New York Puzzle Company – New Yorker Coffee Break [Puzzle Review]

Pour over the details.

Manufacturer: New York Puzzle Company

Puzzle Type: Jigsaw Puzzle

Price: $19.95

Puzzle Overview

Coffee Break is a 500 piece jigsaw from the New York Puzzle Company’s New Yorker line. This is an entire collection of beautiful New Yorker magazine covers, not just the illustration, but the entire cover (date, price, and magazine name).

This particular puzzle is an intricate satire of complex modern coffee brewing trends illustrated by Christoph Niemann and originally published on November 16, 2015.

Puzzle close up shows an intriacte series of pipes, and Neimann's signature.

Materials & pieces

New York Puzzle Company puzzle pieces are a thick, durable cardboard. The pieces interlock well. For the most part, it’s clear when pieces do and do not go together.

Additionally, the cardboard is 100% recycled and the inks are soy-based.

An assortment of 6 puzzle pieces flipped over so that the viewer focuses on their irregular shape.

The pieces themselves are fairly irregular, making this a less predictable puzzle to assemble.

Why this puzzle?

Having recently watched the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, I was pretty enthralled with Niemann’s episode (S1E1).

I loved the idea of having to puzzle through an almost entirely black and white jigsaw puzzle.

Should I buy the New York Puzzle Company’s Coffee Break?

Niemann’s Coffee Break illustration is incredibly intricate. Jigsaw puzzling through this image was both a beautiful and challenging experience.

Piecing this image together required me to visually interrogate every little intricacy of the illustration. By the time I was finished, I had gotten to know every reference and joke in the image.

It was challenging and occasionally frustrating because it’s essentially a black and white puzzle loaded with false leads and rapidly changing patterns. As soon as I had a handle on one section of the puzzle, it was finished… and suddenly there was a new section to learn. As a result, this took me about double the time that a 500-piece puzzle usually requires.

In the end, Coffee Break was a fun, yet fair challenge. It’s a wonderful illustration to spend some time exploring.

Buy Coffee Break today.

(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).

Escape the Crate – Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress [Review]

The Civil War delivered to our door.

Location: at home

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 + shipping charged every other month when a new box ships

Story

In a Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego-esque history-changing puzzle adventure, our mysterious dispatchers learned that an equally enigmatic villain was attempting to alter history. We were sent back to 1861 in order to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln from occurring 4 years earlier than it was supposed to happen.

In order to accomplish our mission, we had to seek out the home of Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, rummage through her belongings, and uncover the dastardly plans to murder President Lincoln and his family.

Many of the game's props and components staged. There are ciphers, grids, flags, maps, and photos.
Image via Escape The Crate

Structure

Escape The Crate is a subscription service that plans to deliver a tabletop puzzle adventure every other month.

Opting for a lower cost, higher output model, Escape the Crate packed game segments into sealed envelopes that we earned entry into by submitting puzzle solutions to a website. The website also delivered audio messages that narrated the story as well as provided guiding instructions to keep the game flowing.

The website included hint delivery as well. Each puzzle had a series of hints that escalated in detail until the final hint provided the solution.

The components of the game were generally made from paper or inexpensive fabric. There were a few props that were more tangible, but they were the exception, not the rule. At the end of the game, we were instructed to keep a few key components for use with future Escape The Crate shipments. As subscribers, we would build an arsenal of equipment by retaining certain items from each adventure as we chased this time time-hopping villain through world history.

Puzzles

The puzzling in Escape the Confederate Spymistress was somewhere between a Puzzled Pint event and an escape room.

The puzzling was well-themed on US Civil War history, offering a series of challenges based on events, concepts, and people from the era. These puzzles started off simple and grew in complexity.

The escape room vibe came from a reliance on searching, keen observation, and the “locks” that we opened via the Escape the Crate website.

Standouts

Escape The Crate’s use of US Civil War spy history was a great choice for the game’s setting.

The audio recordings successfully delivered instructions and story while reducing the volume of reading.

The puzzling and flow were generally strong and kept Escape the Confederate Spymistress entertaining.

I like the idea of a subscription service that has players retain key components for future use, thereby reducing the cost associated with each subsequent package while increasing the volume of tools at the players’ disposal.

Shortcomings

Two puzzles could have used a little more playtesting; they were both almost smooth. One in particular was lacking a critical piece of clue structure. Having essentially solved it, we had to go through all of the hints on that puzzle and when we found out what we weren’t doing, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes.

