StreetHunt Games York: Colombia’s Finest | Review

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StreetHunt Games: Colombia’s Finest Review | Can you spill the beans on what’s happening in Jim Robusta’s coffee company? Jim works alongside people with a shady past and has asked you to sniff out evidence of crime amongst the caffeine.

Time Taken: 2-3 hours 
Date Played: 
9th April 2022
Location: 
York
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: 
Medium

To read our review for Colombia’s Finest London, head here.

An endearing feature of York is that it often smells of chocolate. It’s the nearby Nestlé factory that’s responsible for this as it routinely burps out wonderful aromas and – if the wind catches them right – the whole city gets to indulge. Nasally, at least. However, on the day we took on StreetHunt’s York debut it was equally easy to catch a whiff of coffee on the breeze.

The city’s kind-of-famous Coffee Yard was our mystery’s starting point. At 67 metres, it’s York’s longest snickleway and within spitting distance of numerous coffee servers who keenly cater to those who aren’t quite ready for a pint yet. It’s an apt beginning for a hunt named Colombia’s Finest – a mystery walking tour that charges you with both revealing a murderer and uncovering a drug ring that’s operating within a local coffee company owned by one Jim Robusta.

 

Getting Started with Colombia’s Finest York

To get things rolling you are able to familiarise yourself with the format and key characters of the game via a short introduction that takes place off the clock. It’s far from complicated and each team member is encouraged to use their own device so everyone can be equally involved. The core of this experience is an interactive map that gradually populates with your network of contacts (or Yorkies) who you need to locate, meet and solve environment-based puzzles for. In return they spill their secrets and help you solve the case.

 

 

At the start these ‘Yorkies’ drop onto the map one at a time, easing you into the routine of travelling to their location and scouring the surrounding area for whatever nugget of information they’re demanding as proof of your presence. After a handful of encounters, though, multiple contacts drop onto the map at once, forcing you to form your own logical route to meet as many of them as possible within the 90-minute time limit.

Fortunately, your tipsters place themselves reasonably conveniently. An efficient path to hoover up their info isn’t too tricky to plot and you’re soon systematically ticking them off the list. The puns come thick and fast, and each informant brings with it another aptronym, causing titters and groans in equal measure, but the puzzles that gatekeep the information at each location maintain an impressive level of creativity throughout. Even those of us who felt we had decent knowledge of York’s quirks were occasionally stumped and introduced to minor details that had been successfully ignored for the best part of a decade.

 

Get a move on

An hour and a half is quite a long time. I certainly thought so, anyway. However, the sun was out and it was the weekend, which meant the narrow streets of York were cluttered with people who seemed to be queuing to join the longer queues that would eventually lead them into a tearoom or wizarding shop. This meant some of the more obvious routes from A to B were slower than their longer alternatives. Throw in a real-life run-in with an overly casual barista – who clearly didn’t share our urgency for catching the killer – and it soon became apparent that we needed to pick up the pace to have any hope of success.

Once we’d focussed ourselves, we made decent progress. The software itself is slick and intuitive. Presentation is clear and Robusta himself gets in touch occasionally, asking you to confirm what you’ve discovered so far (presumably to help fix some key details in your brain). A suitable break is suggested just beyond the mid-way point where you can pause the game for as long as you need without penalty and enjoy lunch, drinks or just have a break from weaving between bodies waiting to sample fudge.

Once time is up you are prompted to find somewhere comfortable you can sit and converse before triggering the final 15-minute countdown. This is your opportunity to pull together the information you’ve uncovered and bicker with your team about possible motives before embarking on some official finger pointing. The details you’ve collected throughout the day are simple to review and neatly compiled into categories in-game so, as long as you have a fair number of clues available, piecing together the full picture is relatively straightforward yet still satisfying.

 

The verdict

York is the perfect location for such an activity and if you make a full afternoon of it, take in the sights, and stop for a spot of food along the way then it’s easy to allow yourself to have a great time. Nothing here is going to really tax serious puzzle-solvers, but if taken as a fun day-out with friends or team building exercise then I can wholly recommend it.

If you’d like to book Colombia’s Finest in York, head to this link.

