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

A game made with heart

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 2021

Team size: we recommend 3-4

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

Price: $135

REA Reaction

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

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

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 It was originally made as part of a Christmas puzzle exchange that built a bit of a reputation for itself.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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

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

Story

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

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

PostCurious – The Light in the Mist [Review]

If you enjoy The Light in the Mist, we hope you’ll check out our interview with creator Rita Orlov on The Reality Escape Pod.

Enchanting

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 2021

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2

Duration: 5-10 hours (easily spread out over as many sittings as you like)

Price: about $32 + shipping for the standard edition

REA Reaction

I think you’re going to want to back The Light in the Mist on Kickstarter.

Rita Orlov of PostCurious teamed up with masterful illustrator Jack Fallows of Cryptogram Puzzle Post to create a custom, bepuzzled tarot deck packed with gorgeous art, all wrapped in a heartfelt story. The collaboration played to the strengths of these two creators.

The Light in the Mist box and full contents, including tarot deck, booklet, and journal.
Image via PostCurious

The Light in the Mist displayed both creators at their absolute best and showed a maturity of design, while making use of the tarot deck as a medium for both puzzle design and storytelling.

Beyond the incredible aesthetics and stellar puzzles, The Light in the Mist was a remarkably unopinionated product. It can be just a puzzle game, or just a story, or just a tarot deck – which was a nifty trick of design.

7 assorted tarot cards with stunning art.
Image via PostCurious

When we complete tabletop puzzle games, even the ones we love, we usually find ourselves feeling a certain sense of relief. When we finished The Light in the Mist, we found ourselves missing it… wishing it were a little longer. Honestly, this was the perfect length. It’s better to return from a vacation wishing it were a couple of days longer than ultimately wishing that the trip had ended sooner; the same is true for puzzle games.

We loved The Light in the Mist. Although we’ve already played, we will back it on Kickstarter because we want to own a production copy. You’re going to want one too.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Art aficionados
  • Practitioners of the tarot
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • The tarot deck looks gorgeous. It’s the kind of thing you’ll want to own.
  • The puzzles are stellar and varied, with an incredible hint system to make this game as easy as you want it to be. Play at your own level.
  • There’s a beautiful, intimate, and well-crafted story running throughout the experience.

Story

Our dear friend had disappeared under unusual and mystical circumstances, leaving behind a tarot deck. Could we brave the deck’s mysteries and occult power to help our missing companion?

Tarot box, deck, and 5 beautiful cards fanned out.
Image via PostCurious
Continue reading “PostCurious – The Light in the Mist [Review]”

Exit: The Game – The Gate Between Worlds [Hivemind Review]

The Gate Between Worlds is a tabletop escape game created by Exit: The Game.

Exit The Game: The Gate Between Worlds box art has an orange portal set in a circular stone with symbols along the inner edge.

Format

Style of Play: tabletop escape game

Required Equipment: scissors, pen & paper

A phone is not required but there is an app with a timer and background sounds.

Recommended Team Size: 1-4

Play Time: 1-2 hours

Price: about $15

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure

Description

Venturing through the “Gate Between Worlds,” you travel throughout the universe in this game in an attempt to puzzle yourself home. This game delivers information through a series of “world” pamphlets that you progress through by entering solutions into the “gate between worlds’ (i.e. the standard Exit: The Game decoder wheel.) You also manipulate several “strange objects” throughout the course of the game. As in all Exit: The Game installments, you must embrace destroying various parts of the game to solve some of the puzzles.

Assorted items from Exit's Gate Between Worlds features an unusual decoder wheel.

Kate Wastl’s Reaction

If someone asked which Exit: The Game installment to start with, I would not hesitate to say The Gate Between Worlds. It introduced posters into the player experience, which provided a quick and easy way to expand the game space as we explored seven different worlds via a “mysterious circular gate.” The game was a great representation of the wide variety of puzzle mechanics that Exit: The Game installments typically employ, all of which were fair and did not require large logical leaps to complete. I would feel comfortable recommending The Gate Between Worlds to both beginners and enthusiasts alike; 2-4 people would be the ideal number of players.