I really wish that the website with the digital locks wasn’t case sensitive. I can’t think of a good reason why it needed to be.

Escape the Confederate Spymistress doesn’t look at all impressive. Aesthetically, it has all of the charm of a pile of paper puzzle prototypes in beta testing.

It would be possible to repack Escape the Confederate Spy Mistress for replay, but you would have to carefully unpack everything and not destroy any components while playing. Additionally, the reusable items would need to be retrieved prior to playing the next game. Thus it is essentially a one-and-done game.

Should I play Escape The Crate’s Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spy Mistress?

Depending upon what you value, Escape The Crate will be either great or terrible.

If you’re willing to forgo aesthetics and beauty in favor of a tabletop escape room with fairly strong puzzles and you like the subscription model, then Escape the Crate is a wonderful choice. It’s smart and family-friendly.

The low-key approach to component design might actually make for a sustainable subscription model.

However, if this description sounds like a box of ugly puzzles printed on paper that can’t really be shared with more people than the ones sitting at your table when you play… that’s not an inaccurate interpretation of Escape the Crate either.

This is a value judgment.

For what it’s worth, we received a free reviewer copy of Chapter 1, but have since subscribed at full price. We had a good time and want to see where this goes.

Subscribe with Escape the Crate’s Chapter 1: Escape the Confederate Spymistress, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Escape the Confederate Spymistress is now a “retired” game that you can purchase individually, outside of the subscription model. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Escape the Crate provided us a free reviewer’s copy of Chapter 1. We have since purchased a subscription. 

 

Spin Masters – Escape Room The Game [Review]

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Batteries not included.

Location: at home

Date played: December 2016

Team size: 3-5; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 4 60-minute games

Price: $40, although it’s usually less expensive on Amazon

2016 brought a wealth of at-home escape games and Spin Masters introduced one with a twist: they created an at-home escape room framework and then 4 individual hour-long escape rooms that followed their at-home game mechanics. Given this design, they have opportunity to release inexpensive expansion packs.

Escape Room The Game Box - Depicts and ugle door with a large padlock on it.

Structure

Each game followed the same 3-act structure with envelopes (and in one case, a small box) containing all of the puzzling components.

We used the contents of the envelopes in conjunction with the “Electronic Chrono Decoder,” 16 keys, and a hint decoder.

The Chrono Decoder contained the game clock and 4 slots to input the various keys. The keys came in a few varieties with different markings to form answers.

The hint decoder was a red filter that made hint cards readable. Each game came with its own set of hint cards, marked with different timings. When the game clock displayed that time, we were cleared to look at that hint. When it worked correctly, this maintained the game’s pace.

The four games in order from least to most difficult were: Prison Break, Virus, Nuclear Countdown, and Temple of the Aztec.

Puzzles

Puzzling was the reason to play Escape Room The Game. Now, I’m not saying that they were the greatest puzzles out there, or that their implementation was particularly exceptional; I can’t make those claims. However, the experience was puzzle-focused.

None of the games offered an excellent puzzling experience from start to finish. It felt like one game’s worth of good ideas was split between 3 different episodes, and then there were no good ideas left for the last one.

A game mat from Prison Break with a few puzzles and the Chrono Decoder.

Standouts

There were a few excellent puzzles contained within Prison Break, Virus, and Nuclear Countdown.

Escape Room The Game costs between $30 – $40 for 3 hours of adequate puzzling and 1 hour of skippable garbage. It’s a good deal.

I loved Spin Master’s structured approach to at-home escape games. The general concept of an at-home table top escape room framework that could be inexpensively expanded was brilliant.

Nothing was destroyed in the course of playing these games, so it was easily repackaged and shared. In fact, our copy was mailed to us by our friend EscapeRoomer in Portland, Oregon, who also has reviews of these games (Prison Break & Virus).

Shortcomings

Temple of the Aztec was one of the worst puzzle games I’ve ever played. I think it failed because Spin Masters didn’t know how to make a harder game. Instead of including more difficult puzzles, they broke the clue structure. We won… but we were shocked when our final answer worked. Don’t play it unless you’re looking to observe a disaster in the wild.

Each game began with an obnoxiously long setup to read that was completely inconsequential. These could have communicated just as much information at 1/16 the length.

The back of a game envelope with a long letter to read before the game.
Yawn.

