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.

Continue reading “Trapped Puzzle Rooms – Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery [Review]”

Introducing EnigMarch: A Month-Long Puzzle Design Challenge

Editor’s Note: REA writer Sarah Willson tells us about the new event she’s organizing for puzzle creators… and those curious about creating puzzles.

Next month, we’ll celebrate the inauguration of EnigMarch, a 31-day puzzle design challenge that will hopefully become an annual tradition in the puzzling community.

EnigMarch logo

Background

It all began on January 1, when I decided that one of my goals for 2022 would be to improve my puzzle design skills. And what better way to do that than a month-long gauntlet of daily challenges? After I started asking around about the existence of such an event, a group of enthusiastic puzzlers got together and decided to create one ourselves. EnigMarch was born.

How It Works

Every day in March (technically, the night before at 8pm ET), we’ll release a new prompt on social media and enigmarch.com, to be used as inspiration for any type of puzzle you like. Once you’ve created a puzzle, you can post it with the hashtag #enigmarch to share it with the world.

The purpose of the daily prompts is to provide the structure and motivation to create a puzzle every day and emerge stronger and wiser on March 31. Some people may prefer to choose only certain prompts or take more than one day to create their puzzles, and that’s fine too. Whether or not you want to participate as a designer, you can check out the #enigmarch hashtag and see all the different interpretations of each day’s prompt. Some of the fun of EnigMarch will undoubtedly be seeing people’s experimental ideas and the seeds of future puzzle masterpieces.

How to Get Involved

In preparation for the main event, we’ve assembled some resources, inspiration, and secret bonus content on enigmarch.com. Whether you’re already a seasoned constructor or you’ve never tried to write a puzzle in your life, we’re hoping EnigMarch will help you build your design skills and confidence in your creations.

My favorite thing about EnigMarch is that it’s really just intended to help people increase their puzzle-writing prowess and have fun doing it. There’s no agenda except to celebrate a love of puzzles and share them with the community.

If you decide to participate, we’d love to see what you come up with!

Unexpected Games – The Initiative [Review]

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a board game.

Location:  at home

Date Played: October-November 2021

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

Duration: 15-60 minutes per mission

Price: $59.95

REA Reaction

The Initiative is a unique campaign-based cooperative strategy game with delightful escape-at-home overtones. Unlike most board games, there’s an overarching narrative that ties in with the gameplay mechanics, as well as plenty of secrets—some of which I only found while writing up this review.

Unexpected Games’ description of The Initiative as a “cooperative game of strategy, story, and codebreaking” explains it succinctly. We enjoyed all three of these elements on their own, and they were especially impressive in combination. From story to gameplay to graphic design, it’s clear how much care and creativity went into the design of this game.

The Initiative game box, mission console with an unrevealed code, resource deck, and game pieces set up on the board.

The Initiative is meant to be played over 14 missions with one to four adults or puzzle-minded youngsters, who can drop in and out of the campaign as they please. The strategy board game element is fortified with story in the form of a comic book describing a group of kids playing a very similar board game. There are also secrets hidden throughout the game materials, and even more missions are available to play separately after the main campaign. After spending a dozen or more hours with The Initiative, we still hadn’t exhausted all of its mysteries.

It’s not exactly an escape game, but between the cooperative gameplay, ciphers, secrets, and aha moments, The Initiative seems especially appropriate for escape room enthusiasts. If you like the idea of playing an intricately designed, puzzle-filled board game over multiple sittings, it’s well worth the retail price.

Who is this for?

  • Fans of legacy/ campaign board games
  • Story seekers
  • Cipher aficionados

Why play?

  • Cooperative strategizing
  • Story-gameplay integration
  • Secrets aplenty

Story

Four teens find a spy-themed board game called The Key at a yard sale and decide to play it together. When mysterious events start occurring in real life, they resolve to uncover the truth behind the game’s origins.

The story unfolds through comic pages which are meant to be read at certain points throughout the campaign.

A series of comic panels depicting some kids at a yard sale, where one boy purchases a board game called The Key.
Continue reading “Unexpected Games – The Initiative [Review]”

Vampire.Pizza Chapter 2: The Case of the Missing Vamp [Review]

Trick or treat?