They have also kindly provided me with a promo code for 20% off for The Escape Roomer readers: “THEESCAPEROOMER20”

Escape Reality Edinburgh: Machina | Review

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Machina Review | A team of high-tech scientists and programmers have assembled to perform ground breaking experiments in developing the first instance of true artificial intelligence known to man. You have just been accepted onto the team of scientists and have arrived at their headquarters. After a few days you realise that scientists are suddenly leaving and that these robots are showing scarily human-like emotions. You decide that you need to leave as quickly as possible as something peculiar is happening, but all of the doors have been locked trapping you and the rest of the team inside. Can you all escape before you reluctantly become a part of the experiment?

 

Date Played: 20th March 2022
Time Taken: 48 Minutes 39 Seconds
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: Mathematics Enthusiasts

 

Located at the start of the Union Canal in Edinburgh, the location of Escape Reality Edinburgh is perfect for a sunny Sunday. We took a calming stroll along the water, preparing ourselves for one of the more difficult rooms on offer, Machina.

Once we arrived, we were greeted by hands down the most enthusiastic Games Master I’ve ever met, DJ. His passion for escape rooms shone through, and we were impressed by his storytelling and brief explanation of the rules for our group of more experienced escape room players.

The room was very dark, and we were provided with two torches. The darkness did slow us down at points as we waited for a torch to be free, but it was a successful in increasing the sense of time sensitivity in the room as we yelled for light. The room has recently received a lick of paint with some new features added, so it felt up to date and well maintained.

 

Wake up!

I’m not sure whether our walk was too relaxing, because we were very slow off the mark to begin with. We tried to solve the first combination locks as a team, which was likely our downfall as the design of the room has changed recently to allow players to separate and solve multiple puzzles at once rather than a previous linear approach. This is a great move, and as soon as we split up, the padlocks started opening and we found our groove.

This isn’t to say we weren’t initially frustrated, and in sheer desperation we accidently took apart a prop which we thought we had justification for but it turns out we became the dreaded escape room vandals who left a trail of destruction in their path. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been superglued together by now…

 

 

Do you know any mathematicians?

A lot of the puzzles require calculations, so make sure you’ve got someone who loves numbers on your team! Our phones were locked away, so calculators were sadly not an option. I’m awful with dates, so I found some of the puzzles extremely difficult but I was able to excel at the sequence spotting elements of the room. The experience has been upgraded to include a laptop, so there’s some password hacking to do as well as essential information to discover allowing you to progress.

As well as padlocks, there were puzzles which required keypads and also some more physical tasks to complete to find solutions. Some of these triggered some exciting reveals, which is always one of my escape room highlights.

 

Need a hint?

The hint system at Escape Reality is one of my favourites.  You are given an iPad which you use as your timer, but you can also scan various QR codes throughout the room to receive a hint. We used one hint, after which you are locked out of using another for 10 minutes. This feels like a really fair way of getting a nudge in the right direction without receiving time penalties, and you also have the option of pressing a button to summon your games master if required.

 

 

The Verdict

The games at Escape Reality are always guaranteed to be great quality, and I’m so pleased that customer feedback has been taken on board to improve Machina. A non-linear approach is great for teams who prefer to separate, and some upgraded features succeed in increasing the immersion of the room. I didn’t quite experience my beloved frantic attempt at solving the final puzzle as it was a lot easier than most of the previous solutions, so it was all over quite fast – but all in all this is a great room, perfect for teams who have a bit of experience and know what to expect.

Machina can be booked at Escape Reality Edinburgh on their website here.

Enigma Fellowship: The Magical Tale | Review

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

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

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

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

 

 

Meet Baron Theodore von Puffington the Third

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

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

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

 

 

A Fun Family Game from Enigma Fellowship

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

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

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

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

 

 

Did I mention it’s handmade wood-bound?

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

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

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

 

 

The Verdict

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

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

 

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

Escape Advent Calendars: The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots | Review

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The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots Review | Solve the mystery of the half-eaten carrots. The store has been raided. Question the reindeer; one of them must be the greedy culprit!

Date Played: 26th February 2022
Number Of Players: 2 (+1 cat)
Difficulty: Easy
Time Taken: 1 Hour

But It’s Not Christmas….

Yes alright, I know. But when Mairi offers up an escape game to review with the promise of free chocolate, I’m not going to pass this up, Christmas themed or otherwise.

Plus who loves chocolate more than I do? My wife; and who am I to deprive her of delicious chocolate treats for solving puzzles? Not me I assure you.