While playing Virus, the Chrono Decoder returned a false negative, telling us that we had a correct answer wrong. I corrected this problem by pushing the final two keys in at once. For some reason that worked.

None of the games told a cohesive story.

The speaker on the Chrono Decoder was way too loud.

The hinting structure only worked if a team kept on pace with the expected gameplay. We generally found ourselves pretty far ahead of the hints. Thus if we got stuck, we wouldn’t earn a helpful hint for a long time. By the time the hint arrived, we had usually managed to solve the puzzle, despite a lot of intermittent frustration.

Should I play Spin Masters’ Escape Room The Game?

The decision to purchase Escape Room The Game is a value judgment. All boxed escape rooms are single-use experiences, even if they can be repacked and shared with friends. There are other games available that are, without a doubt, higher quality experiences. However, to our knowledge, no other at-home game comes close to providing this much puzzling time per dollar.

The Chrono Decoder, hint cards, and all game envelopes for Prison Break. A snifter of whiskey sits on a CD of Final Cut Express 2.
Yes, that coaster is in fact a Final Cut Express 2 CD from 2004. Thank you for asking.

Beginners will have plenty to puzzle over and will likely find these games a serious challenge.

Experienced players will find games that are easy to share with friends and family when bad weather keeps you inside.

We played Escape Room The Game in a two different sessions. Both groups had fun (except when we played Temple of the Aztec). This wasn’t the most brilliantly designed game out there, but we all enjoyed our time puzzling together, and that ain’t nothing.

Buy your copy of Spin Masters’ Escape Room The Game & 3 AA Batteries (which are not included).

(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).

 

Coventry Road Games – Conundrum [Review]

Family friendly bomb scare.

Location: at home

Date played: November 8, 2016

Team size: 1-8; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes, give or take

Price: $50 per box plus $10 shipping (US only)

Story & setting

This Etsy-purchased boxed escape room was a “bomb in a box.”

Upon opening it, we read the friendliest bomb-threat ever written and began to puzzle our way to survival. (In retrospect, we would have had more than enough time to just toss the explosive box in the Hudson River.)

A timer mounted to the box-top. A note reads,

Conundrum was an unusual game even compared to the diverse array of at-home escape room games on the market. It was essentially hacked together out of school supplies. I’m not sure whether its creator is an elementary school teacher or has elementary school-aged kids, but I’d bet my last penny it’s either one or both.

From a letter-locked pencil case to a beautifully modified ruler, it felt as though the creator was dared to build a game entirely out of school supplies.

Puzzles

Conundrum was a box of puzzles. Possibly because of the materials, it included some strange and intriguing puzzles.

An assortment of locked game items.

These puzzles demanded some surprising activity, so much so that we were at times worried that we were seriously misinterpreting what we needed to do.

Conundrum’s puzzles brought back random childhood memories.

Standouts

The box contained a lot of locks. They were inexpensive Chinese knockoffs of common room escape locks, but they were tangible and interactive nonetheless. That was neat.

The low maintenance hinting system was simple and well-executed.

There were some great puzzles and wonderfully strange interactions in Conundrum.

Conundrum jerry-rigged the box with creative tech. This was minimal, but it was also a completely unnecessary touch that put smiles on our faces.

Shortcomings

The game required some destructive interactions and we weren’t quite clear on that at the onset. We spent a lot of time looking for the permission to wreck things that didn’t quite materialize. We had to take a hint to find that permission… and it was difficult for us to determine which hint was for the interaction that we needed to do at that moment.

Playing Conundrum destroys some significant components. This game is not replayable and cannot be easily reloaded. If you’re motivated, you absolutely can repack the thing and replace the destroyed components, but it would take some doing.

For a non-replayable at-home room escape, at $70 per box, it’s expensive.

Should I play Coventry Road Games’ Conundrum?

Conundrum was a strange game. It was made from a crazy assortment of kid-friendly crafting items. It had more technology than most at-home games. It was loaded with idiosyncratic interactions and puzzles. All of this made it a fun and interesting at-home puzzle experience.

It was also hacked together, unpolished, a little difficult to follow at times, and expensive.

Conundrum would be a great family entertainment experience; play this as a family of 3-5 and let the kids touch the pieces. For adults, this could be a fun time for 2-3  if you can’t get to a room escape, but know that it’s pricey compared to what you can get from a live room escape or other mass-market at-home games.

Conundrum box top. Ages 10+ 1-8 players.

