The Mystery Agency: The Balthazar Stone

Can you unlock the ancient chest, find the Balthazar Stone and break the ancient curse? Join Elsa Winslow on her journey to Sharktooth Island. To solve the mystery, you must unlock an ancient treasure chest, find Balthazar’s Stone and break its ancient curse.

Rating: Fantastic!
Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 23rd May 2021
Party Size: 1
Recommended For: A spectacular adventure from your own home!

Can I just start this review by saying I absolutely lost my mind when I opened up The Balthazar Stone, like, what?! How cool is this? It’s an ACTUAL TREASURE CHEST. WITH TREASURE IN IT. WAT?! *cough cough* okay professional review time….

I was super lucky to be lent this game by the fabulous Armchair Escapist, who sent the box via Review the Room (side note – Review the Room have the world’s most excellent package wrapping skills!) and it was very cool to be part of that escape room box chain of fantastic people. I’m also kinda glad I borrowed it and don’t own it myself mainly because the accompanying news article explained how the mysterious box whispers to the owner and eventually sends them crazy. I don’t need that kind of drama in my life right now.

The Story

You are sent the box by The Mystery Agency, hoping your puzzling skills might be able to help in uncovering the mystery that surrounds the Balthazar Stone. After all, the professor who had it last went crazy trying to decipher the riddles and open the case. He even tried *whispering* brute forcing the lock, but alas! The Balthazar’s Stone keeps it’s secrets.

But this is where you come in and what quickly unfolds is a story so much larger than a simple piece of lost treasure. The Balthazar Stone is actually about a young orphaned girl named Elsa Winslow who goes on a quest to Sharktooth Island to find out what became of her father after finding the words “Balthazar Stone” written in his last message to her.

As you descend through each layer of the locked box you uncover more parts to the tale – more treasure maps, more curious artefacts and more sea-weathered materials that will lead you back to the Balthazar Stone. But do you actually want to find the stone? Well, that’s for you to decide.

The Experience

The coolest thing about playing The Balthazar Stone is the sheer spectacle of the game – which is probably why I took so many photos (too many to fit in one review). The production quality on this boxed game is extremely high. For starters, the contents of the game literally come locked inside the more treasure chest looking thing I’ve ever seen, complete with aged padlocks and trinkets.

As well as the physical component, you’ll also need to head online to The Mystery Agency’s website where other resources – such as newspaper records and death notices can be found to help aide your solving of the game. Logging into this interface was just as special as the treasure trove of goodies though, as it’s all themed around The Mystery Agency. You log into a very vintage looking computer system, and have other folders such as ‘Hints’ and where to begin scattered about the desk – all clickable of course!

From here you weave your way through the game unlocking each layer of the locked box as you go. Arguably, I found that with each layer the puzzles got a little bit more difficult. The first three digit code was fairly easy to crack using the newspaper that came with the box but from here in I was on my own with stacks of pirate maps, feathers and corks.

The whole thing is themed beautifully. From the thin paper stock for the newspaper, to weathered materials that felt centuries old… It just felt genuine. You, the player, aren’t merely passive. You’re part of the action and holding a very valuable treasure chest in front of you. It’s magical.

In some ways I felt it would be technically possible to play the game in a non-boxed form. There weren’t any puzzles that explicitly needed to be physical. Taking the corks and feathers as an example again – these could have been drawings or even images on my computer screen, sure. But as the physicality of the game was what I enjoyed the most, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s a little pricier than your average ‘play at home game’ but if you enjoy feeling like a real life treasure hunter in the most immersive way possible, you can’t do too wrong with The Balthazar Stone.

The Puzzles

This game is split into three areas, with a three digit lock at each. What this means is that most of the game revolves around finding a three digit code. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be golden. The rest of the story falls into place around this.

I’d rate the puzzles around the “medium” level of difficulty. As a solo player I completed this in exactly an hour with help from one or two clues to get started towards the beginning. The whole time I had my player 2 hovering nearby wondering what on Earth I was doing.

“Looking for treasure again”
“You bet.”

And of course, weighing in on the occasional puzzle.

My favourite puzzles in this box revolved around looking for co-ordinates on a map. Again, this was broken down into further, smaller puzzles, but anything that lets me roll out a big pirate’s map and pinpoint locations is a double thumbs up in my book. I love it!

Overall

A thoroughly enjoyable treasure hunt style play at home escape room. Although I suppose you’re not really escaping from anything, you’re unlocking padlocks to get into something. It’s easily one of my favourite play at home escape room experiences of 2021 so far (woah are we already halfway through the year?!) and it’s definitely put The Mystery Agency’s upcoming games on my radar.

I’d be remiss not to mention that in recent times, the company as a whole has had a little controversy around this (and other) games being distributed publicly before Kickstarter backers received copies. Some production errors also meant that some players have received multiple boxes and others none. As neither a Kickstarter backer, nor a purchaser (thanks again for lending me your copy, Armchair Escapist!), I don’t have an experience to share, but I thought it worth mentioning nonetheless. From what I can tell their customer service has been generally positive though, and the high quality product has enabled them to bounce back from this and go on to continue planning and making more games. In fact, I hear they have a 4th in the works now too!

My only regret? Borrowing the game and not owning it myself! The treasure chest it comes in is gorgeous and I’d love to show it off at parties.

“Oh? What’s this? Only a mysterious stone lost for centuries that drives people insane… Wanna give it a go?”

The Balthazar Stone can be purchased for £40 via The Mystery Agency’s website here.

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