Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Cabin [Review]

Murder on a film set of a murder. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 11, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $22.50 per month

REA Reaction

From the installment that we’ve played from Deadbolt Mystery Society, it seems they are delivering on the subscription model better than most. It’s tough to crank out subscription puzzle games. It takes a lot of thought and effort to pull together gameplay, narrative, and production on a rapid and constantly looping deadline. 

That doesn’t mean that The Cabin was refined. The Cabin had a sprawling story with a ton of forgettable characters and no gating. It was a bit of a free-for-all at the onset. After we got over the initial surprise, we settled in and honestly enjoyed the puzzles.

I can’t speak to Deadbolt Mystery Society’s larger subscription program at this point, but this was a solid episode from a subscription. If you’re a puzzle-focused player who wants regular tabletop puzzle play, this one might be worth a try. 

In-game: The open box, an assortment of puzzle documents and a pin.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  •  Solid puzzles
  • Regular publication

Story

Decades ago a series of gruesome murders had been committed at Camp Echo. Now a horror movie was being shot at the site of the killings. During filming, the murders started happening again. 

Had the murderer returned? Or was this a copycat? We needed to examine the evidence and solve the mystery before more people died.

The box of The Cabin.

Setup

We cracked open the box that we had received in the mail and found a great many documents pertaining to the past and more recent murders at Camp Echo. We needed to parse through all of the papers, match up the items that belonged together, and then puzzle through their meanings. 

There wasn’t any gating within this game. We started with access to everything that we would have at the conclusion of the game. 

In-game: an assortment of puzzle papers.

Gameplay

Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was an atypical subscription-based play-at-home escape game with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around reading, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ The Cabin contained a lot of great puzzle content.

➖ The puzzles were buried within tons of papers, all of which were immediately accessible. Without gating, The Cabin felt initially overwhelming with no clear starting place or direction. We played The Cabin on a pretty large table, but constantly left like we were drowning in papers.

➕ Once we got past the initial volume of content, Deadbolt Mystery Society clued which in-play elements needed to go together. This worked well and gave us a way to approach the mystery.

➖ There was a lot of reading material. It felt like a chore rather than a way to connect with the characters and their stories. With so many characters, it was hard to keep them straight and impossible to be invested in their situation. We wanted to solve the mystery because it was a puzzle, but we didn’t care who lived or died.

➕/➖  Deadbolt Mystery Society had an excellent concept. Although The Cabin needed gating and focus, with a bit more direction, it could definitely have created meaningful character/ mystery connections for the players.

❓ The price is a value judgment. The product isn’t refined or fancy. You’re paying for the rapid production and fulfillment. I can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing; it’s individual choice. 

❓ Subscription games are tough to fulfill. We commend Deadbolt Mystery Society for delivering a monthly subscription with quality puzzles and interesting concepts. Because of the pace of production, subscription games easily devolve into mounds of paper and Deadbolt Mystery Society had a bit of that going on too. From what we’ve seen thus far, it’s the nature of the beast.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: We recommend a larger table or floor space.
  • Required Gear: Fixion pens, Boogie Boards, or more generic writing supplies.

Subscribe to Deadbolt Mystery Society, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was a previous month’s episode and it is now sold out. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Deadbolt Mystery Society provided us a free reviewer’s copy of The Cabin.

(If you purchase via our Cratejoy links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

The Gray Matter Sodality [Review]

Piece of mind.

Location: at home

Date Played: August 7, 2018

Team size:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-2

Duration:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25 for each monthly installment with a month-to-month subscription, $63 for a 3-month subscription, $114 for a 6-month subscription, $204 for an annual subscription

REA Reaction

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly subscription puzzle game. Each monthly package had us solving a single layered puzzle in search of a segment of Albert Einstein’s brain (not kidding).

The story was as humorous as it was clever. The narrow puzzling was kind of refreshing… when it worked well. Unfortunately, The Gray Matter Sodality was hamstrung by issues with puzzle ambiguity, requirements for unusual gear, and an aggressively high price tag.

