The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the British Museum [Review]

The game is a book.

Location:  at home

Release Date: March 2021

Date Played: April 2021

Team Size: we recommend 1

Duration: 2+ hours, depending on thoroughness

Price: $14.95

Publisher: Ammonite Press

REA Reaction

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the British Museum is the second in a series of Holmesian branching-narrative puzzle books. With a loose, puzzle-filled story, it leads the reader through a second-person treasure hunt through the British Museum circa 1901.

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the British Museum cover with code wheel.

I appreciated certain improvements over the first installment, most notably how the puzzles felt more connected to the story and setting. The museum location also added some fun historical details. However, The Adventure of the British Museum lacked the playful relationship with the reader that made The Adventure of the London Waterworks so delightful. Instead, it was a more straightforward puzzle-filled story without too many tricks or treats along the way.

Compared to the first book, the difficulty curve felt uneven, with no smooth on-ramp to introduce the gameplay. Also, The Adventure of the British Museum suffered from errors in several puzzles. Ultimately they weren’t game-breaking errors, but they signaled a need for more playtesting.

If you enjoyed The Adventure of the London Waterworks and want to check out another take on the same format, The Adventure of the British Museum offers an afternoon of puzzling entertainment. If you haven’t yet read The Adventure of the London Waterworks, that would be a better place to start.

Who is this for?

  • Sherlock Holmes fans
  • Gamebook aficionados
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • To take a virtual tour through the British Museum
  • Code wheels are fun

Story

I assumed the role of Sherlock Holmes as he investigated a mysterious letter that had led him and Watson to the British Museum. By following a series of puzzles through the museum’s exhibits, I attempted to thwart a villainous plot and escape unscathed.

The Adventure of the British Museum included abundant references to Sherlock Holmes lore, but reading without background knowledge wasn’t a problem.

An ilustration featuring Sherlock and Watson in front of the museum entrance.
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The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the London Waterworks [Review]

All great adventures begin by turning the first page…

Location:  at home

Release Date: June 2019

Date Played: April 2021

Team Size: we recommend 1

Duration: ~3 hours, depending on thoroughness

Price: $14.95

Publisher: Ammonite Press

REA Reaction

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the London Waterworks is the first in a series of Holmesian branching-narrative puzzle books. Combining story and puzzles in roughly equal measure, it leads the reader through a second-person adventure of mystery, murder, and escape.

The Adventure of the London Waterworks read like a Choose Your Own Adventure book fortified with Professor Layton-style “everything’s a puzzle” gameplay. The story would be fairly simple without the puzzle layer, and vice versa. But in combination, the narrative structure served as a sturdy framework for puzzle delivery.

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the London Waterworks cover with code wheel.

The solving covered many puzzle types, with frequent appearances of the Dancing Men cipher from the classic Sherlock Holmes story. The puzzle difficulty gradually increased from simple warmups to some genuinely challenging moments. Certain choices cleverly rewarded close scrutiny while deploying red herrings to discourage guessing or cheating.

From cover to cover, The Adventure of the London Waterworks provided several hours of entertainment, with details that rewarded multiple reads. You could enlist the help of your own Watson, but the book seems best suited for a solo puzzling experience, particularly because certain puzzles require close inspection.

Seasoned solvers may not find a hardcore challenge in The Adventure of the London Waterworks, but it’s a good amount of entertainment in a small package. If you’re a fan of interactive fiction books or Sherlock Holmes stories, this one is worth checking out.

Who is this for?

  • Sherlock Holmes fans
  • Gamebook aficionados
  • Puzzlers who enjoy a narrative foundation
  • Readers who enjoy a sprinkling of puzzles

Why play?

  • To get all the endings
  • To feel as smart as Sherlock Holmes
  • Red herrings done right

Story

Playing the role of consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, I followed a mysterious note to the London Waterworks with the trusty Dr. Watson. After infiltrating the pumping station, I made choices and solved puzzles in order to uncover and foil Moriarty’s mysterious plan.

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#NoEscape, a #MurderTrending Novel, by Gretchen McNeil [Review]

A group of geniuses attempt an elite escape room competition with unsurprisingly deadly results.

Author:  Gretchen McNeil

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Page Count: 352

Price: $17.99 US/$22.99 CAN

Publisher: Disney/Freeform

REA Reaction

#NoEscape was a young adult horror novel set in an elite escape room competition. Like so many stories with this backdrop, it presented a seemingly harmless escape room that turned out to have life-or-death stakes.

More than most escape-room-based stories, #NoEscape took some liberties. It was entertaining to read about a world-famous escape room company that required several employees to run each elaborate game. #NoEscape also portrayed escape rooms as much more oblique and frustrating than they actually are—and, obviously, more dangerous.

