Escape from the Room – The Curse of Old Maid Milly [Review]

Crazy cat lady puzzle book.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 2018

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

Price: $16 per copy

REA Reaction

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly was a charming and generally straightforward reimagining of a real-life escape room as a puzzle book. While it wasn’t a challenging game, it captured the quick-hit escape room puzzle style quite well.

If you’re looking for a puzzle book to push the boundaries of your puzzling ability, there are more challenging options out there. If you’re looking for a puzzle book that captures the feel of an escape room, this a great choice. We loved carrying it with us on our travels.

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly being held up beside an airport window.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Travelers
  • Crazy cat people

Why play?

  • It’s cool to see an actual real life escape room adapted into a book.
  • The puzzles play well.
  • It’s inexpensive and fun.

Story

This real life escape room-turned-puzzle book casts the reader as Dr. Alan Harris, a professor of paranormal activity. Dr. Harris was investigating a room where a mysterious reclusive cat lady named Milly had died when he was suddenly locked in.

Could Dr. Harris uncover the secrets that have kept Milly’s soul trapped in her home and escape?

Setup

The Curse of Old Maid Milly began its life as an actual escape room in the United Kingdom (review by Ken Ferguson at The Logic Escapes Me). After closing the real life escape room, the creator converted it into a book-based escape game. According to Ken, roughly 50% of the puzzles were changed in the shift to print.

Each 2-page spread of the book presented either puzzle and story or a black and white sketch of the game environment.

Puzzle and story pages would deliver most of the content as prose. Light gray text was explicitly for story and could be ignored by the more puzzle-minded. Black text was necessary for the completion of a puzzle.

Gameplay

Maps

Map pages depicted a larger area. The map would be labeled with corresponding pages that contained illustrations of what we would see if we looked in that direction.

Location Illustrations

The black and white sketches filled us in on the aesthetics of the room and contained observable clues for solving puzzles.

Puzzles

Puzzle pages contained a page number (more on that in a moment), light gray story text, and black puzzle text. Some puzzles also contained additional graphics.

The answer converter the allows players to translate directions and letters into numbers.

Inputting Answers

Puzzle solutions came in the form of page numbers. To verify an answer, we had to flip to that page and see if we should be heading there. If we were correct, the page we flipped to had the next segment of story and a puzzle.

Not all of the puzzles initially resolved to a number. There was a consistent translation mechanism that enabled us to convert directions and words into numbers.

Satchel

Occasionally the book would inform us that Dr. Harris had decided to save an object in his satchel. This news was always delivered in black puzzle text and satchel was bolded for extra effect. Whenever this happened, we needed to log the item, as we would eventually need to recall it in order to solve certain challenges.

Analysis

+ This was a good beginner puzzle book. The puzzles resolved cleanly. Few offered serious challenge. When we were stumped, it was usually because we had failed to notice a detail.

+ The page jumping mechanic was an interesting approach to answer checking.

– Because we were constantly jumping from the back of the book, to the middle, to the front, and back again, at any given point in time, we had little concept of how deep into the game we were.

– We did not enjoy the satchel game mechanic. It made a good effort at recreating the feel of using found objects to solve puzzles, but it wasn’t exciting. These “puzzles” felt more like throwaway moments. It was more effort to track satchel items than it was worth.

+/- The story was good, but entirely too wordy. There were times where if felt as if the story text may have been added simply to fill white space on the page.

+ The light gray vs black text to separate story from puzzle worked well.

+/- Old Maid Milly had a cute print-based take on escape room search puzzles. We didn’t love these puzzles, but they absolutely captured the right vibe.

+ The hint system was structured and easy to use.

+ This book was fun to carry around on a trip. We would make a little progress here and there. It was easy to put down and pick up again.

Tips for Playing

  • You will want some sort of bookmark.
  • You need to log all of the satchel items. Failure to do so will result in annoyance and backtracking later on. We might be speaking from experience on this.
  • It is possible to play this game without writing in the book, but requires extra effort.