Let’s Get Started

We have a copy of the advent calendar. The product is of good quality, is attractive inside and out. It’s nicely compact and everything that is required to complete the entire contents, is either on or in the product itself. The back of the calendar gives simple instructions to get you started; alongside pigpen, braille and tap-code ciphers.

Finally, there is a clue to direct you to which reindeer should be interrogated first. Should you be correct, a chocolate with the number 1 (in flashy art deco font) will appear and another clue will point in the direction of the next reindeer to interrogate. Rinse and repeat this process to interrogate all reindeers in the right order, thus receiving the chocolates numerically and most importantly, success in playing.

Do I Feel Christmassy?

It’s a good question to ask, especially during the end of February. Theming wise, this advent calendar ticks all the boxes. Fun holiday theme ✅, chocolate in Santa-red-and-gold wrapping ✅, more reindeers than you can shake a stick at ✅. Not much else to say, top marks for this section!

Let’s Interrogate Some Reindeers!

In terms of puzzles, the functionality and logic of them are all sound. The hints system is nicely considered on the Escape Advent Calendars website; each of the 25 puzzles has a good number of progressive hints before the solution is revealed. My only qualm however is that to access the hints, you have to sign up for an account on the website. I’m not sure about the prospect of giving my personal data to access some hints for an escape game that accumulatively lasts around an hour. Maybe a purchase code to unlock the hints (and thus, proving purchase) might be more suitable?

Regarding innovation, the concept behind the game is certainly original. It’s really great to see companies like Escape Advent Calendars, breathing new life into the standard advent calendar. The puzzles I feel, are not that innovative however. Almost all of the puzzles I have seen countless times, in some variation or another in conventional escape games. Puzzle types include but are not limited to; code decipher, directional, colour-coding and observation.

Nelson Strikes Again…

You know who had fun? Nelson my cat. As you can see below, she was very happy rolling around with the puzzle components whilst we did the hard work! In all seriousness, this was a light-hearted and fun way to spend a Saturday evening. Yes, we completed the product unconventionally; I.E.: not doing one puzzle a day, for 25 days, but it didn’t dampen the fun at all.

How Many Carrots To Buy?

The recommended retail price is at £19.99. Considering the overall accumulative time spent playing and the puzzles presented, I feel that this price point is a little too high. I’d recommend looking out for a sale price on The Panic Room Online (where we purchased this copy) or another retail supplier to capitalise on the value.

For The Advent Apprentice Or Expert?

I’d recommend this to families with children and adults who aren’t necessarily into puzzles. The very small learning curve and overall accessibility would be perfect for these player demographics. Based on the price however, I’m not sure if escape room enthusiasts will get enough out of this in terms of challenge.

Rating

Overall this is a suitable and accessible escape-room-advent-calendar which can be enjoyed, especially by families with children. What it lacks in puzzle innovation and the steeper end of sale prices, makes up in overall holiday theming, fun and good quality. If you can find it on sale, out of season, I’d snap it right up ready for the upcoming holiday period… or right now if you prefer!

The Mystery of the Half Eaten Carrots can be purchased for £20 from The Panic Room’s website here.

iDventure: The Fire in Adlerstein | Review

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Adlerstein Review | A citizen was killed in an arson attack in the city of Adlerstein. Isn’t it a strange coincidence? You, inspector, have to find out who the culprit is by detecting files and alibis.

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 23rd October 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

“Let’s play a board game, here are two choices” I say to my escape room un-enthusiastic partner on a Saturday morning. Surprisingly, rather than picking another ancient civilisation building romp, they selected Adlerstein as something a little different. It’s not quite an escape room in a box, but it’s not quite a board game either.

The packaging – a box that fits neatly on my board game shelf – is deceptive. What you actually receive within this box is a detailed paper case file. The game also doesn’t come with any instructions, except for a single letter entitled “Dear Detectives“.

No turns, no dice, your goal is to simply ‘solve the case’ in the fastest time possible.

Good luck!

Find the Culprit, Crack the Case

Your introduction to the case begins when you receive a letter from a local journalist. Interested in the case, we had gathering evidence when suddenly he got arrested – I mean, he was spotted at the scene of the crime and took an unhealthy interest in the fire! Protesting his innocence, he sends you all the evidence he’s collected in the hopes you’ll solve the case for him.

From here it’s a classic whodunnit… A number of suspects with motives, unpicking their actions and figuring out who reasonably could have been at the scene of the crime at the correct time with the right motive to have commited the crime.