If you’re looking for an intellectual challenge, this is probably not the book for you. Despite the setting, #NoEscape didn’t offer much in the way of solve-along puzzles or Easter eggs for escape room players. It didn’t particularly feel like it was written by or for enthusiasts.

It’s just a straightforward thriller with quirky characters, plot twists and turns, and the occasional gruesome demise. If that sounds like fun to you, #NoEscape is a decent choice for your next casual weekend read.

The front cover of #NoEscape, with graphics depicting a chain with a skull padlock.

Who is this for?

  • Young adult horror buffs
  • Fans of the death game genre
  • People who’ve seen every escape room movie

Why play?

  • Diverse characters
  • Creative yet deadly challenges
  • Experience a world where escape rooms are as popular as video games

Story

As the first-ever player to win an “unbeatable” escape room, Persey is invited to compete with other escape room geniuses for a $10 million prize. When the escape room competition takes a dark turn, the contestants change their focus to getting out alive.

An epigraph reading "Our puzzle will be your undoing." —Derrick and Melinda Browne, Founders of Escape-Capades, LLC
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Shine On Collective – Welcome Home [Review]

Dinner and a disappearance.

Location:  at home in Los Angeles

Date Played: September 8, 2020

Team size: 2-4

Duration: about 75 minutes to 2 hours

Price: $40 per person (party of 2) or $30 per person (party of 4)

REA Reaction

Welcome Home was an immersive experience that combined audio storytelling, found objects, light puzzling, and a hot meal delivered to our door.

The experience revolved around a story box created by Shine On Collective, an immersive theater company based in Los Angeles. The story unfolded like an interactive audio play, self-guided and supported by written documents and puzzly interactions. 

Due to the heavy storyline, Welcome Home wasn’t exactly “fun.” The tone was melancholy and sometimes sinister. But Shine On Collective weaved a compelling story about suburban secrets and what it really means to be a good neighbor.

The gameplay aspect of Welcome Home didn’t provide a significant challenge. The interactions were more guided, allowing the story to take center stage.

This was a limited run, but Welcome Home will be returning to Los Angeles on October 23 and 24. If you don’t require a serious puzzling challenge and the experimental storytelling sounds intriguing, Welcome Home is an experience worth investigating.

The closed game box, marked "Welcome Home," with a pamphlet reading "Welcome to Town!"

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Immersive theater fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Experimental format
  • Haunting story
  • Help solve a mystery

Story

We had just moved into a new house whose previous occupant had gone missing. Our welcome package of a meal and some information about our new neighborhood led us on a journey to discover Eli’s fate.

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DarkPark Games – Witchery Spell [Review]

Coven fresh.

Location:  at home

Date Played: August 9, 2020

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

Duration: about 2-3 hours

Price: $58 plus shipping from the Netherlands

REA Reaction

Witchery Spell stood out from the crowd of play-at-home escape games by combining story, puzzles, and design into a polished, cohesive experience. DarkPark Games didn’t just assemble a box full of themed puzzles that could be found in a magazine. They conjured a self-contained experience that felt magical from start to finish.

Through its intricate physical elements, realistic websites, and player-driven gameplay, Witchery Spell made us feel like part of the story. The props and documents included in the box were clearly chosen and created with care. It was easy to ignore the few hiccups we ran into as we pursued the mystery to its conclusion.

The story was perilous and suspenseful, but more mystical than scary. Along with the moderate difficulty level, this makes Witchery Spell approachable to anyone who’s comfortable with the occult theme and slightly dark storyline. 

A pentagram surrounded with decorative symbols, with a lit candle in the center.

Witchery Spell was comparatively expensive for a play-at-home game, especially with international shipping. If cost is a factor, it’s much more affordable to grab a refill kit or two and find someone to split the bill with. 

Witchery Spell was a solid example of the potential of interactive storytelling to transport players to another world. The price may seem high, but it reflects the quality and value of this unique game. Not having had the opportunity to play any of DarkPark’s real life games myself, I can safely say Witchery Spell lived up to their reputation.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Sorcery enthusiasts
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Intricate, tactile components
  • Puzzle–story integration
  • Magical ambiance

Story

Years ago, five young girls found an old book and followed a ritual within, binding them into a coven. When one of the five disappeared after her 23rd birthday, the remaining four sent us a package of mysterious items to investigate. Our goal was to save them from the same fate.

Papers including a typewritten letter and a newspaper clipping reporting "Burned Body of Woman Found Near Riverbank in Cleveland."
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