Book your hour with Escape from the Room’s The Curse of Old Maid Milly, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape from the Room provided a complementary copy of this book.

 

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 3

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

  • Box 2 items were required for resolving Box 3.
  • Box 3 ramped up the difficulty.

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

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

  • Box 1 items were required for resolving Box 2.
  • You will need scotch tape.

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.)

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment – The Mattel Edition

This is the third edition of this game to arrive in the mail.

We wrote about the first one in February 2016. It was a prototype, sent to us in the hopes that we would promote the Kickstarter. Spoiler: we did.

We wrote about the second one in October 2017. We’d backed the Kickstarter and now we could play the game that Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin had created.

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment's black, white, and yellow box.

Now Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment has arrived yet again. This time, it’s manufactured by Mattel and available on Amazon for $29.99.

What’s the difference?

Price

At $30, the new Mattel edition is $15 – $30 less expensive.

In-game: The initial opening of the box, a number of components are obscured by a piece of paper that reads, "Keep out."

Components

The Mattel edition has a new aesthetic. It’s still playful, but its color pallet shift leans a little more brown.

In-game: a green biohazard box locked with a plastic 3 digit lock, a gold plastic warded lock, and art depciting a female werewolf.

Most noticeably, from my vantage point, the locks – combination and key – were made from plastic. Typing this, it sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t. The locks work well. They don’t need to be durable; they aren’t security devices.

Mattel swapped out a few props for new items. This was for ease of manufacturing and to eliminate the destructible element.

In-game: a pad of paper and a pencil.

Puzzle Variation

A few of the puzzles in the new edition are different from the original. Some changes are minor improvements; some are a minor downgrade. Either way, nothing has changed enough that it’s worth buying a new one if you’ve already played the old one (unless you want some plastic locks).

A close up of many components, "Start your timer now!" scarwled

Should I Buy Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment?

Three editions in, we stand by both our previous reviews of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment. If you’ve already played the Kickstarter version, you’ve seen what this game has to offer. We still think that it’s the best that the play-at-home escape room market has to date.

If you haven’t played Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, it’s now available at a fraction of the price and with 2-day delivery.

Learn More About The Making of this Product

We interviewed the duo behind this game in late 2017. The creators of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Juliana and Ariel, gave a ton of interesting insights into the marathon that was bringing this game to market.

(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.)

Deckscape – Test Time & The Fate of London [Product Review]

Flip this card.

Location: at home

Date Played: December 2017

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 – 90 minutes

Price: $16 per game

REA Reaction

The two Deckscape games were fun, portable, and repackable. Plus, it’s tough to argue with the price. The two games were also too similar and shouldn’t be played in close proximity to one another. If you’re only going to play one, make it Test Time, if only because it has a more interesting and engaging final puzzle.

Who is this for?

  • Families
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Lots of puzzles
  • Multiple paths for parallel puzzling
  • Test Time’s incredibly inventive final puzzle
  • Low price

Story

Deckscape is currently available in two flavors:

Deckscape Test Time & The Fate of London boxes.

Test Time

In Test Time we assisted a delightfully mad scientist in regaining control of a time machine.

The Fate of London 

In The Fate of London we tracked down bombs that had been planted in the Palace of Westminster in London.

Setup

Deckscape’s structure was straightforward. We opened the box, found a deck of slightly oversized cards, and puzzled through them sequentially until the game instructed us to split the deck into multiple piles.

4 colored curtains each representing a parallel track for puzzling.

Once the decks split, we could parallel puzzle through the different decks, as long as we maintained the card sequence within each individual pile.

Gameplay

Deckscape delivered puzzles. Given the presentation through cards, they were heavily visual.

Deckscape Caution! introduction card explaining that cards should not be flipped unless they say so, and they should not be reorded.

Some cards were puzzles; others were puzzle components to set aside and use in conjunction with other cards.