Conundrum was so very handmade it should be Etsy’s mascot. What it lacked in polish it made up for in love.

Did it feel like an immersive race to defuse a bomb? Absolutely not. But it never tried to be.

It was a quirky box of family-friendly puzzles and school-supplies-turned-oddities. If that sounds like its your jam, then you should buy a copy.

Buy your box of Coventry Road Games’ Conundrum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Coventry Road Games provided a complementary reviewer’s copy of this game.

50% Off “Escape Room, The Game” Today

Escape Room The Game box contents. Depicts an array of puzzles and puzzle-items.

We’ve played through two of the four scenarios in the at-home Escape Room, The Game.

While this is in no way a review of it, I can tell you that at nearly half off it’s absolutely worth purchasing at the low price of $23.99.

Get it now on Amazon while the sale is going on.

A full review will come soon.

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. We truly appreciate your support.

Heist Escape Party – Grand Theft Antimatter [Review]

Warhead Antimatter Response (W.A.R). What is it good for?

Location: at home

Date played: August 21, 2016

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

Price: $14.99 for the printable PDF

Story & setting

Set in a William Gibson-esque techno-dystopia, our team of rebel thieves had to prevent the United World Government from completing its Warhead Antimatter Response (W.A.R) facility.

This was an at-home print and play game with simple, yet effectively stylized artwork.

A collection of the game's paper cards.

The game spanned four chapters. Each player chose to “play as” one of the four characters. Each chapter cast one of the characters as “leader.” Each chapter had a handful of puzzles.

Puzzles

Grand Theft Antimatter leaned heavily on variety; no two puzzles were alike. They ranged from expected to unusually creative.

Not every puzzle was created equal. Some were great, some were weak, and one irked me.

One game card reads,

Overall, we didn’t find any one puzzle too challenging.

Standouts

I wasn’t expecting this: The character mechanic that empowered one player per chapter was remarkable. In each chapter all team members turned to the leading character and treated them as the team captain. The leading player only had minor power, but, on our team, the mechanic transcended all other team leadership dynamics. It was cool.

The art was consistent and solid.

The episodic structure helped to avoided bottlenecking.

Shortcomings

The puzzles were a mixed bag.

The story was cute but barely relevant.

Six people, the advertised capacity, was two too many. There were only four characters and chapters; the structure could not sustain more than a few strong puzzlers. We quickly blew through the game.

Should I play Heist Escape Party’s Grand Theft Antimatter?

Heist Escape Party has the simplest approach to at-home escape game design that we’ve seen to date. It was inexpensive, easy to set up, and easy to play.

It was essentially a collection of puzzles with a tiny bit of story and a simple leadership mechanic.

The leadership mechanic was by far the most interesting part of the experience for our team. Your mileage may vary, but for Lisa and me, it’s very unusual for the power dynamics to ever shift on our teams. Whether we want to or not, one of us ends up leading.

Grand Theft Antimatter wasn’t a bad game, but wasn’t particularly exceptional either. It was puzzle-centric, but the puzzles didn’t support the weight of the entire game.

There’s a great concept and structure here. I am willing to bet that Heist Escape Party could make something exceptional if they focus their efforts to make more consistently great puzzles that also serve their story.

At $15, Grand Theft Antimatter is worth the money for puzzle lovers, but don’t expect it to exceed your expectations.

Download your copy of Heist Escape Party’s Grand Theft Antimatter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

SCRAP – PuzzBox [Review]

Difficult to acquire. Difficult to win.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2016

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

Price: $45 (only available for pickup at SCRAP’s San Francisco facility)

Story & setting

Welcome to the PuzzKingdom. We were intrepid puzzlers undergoing a test from the PuzzKing in an attempt to earn the prestigious rank of PuzzKnight. No PuzzJoke.

A cardboard box with a yellow label that reads,

The PuzzBox was an at-home escape game in the same vein as The Werewolf Experiment or the ThinkFun Games. However, this was a SCRAP game and it stuck to the SCRAP script.

The game was paper-based and the materials, printing, and paper quality were solid.

The game, however, was limited to a run of 100 (although they may do another), and it was distributed exclusively through SCRAP’s San Francisco facility. Dan Egnor of the Escape Room Directory was kind enough to acquire one and ship it to us.

Puzzles

This was a SCRAP game. If you’ve played one, you’ll know exactly what that entails:

It was a challenging paper-based game in a rigid and predictable structure with a brutal final puzzle.

