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]”

How to Start and Operate an Escape Room Business – Aleksei Kniazev [Book Review]

The quests to build quests

Author:  Aleksei Kniazev

Year:  2020

Page Count: 98

Price: $25 eBook and $39 paperback

REA Reaction

Overall this book was good in concept, but rough in delivery.

How to Start and Operate an Escape Room Business contained a lot of high-level information for someone new to the industry. A person considering starting their own escape room business would do well to read a broad overview such as this. There is a niche for this kind of text to fill.

However, in its current state, the issues with the writing style may be too much for many readers to ignore.

The book described financials and a business plan with real, but possibly optimistic, numbers. It assumed a tone of economic certainty that might not exist in a post-COVID-19 environment (although the author did acknowledge this).

This book would be for someone who seeks a conversation with an experienced owner, rather than someone looking for a textbook. You’ll get the most out of this book if you can think critically about someone else’s experiences, and how to apply these back to your own business in 2020 (or whenever you read the book).

Black & gold cover for How to Start and Operation an Escape Room Business

Who is this for?

How to Start and Operate an Escape Room Business was written as an introduction to the business of escape rooms. It contained some solid information and covered a lot of ground for those curious about entering the industry. Real-world lessons were explained by an owner with several years worth of experiences, both good and bad.

Structure

The book followed a somewhat linear path of business development. Topics covered included everything from selecting a location and hiring a team through testing games, advertising, and running the business. Entire books could be written on each of the subjects briefly discussed in this guide. This was a shallow overview of one person’s experience rather than a definitive authority on every aspect. The book was less ‘how exactly to open an escape room business’ and more of a reality check for those thinking about it. In fact, I thought the In Summary questions were a good place to start for curious beginners.

Continue reading “How to Start and Operate an Escape Room Business – Aleksei Kniazev [Book Review]”

The Conundrum Box – Sleight of Hand [Review]

Is this your card?

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 8, 2020

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

Duration: 90+ minutes

Price: individually $44.99 for this box (currently sold out); a monthly subscription is $29.99

REA Reaction

On account of RECON, it had been a long while since we sat down and played a proper boxed escape game. The Conundrum Box’s Sleight of Hand was a lovely way to get back onto the old puzzling bicycle.

Closeup ov Professor Conundrum's poster and wand.

This was the second game that we’ve played from The Conundrum Box. (Earlier we reviewed their Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box, and we have quite a few more Conundrum Boxes on the shelf.) We were quite content playing this game. It was puzzle-centric with a lot of narrative prose. As a monthly subscription service, it met or beat all of our expectations in terms of puzzle quality, materials, and design.

There wasn’t anything that blew our minds, but that’s not what we expect from subscription games. That kind of gameplay comes from one-offs that usually take over a year to develop. A company like The Conundrum Box will crank out a dozen games in that time, and we respect their approach just as much. If you’re looking for a regular puzzle fix delivered right to your door, check them out.

This particular game is no longer available from The Conundrum Box, but we chose to review it to begin exploring this series.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzle play and hint system for a subscription service
  • There was a lot of content crammed into the game
  • Clean execution: the materials weren’t fancy, but they didn’t feel especially homemade

Story

Sleight of Hand explored the tragic death of famed magician Professor Conundrum in 1922. He’d left a series of encoded instructions to unravel and follow in the event of his death. Our goal: communicate with the spirit of the passed magician. We’d been hired by his widow to do just that.

Box art for Sleight of Hand, depicting an empty magician's cape with a floating hat, wand, and cards as if an invisible spirit were holding them.
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ThinkFun – Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse [Review]

Come play with us…

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 15, 2020

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

Duration: 2-3 hours

Price: about $43

REA Reaction

We’ve heard whispers for years about Rebecca Bleau and Nicholas Cravotta’s followup to their original two Escape The Room games published by ThinkFun (Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor & Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat). We had heard tales of a dollhouse built from the game box, creating the feeling of an actual escape room on your table.

Those rumors were true.

Closeup of the assembled dollhouse.

Playing Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse felt a lot like playing an escape room on our table. We did a proper turn-down search in each room of the dollhouse – the first time we’ve searched like that since the beginning of March… and that felt damn good.

The puzzles in The Cursed Dollhouse played well. They were approachable, but noticeably more challenging than in ThinkFun’s previous two games. We enjoyed playing through almost all of this game, with the exception of a late-game segment that felt like a bit of a grind.

Overall, this was a premium product. It delivered the kind of experience we would have expected from a high-end boutique tabletop puzzle game company, not a mass market product, buyable off of a store shelf or Amazon. Thinking about it… it’s crazy that this product was manufactured with this level of care, and for that, our hats are off to the folks at ThinkFun.

We recommend you buy this thing. It’s novel, fun, and feels like an actual escape room in a box.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Strong and crafty puzzle content
  • You build a dollhouse out of the game’s packaging

Story

Everyone in the neighborhood remembered Old Man Garrity being a good guy, but ever since his daughter disappeared, he had withdrawn from the community.

Recently people had been hearing strange noises coming from the shed in Garrity’s backyard. We decided to break in… and found a dollhouse?

The Cursed Dollhouse box art depicting a creepy doll peering through the cracked wall of a dollhouse.
Continue reading “ThinkFun – Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse [Review]”

Hatch Escapes – Mother of Frankenstein [Review]

Love, scandal, & puzzles

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 13, 2020

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

Duration: 3-5 hours

Price: back on Kickstarter at $89 for the standard edition of the game

REA Reaction

Mother of Frankenstein was a narrative-driven experience with ample puzzle content.

Hatch Escapes has a history of putting story at the center of their productions. One of their co-founders Tommy Wallach is a New York Times bestselling author… and his expertise showed in Mother of Frankenstein. The writing was fantastic, which it needed to be. When a company makes the bold decision to retell the story of one of history’s most significant authors through an immersive narrative, writing quality matters.

Beyond the writing, Mother of Frankenstein included high quality puzzles and production (of the beta version). The Astronomy puzzle in particular was a standout puzzle, not just in this game; it ranks among my favorite puzzles.

An assortment of red, green, and brown interlocking tracks each with a symbol in the center.

We played about 40% of the full 3-volume game, and between that experience and hearing more about what is coming next, I can comfortably say that we are sold on Mother of Frankenstein.

If you’re down for a narrative-focused experience with puzzle content evenly and thoroughly dispersed throughout, I’d strongly recommend backing this beast on Kickstarter. I’m already eager to continue the journey.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Exceptional writing, characterization, and voicing
  • Solid puzzling with a couple of true standouts

Story

Over the course of 3 volumes, Mother of Frankenstein reimagined the life and experiences of Mary Shelley that led to her writing Frankenstein. Shelley was quite the interesting character in her own right.

A welcome letter tied off with red, green, and brown ribbon.
Continue reading “Hatch Escapes – Mother of Frankenstein [Review]”