To help you out, you’ve got a box packed with a large quantity of stuff to sort through, which was a lot of fun. One made up location, but plenty of impressively realistic pieces of evidence, ranging from Google Maps, license plate searches, stills from CCTV, high quality photographs, written notes. We can’t fault how exciting and realistic it felt to receive a box filled with such objects.

By the end of the hour as we were approaching the climax, we’d completely covered two tables in a ‘detectives board’ style of flat lay, spreading all the relevant information out and drawing lines and connections between characters and events. If you enjoy completely immersing yourself in fictional worlds as you unravel a complex case, then this game is for you! For sure, there are better games out there that do the same thing, but it certainly scratched that armchair detective itch.

Photo (c) iDVenture

There’s a Killer Among Us…

Putting our ‘escape room’ hat on for a moment, it’s hard to judge Adlerstein on puzzles because there weren’t many puzzles to solve in the game – with one exception in the form of a classic cipher puzzle. But this cipher didn’t fit well in the universe, and whats more it was long, cumbersome, and not fun to solve. We ended up skipping the cipher by checking the hints as not to disrupt the flow of the gameplay.

Otherwise all the puzzles players will encounter are pure social deduction puzzles. “If this, then that” or “If he said this, and she said something else, who is lying?” type of thing. Which are fun in their own right, but are less common in the escape room world.

You solve the case by filling out a grid – find everyone’s motive, their alibi, and so on. Whatever the gaps int he grid are is where you’ll find your killer.

So how did we do? We played Adlerstein once through without filling the grid and instead just holding the information in our heads. We reached the ending and short of an educated guess – couldn’t crack the case. So we started from the top and went through methodically, filling the grid, and making sure that each piece of information couldn’t be guessed. And then… We couldn’t crack the case either. I’m quite sure we guessed every single wrong answer before getting to the correct one, and even then we were like “huh? how?” A little but anti-climactic and a lot of frustrating, but we were glad for the resolution at the end.

No, the best thing about playing Adlerstein wasn’t solving puzzles – or even cracking the case. It was reading through a pretty cool story and feeling like you too were at the heart of it. People (fictional, sure) are depending on you to crack the case. It’s not your regular board game, it’s something quite different and that’s exciting!

Photo (c) iDventure

The Verdict

The Fire in Adlerstein is a classic whodunnit with plenty of twists and turns in the detailed story. Our tip to anyone using this post to help solve the game is to read and re-read everything for even the smallest details. The game comes in at between 1 – 3 hours, but can easily be reset and regifted. We made a lot of effort not to ruin any of the materials, and passed it along to the next person at The Escape Roomer to see if they could solve any faster!

The creators want you to feel like a real detective, but they’ll make you work for that solution – good luck!

Adlerstein can be purchased from iDventure’s website here.

The Cari Mysteries: Grandfather’s Fortune | Review

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The Cari Mysteries: Grandfather’s Fortune | Review | A young family comes to the Netherlands from the Dutch East Indies in the 1950s. One day, one of the grandchildren receives her grandmother’s diary. For years, the story has been going around that Grandpa brought a fortune back from the Indies and that Grandma’s diary was supposed to be the treasure map. The diary is incomplete. The fortune has now been a legend in the family for over 50 years. No one has ever been able to find it. Discover and experience this true story and help find Grandfather’s Fortune.

Completion Time: 70 minutes
Date Played: 30th January 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

Gezelligheid kent geen tijd!

Or, to those of us who aren’t Ash (the French & Dutch graduate) – time flies when you’re having fun! Our classic online escape team of us, Mairi and Tasha sat down together on a chilly January evening to see whether we could help search an old Dutch farm house, to find the family’s hidden fortune. Turns out, it was hidden in far more than a locked box, it was hidden in time itself.

So, put on your time-travelling glasses, and let’s get exploring.

A beautiful family farmhouse – so much to see!

This game begins with a wonderfully sweet introductory video, bringing you up to date with the family’s history and the mystery of their grandfather’s hidden treasure. It is a very nostalgic game, as players are reviled with tales of old family traditions and introduced to the various members of the family and their individual stories.

The first space you get to explore is the looming front door. It’s very easy to look around, and the exploration in the game feels very nature. The software itself helps to plant you in the game, as you can see the seemingly never-ending fields stretch out way in the distance from the farm house, it feels like you are really there! Ash was absolutely loving this, and wishing that she had played the game in Dutch, returning to her days living in the Netherlands as a student.