The entire game's contents. A lockbox, three envelopes, a yellow sheet of paper, and a replay set.

The PuzzBox, like every other SCRAP game I’ve played, was puzzles upon puzzles. They were detail-oriented and at times felt a little trite. However, SCRAP did manage to create some brilliant puzzles, which is also their modus operandi.

Standouts

As far as paper-based puzzles go, this was a solid batch; they were generally satisfying to solve.

The story was incredibly cute and delivered with a light touch. This was an improvement over all of the other stories we’ve seen from SCRAP because it didn’t try to be epic while delivering a paper-based puzzling experience.

The PuzzBox felt like one of SCRAP’s better mass events. However, playing at home was vastly superior to playing in a giant room with a ton of other people and a 60-minute countdown clock. We could take our time and enjoy ourselves without having to scavenge a huge space for additional paper-based clues.

Shortcomings

If you absolutely hate SCRAP mass events, then you’re not going to love the PuzzBox.

Playing the PuzzBox destroys the materials in the PuzzBox. It came with a single refill kit, but after two playthroughs, it’s dead. This thwarted my desire to share the game with a handful of East Coast puzzle lovers who couldn’t get their hands on a PuzzBox.

The

The lockbox was basically irrelevant. It didn’t have to be there at all, but I think it was included because that’s been their signature object in their mass events. Opening it revealed nothing special.

Bottom and side view of a red metal lockbox with a gold 4 digit padlock. The box's bottom reads

It was challenging to acquire the PuzzBox and it was expensive to have it shipped. This was frustrating in retrospect because if SCRAP had dropped the lockbox, the game would have been entirely paper-based and thereby far easier to produce and ship. The kicker is that the game would not have suffered from lack of that anti-climactic lockbox.

PuzzBox open. There is a lot of free space in the box.
There was a lot of air in that box.

We solved the final puzzle through a clever (not my idea, but I wish I came up with it) reverse engineering of the components.

Should I play SCRAP’s PuzzBox?

We spent a little under an hour twenty solving the PuzzBox and we had a lot of fun throughout. There were interesting puzzles and boring puzzles. We felt let down when we opened the lockbox, but overall, we truly enjoyed ourselves.

A small yellow pin with a puzzle coat of arms. The pin reads,

If you love more challenging escape room puzzles and can get your hands on a PuzzBox, it’s worth playing. If you prefer the experiential side of escape rooms, run the other direction.

The PuzzBox has convinced me that SCRAP’s games are best played at a lower price-point and in the comfort of my own home.

Order your copy of SCRAP’s PuzzBox, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

ThinkFun – Escape The Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat [Review]

Looking for gift ideas? Check out our holiday buyer’s guide.

The wellness retreat where things weren’t well.

Location: Buy it and play it wherever you want

Date played: August 21, 2016

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 2-4

Price: $21.99 per box (replayable)

Story & setup

This escape room in a box was the second one to market from table top and education game company ThinkFun. It worked identically to its predecessor, Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, which we reviewed very positively. Literally everything I said about the first game applied here, so I won’t rehash how the game was constructed or functioned.

The twist with Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat was that it was a bit darker and contained a few more complex puzzles.

“The year is 1913 and you are the lucky winner of a free stay at Foxcrest Retreat, where the famed Dr. Gravely has improved upon the latest in spa treatments and relaxation for those of high social standing. You take a long all-expense-paid train ride to the retreat. Upon your arrival, however, you and your fellow guests may find the “health retreat” is not what it seems…”

As with its predecessor, the story was well-written but far too wordy.

The box for the Secret of Dr. Gravely's Retreat shows a man who looks like an evil version of Freud, and monstorous hands grasping at a psychiatrists chair.

Puzzles

ThinkFun served up another round of paper and cardboard puzzles that were far more fun than paper and cardboard usually are.

The twist this time around was the introduction of more complex physical puzzles. These were the star of the show and added a surprising new dynamic. They were reasonably durable, but were absolutely breakable.

Standouts

The new physical puzzles were super clever.

The art was beautiful.

A pile of the puzzle envelopes from the game, along with the multi-color solution wheel. One envelope depices a heavy door, another shows a desk with an unusual and ornate set of keys resting atop it.

Their solution wheel system for answer verification was still brilliant.

Shortcomings

Those new and awesome physical puzzles unfortunately created some massive bottlenecks. There was no way for multiple people to work on them, so when we encountered one, the person who held it was the only person playing. Fortunately our team was mellow and good at taking turns.

