Crack-a-Nut Mysteries – Double Major [Review]

A game made with heart

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 2021

Team size: we recommend 3-4

Duration: 4 mailings arriving over the course of 3 weeks, active play time is 6+ hours

Price: $135

REA Reaction

Writing and world-building are central to games by Crack-a-Nut Mysteries. Through articles, journals, letters, and props, they fabricate worlds and let you get lost within them. It’s a tall order for a tabletop experience, but they do it consistently.

A model of a human heart beside a number of other items related to University of Michigan.
Image via Crack-a-Nut

Double Major is the third Crack-a-Nut Mysteries game that we’ve played, but it was their first creation. It was originally made as part of a Christmas puzzle exchange that built a bit of a reputation for itself. Co-creator Angela Lawson-Scott told the story of this game on our Tabletop panel at RECON 21:

Double Major is a very cool, very ambitious product. It’s not as refined as the more recent Root of All Evil, which is a must-play for those seeking narrative puzzle adventures. However, if you liked Root of All Evil, and you want more, Double Major felt substantially larger and is a worthy experience.

Crack-a-Nut Mysteries crammed so much into this game, and if you are looking to dive into the deep end, order yourself a copy. There’s a lot to enjoy.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Code breakers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The story is cool and well written
  • Volume – there’s a lot going on
  • A few memorable moments continue to stick in my mind

Story

Something was rotten at the University of Michigan. A box of unusual evidence had found its way to us by mail. Lives were lost, people were missing, and nefarious experiments were afoot.

A large assortment of books, letters, newspaper articles, ID badges, and other items.
Image via Crack-a-Nut

Setup

Similarly to Crack-a-Nut Mystery’s later game Root of All Evil, Double Major was a detective game.

A series of packages (or, one large package with a few sub-packages to be opened at different times) arrived at our house.

The packages were filled with articles, journals, and physical evidence to examine, interpret, and decipher. The components were numerous, and provided a lot of worldbuilding. One prop at the heart of the experience was especially memorable.

Gameplay

Crack-a-Nut Mysteries’ Double Major was a story-driven, puzzle-based mystery game.

It was more challenging than a boxed escape room game, but not as challenging as a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, reading, investigating, solving puzzles, and engaging with the story.

A letter from a gene sequencing company.
Image via Crack-a-Nut

Analysis

➕ In Double Major, Crack-a-Nut Mysteries impressed us again with a journal we wanted to read. It was entertaining in its own right.

➕ Crack-a-Nut Mysteries personalizes their experiences. This helped immediately draw us into the mystery.

➕ /➖ The story was engaging and unusual. That said, there were a lot of plot threads to keep track of, and by the end the volume of storylines proved cumbersome.

➕ There were a lot of strong puzzles in this game with solid cluing and satisfying breakthroughs. We felt accomplished and excited time and time again.

❓ Some of the gameplay was more challenging than we typically encounter in tabletop puzzle games of this style. Double Major used obscure ciphers. If you can recognize these, you’ll love the aha. If you can’t, you’ll be relying heavily on hints, and may wish for a more thorough walkthrough.

➖ We solved some of the best moments and plot reveals early on. With more gating, Crack-a-Nut Mysteries could deliver a deliberate flow of gameplay to enhance the intrigue and the returns on their reveals.

➖ Because so much of the material becomes available all at once (in the third mailing), we pulled on different game threads out of order. More than once, we spent a lot of time on a puzzle that solved to a clue to another puzzle… that we’d already solved. This made the puzzles inherently less satisfying.

➕ Crack-a-Nut Mysteries minded the details. The paper materials were high quality and felt genuine. They also went to great lengths to obscure a tiny detail.

Double Major offered more than a journal and assorted paper components. It included tangible props too, which afforded the game some nifty interactions.

➕ The gameplay left the box, making use of other multimedia, which we enjoyed. Note, this was directed and it never felt like the open internet was in play, which we appreciated.

➖ For us, the ending fizzled. However, we believe this was more on account of the order in which we learned certain information than on account of the narrative itself. We just didn’t spend enough time in the places that mattered.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a table
  • Required Gear: pen and paper
  • Stay organized and take good notes!

Buy your copy of Crack-a-Nut Mysteries’ Double Major, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crack-a-Nut Mysteries provided a sample for review.

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