In-game: A pencil, plastic brain, GMS notebook, map, and a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players seeking a limited and focused puzzle experience
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fantastic setup
  • Narrow, focused puzzling

Story

When Albert Einstein passed away in 1955, pathologist Thomas Harvey extracted the brain of history’s most famous physicist without permission. Harvey ultimately persuaded Einstein’s son Hans Albert to allow him to keep the brain, under the condition that it would be used for scientific research. After decades of keeping the brain in a jar, Harvey dissected Einstein’s brain into 240 blocks and 1,000 microscopic slides, distributing them to researchers around the world. (This is a true story, by the way.)

We were recruited by an international organization dedicated to reclaiming and reassembling the scattered pieces of Einstein’s deconstructed gray matter.

In-game: A deck of playing cards and a pair of dice on top of a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Setup

The Gray Matter Sodality sent us monthly envelopes with a letter and some clues to find the location of a piece of Al’s brain. (This review is based on a sample of 3 installments.)

Each envelope contained a few pieces of paper and a key prop like a deck of cards or a cassette.

We also frequently needed to find or acquire other items to solve some of these puzzles.

When we solved the episode’s puzzle, we submitted the solution (the location of the brain fragment) to a website to confirm and complete the challenge.

Gameplay

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly mailing with one layered puzzle per envelope. The level of difficulty and time commitment to solve varied broadly across episodes.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and finding the right tools to solve a challenge.

Analysis

+ Turning the real life story of the dissection and dissemination of Albert Einstein’s brain into the basis for an episodic puzzle game was &%^*ing inspired. It’s one of those ideas where I am confident that there will be many other creators wishing that they had come up with it.

+ We really appreciated the focused nature of The Gray Matter Sodality. After playing some massive multi-month subscription games with multi-hour playtimes, backtracking, and lots of information to parse, it was relaxing to open up a small package, find a few items, and know that they all tied to a single puzzle.

The Gray Matter Sodality‘s puzzles had a few layers, so while each installment may have been one puzzle, there was some depth.

– The need for some unusual gear ranged from annoying to infuriating. We were able to get around some of this via free iPhone apps, but one required the real thing…

Spoiler - The infuriating gear...

I’ve gotta vent…

It wasn’t just the gear, but how it was presented.

We needed a cassette player. In 2018. A cassette player. A cassette player.

In-game: a cassette take labeled

Setting aside that we needed a piece of technology that was far more than two decades past being useful for most people, the presentation of this cassette was ill conceived.

When we flipped the cassette we found a label with shortened URL that sent us to a Spotify playlist. When we found that playlist we thought, “Brilliant! It’s a cassette, but the contents are on Spotify. What a clever workaround.”

Then we realized that the playlist was far longer than the capacity of a cassette and so we reached out to the hint system… which confirmed that we needed to listen to the cassette. These were two different threads of the same puzzle, not an inspired workaround.

So I set out to find a cassette player; it was not particularly easy.

David's Facebook post with a poop emoji background asking,

Unsurprisingly, most of our friends and family didn’t have a cassette player. Eventually we got one from Lisa’s aunt who works in radio.

[collapse]

– Some of the cluing felt incomplete. After we solved the main challenge of one puzzle, we spent 15 minutes guessing because there was a shocking amount of ambiguity in deriving the actual solution.

+ The month 7 cards & dice puzzle was really clever.

? The production value was fine. Nothing terrible, but nothing special or visually impactful.

– The variability of commitment was too broad. We solved one of these episodes in less than 10 minutes, another in about 25 minutes… but a lot of it was filling in a cluing gap, and the last one took about an hour. The expectation setting wasn’t great.

+/- There wasn’t a self-service hint system. Despite this drawback, we received prompt email responses to any hint requests (even when we used a friend’s email address.) We don’t know how well this will work for people in diverse time zones.

The Gray Matter Sodality was too expensive. There wasn’t a lot to it. It was mostly printer paper, toner, and postage. Personally, I find it difficult to justify $25 for a 10-minute puzzle. The production value and puzzle quality didn’t do anything to help justify the price tag. Even the $17 per package (if you subscribe for a year) seems a bit steep based on the three episodes that we played.

