Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle Game: A is for Arson [Review]

A Mixed Bag

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 14, 2020

Team size: we recommend 1-3

Size: two 500-piece 13 x 10 inch puzzles

Price: about $15

REA Reaction

This puzzle packed two gimmicks into one box.

Even as an avid jigsaw puzzler, the prospect of 2 different 500-piece puzzles mixed into the same box was a bit intimidating. As it turned out, that worked a lot better than I’d expected. In fact, this was easier to assemble than most of the 750 – 1000 piece puzzles that I’ve solved. The clever trick here was the different depths of field in each image.

A is for Arson box art, shows an ominous scene with various chemicals and a zippo lighter.

As an added twist, the story booklet set up a mystery that we could solve using the evidence we observed in the puzzle pictures.

So, how did this all come together? Well… it was a mixed bag.

The jigsaw puzzles were fine, even if the puzzle pictures were inelegant. (The box art was way more interesting.)

As a mystery game… it was also fine. The mystery was solvable, although some clues were a bit hard to read on account of the image quality.

The biggest stumble in A is for Arson was the narrative, which substituted cultural and ethnic stereotypes in place of actual character development.

A is for Arson was conceptually brilliant; I wish that it had stronger execution.

Who is this for?

  • Jigsaw puzzlers

Why play?

  • The unusual design of 2 different 500-piece puzzles mixed into 1 box
  • The additional story/ mystery content

Story

Investigators had been summoned to the charred ruins of a local Indian restaurant to investigate the origins of the suspicious fire.

It turned out that there were quite a few people with a motive for torching the place.

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Mad Experiments: Escape Room [Review]

First-Person Cluer

Developer & Publisher: PlayTogether Studio

Date Played: Early June 2020

Platform: PC, Mac, Steam

Duration: about an hour

Price: $9.99 on Steam

Group Size: 1-6 players

REA Reaction

Mad Experiments: Escape Room was a beautifully designed room that had excellent multiplayer integration. As someone who has been missing real-life escaping, this first-person video game experience was a convincing stand-in.

The puzzles, however, could have used an injection of creativity. Too many of them relied on tired escape room tropes for finding keypad passcodes.

Because Mad Experiments had such a robust multiplayer offering, I would have liked to see it take more opportunities to use cooperation between teammates.

PlayTogether Studios delivered on presentation and provided solid gameplay, but left me wanting more from the puzzles. Regardless, I’d recommend checking out Mad Experiments because they have just released a second room, making the $10 price point a better value.

Who is this for?

  • Video gamers who want to try escape rooms.
  • Room escape fans who miss the social aspect of doing a physical room with friends.

Why play?

  • Beautiful design
  • Multiplayer integration

Story

Professor Cheshire and his assistant Hildeguard had invited me to their mansion to participate in an experiment of some kind. Or perhaps I was the experiment? The story was conveyed solely through Cheshire’s disembodied voice chiming in each time I finished a puzzle.

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Bluefish Games – Hincks Gazette [Review]

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Puzzle newspaper is surprisingly satisfying!”

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 7, 2020

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

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: $22 for 3 months, $39 for 6 months

REA Reaction

Quick, affordable, and surprisingly fun… with an emphasis on the surprise.

A copy of the Hincks Gazette being held up in front of a fireplace. The frontpage headline reads, "Talking plants now talking back. House plants sassing families all over town."

I don’t typically enjoy the writing in tabletop puzzle games, but The Hincks Gazette was humorous and well written.

The puzzle types that Bluefish Games used throughout this experience fell into categories that I usually dislike, but Bluefish Games managed to make each and every puzzle intriguing and exciting.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, and each time I started thinking, “this isn’t going to be for me,” my expectations were subverted in the best kind of way.

Quick-hit subscription games are tough. It’s hard to sustainably produce quality content on an ongoing basis. Will The Hincks Gazette maintain this level of quality over the long haul? I cannot say. For now, however, I’m really happy with this product and wholeheartedly recommend it for word puzzlers.

I doubt that The Hincks Gazette will blow your mind, but for the price and the level of commitment, like The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks, this was easy to recommend.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Smart puzzling in an elegant and inexpensive package
  • It’s funny

Story

We picked up a newspaper with a curiously incomplete story about sassy talking houseplants and how to make them stop being mean. The catch was that the last part was missing, and we really needed to fix our talking houseplant. The negativity was getting to us.

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Bluefish Games – The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks [Review]

Going up!

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 31, 2020

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2

Duration: 3-5 hours (we took considerably less time)

Price: $35

REA Reaction

The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks was structurally innovative and filled with strong, crafty puzzles with a robust hint system.

Bluefish Games had been working for years to develop a product that they were happy with… and I know for a fact that they threw away at least one idea that they had gone deep into development on.

Initial opening of the box shows a wide variety of paper components.

Were there a few areas that could have been improved? Sure. The totally fine, but not-on-the-level-of-the-rest-of-the-game final puzzle comes to mind.

Overall, years of quietly testing ideas and honing their product seems to have paid off for Bluefish Games.

If you’re new to tabletop puzzling, this is a great place to start.

If you love tabletop puzzling and you’ve been around the block a few times, I’m betting that The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks will still find a few ways to surprise and delight you.

Recommending this game is an easy decision.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Some innovative puzzle design
  • Smooth gameplay
  • A strong self-service hint system

Story

Eccentric inventor Mr. Stephen P. Hincks had spent years developing his bepuzzled elevator. He was finally ready to show it to us.

Each floor that we visited had a “gift” in the form of a puzzle for us to untangle.

Curious Elevator of Mr Hincks box art, on a card board box.
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DarkPark – Conspiracy-19 [Review]

Playfully Grim

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 10, 2020

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

Duration: 2.5-3 hours

Price: about $53.13

REA Reaction

The appeal of Conspiracy-19 was its unusual structure, well-designed components, and engaging interactions, but it wasn’t an entirely refined package.

DarkPark’s first foray into the play-at-home escape room market can be summed up with 3 words: interesting, bumpy, and fixable.

A collection of blood samples and an open bottle of pills.
Image via DarkPark

From its subject matter and name, to the bumps in on-boarding and hinting, it was clear that Conspiracy-19 was finished during quarantine… and produced remarkably well, given the added constraints.

In its current state, Conspiracy-19 was a fun, yet flawed game. However, it could be dramatically improved with 2 easily remedied changes:

  • Adjusting the introductory letter to point the player towards a starting place that resolves more quickly
  • Swapping the Facebook-based hinting for a structured, self-service website

At its price point, I’ll happily recommend Conspiracy-19 to diehard tabletop escape room players with disposable income. It’s a cool game. If the price point is a stretch for you at the moment, I’d sit this one out in its current form. It isn’t bad at all; it just needs a few tweaks.

DarkPark is one of our favorite escape room companies in the world, and one of the things we can tell from their work is how much they care about their products. We’re betting that DarkPark iterates on this one.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Prop fiddlers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A few standout interactions
  • An unusual structure

Story

We were in a race against time to save the world from a deadly virus.

Pomotional image displaying the contents of the game box.
Image via DarkPark
Continue reading “DarkPark – Conspiracy-19 [Review]”