Location:  At home (via delivery or pickup in Los Angeles or Philadelphia)

Date Played: October 15, 2021

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: Variable; about an hour

Price: $29 per player (not including tip or delivery fee, if applicable)

REA Reaction

Vampire.Pizza is a series of at-home games where dinner and puzzles are delivered directly to your door. Through paper game materials and online videos, Chapter 2, The Case of the Missing Vamp, continued the story of Belle’s vampire revolution.

A pizza box containing a slice of pizza, next to a red envelope labeled "Vampires Only. Mission: The Case of the Missing Vamp."

A year or so after Chapter 1, the concept of pizza and puzzle delivery still felt fresh. But after all the immersive gaming innovation during the pandemic, we were less excited to discover a packet of paper puzzles sorted into envelopes. The Case of the Missing Vamp probably won’t have much new to offer if you’ve already played some of the standout at-home escape games.

The Case of the Missing Vamp felt even easier than the first installment, so it may be best suited to beginning puzzlers or younger players. (This chapter is recommended for ages 10 and up, likely due to some allusions to the bloody realities of the vampire lifestyle.)

Now under the umbrella of Bite.Delivery, Vampire.Pizza is part of a system of collecting points which can be saved in a user account and redeemed for prizes. Additionally, for orders in October, extra prizes were delivered to the team leader’s home at the end of each game. These bonuses are a perk for players who value the element of surprise, but may disappoint those who were hoping to win an Oculus Quest. Still, the in-character prize delivery was the highlight of the evening (despite some puzzlement over the prize we received).

Between the pizza, puzzles, and prizes, the food was ultimately what we most enjoyed sinking our teeth into. However, The Case of the Missing Vamp offers an undemanding hour of eerie entertainment if you’re looking for an unusual add-on to your takeout delivery. This run of tickets spanned October 2021, but Bite may offer more opportunities to play in the future.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Pizza lovers
  • Best for beginners

Why play?

  • Pizza and puzzles in one package
  • Vampire lore
  • Mystery prizes

Story

Head vamp Belle asked us, as members of the Fang Force, to help find an old friend who’d gone missing. By reading Belle’s old journals starting in the 1910s, we needed to identify and locate this powerful ally so she could help lead the vampire revolution.

A folded letter, adorned with a drawing of a vampire's fangs. The letter begins "Dear Fang Force, I need your help to find one of the most brilliant vampires I've ever known..."
Continue reading “Vampire.Pizza Chapter 2: The Case of the Missing Vamp [Review]”

Escape Room LA – Jewels of the White Tiger [Review]

Escape the indoors.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: May 21, 2021

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Private, with other teams playing concurrently

REA Reaction

Jewels of the White Tiger combined basic escape room puzzles with an outdoor treasure hunt for a novel game format that led us on foot through historic Chinatown, Los Angeles. It required a good amount of walking interspersed with puzzle solving, making it a fitting transition back to escape games after a year of lockdowns.

Because of Escape Room LA’s emphasis on racing to the finish line, Jewels of the White Tiger seemed designed for players with a competitive spirit. Even though we finished in time, my mellow team would’ve preferred a more leisurely pace so we could explore outside the boundaries of the game. (Fortunately, when the game ended, we were still in Chinatown and it was lunchtime.)

A Chinatown plaza with a sign in the foreground reading "Escape Room LA: Jewels of the White Tiger" above a small decorative box with a padlock.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

We enjoyed the mix of paper puzzles, navigation, and sightseeing, but we left feeling like we hadn’t learned much about the locations we visited. It seemed like a missed opportunity to incorporate local history and acknowledge the community where the game was taking place.

Jewels of the White Tiger has ended, but Escape Room LA is currently running another outdoor game in Long Beach. The format provides an entertaining experience if you’re going to be in the area and want to experience the neighborhood through a new lens.

Who is this for?

  • Competitive people
  • Tourists and local visitors
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Environmental puzzles
  • Extra-large game space
  • To increase your step count

Story

Inspired by the Chinese legend of the four celestial guardians, we needed to find the jewels corresponding with the Jade Dragon, Vermilion Bird, and Black Tortoise. Only then could we release the White Tiger and return the constellations to the sky.

Jewels of the White Tiger used this narrative as a light frame, but focused much more on the puzzles.

Continue reading “Escape Room LA – Jewels of the White Tiger [Review]”