Cycloptic Media – The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland [Review]

“Let’s keep opening packages until it makes sense.”

Location: at home

Date Played: December 19, 2017

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Duration: at least a few hours and up to several weeks

Price: $56.50 for the full version; $47.50 the abridged version

REA Reaction

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland delivered interactive fiction to our home. It would be great for anyone looking to sink their teeth into a mystery, in episodic installments over a period of time. If you’re looking for more focused puzzling and gameplay, this won’t be for you.

Who is this for?

  • Crime drama fans
  • Mystery readers
  • The interactive fiction curious
  • People who want to sink their teeth into a story
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s more than just reading/watching a story unfold.
  • The puzzles have context and purpose.
  • The ending.

Story

A mysterious stranger had contacted us about the disappearance of Julie Harrison, a high school student in Moore County, Vermont. We needed to uncover the circumstances and truth behind this event.

In-game: An assortment of newspaper clippings, cards, pamphlets, and photos from the game.

Setting

There were two options for The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland:

  • The full experience included 18 to 20 letters and packages received by mail over two months.
  • The abridged version included 18 letters and packages mailed in one box.

We received the abridged version.

An assortment of Decoder Ring packages. There are all types of packages all individually numbered.

The letters and packages contained mostly paper and a few more tangible objects. Some contents directed us to various websites as well. The printed materials were cleanly designed and more polished than many play-at-home experiences. That said, the design choices didn’t help convey story.

Gameplay

We opened each sealed envelope/package one at a time, in numerical order. We thoroughly investigated the contents of each one before opening another. Sometimes the packages contained puzzles or parts of puzzles. Sometimes they directed us to other interactive content. Other times they filled in more of the story.

Generally the puzzles built over multiple packages.

Standouts

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland was interactive fiction. It presented a mystery for us to solve. It was both a story and a puzzle… but it gave a lot more story than it did puzzles.

The tangible elements were most fun to explore. We especially enjoyed solving one item based on the knowledge we’d accrued about the character it had belonged to. It was a satisfying puzzle sequence.

We loved the opening puzzle. It was by far the most puzzle-y moment of the experience.

We enjoyed solving puzzles that unlocked bits of the story. These gave us feedback, so we knew we’d completed a gameplay/narrative thread.

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland told a cohesive story. The tidbits we received piecemeal all came together in the end.

The conclusion of the narrative was amusing.

Shortcomings

While the puzzles resolved to closure, the individual packages did not. Sometimes we’d explore a new package thoroughly and learn bits of story, but not take any actions. In those instances we never knew whether we should move ahead. Had we found all there was to find?

The episodic reveals could also be frustrating in terms of gating. Sometimes we’d be waiting on a particular item that we knew was coming so that we could solve a puzzle that had already been set up. It was anticlimactic to receive an item that we knew we needed 10 packages after we’d figured out that we needed it.

A web-based interaction was delayed. We received a response more than a week after submitting answers. At that point, we were no longer engaged with that part of the story. For the abridged version, this was particularly problematic because we could choose to move ahead to other content.

The materials were middle-of-the-road, in terms of production value. They could have been more detailed. Generally speaking, the physical materials added little to the narrative or feel of the experience.

While the story came together in the end, we had to work hard to follow it through the different packages. There were too many characters to keep track of, especially since they all developed at different times, in different ways. Even when we solved plot threads, we never felt we had a handle on the overarching story. This was especially strange in light of the ending reveal.

Tips for Purchasing

  • There are two versions: The Full Experience and The Abridged Version. The Full Experience includes an extra unlockable mailing that is delivered digitally in the Abridged version. In the Full Experience, one mailing is timed based on when a certain plot thread is solved. Additionally, the Full Experience includes some personalization that the Abridged Version lacks. When deciding which version to purchase, consider these differences as well as whether you’d rather receive the content over time or in one fell swoop.
  • If you play by the rules, you will not be able to solve this game in one night.

Purchase Cycloptic Media’s The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cycloptic Media comped our tickets for this game.

 

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