Sarah Mendez’s Reaction

This was a standard mid-level Exit: The Game installment whose most noteworthy features were its fun thematic variations on its game pieces. Instead of a riddle book, we had a series of pamphlet-like “worlds” to unlock, and the decoder disk served as the titular “gate between worlds.” This framework provided a basic narrative coherence to the experience even though voyaging through the disparate worlds yielded a mishmash of thematically incongruous puzzles. From a story perspective, the most logical puzzles stemmed from the voyage itself rather than any of the destinations.

Individual puzzles ranged from one significant frustration early in the game to some pleasantly multi-step ahas near the end, with most puzzles being solid and approachable. From a cluing perspective, this level 3 installment provided a decent bridge to more difficult levels as it guided players to think through connections that spanned multiple pieces of information. The game also leaned more heavily on “strange objects” than other typical Exit: The Game tricks, and the latter seemed more explicitly clued than in some easier installments. This enhanced the game’s value as an onramp to the series, but inherently left less to discover on your own.

New to Exit: The Game? This game was approachable enough to play as a newcomer to the series. Its few but significant frustrations wouldn’t be avoided with experience. However, the fun parts were a fair representation of the series.

Fan of Exit: The Game? This game’s unique thematic skinning added interesting flavor, but its gameplay was fairly average for the series and felt a little less “Exit-y” than usual. It was fun but not a standout to me.

Cindi S’ Reaction

The Gate Between Worlds continues the story from The Cemetery of the Knight, where you discovered a map to a mystical gate. In this adventure, you actually find the gate and set out to discover its secrets! My experience with Exit: The Game installments is that they always manage to do the unexpected, and this game is no exception. I was surprised to find only one Riddle Card instead of the usual stack, and no puzzle booklet at all. Instead, you explore individual worlds depicted on separate posters, which gives the game a little more structure and momentum than the typical Exit: The Game installment. I liked the variety of puzzles, some easy and some more involved (although there were two that were a bit of a stretch.) It’s a good thing you can only play this game once, because I completely ruined a game component by being a bit overzealous trying to get to the solution of one very unusual puzzle! The Gate Between Worlds exemplifies how the Exit: The Game formula is really about breaking away from the formula in compelling and satisfying ways. I don’t know if this story will continue in a future installment, but I do know the next one I play will, like always, be something I didn’t expect.

Theresa W’s Reaction

The Gate Between Worlds was one of the best installments in the Exit: The Game series yet. The varied game mechanics, use of objects in unexpected ways, and creative puzzle executions made this game shine. This is the first Exit: The Game installment where my group did not need any hints, not because it was easy but because it lacked the typical 1-2 logic leaps the other installments usually contain. We really loved the small aha moments in every puzzle, with each solve leading to an equally satisfying reveal. If you’re going to pick up one of the most recent Exit: The Game installments, this one’s awesome!

Disclosure: Exit: The Game provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Exit: The Game – The Cemetery of the Knight [Hivemind Review]

The Cemetery of the Knight is a tabletop escape game created by Exit: The Game.

Exit The Game The Cemetary of the Knigh cover art depicts a cemetery at dawn with many ravens

Format

Style of Play: tabletop escape game

Required Equipment: scissors, pen & paper

A phone is not required but there is an app with a timer and background sounds.

Recommended Team Size: 1-4

Play Time: 1-2 hours

Price: about $15

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure

Description

You have a once-in-87-years opportunity to retrieve a treasure from the tomb of Sir Reginald Wreston, if only you can follow the clues throughout the cemetery to find it. This game uses the standard game pieces for Exit: The Game installments: a riddle book (in this case, Sir Wreston’s journal), clue cards, various “strange items,” and a decoder wheel for entering the solutions to puzzles. Because this is a medium-difficulty installment in the series, you have access to clues from multiple puzzles at the same time, so you must determine for yourself which clues go together. As in all Exit: The Game installments, you must embrace destroying various parts of the game to solve some of the puzzles.

Cemetery of the Night box contents includes a deck of cards, a journal, a transparency, and a solution wheel.

