Crack-a-Nut Mysteries – Double Major [Review]

A game made with heart

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 2021

Team size: we recommend 3-4

Duration: 4 mailings arriving over the course of 3 weeks, active play time is 6+ hours

Price: $135

REA Reaction

Writing and world-building are central to games by Crack-a-Nut Mysteries. Through articles, journals, letters, and props, they fabricate worlds and let you get lost within them. It’s a tall order for a tabletop experience, but they do it consistently.

A model of a human heart beside a number of other items related to University of Michigan.
Image via Crack-a-Nut

Double Major is the third Crack-a-Nut Mysteries game that we’ve played, but it was their first creation. It was originally made as part of a Christmas puzzle exchange that built a bit of a reputation for itself. Co-creator Angela Lawson-Scott told the story of this game on our Tabletop panel at RECON 21:

Double Major is a very cool, very ambitious product. It’s not as refined as the more recent Root of All Evil, which is a must-play for those seeking narrative puzzle adventures. However, if you liked Root of All Evil, and you want more, Double Major felt substantially larger and is a worthy experience.

Crack-a-Nut Mysteries crammed so much into this game, and if you are looking to dive into the deep end, order yourself a copy. There’s a lot to enjoy.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Code breakers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The story is cool and well written
  • Volume – there’s a lot going on
  • A few memorable moments continue to stick in my mind

Story

Something was rotten at the University of Michigan. A box of unusual evidence had found its way to us by mail. Lives were lost, people were missing, and nefarious experiments were afoot.

A large assortment of books, letters, newspaper articles, ID badges, and other items.
Image via Crack-a-Nut
Continue reading “Crack-a-Nut Mysteries – Double Major [Review]”

Crack a Nut Mysteries – S.O.U.P. [Review]

S.O.U.P. is on

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 20, 2020

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2

Duration: about 90 minutes

Price: about $77

REA Reaction

S.O.U.P. was a light-hearted and approachable puzzle game with a fantastic sense of humor.

While largely paper-based, this game was deeply personalized and made with an abundance of care.

A field notes notebook branded SOUP, a SOUP enamil pin, an airline ticket with Lisa's name on it, and a world map with places of interest flagged.

The writing in S.O.U.P. was superb, and drastically different in tone and style than that of Root of All Evil. It’s impressive to see creators shift tone and approach so elegantly.

S.O.U.P. is an easy game to recommend. Because of the level of personalization, I suspect that it would make a great surprise gift.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Prop collectors
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Impressive personalization
  • Amusing and succinct storytelling
  • Strong, well presented puzzles

Story

In S.O.U.P. we had recently been recruited into the Society for the Observation of Unknown Phenomena. As junior investigators we were told to expect packages to examine strange happenings around the globe.

3 different mailed letters from SOUP.
Continue reading “Crack a Nut Mysteries – S.O.U.P. [Review]”

Crack a Nut Mysteries – Root of All Evil [Review]

Sinfully Entertaining

Location:  at home

Date Played: April 12, 2020

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: more than 60 minutes, length of play depends a lot of your play style

Price: about $130 plus shipping for the US; more internationally

REA Reaction

Root of All Evil delivered deep dark storytelling, beautiful props, ciphers, and an atmosphere reminiscent of the movie Seven, if it had been set 70 years earlier. Playing it felt like we were unearthing something that had long been buried.

Closeup of the box contents includes a Holy Bible, newspaper clippings, and other items.

This was a game world worthy of exploration. While it had a lot of written materials, we were eager to read them because the writing captured our attention. This so rarely happens in the puzzle gaming world.

Root of All Evil culminated in a climax that was truly worthy of the experience. It was strange and bold.

I’d love to see Crack a Nut Mysteries build a far more robust self-service hint system to couple with this experience. This would ensure that everyone gets everything that this experience has to offer.

Root of All Evil was a high-commitment game. It was noticeably more expensive than many play-at-home game, but for the price point, it delivered a lot of value that players can sink their teeth into over time.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Cipher breakers
  • Collectors of beautiful objects
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Fantastic writing
  • Gorgeous and aesthetically compelling
  • There was a lot of depth
  • Surprising moments

Story

We’d received a cryptic wooden crate filled with evidence of a series of unusual murders. We had to unravel the string of religion-fueled slayings.

An old wooden box with latin enscribed on its face.

Setup

Root of All Evil was a detective game.

The crate of evidence was filled with articles, journals, and physical evidence to examine, interpret, and decipher.

Closeup of a wooden box sealed with a nail. Grass hands off of it like it had been buried.

A lot of the magic of this world came from the objects. They were beautiful and felt like they truly belonged.

Gameplay

Crack a Nut Mysteries’ Root of All Evil was a story-driven, puzzle-based mystery game.

It was more challenging than a boxed escape room game, but not as challenging as a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, reading, engaging with the story, and deciphering.

A postcard with a crucifix that reads "Root of All Evil."

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed reading a lengthy journal in Root of All Evil. There. I said it. The writing was honestly compelling. The more we read, the more we were drawn into the story.

➕ Crack a Nut Mysteries hid a lot of secrets in Root of All Evil. We found some of these immediately. We really had to work for others. The payoff was worth it. They hid some brilliant reveals that we wouldn’t have expected from a boxed play-at-home game.

➕ The gameplay was woven around a narrative. Each solve and each reveal made sense in the game world… especially as we read more of the journal.

Root of All Evil relied heavily on ciphers. Your enjoyment of the puzzles will depend on your interest in deciphering.

Root of All Evil needed a stronger, tiered hint system. It’s currently presented as a mystery that you more or less solve or don’t. It would be a better experience for more people if it allowed them to engage on whatever level they wanted.

➖ Additionally, Root of All Evil would benefit from a dedicated website (beyond the Facebook page linked to below) that sets expectations clearly for the subject matter, content style, and commitment level.

➕ The late-game interactions and ultimate conclusion were intense and creative.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a table… small will work ok, but you might prefer larger
  • Required Gear: pen and paper. We also recommend a computer for quicker deciphering.

Buy your copy of Crack a Nut Mysteries’ Root of All Evil, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crack a Nut Mysteries provided a sample for review.