The Mystery Experiences Company – The Mad Hatter [Review]

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“Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to! I am never going back there again!”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Location: Buy it and play it wherever you want

Date played: July 2, 2016

Team size: 1- as many people as you can tolerate; we recommend 2-4

Price: $29.99 for one experience, $79.99 for a three-month subscription, $149.99 for a six-month subscription

Story & setting

We had no control over which box we received from the Mystery Experience Company; they send out their packages on a monthly subscription model. The one that showed up in the mail was titled The Mad Hatter.

We were consultants working with the FBI to investigate the murders of three women who were all found dead dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland, all murdered in the same fashion.

Armed with a box full of documents and a few trinkets, we had to sift through the evidence to narrow down a list of suspects until we could conclude whodunit.

All of this was set in the fictional Forrest City, which actually seemed like an interesting place, as many of the game’s components were heavily focused on worldbuilding.

Objects from the game. A drink coaster, a pocketwatch, an invite to a party, and a newspaper featuring one of the murder victims.

Puzzles

It’s a puzzle game, if you use a loose definition of “puzzle.”

As we worked through the game, most of it simply came down to:

  • reading everything carefully
  • indexing the information
  • a bit of light deduction

The hardest part of the game was disregarding the larger world that it created, as there were more than a few extraneous details.

Standouts

Many of the artifacts found in the box had beautiful art.

There was a newspaper and a website. Each covered a wide variety of people, organizations, and happenings throughout Forrest City. They even had advertisements for the local businesses. The level of detail and worldbuilding was excellent. Perhaps a little too excellent…

Shortcomings

Tragically, the world of Forrest City was more interesting than the string of murders we were investigating.

There was a piece in the paper about the passing of Agnes Savage, whose net value totaled $2 billion. Prior to her death, she had changed her will and hid her fortune, offering clues and puzzles to find it. Whoever found it first would inherit it. This was a far more intriguing mystery than the Alice murders.

Similarly, there were a lot of hints at other conspiracy and corruption in the City’s government and upper class. Ultimately, this was all dressing.

There were far too many things to read.

There was a set of cumbersome rules that turned this investigation into a turn-based game. We disregarded them and just attacked the evidence as we saw fit. It worked better this way as it reduced the gameplay time.

There were glaring inconsistencies in some of the documents. These inconsistencies seemed like clues, but they were merely errors.

The nifty objects that we found in the box frequently didn’t do anything beyond look pretty.

The clues that ultimately excluded most of the suspects were painfully obvious.

We had no idea how that list of suspects was created. As we investigated these people, I felt like we were harassing fictional citizens with next to no evidence to even justify a questioning.

Should I play The Mystery Experiences Company’s The Mad Hatter?

From a graphic design standpoint, there was a lot to love, and I was drawn into the world of Forrest City.

I love the idea behind The Mystery Experience Company.

However, the puzzle quality just wasn’t there. The mystery fell flat and the investigation itself didn’t feel plausible. Even after cracking the proverbial case, I didn’t believe that we had enough evidence to pursue an indictment, let alone a criminal prosecution for murder.

While I haven’t played their other games, comparing notes with trusted sources, it sounds like The Mad Hatter was superior to some of their previous experiences.

Maybe I’ll check back in a year and see where they take this. Here’s to hoping that their games are on an upward trajectory. In the mean time, I think there are better ways to spend $30 and an hour or two.

Any other recommendations for at home puzzling?

To try an escape room at home, order Think Fun’s Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor.

And get excited about Escape Room in Box’s The Werewolf Experimentscheduled for release in February 2017. Pre-order it today.

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.

17 thoughts on “The Mystery Experiences Company – The Mad Hatter [Review]

  1. I’ve been a member since the very beginning and the mysteries are growing and changing. The meta mystery involves ALL of the mysteries together and is a really fun way to keep it going. Give it another change. They are polishing their craft and it’s getting awesome.

    1. D McGee I’m happy to hear it, and might check back down the line. In the mean time, it’s too expensive and time consuming for us to keep playing. We have wonderful tabletop games that are a much better experience to occupy our game nights.

      Following up, I was pretty pissed off at how difficult it was for me to cancel with the Mystery Experience Company. I thought I had cancelled and was sent yet another box. I know a couple other friends who had the same experience. If it was just me I’d blame myself.

      1. Same thing just happened to me! I cancelled and weeks later they sent me another. Seems shady to me, and I told them so, but they said it was normal to do this. (I also didn’t know I ever subscribed; I specifically just ordered a month to test it out.)

        I cancelled because the puzzle was poorly designed. The physical things in the box were neat — it’s always nice to have trinkets for a puzzle — but the mystery itself was ugh. I was hoping for something like Black Letter Labs, but this wasn’t even vaguely close.

  2. So is the mystery of the hidden will supposed to be an eventual solvable mystery in and of itself? Perhaps something that could play out over time, clues being littered throughout many months, kind of like a longer story arc/mythology within a television show that tends to have more regular “monster/killer of the week” episodes as its bread and butter?

    1. I cannot say. It seems like they are trying to build a larger world with larger mysteries, but the individual game wasn’t strong enough to pull us back in for another go.

      I also suspect that it will be difficult for them to properly weave a larger story throughout all of their games because new customers cannot get older games. The Mysterious Experience Company sends you their most recent game so new customers cannot backtrack through the older editions. That suggests to me that there might not be as much going on in the larger game world.

  3. Thanks for the review – I went searching for a real-world review when I saw an ad for this, and was happy to find yours – it answered the questions I had about the idea.

    In addition, I also discovered your website, which I’ve just spent the last hour devouring! Win-Win…

  4. Recently Cancelled my subscription after being involved from Box 1. The typos, errors, contradictions and missing pieces make the boxes frustrating. I got behind a few months because, well–LIFE! I’ve been trying to do boxes just a few months old and the external links (like phone numbers) are already disconnected. E-mailing for info gets no response. The customer service is non-existent. Super disappointing.

  5. Update: All future boxes will now have 3-year support for the multimedia portions! The active members on the Facebook community can usually help on older boxes, too. So far, I’ve done the first 15 boxes, and really love the immersive setting and story, which is what, to me, sets this apart from others. I don’t like solving puzzles to solve puzzles, I like stories, and this series helps me feel like I’m a character solving crazy crimes in an almost comic-book style city, like Gotham (but in, or around, Florida)!

    1. Brent, I’m happy to hear that there is an active community behind this product line… however I am struggling to see how any of this addresses the issues that I raised with it in the review.

      If The Mystery Experience Company has substantially fixed these problems in more recent episodes, I’d give it another shot, but if it’s more of the same, I don’t need an additional serving.

      1. I was specifically addressing a comment to update the current support. I try not to debate opinions, as they are valuable as such. The boxes are no longer the same style you played with Grave Matters… That style ended with Dragon, and now the boxes are no longer set up like a party game. This is best felt as an immersive story game with puzzles to solve along the way as you uncover the story. I find the background and history extremely compelling and enjoy the story the most. If it is just puzzles you are looking for, this isn’t a pure puzzle box. The challenge varies month to month from fairly easy, to some with outages that took me days to figure out (and some that I needed hunts, as my experience has to low). However I have enjoyed each of them so far (I’m up to #15). It may be worth it for you to check again and see what you think of the newer boxes.

      2. I’m delighted to hear it Brent. Is there a specific box that you think best represents the current state of the product line?

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