Trapped Puzzle Rooms – Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery [Review]

A doggone delight.

Location: at home

Date Played: May 2022

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

Duration: 6-10 hours, broken into four acts

Price: back on Kickstarter at $69 to receive a copy of the game

REA Reaction

With its clever construction and whimsical design, Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery stands out from the pack of play-at-home puzzle games. Trapped Puzzle Rooms has a reputation for devising uniquely charming, joyful experiences, and Ruff Bluff has built on that past expertise to create a more complex, premium addition to its Trapped Takeout product line. As of June 21, 2022, it’s available to back on Kickstarter for projected release in November 2022.

Box with the text "Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery" and an illustration of seven dogs playing poker

The real meat of Ruff Bluff is its puzzles. The volume of gameplay in each small box or envelope surprised us every time. We marveled at the elaborate game structure as the acts unfolded. Certain puzzles proved quite challenging, but Trapped provided an excellent online hint system to give the right level of guidance and prevent players from getting stuck.

Rather than leaning on printed materials, Trapped included game components that were varied, tactile, and fun to interact with. A couple of the more memorable items would be fun to keep on hand and revisit even after the game is over. We played a mostly finished prototype version; some components will be changed before the official release, but it seems fair to expect the final product will be even more polished.

Ruff Bluff is equally sophisticated and fun-filled, with a thoughtfully refined game flow framed by a wholesome whodunit set in an amusing dog-filled world. When it arrives later this year, it will be a worthy addition to any puzzle lover’s collection.

And if you like dog puns, all the better.

Who is this for?

  • Dog people
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Clever, layered gameplay
  • Varied puzzle types
  • Dog puns
A stack of suspect files featuring mugshots of illustrated dogs, with Julia Dripping and Richard Ruffington at the top

Story

Barbara Fetcher’s precious Ruby Bone had gone missing during a poker game with a guest list full of veritable dogs. As investigators for the Barker Street Detectives, we studied the evidence and the motley crew of suspects to piece together the crime and determine who had absconded with the bone.

Setup

Ruff Bluff’s story and gameplay were divided into four acts, each of which examined a different aspect of the investigation via new puzzle challenges. Each act took between half an hour and 2+ hours to complete, allowing for optional breaks in between puzzling. The final act was the shortest and simplest, and served as a sort of denouement. 

At certain points, we entered our answers into Ruff Bluff’s website, which also had an incremental hint system to provide help if we needed it.

Gameplay

Ruff Bluff was a play-at-home puzzle game with a medium level of difficulty, but with greater complexity than most boxed escape games. Beyond just the longer play time, the puzzles were also designed to intertwine and build on each other as the game progresses.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, making connections, logic, jigsaw puzzling, and solving the central mystery.

Analysis

➕ Everything about Ruff Bluff felt deliberately designed to help the game flow smoothly. Each act was clearly labeled with the time it would take to complete. The website offered a nudge if we entered a close but incorrect answer. The game told us if we needed to preserve a solve state for later. The hint system alerted us about what the next hint would reveal. Details like these showed how mindful Trapped is about the player experience.

A box labeled "Act 2 - Evidence, Do Not Open Until Instructed" and a similar envelope for Act 3

➕ When we opened the box, we encountered a bunch of materials at once, but it was easy to stay organized, even when we needed to revisit certain items. We could tell (or sometimes we were explicitly told) when we didn’t need something yet, which prevented us from wasting time with false leads. Instead, investigating and making connections added to the fun.

➕ Ruff Bluff included an assortment of tactile items to play with. The game components were fun and intriguing. We were excited to open each new box or envelope, and the contents never let us down. Spending time with artifacts from this universe of dogs contributed to the feeling of immersion.

Assorted game materials including a Sniffsonian Institute brochure, a file labeled "From the desk of Furlock Holmes," some $700 bills and puzzle pieces

➕ The puzzles were consistently great. Each one was satisfying in its own way, and the diversity of puzzle types kept us entertained and delighted. Many of them developed further layers of challenge as the game went on. Even the more traditional pencil puzzles included a twist or two.

➕ One particular king-sized logic puzzle was especially glorious to solve.

➕ Between the self-service hint system on the website and the many subtle nudges built into the gameplay, we never risked getting stuck. Even with the trickiest of the puzzles, the comprehensive hint system made Ruff Bluff accessible to beginners and expert players alike.

❓ Do you like jigsaw puzzles? I hope so, because you can’t hint your way through this one. That said, we enjoyed this variation on reconstructing the crime.

➖ Story-wise, there were moments when we weren’t sure if we were helping Furlock Holmes solve the mystery or following along with the detective’s progress. We found ourselves wanting a little more of a pat on the back for our role in cracking the case.

❓ The final act felt like the lightest part of the game. Some of the deductions in the finale were among the game’s finest aha moments, but overall it felt easier and less robust than the other sections. As the shortest act, it would be harder to build an entire evening around, and might be best experienced as an immediate follow-up to Act 3.

❓ Played as intended, this game has destructible components. It’s possible to finish the game without destroying anything, but certain interactions make the game hard to effectively reset unless you take extra care.

➕ We enjoyed spending several evenings in the world of Ruff Bluff and getting to know its ragtag characters. From the start, I felt as immersed as I can imagine being in a canine poker game (except maybe if there had been scratch and sniff, though it’s probably for the best that there wasn’t).

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pen and paper, internet-connected device
  • Good lighting couldn’t hurt for some of the more visual puzzles.

Buy your copy of Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Trapped Puzzle Rooms provided a sample for review.

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