A color mixture introduction puzzle.
Relax, this is the super simple demo puzzle.

To solve a puzzle card, we’d announce our answer and flip over the card. We kept a tally of incorrect answers. At the end of the game, incorrect answers factored into a score that dictated which ending we received. (There were a few endings for each game.)

The Deckscape score sheet with time remaining and penalties.

The hint system consisted of two cards with hints printed backwards on them. Each puzzle and component card was numbered. We could simply look up the puzzle number and then read the backwards hint.

The backside of the clue cards for Deckscape.

Standouts

The low price.

It was easy to pick up the game and start playing. The first few cards in the deck walked through the basic rules and got us puzzling. Deckscape didn’t involve any prep work or software.

Deckscape The Test Time Laboratory card, and an introduction from the Doctor.

The card art was cohesive and fun. The oversizing of the cards added some heft… They just felt good.

The hint system was simple and straightforward.

Many of the puzzles were engaging and entertaining.

While the gameplay felt linear, Deckscape split the puzzles into multiple paths. This was easy to follow and kept everyone engaged.

While it was not replayable, the game could be easily reset for other people to enjoy.

The final puzzle of Test Time was fantastic and innovative.

Shortcomings

Deckscape relied too heavy on a few types of puzzles. This repetition – both within a game and between the two – grew old quickly. We played the two games in the same week and this repetition really wore on us during the second game.

Each game contained a few puzzles that were seriously obtuse. Even when we solved them, we found ourselves rolling our eyes. It almost seemed as if the game designers knew that these puzzles were cheap because they accounted for it with a late-game mechanic. If you want to know more, read the spoiler section.

Minor Game Scoring Spoiler

At the end of each Deckscape game, we tallied up the number of incorrect answers submitted, which factored into a final score that determined which ending we’d receive. In both games, the score calculation process allowed us to disregard a certain number of incorrect answers, effectively cancelling them from the score. The allowed cancellation numbers were different between the two games. In our opinion, the number that we canceled directly correlated to the number of cheap puzzles contained within each box. These puzzles should have been improved, rather than negated in a late-game twist.

[collapse]

The final puzzle in The Fate of London fizzled hard. Only one person could work on it at a time. This design was both frustrating and anticlimactic.

The Deckscape tagline oversells the game: “In a Deck of cards, all of the thrills of a real Escape Room!” We found it fun, especially for the price, but temper your expectations to increase your enjoyment.

Tips for Visiting

  • If you only buy one Deckscape, make it Test Time.
  • If you buy both, I’d recommend letting some time pass before playing the second one. I think this is good advice for any of the boxed escape room series.
  • You can easily repack these games and share them with friends.

Buy your copies of Deckscape’s Test Time & The Fate of London.

(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.)

 

Cycloptic Media – The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland [Review]

“Let’s keep opening packages until it makes sense.”

Location: at home

Date Played: December 19, 2017

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Duration: at least a few hours and up to several weeks

Price: $56.50 for the full version; $47.50 the abridged version

REA Reaction

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland delivered interactive fiction to our home. It would be great for anyone looking to sink their teeth into a mystery, in episodic installments over a period of time. If you’re looking for more focused puzzling and gameplay, this won’t be for you.

Who is this for?

  • Crime drama fans
  • Mystery readers
  • The interactive fiction curious
  • People who want to sink their teeth into a story
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s more than just reading/watching a story unfold.
  • The puzzles have context and purpose.
  • The ending.

Story

A mysterious stranger had contacted us about the disappearance of Julie Harrison, a high school student in Moore County, Vermont. We needed to uncover the circumstances and truth behind this event.

In-game: An assortment of newspaper clippings, cards, pamphlets, and photos from the game.

Setting

There were two options for The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland:

  • The full experience included 18 to 20 letters and packages received by mail over two months.
  • The abridged version included 18 letters and packages mailed in one box.

We received the abridged version.

An assortment of Decoder Ring packages. There are all types of packages all individually numbered.