Sarah Mendez’s Reaction

This is a fun game to bridge people from the novice Exit: The Game installments to the less linear, more difficult ones. The story in this game is driven via the answer cards rather than by sequentially turning pages in the riddle book. As such, the riddle book is a random collection of clues for you to connect with the appropriate part of the story, adding an extra level of deduction to the gameplay. I personally enjoy the ambiguity and connection opportunities of having many clues available to me at once, but it certainly makes the story more difficult to track.

As with any Exit: The Game installment, this game uses its pieces in unexpected ways, much more often than in installments with difficulty levels 1 and 2. As an experienced fan, I found most of these mechanics to be delightful in the way they defied expectations. However, knowledge of typical Exit: the Game mechanics is necessary to figure out these twists, which may frustrate newcomers to the series. Also, some of the more straightforward puzzles suffered from multiple interpretations of the clues, giving us the misleading sense that we were doing things correctly when we were not.

New to Exit: The Game? Don’t start here. Even if you’re an experienced puzzler outside of the series, this game assumes that you can reason about the game’s mechanics themselves. This is much more reasonable and satisfying if you’re already familiar with those mechanics rather than learning them for the first time.

Fan of Exit: The Game? This installment has an unusually large number of new surprises, reserving its low points for its less ambitious puzzles. So, if you enjoy these games for their novel mechanics more than for a perfect puzzle set, check this one out.

Kate Wastl’s Reaction

Plainly stated, if you are thinking about diving into the Exit: The Games series, The Cemetery of the Knight is not where I would suggest beginning. Suitable for players who have already completed multiple Exit: The Games installments, be prepared for at least two puzzles that require significant leaps in logic to solve. Alternatively, one puzzle in particular was incredibly clever in the utilization of game materials, and was a standout in the Exit: The Games series as a whole. Be mindful that the thematic dark and monotone artwork for this game made it difficult to differentiate scenery and puzzle artwork; bright lighting is strongly suggested.

Cindi S’ Reaction

In The Cemetery of the Knight, you set out on a quest to find a legendary artifact of a knight, but unfortunately you have to explore a creepy cemetery to do it! The game does an excellent job of weaving a mysterious tale in and around the puzzles, and you can almost smell the dust in the air as you search for the artifact. This was one of the better stories in the Exit: The Game series. The puzzles were unusual and tricky, and the final puzzle was really fun to discover. There was only one that did not work for me, perhaps something was lost in translation? I also found some of the clues to be hard to see, given the dark artwork throughout. Overall, it was a fun experience that had me engaged from beginning to end.

Theresa W’s Reaction

The Cemetery of the Knight was a pretty standard addition to the Exit: The Game series, with an unfortunate lack of great aha moments that I’ve encountered in their other games. Exit: The Game included one of our favorite moments among the series, along with a few of our lowest points. This iteration (and all iterations of the Exit: The Game series) could benefit greatly by including a portion of the instruction book that lists the gameplay mechanics that are different for seasoned players, as our team assumed we couldn’t progress in the booklet without being told, stalling our puzzling for a while. Once we figured out that we could use the booklet, we enjoyed many of the puzzles, yet they were unmemorable. If you’re in the mood to play an installment from Exit: The Game, I’d recommend reading the rule book before diving into this one!

Disclosure: Exit: The Game provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Exit: The Game – The Deserted Lighthouse (with Jigsaws) [Hivemind Review]

The Deserted Lighthouse is a tabletop escape game created by Exit: The Game.

Exit Deserted Lighthouse box art depicts an illuminated lighthouse in the middle of rough seas at night.

Format

Style of Play: tabletop escape game with jigsaw puzzle component

Required Equipment: scissors, pen & paper

A mobile device is not required, but can be used for background sound effects.

Recommended Team Size: 1-4

Play Time: 2-3 hours

Price: about $25

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure

Description

You are on a mission to repair a mysteriously darkened lighthouse before a ship crashes into the shoreline. To reach the lamp and save the day, you must complete a series of jigsaw puzzles that represent different parts of the lighthouse and also provide clues and other tools to help you solve riddles along the way. For each riddle, you enter a 3-digit code into a decoder wheel. If the code is correct, you gain access to a new pamphlet and/ or jigsaw puzzle that provides additional narration and instructions for the next riddle.