+ After speaking to someone who has subscribed to more episodes from The Gray Matter Sodality, I’ve heard that there is at least one better puzzle in another mailing that we didn’t receive. I’m glad to hear that there’s a bit more depth.

Tips for Playing

  • The mailings are not fully self-contained. You will need to buy or find additional equipment to solve some of these puzzles.
  • Because the installments are focused, The Gray Matter Sodality is really only a 1-2 person activity.

Order your subscription to The Gray Matter Sodality, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gray Matter Sodality provided a complementary reviewer’s sample of three mailings.

(If you purchase via our Cratejoy links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Cryptogram Puzzle Post [Review]

That art!

Location: at home

Date Played: Spring-Summer 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ minutes

Price: £7.50 per single issue, £20.00 per seasonal (three issues) subscription, £70.00 per annual (twelve issues) subscription. International shipping is available.

REA Reaction

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was an art-and-puzzle hybrid that delivered a story in monthly installments. While it was made of only paper and ink, it never lacked for narrative, aesthetic, or puzzle depth.

Due to its linear nature and lack of self-service hint system, when it stalled, there was no graceful way to make any forward progress. The puzzle content was uneven, but when it was on, it was magical.

We give away or throw away all of the play-at-home games that come our way. I am absolutely keeping everything we’ve received from Cryptogram Puzzle Post. It’s so beautiful that I may frame it all.

The back of one of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post envelopes. Sealed and with the illustration of a letter emerging from an envelope.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Art connoisseurs
  • Occultists
  • Players with at least some puzzle experience

Why play?

  • The illustrations are bonkers
  • Some of the puzzles are fantastic
  • The presentation

Story

This monthly subscription followed the cryptic and epic journey of the mysterious protagonist Anna on her journey thorough witchcraft, alchemy, and the arcane.

Three incredibly intricate and beautifully illustrated Cryptogram Puzzle Post envelopes.

Setup

Each monthly installment told Anna’s tale through:

  • magnificent illustrations
  • a poem to set the tone
  • a musical playlist to establish the mood
  • a bit of prose to present the story
  • puzzles to take us on the journey

Each mailing came in a beautifully illustrated envelope (which was not part of the puzzle) and 8 sheets of paper. The first sheet contained the poem, playlist, and a bit of explanation, none of which played into the puzzle.

From there, we tackled each of the 7 puzzle pages sequentially. The answer from one page fed into the puzzle on the following page until we reached the conclusion of the installment.

The first page of a Cryptogram Puzzle Post laying on an open envelope with a beautiful illustration.

Gameplay

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was an at-home puzzle game with a variable level of difficulty from mailing to mailing and puzzle to puzzle. The challenges ranged from straightforward to complicated.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

The first puzzle page for one month of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post.

Analysis

+ I’m going to keep raving about the illustrations on the envelopes because they are so damn beautiful.

+ When the puzzles flowed, they flowed really well.

– When the puzzles didn’t flow, Cryptogram Puzzle Post ground to a halt.

– There seemed to be no rhyme, reason, or indicator for the difficulty. We would have appreciated a more deliberate difficulty curve.

– While we could request a hint PDF and an answers PDF, Cryptogram Puzzle Post really needed a structured, self-service hint system. When we got really stuck, I had to stop puzzling, look at the PDFs and then essentially gamemaster the experience for Lisa and our friends.

– One month was printed in yellow ink… and it basically made the content invisible. We found ourselves shining a blacklight on the pages to better reveal the content.

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was really creative with the puzzles, especially considering that everything was purely paper and fairly limited in size.

+ I am not much of a poetry person (humorous haiku notwithstanding), but I enjoyed the tone set by the poems at the start of each package. Similarly, the playlists were an unnecessary, but welcome addition.

+ While the components were all paper, we felt good about the price and value of these mailings because they were so beautifully created.

Tips for Playing

  • The paper is thin. Be careful erasing.

