Diorama – The Vandermist Dossier [Hivemind Review]

The Vandermist Dossier is a tabletop narrative puzzle adventure created by Diorama in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Vandermist Dossier box beside an assortment of interesting components, including a map, a newspaper and a strange spiral device.

Format

Style of Play: tabletop narrative puzzle adventure

Required Equipment: pen and paper

Recommended Team Size: 1-4

Play Time: 90 minutes

Price: from €41 (about $48) plus shipping on Kickstarter

Booking: back on Kickstarter to purchase at play at your leisure

Description

Abigail Vandermist disappeared in 1979 but not before compiling a dossier of information about strange occurrences that she was investigating. You have been hired for your sleuthing skills to analyze the dossier and determine what happened to Abigail. To do this, you must read through a variety of media to locate clues, decode hidden messages, combine items, and ultimately answer where Abigail is now.

Sarah Mendez’s Reaction

The Vandermist Dossier was an utterly believable and richly tangible mystery experience. All aspects of the game contributed to the illusion that we were poring over authentic documents that the long-lost Abigail Vandermist had encoded with a trail leading to her whereabouts. The realism came from many angles.

First and most obviously, the production value was stunning, with strikingly authentic 1970s materials that had been crumpled, worn, or otherwise aged. Second, all of the materials were available to browse from the beginning of the game, making this experience much more similar to a realistic sleuthing situation rather than a contrived tabletop gaming experience. This was completely appropriate for the narrative but may be overwhelming if you prefer more direction or linearity. Third, the narrative and puzzle components were convincingly interwoven to obscure the most important breadcrumbs, reinforcing the conceit that Abigail was skillfully hiding clues from unintended and/ or hostile audiences.

Although a casual inspection of the materials did risk inadvertently revealing one or two clues out of sequence, most of the investigation required sorting between interesting fluff and the actual substance needed to understand how to meaningfully interact with the items. As such, even though there was a lot of open-ended reading involved in this experience, it authentically contributed to Abigail’s goal of communicating only with us. Over and over again, piecing together the right combinations of information yielded the thrilling ability to view seemingly straightforward information from a new perspective. For me, The Vandermist Dossier was what a puzzle-based mystery game should be: compelling, complex, and full of exciting discoveries. I can’t wait for the rest of the trilogy!

Cindi S’ Reaction

Can you solve the mysterious disappearance of Abigail Vandermist by following the cryptic clues she left long ago? A cross between a mystery and a spy thriller, The Vandermist Dossier is an entertaining tabletop game with realistic components that enhance the storyline and add to the immersion. The game does a good job of leading you through the story while still including a number of surprises. We had fun discovering some very well hidden clues, even if we needed a hint or two! The Vandermist Dossier is part one of a planned trilogy, but no need to wait—it still plays well as a standalone game. And as a bonus, you can easily reset the game to pass it on to friends.

Matthew Stein’s Reaction

Much like how it’s rare for magicians to themselves be fooled by magic but all the more wondrous when they are, so too is this the case for avid puzzlers who’ve seen every trick in the book, every puzzle mechanic, every sneaky way of obfuscating data. The Vandermist Dossier felt like a work of magic designed for and by magicians but accessible to all. At first glance, the various documents and artifacts contained within felt authentic, narratively immersive, and — most importantly — not at all like puzzles. No oddly formatted text or awkward wording immediately called out “solve me! I’m a puzzle!” — other than the one task intended as our entry point to the puzzles and story. With this illusion of apparent normalcy established, the many layers of reveals which followed were all the more satisfying and effective.

The Vandermist Dossier consistently displayed an impeccable attention to detail and self-awareness of the nuanced interplay between puzzles and narrative. The main puzzle path was completely approachable for novices while also full of unexpected reveals for more experienced puzzlers. Everything was clearly clued in ways that made sense in the narrative, and a few alignment puzzles were well designed to not be finicky. For the extra observant solver, the trailhead to a short sequence of more challenging bonus puzzles hides in plain sight. I found these extra puzzles to be especially clever, and I look forward to the full bonus puzzle arc that’ll eventually span this trilogy.

The Vandermist Dossier’s narrative was equal in quality and refinement to its puzzles. In fact, the narrative and puzzles were smoothly integrated, complementing each other brilliantly rather than competing for our attention. The writing showed a great deal of restraint; vivid prose communicated a robust world without ever overstaying its welcome. And the game’s immersion was further reinforced by not requiring any online resources — meaning our attention stayed fixated on the game’s physical materials. That said, a granular hint system is available online for those who need it.

The Vandermist Dossier is a substantial addition to the English-language tabletop puzzle world and evidence of how a puzzle game can be artsy, interesting, and accessible. I highly recommend this to players of any experience level, and I eagerly await the eventual adaptation of the second and third parts of this trilogy to English.

Disclosure: Diorama provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.