4 individual bags of jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Sarah Mendez’s Reaction

Even more than The Sacred Temple, this game makes creative and multifaceted use of the jigsaw format, a bold step that yields both frustrations and rewards as it ramps up the difficulty level. Although some of my complaints from The Sacred Temple persist in this game (murky jigsaw art, awkward jigsaw collaboration), I found the pacing between jigsawing and solving to be much more balanced here because the clue-based puzzles were significantly heftier, requiring more connections and outside-the-box thinking. I particularly enjoyed combining clues across multiple jigsaw puzzles; it made the game feel simultaneously less linear and more coherent, like the different areas of the lighthouse were part of the same whole. On the other hand, I found some puzzles to be a bit too risky to enjoy (e.g. we might be doing a lot of unpleasant erasing if something went awry). Other times I was frustrated due to ambiguous cluing that lacked adequate opportunities for redirection, which sadly marred the most ambitious puzzle, among others. Fortunately, the hint system is solid.

Despite these extremes, overall I enjoyed this game. I don’t consider myself to be a jigsaw enthusiast, so it’s important to me for the jigsaw puzzles to justify themselves in other ways. Here, I felt like the creative and unexpected ways that the clue-based puzzles leveraged the jigsaw format satisfied this criterion. That, combined with the general complexity of the puzzles, resulted in more time deducing than jigsawing, which is the right balance for me. Nonetheless, the frustrations were distracting, so I’m still hoping for a more seamless experience in future versions of this format.

Assorted game components including a sea map, a solution wheel, and instructions.

Cindi S’ Reaction

The lighthouse is dark, the keeper is missing, and there’s a ship sailing through the storm that will crash into the rocks – unless you can figure out how to get inside and restore the broken lamp in time! The Deserted Lighthouse is the second game in the Exit: The Game series to include jigsaw puzzles as part of the experience, and compared to The Sacred Temple, this one was much more enjoyable. The story was minimal, and I’m not exactly sure I understood part of the ending, but it’s the puzzles that stood out and made this game fun. There were a number of really unique and surprising manipulations of game materials to lead you to solutions. One multi-layered puzzle was so cool I had to call people over to show them! As with The Sacred Temple, the addition of jigsaw puzzles increases the length of the game – each puzzle took me about 15 minutes, and that adds up when there are four jigsaws in the box – but it also adds new opportunities for unusual and satisfying tactile puzzles. I hope the series continues to innovate, experiment, and light the path forward for other tabletop escape game designers.

Kate Wastl’s Reaction

Of the many Exit: The Game installations played so far in this series of reviews, The Deserted Lighthouse was a favorite. Assuming that the players’ jigsaw puzzle skills are up to par (of which mine assuredly are not), the gameplay within The Deserted Lighthouse is fair and worth the work required for the reveals. There were several pops of satisfying realizations and fair discoveries that are tied together with beautiful artwork. In this edition, the puzzles embedded into completed jigsaws were much more legible than in The Sacred Temple, and had minimal logical leaps. This game would be good for groups of three players (four at most), and would be a reasonable challenge for those new to the Exit: The Game series.

Theresa W’s Reaction

I quite love what Exit: The Game is doing with the jigsaw puzzle series, and The Deserted Lighthouse is no exception. As your team rushes to turn back on the lighthouse to save a ship from hitting shore, puzzles are blocking your path! By using your wits and your (clearly) superior jigsaw skills, you’ll be able to get the ship back safely. The puzzles aren’t too difficult at only 88 pieces, but the lack of color definition makes them a bit tedious. With some more contrast, these puzzles could really be fun for all audiences, and not just folks comfortable with jigsaws. The puzzles were standard for the Exit: The Game series, but used the jigsaws to amplify what could have been less exciting in the traditional card and booklet format. If you’re comfortable solving jigsaws, or okay spreading this across multiple plays, I definitely recommend checking this out (and picking up The Sacred Temple while you’re at it!).

Disclosure: Exit: The Game provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.