The letters and packages contained mostly paper and a few more tangible objects. Some contents directed us to various websites as well. The printed materials were cleanly designed and more polished than many play-at-home experiences. That said, the design choices didn’t help convey story.

Gameplay

We opened each sealed envelope/package one at a time, in numerical order. We thoroughly investigated the contents of each one before opening another. Sometimes the packages contained puzzles or parts of puzzles. Sometimes they directed us to other interactive content. Other times they filled in more of the story.

Generally the puzzles built over multiple packages.

Standouts

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland was interactive fiction. It presented a mystery for us to solve. It was both a story and a puzzle… but it gave a lot more story than it did puzzles.

The tangible elements were most fun to explore. We especially enjoyed solving one item based on the knowledge we’d accrued about the character it had belonged to. It was a satisfying puzzle sequence.

We loved the opening puzzle. It was by far the most puzzle-y moment of the experience.

We enjoyed solving puzzles that unlocked bits of the story. These gave us feedback, so we knew we’d completed a gameplay/narrative thread.

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland told a cohesive story. The tidbits we received piecemeal all came together in the end.

The conclusion of the narrative was amusing.

Shortcomings

While the puzzles resolved to closure, the individual packages did not. Sometimes we’d explore a new package thoroughly and learn bits of story, but not take any actions. In those instances we never knew whether we should move ahead. Had we found all there was to find?

The episodic reveals could also be frustrating in terms of gating. Sometimes we’d be waiting on a particular item that we knew was coming so that we could solve a puzzle that had already been set up. It was anticlimactic to receive an item that we knew we needed 10 packages after we’d figured out that we needed it.

A web-based interaction was delayed. We received a response more than a week after submitting answers. At that point, we were no longer engaged with that part of the story. For the abridged version, this was particularly problematic because we could choose to move ahead to other content.

The materials were middle-of-the-road, in terms of production value. They could have been more detailed. Generally speaking, the physical materials added little to the narrative or feel of the experience.

While the story came together in the end, we had to work hard to follow it through the different packages. There were too many characters to keep track of, especially since they all developed at different times, in different ways. Even when we solved plot threads, we never felt we had a handle on the overarching story. This was especially strange in light of the ending reveal.

Tips for Purchasing

  • There are two versions: The Full Experience and The Abridged Version. The Full Experience includes an extra unlockable mailing that is delivered digitally in the Abridged version. In the Full Experience, one mailing is timed based on when a certain plot thread is solved. Additionally, the Full Experience includes some personalization that the Abridged Version lacks. When deciding which version to purchase, consider these differences as well as whether you’d rather receive the content over time or in one fell swoop.
  • If you play by the rules, you will not be able to solve this game in one night.

Purchase Cycloptic Media’s The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cycloptic Media comped our tickets for this game.

 

Cypher House Escape – Escape the Arcade [Review]

Insert 25¢ to continue.

Location: at home

Date played: October 27, 2017

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $29.99 per box, plus $6.74 shipping for standard USPS First Class within the United States. (International shipping is also available at a higher cost, which varies by international destination.)

Story & setup

We woke up mysteriously locked in an arcade. After unlocking our wallet, we puzzled through the different games to earn our escape.

Escape the Arcade arrived in a cardboard box. It consisted of various sealed envelopes and 5 little boxes, representing arcade cabinets. We needed to open each little box on our path to escape.

In-game: An assortment of puzzles, a collection of little cardboard boxes representing arcade games behind them.

Escape the Arcade required an internet connection to listen to audio clips and enter answers for verification.

Puzzles

The puzzling was word-centric. We also used logic, observation, and dexterity.

The puzzles were primarily paper-based with a few more creative interactions and constructions.

Standouts

Escape the Arcade was adorable. Cypher House Escape recreated an arcade out of paper and cardboard. Each puzzle was a nod to a different classic video game. Cypher House Escape even poked fun at that all too common “out of order” game. It made us smile.

