A second boxed escape game, and this one is available for purchase now. Is it worth it?
Location: Buy it and play it wherever you want
Date played: March 16, 2016
Team size: 3-8; we recommend 2-4
Price: $21.99 per box
An escape room in a box
Similar to Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Escape The Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is a play-at-home escape room-esque experience.
The box weighs in at only one pound, and measures 7.9 x 2 x 10.2 inches.
If I was skeptical of The Werewolf Experiment when it arrived in the mail, the lightness of Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor’s box and its shockingly low $22 price tag had me feeling mighty uneasy.
Theme & story
Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor was a 19th century mad science mystery.
A wealthy astronomer turned recluse after the death of his wife and disappeared. We were part of a small group of individuals who cared about the man and approached his manor in an attempt to find him.
What’s in the box?
Upon first opening, Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor seemed like it would be a waste of time.
We found a short instruction booklet, a card that clearly started the story, five sealed envelopes with interesting artwork, and a rotating disk decoder-looking contraption.
Everything was lightweight.
Only the quality of the artwork, and the ThinkFun brand name (which carries some weight with me) hinted at the product’s production value.
I was still frightened that I had invited people over to play.
How does it play?
Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor was surprisingly innovative.
The story and its puzzles unfolded over a series of chapters or scenes. It was a linear experience that uncannily simulated playing a linear escape room.
The puzzles were almost entirely made from cardboard and paper, but they did not require any writing. There were no Sudoku, crosswords, or word searches. While each puzzle offered a unique challenge, they were mostly spacial puzzles (which gave some of us a significant advantage).
The story was well written, but far too wordy. Each scene in the game opened with a written narrative. As the scenes unfolded, so did a compelling narrative. This story added depth, even if it usually wasn’t necessary for solving the puzzles. There were many instances when by the time someone had finished reading the passage, someone else had generally figured out a good chunk of that scene’s puzzle.
There was a well-designed website with tiers of instructions ranging from a gentle nudge in the correct direction to full idiot-proof explanation for each scene of the game.
We didn’t use it during our game, but it was executed well.
Resetting the game
The hint website also contained easy-to-follow instructions for resetting the game.
So long as you don’t play like a barbarian, Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is completely replayable. There were no single-use items in the box. Be gentle.
ThinkFun bills Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor as a 3 to 8 person game. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that we recommend 2-4 players.
Because of the linear nature of the game, we worked on one puzzle at a time. Each puzzle could engage at most each 3 of our 6 players. This made for sporadic tedium.
Play with fewer people.
The game clock was also determined by the number of players.
3-5 players were allotted 2 hours.
6-8 players were allotted 1.5 hours.
We finished the entire game in ~47 minutes and we didn’t rush.
Take your time, play with a small group, and enjoy each piece of the game. Pride is the only reason to rush.
A few questionable components
[Update: ThinkFun had warned us in advance that they were having some trouble with envelope wear in the sample version of the game, and were working with the factory to keep those problems from impacting the production model. In the craziness of our wedding and honeymoon prep, we completely forgot about this conversation. Sorry ThinkFun!]
$22 doesn’t purchase a whole lot these days, but in the case of Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, it bought a whole lot more than I was anticipating. Still, there were a few cut corners (or split in this case) that diminished the experience.
The aforementioned envelopes had two problems with them. First, the edges of my copy were already showing signs of heavy wear before I even removed them from the box.
Second, the envelopes were sealed with stickers that were too sticky for the paper. It took finesse to peel them open without tearing the envelopes, and our envelopes have the scars to prove it.
Third, the game contained small dowel rods. Although used ingeniously, they lacked a head like a nail. We spent more time figuring out how to keep the contraption they supported together than we did solving that puzzle.
Should I play ThinkFun’s Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor?
At $22, the price of a single ticket to a bargain escape room in the United States, I am highly recommending Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor. It’s a better, more creative game than at least 50% of the escape rooms I’ve played.
It’s not quite an escape room and not quite a board game. It’s replayable, but once you know how to solve all the puzzles, you probably won’t replay it.
As with Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment, if you approach Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor wanting an immersive escape room filled with props, expensive components, and large set pieces, you’re going to be disappointed.
If you approach the game thinking it’s a replayable table top game that you’ll keep in your game night lineup, then you’re going to be disappointed.
If you buy Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor knowing that it’s an hour-long puzzle with elegant art, creative puzzles, and will occupy you for an evening, then you’re doing it right.
At this price, it’s worth buying even if you want to play it completely on your own… but don’t. Invite a friend or three.
Purchase your copy of ThinkFun’s Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor [this link is an Amazon Affiliate link] and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
If I love Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, what next?
Think Fun is developing more play-at-home escape rooms and they aren’t the only ones. Subscribe today for the most up to date information on these games.
Full disclosure: we reviewed a free copy of Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor.