has always dismissed the idea as a myth. Until now.

Rating: Quite challenging and thoroughly enjoyable
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 22nd June 2022
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: Graphic novel and treasure hunt fans

I’m currently sitting on a train from Edinburgh to London having just played The Gilded Carcanet, the newest printable escape room kit created by Escape Room Geeks. My partner and I decided to pack up the sheets of A4 so we could enjoy some puzzling on the journey, and we weren’t disappointed!

On turning the first page, we were thrilled to discover a comic book style introduction. As massive graphic novel fans, this was the perfect way to get us engaged with the story and excited to see the puzzle designs that lay ahead. The illustrations were beautiful, and the muted colour scheme really set the tone for the mysterious world we were about to enter.

 

 

First, game mechanics

The Gilded Carcanet is split into chapters, each containing a puzzle you have to solve before continuing the adventure. But this isn’t simply a “do a puzzle, turn the page” sort of game. You’ll have to refer back to previous pages and discovered items to progress in your search for the ancient treasure, which I love as it’s almost like you’ve got a trusty backpack filled with maps and journals ready to be investigated at any point.

You’re given a handy key which lets you know when you can discard certain pages, and when to continue turning. There are also icons which let you know when to fold and cut the paper, which luckily I read before we set off so I packed a pair of scissors for the road (train track?).

We were really impressed by the answer checker. You simply cross off letters in a grid you have used in your answer, and see if it matches a specified pattern. If it does, you’re right! The pattern could appear in many places in the grid though, so it’s not easy to simply guess the answer which could have been tempting if we were really stuck.

 

Puzzle Selection

A lot of the puzzles are logic based, requiring your skills of deduction to find the correct answer. What was great though was that these puzzles often linked with codes, maps and even some jigsaw style conundrums so you’re always kept on your feet. My love for cyphers was also satisfied, with the secrets of many mysterious symbols needing to be cracked.

I particularly enjoyed the plan of the tomb and having to use your navigation and deduction skills to find a particular chamber. As well as tapping into various brain skills, you had to use several pages to get to where you wanted to be and it felt like a real achievement once you discovered the answer.

 

The Mystery Unfolds

This is a very typical treasure hunt story, but honestly that’s all that’s needed here. The illustrations let your imagination flow and the quality of the puzzles shone through. I loved how we were placed in the shoes of protagonist Bartholomew, meaning we had some great interactions with our companion, Oscar and received praise throughout the game for solving puzzles. A fictional pat on the back is always appreciated!

 

 

The Verdict

We thoroughly enjoyed this game. I think the age suggestion of 13+ is accurate as the puzzles can get quite complex, but they were actually the perfect level of difficulty for a train journey. Not too easy that we fly through it, but not so hard that we bang our heads against the teeny tiny lap tables. At $29, this is on the higher end of the scale for print at home games, but there are some great multi buy offers on their website if you want to treat yourself to a bundle. All in all, a brilliant game which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

The Gilded Carcanet can be played by heading to Escape Room Geeks website here.

E-Scape Rooms: Detention | Review

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E-Scape Rooms Detention Review | Your behaviour was unacceptable. Detention will teach you a lesson one way or another. It is up to you whether you stay here for the whole day or you can leave if you prove to be smart enough within the hour.

Completion Time: ~1 hour
Date Played: January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

About once a week, Al, Ash, our friend Tasha and myself like to meet up to play an online escape room together. This far into (or should I say ‘past’ at this point) lockdown, we’ve played hundreds. One of our favourite companies is E-Scape, creators of the fantastic The Alp and Sword of Drakul. But, stepping away from their fantastical and horror themed genres of the other two games, Detention is far more grounded in reality. It is set in a school. Your mission: Escape detention!

 

Back to School

Ever have nightmares where you’re suddenly back in school and you haven’t done your homework, or you have an exam to complete with no revision, or you’re due to give a presentation in front of the whole school but you’ve misplaced your trousers? No? Just me? Haha. Well the escape room “Detention” is kinda like all my school-related anxiety dreams rolled into one. I’m locked in a room at school and it’s packed with puzzled themed around various school subjects: Science, Maths, English, History and so on. If I can’t escape in time, I’ll be trapped in there… Maybe forever!

The room unfolds in a very non-linear fashion and, being built in Telescape, meant that all of the four of us could click around to take a closer look at anything in any order. Whilst it’s just one large, limited space of a detention room complete with desks, chairs, and a large chalkboard up at the front, it’s anything but small. We found that there were a huge amount of puzzles to grapple with in the experience. It was one of those rooms that probably no single one of us engaged with and solved every single puzzle, but we worked together in tandem towards a collective goal, breaking off into teams of two to work collaboratively on one or the other.

 

 

As with many Telescape games, during the gameplay you can see your fellow puzzlers’ cursor marks to see what they’re working on. It works well, as there are a number of magnifying glasses dotted around the physical space so you know exactly what you can and can’t click into and at any time in the sidebar you can see where others are. So when Al or Ash say “hey come look at this”, the software makes it easy to jump right to them. To input a code, you have a box at the bottom of your screen at any time to type letters and numbers in. This often triggered something to happen in the game, such as adding an object to our inventory or opening a lock.

Of the puzzles I encountered myself, I enjoyed them a lot. There were some that involved periodic tables, maps of our solar system, strange symbols on the walls, flags of the world, a large skeleton, hacking into our teacher’s computer, and so on. I’d rate the room at around a ‘medium’ difficulty and I’d definitely be lying if I said we weren’t stuck at all. Quite the contrary, several puzzles took us many tries to complete and one or two clues, but we got there in the end… And most importantly, we had a lot of fun in the process.