Are these…magic glasses?!

Once we managed to make it inside, we were taken into the first ‘space’ of the game: the house’s attic. Here, we found out what really makes this game special: the magic glasses! Players can click a button to put them on, and they are taken back in time! You can look around the room with a whole new perspective, new puzzles appear, people appear, the overlay of the present and the past is brilliant! It works pretty seamlessly too, so it doesn’t feel dis-jointed or laggy, which was a big relief.

We worked together to solve the puzzles, which were actually quite challenging. You have a diary which accompanies you throughout the day, acting as a handy guide/map. It’s a clever way of having a sort of ‘options menu’ without breaking the immersion – and works very well in the digital escape room format.

The treasure! Eindelijk!

This was a really fun, wholesome game. We had a great time exploring the many rooms on offer within the farmhouse, flitting between the past and the present to combine items to make our way to the family’s hidden treasure. There were a hefty amount of puzzles, and we did get a bit stuck a few times! We definitely have a new favourite kind of puzzle, one we’ve actually never seen before (which is unusual given we are now nearing our 200th game) – kudos to the Cari Mysteries!

This game lends itself well to being played online. It’s been designed with care, and with love. We would highly recommend this for a cosy Sunday evening with friends. It might be a nice one to play with family if you are all apart, it certainly made us feel quite nostalgic!

Grandfather’s fortune can be played by going to the Cari Mysteries website here.

Scarlet Envelope: Screaming Venice Art Heist

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Screaming Venice Art Heist Review | THE SCREAM, Munch’s famous painting & the art’s most haunting face, goes AWOL right before the opening of a posh Art Biennale in Venice. Art lovers are confused: anyone knows that such a well-known piece is impossible to resell! Was it taken for ransom? Or to cover up a larger story? Oh, they have NO idea…

Completion Time: 1hr 30
Date Played: 23rd January 2022
Party Size: 2 (+1)
Difficulty: Hard

If this is the face you make when trying to solve the latest Scarlet Envelope game, Screaming Venice Art Heist… Then you’re not alone!

Just kidding! Yes, this chapter in the subscription is hard, but it’s not insurmountably hard. A couple of hours and a few clues later Bianca and I cracked the codes and tracked down the missing Munch painting. All in a days work for a sunny Sunday morning over a cup of tea.

But lets get into it. What is Screaming Venice Art Heist and how did the pair of us really do with the game?

The Scream is… Missing!

The story of the latest chapter in Scarlet Envelope’s brilliant puzzle subscription follows the infamous painting known as The Scream. Just moments before the gallery’s big millennium opening, The Scream goes missing. Think Netflix’s This is a Robbery, only rather than the police there’s just you to solve the case. Eek! No pressure?!

Everything you need to solve the case is contained within one scarlet coloured envelope. Unlike previous Scarlet Envelope games, like Breakfast for a Serial Killer, we found the envelope comparatively quite light. There are some leaflets for the museum, some small slips of paper, and a bookmark. But essentially that is it.

I feel like in a real art heist case I’d probably need more to go on, but the trail of clues left behind by the master thief sure enough was there. If only we knew how to look.

Screaming at Puzzles

In terms of puzzles and difficulty, as I’ve mentioned we found this game quite tricky. Before we sat down to play, we had a chat about their other games in the series and how long they typically took – I suppose planning out our day and how many games we’d be able to power through together. But whatever we guessed this game would take – double it! We spent well over an hour and a half puzzling through Screaming Venice Art Heist and even enjoyed a break for lunch.

Where in other games the materials are spread out to provide lots of smaller puzzles, Screaming Venice Art Heist was centred around one big linear meta puzzle. The goal was simple: Find letters, convert to colours, convert that to numbers, pop the numbers on the website and Bob’s your uncle.

The linear nature of the game meant that we had to work together closely on each puzzle, but more heads weren’t necessarily better as we still managed to trip up several times. Whilst it took a while to garner the information from each step, we were equally never quite sure what to do with that information to make the jump to the next step.

There was one puzzle we felt didn’t quite work in some cultural contexts. I don’t know if it’s a Europe vs North America distinction (although the creators are themselves European), but to solve one particular step we didn’t have the same cultural point of reference on which to rely. It also wasn’t something we could Google. As to avoid spoilers, we won’t detail the puzzle, but rest assured we needed another hint at that step.