We loved one unexpected interaction that we never would have thought we’d encounter in a cardboard box.

We appreciated the hint system. While the hints were prefabricated, as they have to be with at-home games, we could take hints at our own pace, and even choose to see the solution, if we felt so inclined.

Shortcomings

One puzzle just wasn’t clear enough. We knew what we needed to do, but near as we could tell, it did not work. We eventually hacked a solution.

Sometimes we spent more time working through the instructions for how to solve something than actually solving the puzzle. We felt like the challenge wasn’t always in the right place.

Answers were easily hackable. We didn’t mind back solving to our guesses, but to avoid players jumping ahead, we recommend Cypher House Escape make the solutions less guessable.

Should I play Cypher House Escape’s Escape the Arcade?

Escape the Arcade was a fun escape room-style play-at-home game.

It was not too hard, but the puzzles were fun and satisfying.

Cypher House Escape used paper creatively in a manner that recalled the arcade games of our youth. We really got a kick out of these.

Escape the Arcade was not as polished as some of the games we’ve seen from larger producers with bigger budgets and the execution had some flaws. It had a homemade feel… because it was so very homemade. Still, it was well made.

If you’re new to at-home escape room play, this would be a gentle entry: It was affordable. It was not a long time commitment. The hinting worked well.

If you’ve played a few of these types of at-home escape rooms and you’re looking for another, Cypher House Escape offers a lot of value with Escape the Arcade.

Buy your box of Cypher House Escape’s Escape the Arcade and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that we reviewed the Etsy version of Escape the Arcade. It is now also available directly from the Cypher House website. It sounds like the website version has made the hint system less clunky on mobile devices and decreased buffer time.

Full disclosure: Cypher House Escape provided a complimentary reviewer’s copy of this game.

 

Escape Game Enterprises – The Enigma Files [Review]

Puzzlegram shark.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2017

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £19 (+£2.50 Shipping) UK, €22 (+€4 Shipping) Europe, $25 (+$10 Shipping) Worldwide

Story & setup

When a great white shark washed up on the shore of South West England, investigators found several documents inside its stomach. We were called in to help investigate.

In-game: An assortment of photos, maps, and articles from Escape Game Products.

The Enigma Files was a play-at-home tabletop puzzle game. Escape Game Enterprises mailed us a collection of paper puzzles. This was about as straightforward as tabletop escape games get.

Puzzles

The Enigma Files contained paper puzzles. We determined which pieces connected to others in order to begin solving the puzzles. These puzzles all had at least two layers to them.

While paper-based, it played in the style of an escape room.

Standouts

There was minimal setup and it was easy to get rolling. The puzzle structure was straightforward. It soon became clear how these pieces would ultimately fit together, which gave us a finite goal.

The Enigma Files had a clear objective. It was also immediately apparent when we’d solved the game.

Although entirely paper based, the puzzle components interacted in fun ways and solved cleanly. We enjoyed the more involved puzzles.

The puzzles felt well tested.

Shortcomings

The Enigma Files was well made, but homemade. It didn’t have the polish of many of the other play-at-home games.

Some of the elements in the box seemed unnecessary. If they were puzzle pieces, we didn’t need them. If they were story elements, we didn’t get that from them.

The solution didn’t mean anything. It didn’t have any bearing on the brief staging. We were left wondering why that was the solution… and for that matter, why the setup mattered at all.

Should I play Escape Game Enterprises’ The Enigma Files?

The Enigma Files was an escape room-style puzzle game to play at home. While the setup and solution weren’t meaningful, the puzzling was clear and satisfying.

Note that you can request hints for The Enigma Files over email. We did not try the hint system and can’t speak to its speed or efficacy. Honestly, this was a mistake on our part.

The Enigma Files was entirely paper-based. It was well made, but not as polished as many other escape room-style play-at-home games.

If you’re just getting into these types of games, there are more exciting ones on the market for less money (consider that this one is shipping from the UK).

