Escape My Room – Crescent City Cases [Hivemind Review]

Crescent City Cases is a print-and-play game created by Escape My Room in New Orleans.

Format

Style of Play:

  • Online native experience (can NOT be played IRL)
  • Play on demand
  • Print-and-play

Who is it For?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Story seekers
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection, printer

The game suggests printing out much of the material, but many puzzles can be solved without doing so.

Recommended Team Size: 1-3

Play Time: no timer, expect about 1-2 hours per case

Price: First case is free; $9.95 each for the other 5 cases; $49.95 for the season (which gets a meta game); additional $50 to have all the cases printed and mailed to you

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure

Description

After purchase, players are given access to a website that has puzzles and an answer input form. Some puzzles are solvable totally on screen, some need to be printed, and some can go either way. Players solve puzzles, enter the solution into the form, and are rewarded with more information and puzzles.

Black and white file interface for Crescent City Cases.

Andrew Reynolds’ Reaction

Crescent City Cases is a series of 7 hit-or-miss detective-style cases from the team behind Escape My Room in New Orleans. The cases are available à la carte (except for the final ‘meta’ case, which requires the full season pass), with the first adventure being free for anyone to try. Unfortunately, this was one of the less interesting cases, involving mostly just figuring out which ciphers to use and then applying them. I found the best of the bunch to be case #4: Inventor’s Outrage. It had the best flow and overall design.

Crescent City Cases has a slick interface; they’ve made the site look like a computer file explorer. And this was likely the simplest way I’ve seen Google Forms integrated as the answer entry method. That’s not to say that I like to see an embedded Form; it requires tab management and care. There are plenty of warnings that if you close the main page with the Form, you have to start all over again. Make sure you’re writing down your answers!

While many of the puzzles were perfectly fine, some were close to being demoralizing. Two puzzles in particular had too many things to read and crosscheck across multiple tabs. I was glad for the non-punitive hint/ solution system to do some of the work for me once I had figured out what I needed to do.

Cara Mandel’s Reaction

Crescent City Cases is a fun premise: a series of individual mysteries to solve that build out the story world of the DeLaporte family made popular by Escape My Room in New Orleans. I’ve played a few rooms at their physical location and can honestly say they are some of the best, most immersive rooms I’ve experienced. I’m a fan of the work that this company has and continues to produce. That said, I had a less enjoyable experience with this particular offering. Although the story was robust, the game interface was a bit cumbersome (Google Forms and password-protected folders) and many of the tasks felt a bit tedious or repetitive. There were some clever mechanisms employed on occasion, but in many cases the input or justification for why something must be decoded felt a bit disconnected or forced and not terribly diegetic. Considering the price point per episode, it felt like this game could use a bit more polish and play testing. Though not the strongest mystery game offering I’ve played, it had some enjoyable moments, and offers players many hours of solving.

Matthew Stein’s Reaction

Crescent City Cases was an ambitious 7-episode game which contained a patchwork of intriguing and creative elements, but which ultimately fell short of being consistently enjoyable to solve.

The narratives presented in Crescent City Cases were the highlight of the game. They were full of colorful details and unexpected twists and turns. I especially liked the stories and characters in Episodes 2 and 6. The writing was a bit nebulous in parts, often much lengthier than was warranted for either the story or the puzzles, and “we’ll take it from here” endings felt a bit abrupt. But on the whole, each episode presented a new cold case that was well crafted to engage budding detectives, and the meta episode cleverly tied up some loose ends.

In contrast, the puzzles and tech in Crescent City Cases were, to be blunt, quite disappointing.

Perhaps most disappointingly, I found the cipher-based interactions of Episode 1 — intended to entice prospective season subscribers — to be both the most uninspired designs and the most unfriendly to newer puzzlers. Throughout the full season, there was at least one puzzle in each episode that was too tedious to be fun or interesting (and I say that as an avid puzzle hunter who loves involved multi-hour solves, but only when designed around clever ahas). There was a general overuse of certain puzzle mechanics, cipher types, and logic grid puzzles. Some puzzles solved to answers that weren’t recognizable as real answers. The handful of puzzles that were genuinely fun, well designed, and clever unfortunately got buried in the surrounding slog.

This precarious balance of creativity and frustration continued into the game’s interfaces. The materials through which the Crescent City Cases were presented — an eclectic mix of historical documents, photographs, drawings, and other ephemera — were beautifully produced. Yet there were too many files, often making tab management a nightmare, and it seemed that the intended effect could have been better accomplished with a smaller quantity of game materials. A print function worked smoothly, yet almost no interactions meaningfully justified printing. Rather, I wished the game had been made friendlier for online solving: long blocks of text could have been made copyable, logic puzzle grids could have been solvable online (one at the beginning actually was, but the others were all static images), and tedious-to-cut pieces could have been drag-and-drop jigsaws. Finally, the gating of new materials was quite janky. A Google Form for each episode confirmed puzzle answers and then gave random number sequences that unlocked new folders of game materials. But these random passwords weren’t cached by the website, making it awkward to retrieve past passwords when earlier documents were reused later in the game. (I later discovered that the hints sometimes provided reminders of these passwords, but this would have been more useful in the main game flow.) Furthermore, the Google Form was embedded at the bottom of the main episode page, meaning we had to both keep that page open the entire game and repeatedly scroll between links at the top of the page and the form at the bottom, often with an ocean of files in the space in between.

I wish I could recommend Crescent City Cases. The stories, characters, and historical ephemera were all delightful, but the game ultimately fell victim to severe scope creep. True crime enthusiasts may enjoy this breadth of materials, but puzzle enthusiasts may find this to be a choppier-than-desired experience.

Brett Kuehner’s Reaction

  • + Variety of puzzle types
  • + Good hint system with 3 or 4 hints before giving the answer to a puzzle
  • + When there are large segments of encoded text, tools are provided to make the process of decoding fun instead of a grind
  • +/- Some puzzles fit the story; some don’t
  • ? Some information provided is solely for story background, which adds to the narrative, but needs to be filtered out when figuring out what parts make up a puzzle
  • – Google Docs “chat” interface for answer submission is a bit clunky
  • ? One puzzle required learning a moderately complex cipher, which could be fun or tedious, depending on your tastes
  • ? Each case ends with a logic puzzle and provides a grid to work it out. I’m not a fan of logic puzzles, and though the grids are helpful, they are also a weird thing to find in a case file, so I have mixed feelings about their inclusion.

Richard Burns’ Reaction

Crescent City Cases shines in the areas one would expect in a product from Escape My Room. The narrative and character development were quite well done. The storylines were compelling and interesting, and the extended DeLaporte family is rich with colorful personalities.

The rest of the experience was a bit lacking. The cases I played felt not quite ready for release. I noticed several typos and grammatical errors in the text. The Google Form answer system and multiple tab switching required was somewhat clunky and didn’t always work as expected. While being designed as a print-and-play game, the web-based aspects felt out of place in my imagining of the fictional world created by Escape My Room.

I appreciated the game for introducing me to at least one new type of cipher, but it was a little unclear if and when players should look to use outside knowledge. The hint system was graduated and worked well. I admit to over utilizing it at times when the process work of some of the puzzle solves felt like more work than the puzzle’s aha moment deserved.

Some puzzle types seemed to be repeated in several of the different cases. Overall, I was hoping for a bit of a better experience from a company that I love and have a ton of respect for.

Disclosure: Escape My Room provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

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