Thankfully, Scarlet Envelope always have a fantastic clue system. There’s always a mini-puzzle to solve to gain access to the hints (which even if I don’t need hints I enjoy solving as a bonus), and once you’re on the clues page it’s carefully laid out as to avoid spoilers. In this game, we became very familiar with the hints in order to keep us on track.

The Story Stole the Show!

Puzzles aside, one of the things I did love about this game was the story. I mean, I’m a sucker for an art heist and Scarlet Envelope pulled theirs’ off flawlessly! The mystery! The intrigue! The TWISTS! Ugh, yes please!

Scarlet Envelope also has a meta puzzle running through all of their envelopes which is fantastically fun to watch unfold. The bonus puzzle in Screaming Venice Art Heist that gave us our answer for the multi-chapter meta was a particularly fun one that had us thinking outside the box. It’s also probably my favourite so far and I’m officially very excited to complete the series and crack that meta!

Finally, one thing Scarlet Envelope does well and again, particularly well in this chapter is the quality of material and integration with some digital elements with the physical envelope in front of you. Think videos, sound files, actors playing out scenes and more. You know you’re getting something great with Scarlet Envelope when each new chapter arrives.

The Verdict

It’s true, we did find Screaming Venice Art Heist particularly hard. It’s easily the trickiest in the series so far and for that reason it’s probably not my favourite. There were a few uncomfortable logic leaps, and we made a few easy mistakes early on that dragged out the puzzle solving well past lunch time (Note to Self: Don’t puzzle on an empty stomach!)

But Scarlet Envelope has to be viewed as a whole and not as each individual envelope. It’s impossible that every single game in a series will resonate with every player. So all in all, I’m still in love with the company! The previous game (Wild Mansion of Mr. Ferri) is one of my all time favourites, and the envelope we played immediately after (Tale of a Golden Dragon) was absolutely flawless. No seriously, it was so damn good! I’m excited just thinking about it.

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

Code Bakers: Fudge Fiasco | Review

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Fudge Fiasco Review: A pack of puzzles to solve to uncover what flavour fudge you’ve been sent!

Rating: Fudgin’ brill!
Completion Time: ~30 minutes
Date Played: 29th December 2021
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: A sweet treat!

Penguins taken from codebakers.co.uk (not literally)

A Christmas Treat!

A combination of a sweet treat + an escape room style puzzle…

…We are so there!

The team at Code Bakers have hit the jackpot with this winning combination which allows players to combine delicious sweet treats with puzzling to definitely make you feel like you’ve earnt your dessert! The Fudge Fiasco game sends players two mysterious blocks of fudge, challenging you to find out what the flavours are before tucking in.

A mystery map!

For Fudge Sake!

After receiving Fudge Fiasco as a part of the UK Puzzle Bundle, we cracked it open on a cosy afternoon, looking to fill half an hour of puzzling and tuck into our afternoon snack. These games are interesting in that it can be difficult to know where to start, especially when you are presented with multiple puzzles at once. But, once we had figured out what we were doing and what bits went together, the puzzles flowed really well.

It is great how much the Code Bakers’ team can pack into their small envelopes!

The map puzzle (pictured above) was definitely one of the more innovative versions of this style of puzzle that we have seen. It did leave us scratching our heads for a while, but once we realised some slightly ‘outside the box’ thinking was needed, we worked our way through this nicely!

It was very satisfying to solve, and the aha moment left us both smiling.

The puzzles are good for teams of two or more working together in a more relaxed atmosphere. We think this would be a great pre-dinner game for a family or a pre-escape room warm up for a team of enthusiasts (plus then you’d have the sugar kick from the fudge ready to go in and boss your room!).

Ash looking 10/10 happy with discovering her fudgey flavours

The Delicious Finale

Once we had made our way through the puzzles, we treated ourselves to two tasty bars of fudge! It’s nice to have a physical reward for solving the puzzles, which helps make these games stand out in that ‘at-home’ escape market.

We always enjoy a game from the Code Bakers – I think we will start using these to send gifts to our friends (to make them work for their treats!).

We look forward to playing more of these in the future!

Fudge Fiasco can be purchased for yourself (or given as a gift) by heading to Code Baker’s website here.