If you enjoy this type of hour-long, at-home puzzle game and you’re looking for another one to sink your teeth into, The Enigma Files would be a good choice. You’ll likely enjoy the gameplay.

Buy your copy of Escape Game Enterprises’ The Enigma Files, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Thank you to Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson for sharing their copy with us.

 

Sleuth Kings – Case 001: The Guilty [Review]

I’ll be back in 5 minutes.

Location: at home, with an internet connection

Date played: October 9, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-3

Duration: up to one month

Price: $24.95 per month

Story & setup

Sleuth Kings is a new play-at-home escape game subscription service that mixes mailed materials with online inputs.

We played the role of remote assistants to private investigator Sullivan King. King sent us a file of evidence and then we emailed with him when we’d solved pieces of the case or needed a little extra help from him.

The materials in Case 001: The Guilty were printed papers, photographs, and a rather fetching folder with Sleuth King’s logo emblazoned on the cover.

The Sleuth Kings folder of materials next to a laptop with the Room Escape Artist logo.

The internet interactions were predominantly email-based. Sullivan King was in fact… an email bot.

Surprise Chipmunk
Dun, dun, DUN!

Case 001: The Guilty had us investigating a street revolutionary who went by the moniker Dictator Sin. We had to team up with Sullivan, root-out Dictator Sin’s plans, and stop him.

Puzzles

Sleuth King’s puzzle game was strong with varied, challenging, and interesting puzzles driving gameplay.

After we resolved a puzzle, we would email the solution to Sullivan who would “act on the information” and provide us with followup details.

Standouts

I really enjoyed the puzzle offerings of Sleuth Kings.

The conversational interface of emailing with Sullivan was a good way to narrate a story and keep everything cohesive.

The Sleuth Kings logo is slick.

Sleuth Kings delivered puzzles that weren’t in the initial packaging.

Shortcomings

As we sent information to Sullivan, he would take time to act on it. He’d reply, something like, “The address isn’t far. Give me five or ten minutes and I’ll email you when I’m there.” Then we’d literally have to wait 5 minutes or so before receiving another email moving the story forward and giving us our next task. This shattered the game flow.

Hinting got a little awkward because Sullivan-bot could only discern three things:

  • Correct answers
  • Incorrect answers
  • Requests for help

When we were almost there, and simply inputting our answer incorrectly, it was treated as a wrong answer without any feedback that we were on the right track and simply needed a nudge.

Additionally, Sleuth Kings was constantly creating new email threads. All in, I had 19 threads through Case 001: The Guilty. It wasn’t initially clear to how this threading/ replying dynamic operated.

Many of the printed materials were a little hokey.

The story was fine, but not particularly believable.

Should I play Sleuth Kings’ Case 001: The Guilty?

If you evaluate the standouts versus shortcomings in this review purely on word count, it would be easy to think that Sleuth Kings was bad. It wasn’t. It was actually quite fun, and this was their first chapter.

Sleuth Kings has a fantastic concept and an interesting structure. It needs additional refinement to run smoothly, but it largely works.

Interaction with automated characters smartly mixed story, puzzling, and gameplay. If Sleuth Kings can refine the pacing issues and make the system a little more aware and able to identify nearly-correct answers, this would be phenomenal. Swapping from email to a chatbot, or the addition of another character who could “run errands” while the gameplay continues, could smooth over some of these issues.

Sleuth Kings is strong contender in the burgeoning subscription puzzle game market, and could make for a fantastic holiday gift for that special puzzle lover in your life.

I welcome our robotic puzzle overlords and look forward to where Sleuth Kings is heading.

Subscribe with Sleuth Kings, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Case 001: The Guilty is no longer available. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Sleuth Kings comped our tickets for this game.

 

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 1 [Review]

Box of soap opera.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2017

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

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

Story & setup

A package came in the mail filled with media clippings, journal, wedding invitation, wedding program, and letters. My (the collective ‘my’) best friend’s heiress wife had turned up dead on his honeymoon and he had disappeared. I (the collective ‘I’) knew that something strange was going down and had to sift through the evidence to make sense of these tragedies.