The final couple of puzzles were surprisingly weak compared to the early and mid-game puzzles. The game faded away when it should have gone out with a bang.

The story didn’t feel quite as compelling as the story of the Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor. We weren’t as invested.

Should I play ThinkFun’s Escape The Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat?

At $22.00, Escape The Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat is a steal for any puzzle room lover. Play it with an intimate group and you’ll have a lot of fun.

Some puzzles were better than others, but overall this was a quality experience, especially when considering the price point.

As with its predecessor from ThinkFun and Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Dr. Gravely was easily a better game than half of the escape room market. This is a must-play for escape room owners and designers because, as we’ve said before, if you cannot objectively blow away this game with your real live escape room, then you’re making a big mistake.

There are no better deals in the escape room world than ThinkFun’s games.

Purchase your copy of ThinkFun’s Escape The Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat.

Full disclosure: ThinkFun provided a complimentary reviewer’s copy of Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat.

(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).

Black Toad Games – The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy [Review]

“Mr. Boddy. Dead… Again!”

-Wadsworth, Clue (1985)

Location: your home

Date played: September 25, 2016

Team size: 2-16; we recommend it depends (see below)

Price: $28 for the printed version without the online portal or the set up challenges (there are other options on Kickstarter)

Story & setting

Themed on classic American board games, the story loosely explores the mysterious murders of most of the creators of Clue.

The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy was essentially a collection of puzzles positioned throughout our home. Our friend and regular teammate Lindsay served as our gamemaster. She played the entire game on a gamemaster’s website, and then printed all of the puzzles and prepared them. (Then she laid out the entire game on her bed in the shape of our apartment and played through it again to ensure proper game flow. [We have good friends]).

The story wasn’t woven into the puzzles, so much as it was experienced through letters.

The components of the game were adorably based on a wide variety of recognizable tabletop games.

The gamemaster can theme the game with as much detail as they desire. If they want to adapt the game and build in locks and more intense physical components, that is absolutely doable. We opted for the color prints of the puzzles (black and white would break some of the puzzles).

Puzzles

The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy was a puzzle-forward experience. There was a solid mix of logic, word, and pattern recognition puzzles.

The biggest challenge came from connecting puzzle components. The pieces were scattered around our apartment and it wasn’t always clear how everything was supposed to come together. Our teammates had no trouble distinguishing our personal belongings from the puzzle pieces, but everyone had trouble pairing the various puzzle components together.

Standouts

There were a few great puzzles.

It was fun to have a bunch of our friends over, cook a meal (we made a meal themed on Clue), and have a puzzle party.

Lindsay, our gamemaster, put in a lot of work to perfect her layout and she felt she really owned it. She had a blast as gamemaster.

The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy was really cute.

Shortcomings

We live just outside of Manhattan and apartments in these parts are small. There was no way that we ever could have made more than 8 players work. We also could not split into teams due to a lack of space. This isn’t a knock on the game, so much as it’s an oversight in the instructions.

There was a point in The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy where a portion of the team was split off. The mechanism was neat, but everyone involved felt like they were missing out on what the other group was doing. This was a strange dynamic for an at-home game and as a result of this mechanism half of our teammates missed the story.

Setup of the print version was a lot of work, which narrows the audience for the game. This was compounded by a few challenges such as:

  • All of the puzzles were in individual PDFs, instead of being in one.
  • There was no gamemaster guide/ hint sheet. (Lindsay created one which she has given to Black Toad Games.)
  • One set of components should have been taped down, to prevent people from moving things that ought-not be moved.
  • Lindsay added a game component that made the game solvable. (I truly cannot imagine how we would have come up with the correct answer without her addition or a massive hint.)
  • One clue was placed in a location that would have made the game impossible to solve if Lindsay hadn’t changed its placement.
  • Lindsay had a hard time playing through the game on the computer; she ultimately had to print the components to handle her run-through

Should I play Black Toad Games’ The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy?

There were two key differences between The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy and other play-at-home escape room games.

The first was that Mr. Boddy required at least one person to have the motivation and temperament to set everything up and participate passively while everyone puzzled as a group.

The second was space. The other play-at-home escape room games that we’ve reviewed were straightforward, bring your friends over, open the box, play around a table until everything is solved. The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy was a more involved experience.

