Mystery Mail – The Criterion [Review]

Puzzles postal

Location: at home

Date played: Q1 & Q2 2017

Team size: player’s choice; we recommend 2

Duration: however long it takes

Price: $125

Story & setting

A series of puzzles sent in 5 letters, Mystery Mail’s The Criterion wasn’t really a mystery so much as a collection of puzzles where the pieces arrived every few weeks.

The tiny letters contained paper-based puzzle components that were supplemented with a web-based answer/ hint page as well as the occasional third party browser-based app.

Photo of 5 opened letters and a pile of assorted puzzle material including a partial QR code, a 2 of spades, and a cipher grid.

Puzzles

Mystery Mail had a range of puzzle types including but not limited to logic, spatial, and reasoning challenges.

The mailings weren’t self-contained. Individual puzzles were frequently spread over multiple mailings or the entire multi-month experience.

Standouts

The core concept.

We enjoyed many of the puzzles that Mystery Mail sent our way.

The hints were structured such that we couldn’t receive a hint to any given mailing until the next one had arrived. In theory, we liked this structure.

Shortcomings

At $125, it’s incredibly expensive for what was delivered.

A few puzzles were pretty tedious. One puzzle involved a particularly shitty Flash-app. Its inclusion in the game baffled me.

The individual mailings did not contain any level of individual resolution, which was problematic. There were times when we sat on puzzle components for months without any idea of what to do with them. There were also times when we knew exactly what was coming, but had to wait weeks or months for it to arrive to tell us the specific letters, numbers, or symbols we’d need.

The hint website was confusing to navigate and at times didn’t resolve our puzzle confusion. This was frequently a byproduct of the mailings containing components that were essentially useless when we initially received them.

Upon completion of the last mailing, the website told us that we had earned a final bonus puzzle. We’ve waited a couple of months for that to arrive and finally decided to just publish this review without it.

Should I play Mystery Mail’s The Criterion?

We were really excited about Mystery Mail’s concept. Upon receiving the first couple of mailings we attacked them with vigor. As we realized that the letters were incomplete puzzles, we grew frustrated and finally let the game sit until we received the final mailing. Incomplete puzzles were not fun.

Had the mailings offered some kind of regular resolution or an engaging mysterious narrative, I think we would have had a lot more fun. It’s still possible to have episodic resolution within a larger puzzle running through a long-term experience, but this was a long-term puzzle with periodic resolution. Without any mystery, that didn’t cut it for us.

It’s too expensive and far too underwhelming. Skip it.

 

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