The Enigma Fellowship: Dinner Party | Review

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The Enigma Fellowship – The Dinner Party Review | Enrico Fabricci, a vintner has been missing for months. The disappearance happened at the same time as The Scattered Cards kidnappings. He was never found. The Fabricci ancestral estate, including the impressive Castello Di Dolcci in Italy, is embroiled in legal battles. Now, his heirs and the court appointed caretaker of their Castle in Tuscany have received mysterious invitations.

Can you find out what happened to Enrico and help save a legacy in peril?

Completion Time: Around 120 minutes
Date Played: 20th December 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Enjoyable and challenging

For two hours, you will be immersed in the Castello De Dolcci and its expansive grounds – searching through evidence and solving cryptic clues to try and find out what has happened to the vinter Enrico Fabricci.

About Dinner Party

This being my first Enigma Fellowship adventure, I didn’t really know truly what to expect with The Dinner Party. As soon as I opened the unassuming white envelope and its opulent contents spilled out onto our table, I knew we were in for a treat.

The first thing that caught our eye were the invitations to the main event itself – the Dinner Party at the Castello Di Dolci, with some beautiful print work and eye-catching ribbon. But once we got stuck into the game, we realised that it was more what didn’t catch our eye that was important, with observation being a key part of affairs.

The scene was set by some excellent voice acting and I found myself, throughout the game, wishing I could experience it in person, the wine cellars, the library, the vineyard, all vivid in my imagination.

The Challenges

The puzzles in The Dinner Party are varied and enjoyable, with a mix of the mathematical, the verbal, the observational and the logical.

What I really enjoyed about the game was the way that progression was controlled and how the goals of the game were set. When embarking on a puzzle we always knew what we were aiming for – a 6 digit code, an 8 letter word – I personally always find tabletop games to flow better when I have a sense of direction, and The Dinner Party consistently offered me this reassurance with a neat online system.

The first section of the game really set the scene for what was to come, with some elements of spatial observation that used the paper elements in a really interesting way. Every piece of paper was essential, whether it was to enhance the plot or used for a puzzle.

We made it into the first of the ‘locked’ envelopes and discovered that there was so much more content inside. Each step of progression gave us more to read, more to unravel and more to puzzle.

Another feature that I really enjoyed about the design of the game was the extremely comprehensive  clue system. As much as me and my playing partner enjoy the more tricky puzzles, we are definitely not ones to struggle for longer than we deem necessary. We also; however, don’t like being told the answers immediately. This leads to a tricky balance for a clue system to manage, but the clue system for The Enigma Fellowship was fantastic in this regard, with incremental help that really assists you in a non-overbearing way.

Was The Enigma Fellowship: Dinner Party fun?

When reviewing an experience I feel like this is always the most important question. Was it fun? Did we have a good time? Would I recommend it?

We decided on a few spoiler-free highlights:

Firstly; a maths-based puzzle in the middle which required both history and mathematics in a wonderful combination. The nice feature of this puzzle was that no outside knowledge was required, everything you needed to know was provided in the envelope.

Another of our highlights was a particular element in the game which combined the physical and the logical together to give a neat solution. I don’t want to say too much about this, but at the start we suspected that this physical element would turn into a puzzle, and the designers didn’t disappoint, with a clever solution providing an essential answer.

It wouldn’t be a highlight section without another nod to the great voice acting in the game. The voice clips were a lovely method to set the scene of the game, breaking the story to the players in an exciting way and also reducing the amount of reading in the game, which although not a deal-breaker for me and my partner, can be for some tabletop players.

Summary

Overall I think that The Enigma Fellowship: Dinner Party was a tabletop escape game experience that hits all the notes that people who enjoy tabletop escape games will appreciate.

I think my only criticism would be that it doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to tabletop escape games. But that’s not necessarily a bad quality. Dinner Party knows what it is and owns it – it has a nice storyline and some clever physical paper puzzles. You know what you’re getting in for when you set out to play and if you enjoy tabletop paper-based games then you’re in for a fun evening.

It took me and my partner about 120 minutes to complete the game and I would say that above all it is excellent value. We enjoyed solving the puzzles and were fully immersed in the plot of finding what had happened to Sig. Fabricci.

The Enigma Fellowship: Dinner Party can be purchased here

Wacky Wheels: Longest Night in Bell-Ville | Review

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

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

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

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

Wacky Wheels Mystery Stories

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

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

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

Welcome to Bell-Ville

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

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

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

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

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

So, how did I get on?

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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