One thing E-Scape Rooms does really well is it’s ability to create drama. Completing puzzles often resulted in short, animated cut scenes that swept around the room in dramatic fashion. Every game they’ve made so far has been 3D modelled and inserted into Telescape creatively. Quite literally, the team are creating rich environments out of thin air, and as a hobbyist 3D modeller I am here for it and I love it. I mean, have you seen how shiny the floor is in this room? So nicely modelled! I need them to hook me up with those cool textures.

 

 

The Verdict

Detention is your classic play-at-home escape room from E-Scape rooms and although it’s not as magical as the fantastic The Alp and Sword of Drakul, it holds its own in the genre as a fun space packed with enjoyable puzzles to solve collaboratively with friends. Since lockdown has ended, I still appreciate games like this being made and put on the market as a way to stay connected with friends who don’t live in the same city as me. Detention is a perfect game like that and would be excellent for friends, family or just about anyone to play together.

 

Detention can be booked by heading to E-Scape’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.

EXIT the Game: The Mysterious Museum | Review

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The Mysterious Museum Review | You are on a trip to the Florence Natural History Museum, intent on visiting the sunken treasure of the Santa Maria. Your relaxing day at the museum is quickly derailed by an incredible adventure! Can you solve the mysteries of the museum and find a way out? Difficulty Level: 2 of 5. This game can be played only one time because you must markup, fold, and tear the game materials to solve the riddles and escape.

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

EXIT the Game is one of the best known escape rooms “in-a-box” series in the world. As such, they’re fairly reliable. Going into any experience you know what you’re getting. About 1 hour’s worth of fun, there’ll be a cipher wheel-style disc, several destructible materials, and typically a little booklet with it too. The Mysterious Museum is no different. Except for once, I didn’t buy this game myself! A friend received it as a Christmas gift, and knowing how much I enjoy escape room games, she brought it over to our regular board game night in the hopes of puzzling it out.

We sandwiched this game inbetween two others, intending for it to be our “short and sweet” collaborative refresher between two other bulkier games. It was anything but. Sometimes games come along that others find perfectly straightforward and just don’t click for you. The Mysterious Museum was this for us.

But let’s get into why.

 

 

Puzzling at the Florence History Museum

Our story began at the Florence Museum of Science and Technology, a setting mysteriously hinted at by the front cover of this game’s box – a partially open door from which light pours out. At the beginning, you have an idea that your goal might be about tracking down sunken treasure – a mission quite suggestively similar to The Sunken Treasure. But it wasn’t long until we realised the actually this adventure would be quite different. For starters, it revolved around time travel.

Yep, we kept an eye out to make sure we didn’t accidentally step on a bug and change the course of history!

But it’s not just the past. The game takes players all through history – past, present, and future. A museum is an excellent setting for such a tale of time travel, and it was a fun theme to set a puzzle game such as this one in. Did I mention it looks brilliant too? I’m a sucker for lovely artwork, and EXIT has an abundance of beautiful illustrations.

 

 

How to solve EXIT the Game

Solving EXIT the Game escape rooms follows a similar formula, and The Mysterious Museum is no different. Each box contains:

  • Riddle Cards – These are given a letter and generally speaking are worked through in ABC order
  • Answer Cards – These have a corresponding letter to the riddle cards and, you guessed it, they give the answer if needed
  • Help Cards – Each help card is denoted by a symbol which you can find on the puzzle you’re working on somewhere (often it’s quite hidden – so look closely)
  • A Book – This sets the scene and guides you through the story
  • A Cipher Wheel – To check your answers, a cipher wheel is used. In The Sunken Treasure this cipher wheel is covered in cute sea critters – very sweet!
  • A bunch of cool looking misc. items – in The Sunken Treasure, you get a whole host of cool things including some very shiny looking gems!

To play, you get up your game with your Help Cards stacked according to symbol, and your Riddle / Answer cards in their own stack. The book guides you through the story to solve each puzzle, find the correct symbols, run it through the cipher wheel and progress.

In terms of difficulty as indicated, we found this game quite hard indeed! Hesitant to take any clues, and a couple of glasses of wine at board game night in, the game didn’t quite click for us. The linear nature of this particular game also meant that once we became stuck, the game ground to a halt. With 4 players playing, a few of us struggled to keep interest up, and the whole game amounted to a slow puzzling session. Even those we were sure we had correct ended up requiring an additional logic leap we hadn’t made.

That said, in hindsight and in asking a few other friends, we might be alone in finding this one tricky. For sure, the company themselves rate this game somewhere towards Novice on the difficulty scale. So don’t let our struggles put you off giving it a go if the game otherwise appeals to you!

On the flip side, this game contained several very delightful puzzles which were some of my all time favourites. In particular, I enjoyed moments of physical manipulation. Furthermore, the EXIT team always make full use of the box. Though no spoilers about exactly what I’m talking about – you’ll just have to wait and see for yourself!

 

The Verdict

On balance, The Mysterious Museum has some strong pros (such as the theme and the quality) but let down by the puzzles and flow. So in a nutshell, it wasn’t my favourite EXIT game. I am however a big enthusiast when it comes to their other games, so I’ve no doubt this is just a small blip with particularly styled puzzles that our team struggled with on the day.

 

The Mysterious Museum can be purchased from all good board game retailers.

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.

 

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.