Subscribe to Cryptogram Puzzle Post, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cryptogram Puzzle Post sent us a complimentary season of this game.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 7 [Review]

Sweet victory

Location: at home

Date Played: April 29, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run Box 7 wrapped up the On the Run series. It had some solid puzzles and a satisfying conclusion. Yet again, we were thwarted by a website form inconsistency that soured our experience. Given a bit of distance, we’re pleased with the variety in the series and the story we unraveled through the boxes.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • The conclusion of the saga
  • Chocolate

Story

Dispatch by Breakout concluded in Box 7 with a visit to the land of chocolate and dubious banking: Switzerland. This final chapter closed out the On The Run story arc and resolved all of the major storylines that we had explored over the past seven months.

While this was the end of the line for On The Run, it was not the conclusion of Dispatch by Breakout. A new standalone two-box story follows it.

Chocolate resting atop an envelope from the Bailey Detective Company.

Setup

Our Swiss conclusion to On The Run was loaded similarly to the previous boxes, with a collection of documents and one unusual item: a bar of chocolate.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 7 played similarly to the previous box, opening with a run of puzzles that gave way to a series of game-concluding deductions.

Analysis

+ The puzzles played well.

+ The deductions felt justified, even if some of them seemed like they came crashing back into the story from the setup seven months ago.

– Like the first box, there was yet another Instagram account that felt phoned in.

+ The story of On the Run resolved cleanly.

– I hit yet another snag inputting a name into a web form. This false negative left me spinning for an hour and reevaluating my read on the case, until I gave up and asked a friend who had already finished the box. He pointed out that I had it right all along. The frustration and lost momentum that this caused was unnecessary and killed the otherwise positive mood.

+ The chocolate was a lovely prize for having completed the On The Run gauntlet. The escape room community often debates about what makes for a good prize for winning teams. While I don’t think that a prize is necessary in escape rooms… I wouldn’t mind an industry standard based around chocolate.

A final thought: Overall, On The Run has been a shaky, but generally improving, series of boxes. I’m looking forward to seeing where Breakout takes this series. I hope that they clean up their digital inputs and add a structured self-service hint system. Slack just isn’t cutting it. If they can continue to tell a compelling story and figure out how to make sure that their games don’t needlessly dead-end, then I will keep coming back for more.

Tips for Playing

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’sOn the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complimentary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 6 [Review]

Return of the Jigsaw

Location: at home

Date Played: April 29, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run Box 6 was exciting because it started to wrap up the plot threads from previous boxes in the series. Although we were incredibly frustrated by inconsistencies in website forms, we were eager to see resolution start to take shape.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 6 with a jigsaw puzzle, a scroll, and assorted papers from the box.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • The series starts to conclude

Story

The next stop in On The Run’s globetrotting puzzle conspiracy was Greece. On this leg of the journey we tied off a variety of loose ends, drawing ever closer to a complete understanding of the murder mystery that we’d been exploring for half a year.

Setup

In keeping with tradition, On the Run Box 6 contained an assortment of documents and evidence, with two unusual props: a small scroll and a jigsaw puzzle.

A blue and white jigsaw puzzle.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 6 once again deviated from the previous boxes. This episode began with a few traditional puzzles and then shifted its focus to exploring the evidence, deducing, and unraveling the conspiracies that were the impetus for the series.

Analysis

+ The puzzles were clear and well clued.

– I love jigsaw puzzles, but I’m kind of torn on the presence of one in this series. Regardless of whether it belonged, I wish that the jigsaw puzzle was more exciting and aesthetically pleasing as it was a drab puzzle with a lot of visual noise likely to ramp up its difficulty.

– One otherwise fine puzzle suffered from imprecise printing where the font and ink/ paper selection combined to create a situation where it was incredibly difficult to tell + and ÷ symbols apart.

+ I liked the deduction portion of this box. It followed in the footsteps of the closing interactions of the previous box and it finally felt like we were doing detective work.

+ It was fantastic to finally close out some of the storylines and begin to get some closure.

– We had been meeting up with a friend in a convenient Manhattan Panera to work on the previous Dispatch boxes. As of this box, we had too much content to carry around and our friend had to trek over to our home. The On The Run boxes were mostly self-contained, but not entirely, so we felt that we had to have all of the boxes on hand in order to puzzle. This also meant that we were constantly worried that we had missed or forgotten a detail that could have been hidden somewhere among all of the previous content.