Dispatch, On The Run box. A cardboard shipping box made to look like it was covered in stamps.

Upon opening Dispatch by Breakout, the first thing that I noticed was the high quality printing of just about everything in the box. The wedding invitation was an actual invitation and newspaper clippings were on newsprint. Everything else was printed in color on quality stock.

The second thing that became immediately apparent was the volume of reading material. We played this in the car driving between New Orleans and Houston. It took us well over an hour to read everything in the box aloud.

Structure

Breakout is one of the largest escape room chains in the United States. Dispatch, however, was decidedly not a boxed escape room. I would describe it as interactive fiction. Dispatch was more like a novel, broken up between different written materials, than it was like an escape room (boxed or real life).

An assortment of papers from Dispatch, On The Run. Newspaper clippings, a journal, wedding invitation, a wedding toast, the cover of a tabloid magazine.

On The Run was the first chapter of Dispatch. It set up a lot of different mysteries that I assume will be addressed in future installments.

Puzzles

We had to use the information in the box as well as a web browser to explore the world that Dispatch built. There were a handful of puzzles to solve. I counted 3, but I think that you could count differently. They had to be solved sequentially.

Dispatch, or at least this first chapter, was far more focused on building a world than on puzzling.

Standouts

On the Run set up an engaging story. After reading through all the written materials and poking around on the different websites they mentioned, we were invested in the characters and the mystery.

On the Run was approachable and physically compact. There weren’t any heavy objects or tiny odds and ends. The elements in the box were high quality paper products. They were legible and accessible.

Additionally, the handwriting fonts used throughout the game were easy to read. This might seem like a minor thing, but we’ve seen far too many challenging handwriting fonts.

It was clear when we reached the conclusion of the first episode. We had many more open plot threads than resolutions, but we knew we’d achieved success.

We really enjoyed the first puzzle. We didn’t find it particularly difficult, but it got us rolling and we found it amusing.

Shortcomings

After that first puzzle, On the Run was like finding a needle in a haystack. We had tons of information to work with and little direction. The solutions ultimately relied on information that was out of the proverbial box.

There was a lot to read, which was not conducive to group gameplay. We ended up having one person read everything aloud to the group. This seemed to be the only way to reasonably engage everyone in the mystery.

While there was a lot of story to absorb, there were only a few puzzles to solve in the first box. We spent a lot of time working on just a few things.

This turned out to be a printed story and an internet hide-and-seek. We all searched the internet for information that was more or less challenging to uncover. While On the Run created a world to explore, it was much like day-to-day existence, searching through browser tabs.

A lot of the internet-based components were simply not believable. I’m no Instagram expert but that was decidedly not the Instagram profile of a sexy tabloid-stalked heiress.

The hint system was delayed. When we asked for a hint, we received it almost 24 hours later. If we’d intended to explore On the Run over a long period of time, this could have been interpreted as experiential. Since we played through the box in a single (long) car ride, by the time we had received a hint, we no longer needed it… because we’d texted a friend.

Should I play Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run?

Dispatch was interactive fiction with some puzzles. The story pulled us in enough that we wanted to see it through, even when the game was not what we thought we were getting into.

Expectations really matter here. Dispatch was absolutely not the game that we thought we were receiving from an escape room chain. It bore almost no resemblance to an escape room. That’s not a knock against it; it’s simply a description.

If you’re looking for a play-at-home escape game, there are many on the market; this is not one of them.

If an interactive novelization with a soap opera-y narrative and a few puzzles sounds like something that you could enjoy over an evening or two (or a long car ride), then Dispatch by Breakout will have plenty of drama and intrigue for you to explore. You just have to go in knowing that the few puzzles there are can be a bit obtuse.

This is not really my go-to type of game, but I am pretty curious where this story will go and what they will do with it as Breakout refines their storytelling.

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.)