Lindsay was great about stepping up and making this game happen for us. The interesting thing was that of all of the participants, she had the best time. We didn’t expect that at all.

Everyone else involved had a good time as well. As with all play-at-home escape rooms The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy wasn’t as incredible as a great real life room escape, but it also doesn’t have to be.

For $28 Black Toad games will send their Kickstarter backers a printed version of the game. That is the price of admission for one person to your average room escape. Skip the online version and the printable PDF; have Black Toad do the legwork. It will cut down on hassle and streamline your experience.

If you love puzzles and having your friends over for game nights, this is a good investment of $28.

Back Black Toad Games’ The Game Room Part 1: Mr. Boddy on Kickstarter and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Black Toad Games’ provided a free reviewer copy of their game.

The Mystery Experiences Company – The Mad Hatter [Review]

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“Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to! I am never going back there again!”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Location: Buy it and play it wherever you want

Date played: July 2, 2016

Team size: 1- as many people as you can tolerate; we recommend 2-4

Price: $29.99 for one experience, $79.99 for a three-month subscription, $149.99 for a six-month subscription

Story & setting

We had no control over which box we received from the Mystery Experience Company; they send out their packages on a monthly subscription model. The one that showed up in the mail was titled The Mad Hatter.

We were consultants working with the FBI to investigate the murders of three women who were all found dead dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland, all murdered in the same fashion.

Armed with a box full of documents and a few trinkets, we had to sift through the evidence to narrow down a list of suspects until we could conclude whodunit.

All of this was set in the fictional Forrest City, which actually seemed like an interesting place, as many of the game’s components were heavily focused on worldbuilding.

Objects from the game. A drink coaster, a pocketwatch, an invite to a party, and a newspaper featuring one of the murder victims.

Puzzles

It’s a puzzle game, if you use a loose definition of “puzzle.”

As we worked through the game, most of it simply came down to:

  • reading everything carefully
  • indexing the information
  • a bit of light deduction

The hardest part of the game was disregarding the larger world that it created, as there were more than a few extraneous details.

Standouts

Many of the artifacts found in the box had beautiful art.

There was a newspaper and a website. Each covered a wide variety of people, organizations, and happenings throughout Forrest City. They even had advertisements for the local businesses. The level of detail and worldbuilding was excellent. Perhaps a little too excellent…

Shortcomings

Tragically, the world of Forrest City was more interesting than the string of murders we were investigating.

There was a piece in the paper about the passing of Agnes Savage, whose net value totaled $2 billion. Prior to her death, she had changed her will and hid her fortune, offering clues and puzzles to find it. Whoever found it first would inherit it. This was a far more intriguing mystery than the Alice murders.

Similarly, there were a lot of hints at other conspiracy and corruption in the City’s government and upper class. Ultimately, this was all dressing.

There were far too many things to read.

There was a set of cumbersome rules that turned this investigation into a turn-based game. We disregarded them and just attacked the evidence as we saw fit. It worked better this way as it reduced the gameplay time.

There were glaring inconsistencies in some of the documents. These inconsistencies seemed like clues, but they were merely errors.

The nifty objects that we found in the box frequently didn’t do anything beyond look pretty.

The clues that ultimately excluded most of the suspects were painfully obvious.

We had no idea how that list of suspects was created. As we investigated these people, I felt like we were harassing fictional citizens with next to no evidence to even justify a questioning.

Should I play The Mystery Experiences Company’s The Mad Hatter?

From a graphic design standpoint, there was a lot to love, and I was drawn into the world of Forrest City.

I love the idea behind The Mystery Experience Company.

However, the puzzle quality just wasn’t there. The mystery fell flat and the investigation itself didn’t feel plausible. Even after cracking the proverbial case, I didn’t believe that we had enough evidence to pursue an indictment, let alone a criminal prosecution for murder.

While I haven’t played their other games, comparing notes with trusted sources, it sounds like The Mad Hatter was superior to some of their previous experiences.

Maybe I’ll check back in a year and see where they take this. Here’s to hoping that their games are on an upward trajectory. In the mean time, I think there are better ways to spend $30 and an hour or two.

Any other recommendations for at home puzzling?

To try an escape room at home, order Think Fun’s Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor.

And get excited about Escape Room in Box’s The Werewolf Experimentscheduled for release in February 2017. Pre-order it today.

Think Fun is developing more play-at-home escape rooms and they aren’t the only ones. Subscribe today for the most up to date information on these games.