– We lost a shocking amount of time because we didn’t include a middle name in a website’s form field. This wasn’t the first time that we’d had the correct answer, but didn’t format it exactly as the website demanded. This had been annoying in the past, but in this instance it was game-shattering. Breakout, please, sort out your naming problems. Upper/ lower case shouldn’t matter. Middle names shouldn’t matter. Or if they do, establish that early and keep things consistent. 

Tips for Playing

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complimentary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Unlock! – The Adventures of Oz [Review]

There’s no place like home.

Location: at home

Date Played: May 26, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 90 minutes*

Price: $14.99 per ticket

REA Reaction

Space Cowboys really outdid themselves in The Adventures of Oz, one of the Unlock! series’ latest installments. As implied by the name, this episode took us on the adventures of Dorothy and Toto. It told the story and presented puzzles.

The Adventures of Oz was easily our favorite game in the Unlock! lineup thus far.

This, however, should not be your first Unlock! game. Newbies should learn the ropes in a less complex chapter.

Unlock! The Adventures of Oz box art features Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow waling the Yellow Brick Road.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience with the Unlock! series

Why play?

  • Fantastic storytelling through gameplay
  • Beautiful card art
  • Fun puzzles inspired by and integrated with the story

Story

We weren’t in Kansas anymore. The Adventures of Oz followed the familiar story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; we puzzled our way down the Yellow Brick Road.

Unlock! used the original L. Frank Baum tale as the inspiration for this game, as the original is in the public domain… so expect silver slippers.

The folded map, the first card, and the magic mirror.

Setup

Functionally, the core game mechanics of The Adventures of Oz were identical to the previous Unlock! games that we’ve reviewed. If you want a more thorough description, check out our review of the first three games:

Unlock! Escape Adventure – The Formula, The Island of Doctor Goorse, and Squeek & Sausage [Review]

That being said, The Adventures of Oz added a few twists.

Character Cards

There were four character cards in The Adventures of Oz, each with its own quest or side-quest.

The Dorothy and Toto character card.

These were persistent cards that lasted all – or most – of the game and should be assigned to different players. (Double- or triple-up character cards if you have fewer players).

World Map

Upon opening the box, we immediately noticed a folded map of Oz. There came a point early in gameplay when we were instructed to unfold it.

Magic Mirror

There was a thick cardboard magic mirror with 4 bits of cardboard that need to be poked out. As with the map and character cards, the game instructed us when to reach for the mirror.

Story Focus

The Adventures of Oz put a heavy focus on narrative gameplay. It told a story rather than recreated the feel of a traditional escape room.

Gameplay

Unlock!’s The Adventures of Oz was an at-home escape room with a high level of difficulty. The puzzle difficulty varied. Added challenge stemmed from managing the Unlock! game mechanics.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, puzzling, and card management.

Analysis

The Adventures of Oz told a well-known story legitimately well.

+ The card art was beautiful. I found myself looking at cards not as a puzzler, but simply for enjoyment.

+ The character cards were a great addition. They had a variety of functions that added new dynamics to Unlock!’s gameplay.

+ The Magic Mirror was an inspired and versatile prop.

– One puzzle had us wandering through the woods to a dubious solution.

+ There were a few puzzles that put an emphasis on teamwork. These were among the highlights for us.

-/+ *While the game box noted that The Adventures of Oz would be a 60-minute game, the timer on the app was for 90 minutes. 90 minutes was a more realistic playtime, which was great since there was a lot of game… but this typo set incorrect expectations. 30 minutes can be a big deal when planning a game night.

The Adventures of Oz would have been brutally challenging to play without having at least one player at the table who was already comfortable with the idiosyncrasies of the Unlock! series.

– Pixel hunting for hidden numbers is an Unlock! standard… and it had a significant presence in The Adventures of Oz.

