DarkPark – Conspiracy-19 [Review]

Playfully Grim

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 10, 2020

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 2.5-3 hours

Price: about $53.13

Updated 12 September 2020 – DarkPark Games made a number of improvements to this game. We noted that the game was fixable and they listened. While we cannot revisit this game and truly reassess it, we noted where significant changes were made that we could clearly assess.

REA Reaction

The appeal of Conspiracy-19 was its unusual structure, well-designed components, and engaging interactions, but it wasn’t an entirely refined package.

DarkPark’s first foray into the play-at-home escape room market can be summed up with 3 words: interesting, bumpy, and fixable.

A collection of blood samples and an open bottle of pills.
Image via DarkPark

From its subject matter and name, to the bumps in on-boarding and hinting, it was clear that Conspiracy-19 was finished during quarantine… and produced remarkably well, given the added constraints.

In its current state, Conspiracy-19 was a fun, yet flawed game. However, it could be dramatically improved with 2 easily remedied changes:

  • Adjusting the introductory letter to point the player towards a starting place that resolves more quickly
  • Swapping the Facebook-based hinting for a structured, self-service website

At its price point, I’ll happily recommend Conspiracy-19 to diehard tabletop escape room players with disposable income. It’s a cool game. If the price point is a stretch for you at the moment, I’d sit this one out in its current form. It isn’t bad at all; it just needs a few tweaks.

DarkPark is one of our favorite escape room companies in the world, and one of the things we can tell from their work is how much they care about their products. We’re betting that DarkPark iterates on this one.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Prop fiddlers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A few standout interactions
  • An unusual structure

Story

We were in a race against time to save the world from a deadly virus.

Pomotional image displaying the contents of the game box.
Image via DarkPark

Setup

We opened up 1 large package filled with 5 smaller packages.

Each package was made up of 2 different puzzles:

  • A puzzle that resolved to a single letter
  • A puzzle that resolved to a single number

The numbers would lead us to one of many QR codes, while the letters combined into a password.

Hinting was handled in a form on dedicated Facebook Groups (one in English, the other in Dutch). Hinting is now handled through a dedicated website with structured, self-service hints.

A litter asking for help.
Image via DarkPark

Gameplay

DarkPark’s Conspiracy-19 was play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

An autopsy report. A bloody hand has a geometric tattoo on the wrist.

Analysis

➕ DarkPark used quality materials. These were varied and they looked and felt great. We enjoyed the mix of printed and more tangible items. The presentation was polished. (Also, the included red marker was shockingly mighty.)

➖ We had trouble gaining momentum when we started in on Conspiracy-19. The intro would have benefited from an obvious entry point to give players an early win, and help them understand how the game wanted to be played.

➕ Once we got rolling, and the cluing was clear. We understood how we would ultimately arrive at the conclusion.

➖ We encountered a misleading clue that caused us to spend a lot of time trying to solve one puzzle before we had enough information to do so. This happened too early in the game and was the source of so much of our early confusion.

➖/➕ We backsolved half the final puzzle while just glancing over the materials, before starting in on the game. Performing the backsolve was actually pretty fun… and it didn’t stop us from front-solving properly.

Conspiracy-19 included some interesting and different puzzle interactions. These came together elegantly into a final solve.

➖ DarkPark’s approach to play-at-home hinting was atrocious. When we wanted access to the hints, we needed to join a Facebook group, which required approval… which we couldn’t receive because we were playing in a different time zone and nobody was awake to approve us. Then we had to comb through a forum of unstructured hints. At this price point, unstructured, non-self-service hinting was inexcusable.

➕/➖ The characters were developed enough so as to feel different from one another. We could easily understand the story and keep things straight. That said, they weren’t developed enough for us to feel connected to them or their motivations. We weren’t invested in the game beyond solving the puzzles.

Conspiracy-19 belonged in DarkPark’s playfully grim universe. It was on brand.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: an internet-connected device that can read QR codes and log into Facebook for hints

Buy your copy of DarkPark’s Conspiracy-19, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: DarkPark provided a sample for review.

5 thoughts on “DarkPark – Conspiracy-19 [Review]

  1. I hope they do make the changes you mention. Not a fan of forum based clues. I’m holding off on buying for a bit – will you update if they make the changes?

    1. Seems like those changes have been made… and we will certainly update when we have a chance to revisit the game.

  2. Thank you very much for playing our game and the useful feedback!

    We are happy to announce that we have been spending the last few weeks working on a major upgrade for Conspiracy-19 that will be released later this week.

    Although we were very happy with the game, especially given the fact that all of the elements are specifically designed and produced by us and the unusual short time we had to complete it, we do acknowledge that we too felt there was room for improvement. We are convinced that you will agree that the upgraded version of Conspiracy-19 is now a game truly worthy of the name DarkPark!

    Even though we were very happy with the game given the fact that we had such short time to finish it, we always thought there were some improvements needed to make it a true DarkPark worthy game. After the upgrade it definitely will be. I’m convinced you will agree.

    The update will be playable for both people who have already bought the game and new buyers. We will be releasing a separate website to guide players who have already played the game through the changes and added puzzles and storylines.

    Please let us now what you think of our game after the update!

    1. This is fantastic news. We’re looking forward to checking these out and we will publish an update!

      You guys show such dedication to your craft and your customers.

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