– It was challenging to keep track of discarded cards. In The Adventures of Oz, the discard icons were smaller than in Unlock!’s previous games (and they weren’t large to begin with), so this was even more challenging. This visual deprioritization made a bad problem worse.

A tutorial card compared with an Oz card. The "discard" icon is noticeably smaller.
The size difference from the tutorial to the actual game is striking and continues to be one of my biggest struggles when playing Unlock!.

– I absolutely hate that the Unlock! hint system offered no explanation of the solutions. Space Cowboys, could y’all see fit to issue an update to your app that fixes this?

+ All in all, this was hands down our favorite Unlock! game and one of our favorite tabletop escape games in general.

Tips for Playing

  • Inspect everything for hidden numbers.
  • Be sure to keep a close eye on which cards are in play and which cards should be discarded. A single lapse in this can wreak some havoc.

Pickup a copy of Unlock!’s The Adventures of Oz, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Asmodee sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy of this game.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 5 [Review]

The Encipher Strikes Back.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 20, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On The Run Box suffered from its position in the middle of the series. The puzzles drew on ciphers from the previous box more often than they offered new challenges. It also didn’t provide anything new in terms of story. This box was a lull in the middle.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 5 assorted papers from the box and a post card that reads, "I believe there is a on the front written in masonic cipher."

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • To get to the Box 6

Story

On The Run Box 5 took us to Tanzania on our quest to save our BFF from a tangled conspiracy. This chapter marked a shift in the narrative as the number of new questions slowed and we started to uncover answers.

Setup

On The Run Box 5 included an assortment of paper articles and documents, and as well as the website-based content that we’d come to expect from the Dispatch series. In keeping with the format, this box’s main event was a Mancala puzzle complete with a bag of glass beads.

The Mancala board with glass beads and a burlap bag to hold them.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 5 felt like Groundhog Day as we looped through an assortment of common ciphers as well as a greatest hits list of the ciphers from Box 4.

This was a grueling middle chapter if I’ve ever seen one.

Analysis

– The cipher that had overstayed its welcome in the previous box returned with vengeance. Revisiting it did not reignite dormant affinity.

– The cipher that had suffered from an ambiguity problem in the previous box also returned with 4x the content. What had started as a great, if slightly fuzzy, concept turned into a grind in the purest sense of the word.

+/- The Mancala puzzle was an awesome concept and a fun prop. The puzzle itself needed a stronger clue structure.

+ The concluding sequence of interactions and content was strong and a saving grace for this box.

Tips for Playing

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 4 [Review]

A New Hope

Location: at home

Date Played: March 20, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

In On the Run, Box 4, we worked through quality puzzles. Although it was cipher-heavy, we mostly enjoyed solving these. What Box 4 lost in story clarity it made up for in puzzling.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 4 with a strange deck of cards and assorted papers from the box.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • The series got more puzzley in Box 4

Story

In Box 4, On The Run visited Australia. In this episode we encountered a significant plot twist that introduced a potential new ally.

Setup

Based purely on its components, The Australia box was fairly bland. Everything was paper- or website-based. The main prop was a deck of cards.

From a puzzle standpoint, however… things were more exciting…

Gameplay

On the Run Box 4 had a lot more puzzle content than the previous boxes, with a wide variety of things to solve.

This box also introduced a blacklight. More on that in a moment.

Analysis

+ I really enjoyed puzzling through Box 4. Up until this point, my commitment to On The Run had been predicated on a curiosity about this story. The trajectory of the series, however, had been leaning considerably more puzzley with each box, and this one had a lot to chew on.

– One of the ciphers was fun, but overstayed its welcome.

– Another nifty cipher had a little bit of an ambiguity problem.

– At this point in the story, there were so many open plot threads that I’m not really sure that I was even following all of them.

+ The arrival of a blacklight made me cringe because I didn’t want to have to blacklight every sheet of paper that had come in all the previous boxes or would come in the future boxes. My gut reaction was unnecessary because Breakout included a persistent game mechanic that subtly indicated when and where to use the blacklight.

+/- However, there was no way for me to be completely sure that I could trust this blacklight indication mechanic… so I blacklit everything to be certain. To Breakout’s credit, my extra effort was unnecessary.

Tips for Playing

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 3 [Review]

Commit Sudoku.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 5, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run, Box 3 followed in the style of On the Run, Box 2. It was a narrative-driven, puzzle-focused game. Compared to the previous boxes, we liked a few of the puzzles a lot less, and we enjoyed other puzzles a whole lot more. The box was a mixed bag.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The puzzles are tied to the narrative.
  • You can play at home.

Story

Box 3 continued Dispatch’s On the Run Box narrative, taking us to Japan to continue our investigation into the murder of our best friend’s wife. While this chapter provided some additional clues to our main narrative, we found ourselves focusing most of our energy on a fire in a local hotel.

An assortment of documents and items from Dispatch Box 3.

Setup

Box 3 looked similar to Box 2.

We were given an assortment of largely paper-based items that were printed on various types of paper stock and in a wide variety of styles. These paper components were augmented by a couple of more tangible props.

Gameplay

In addition to looking similar to the Box 2, Box 3 also played similarly. The gameplay was derived from exploring documents, websites, and props, identifying the thematically relevant puzzles, and working through them.

Box 3 concluded with a video that both indicated the end of the box’s puzzles and recapped everything that we were supposed to have uncovered.

Standouts

Box 3 contained the rarely seen thematically- and narratively-appropriate Sudoku puzzle, and Dispatch put a fun twist on this.

Box 3 continued the trajectory established by Box 2 and provided an even more interesting series of puzzles that fit the story and setting of the game.

This was a good team game, as there were ample opportunities to parallel puzzle.

Shortcomings

There was another lengthy and tedious process puzzle that dramatically overstayed its welcome. It was complicated by ambiguous cluing and functionality. We were counting the minutes until we could end this task. Plus, we’re pretty sure that there was a typo that confused the conclusion of this puzzle.

We struggled to fully connect the events of this box back to the overall narrative.

Between the typo and struggling to get started with the aforementioned process puzzle, we found ourselves wishing that Dispatch had a better self-service hint system. They have Slack channels where players can discuss the puzzles, but it was a clumsy tool and once there, it was filled with spoilers that we couldn’t avoid or unsee.

Tips for Playing

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 2 [Review]

Ya gotta dumpster dive, and then you solve away.

Location: at home

Date Played: February 20, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run, Box 2 provided more puzzles and less narrative than On the Run, Box 1. It was only recognizable as the sequel in so far as it was part of the same story. While we didn’t enjoy all the puzzles equally, we appreciated how they generally tied into the fiction.

If you are on the fence after the first box, this ones plays really differently. Try it.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The puzzles are tied to the narrative.
  • You can play at home.

Story

After the events in On the Run, Box 1, we were following a lead in South America and exploring additional evidence in the mysterious murder of our best friend’s wife.

An assortment of documents and items from Dispatch Box 2.

Setup

Where the bulk of the Prelude involved reading a journal, this time we focused on smaller, less exposition-y pieces of evidence. We had some garbage to explore as well as other mysterious items and documents.

Most of the items in Box 2 were paper based with varying paper stock and printing style. There was one beautiful metal item. As with Box 1, we needed a web browser to access key content and interactions.

Everything helped us learn more about the conspiracy underpinning the murder.

Gameplay

Box 2 used the story established in Box 1 as a backdrop for a more puzzle-focused installment. This was a considerably more tangible and puzzley box to play through.

The shift in gameplay was a significant improvement over the first box.

The chapter concluded with a video that both indicated the end of the box’s puzzles and recapped everything that we were supposed to have uncovered.

Standouts

Box 2 was a lot more tangible and interactive than Box 1, which was almost entirely exposition.

The puzzles felt like puzzles.

Box 2 advanced the story, while adding to the mystery.

The items and interactions seemed like they belonged in the story.

Shortcomings

While all the puzzles came together and made sense, and we enjoyed ourselves, it also felt tedious. Most of the key interactions were process puzzles. Once we had the aha moment, we had a lot of work to grind through in order to complete the objective.

Tips for Playing

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)