WBG Score: 9
Published by: The Mystery Agency
Designed by: Henry Lewis
It’s not often that you can sit down and play a fun puzzle game and then immediately watch the mastermind behind it all on TV playing a drunk Santa, the Angel Gabriel and an understudy Scrooge. This of course begs the question, have I picked all of these specific roles of Henry Lewis’s because they’ve had our family in tears of laughter?. Or because I’m writing this in November and as far as I’m concerned it’s nearly Christmas? Well in both cases….Yes, yes I have.
This is a spoiler free review. Any pictures, descriptions etc you’ll see will be in keeping with things that you’ll see on The Mystery Agency website.
To start playing simply open the box, scan the qr code on the inside to take you to the website that will let you choose which mystery you’re solving. Then pick whether you want to play this with a timer or in your own time. Then, get solving the mystery of the vanishing gambler!
The mystery component.
When you first open this box of delights you’ll encounter a scrap of newspaper, some shredded paper, which if you don't remove carefully, will nicely decorate your table and a padlocked evidence bag. I’ll be honest I got a bit excited when I saw the padlock. I’ve played a lot of styles of puzzle games at this point and this is the first that I’ve played to have this sort of physical component. At this point everything seems quite minimalist but it’s a good clue to the quality of everything else you’ll find once you get into the bag.
If, like me, you got excited about the padlock then just wait until you spill the rest of the components onto the table. Some poker chips, great quality dice and even a torch are amongst the bundle of fun things you’ll find in this bag that go to make up a part of your puzzling experience. What’s the most exciting thing in here though? Well anyone who’s had multiple Christmases with young children will know that seeing a battery is like a gift from the gods! It’s worth the score of nine alone!
I know I've gone on about the components for quite a bit but they really add a brilliant tactile quality to the game and as board gamers who love us some good tactile pieces this is really going to up the appeal. Trust me, once I’ve let some friends try this out I’m definitely going to be trying to find a use for everything in this box. I might use the padlocks to lock up the kids' devices. Let’s just hope the teenager hasn’t remembered the code!
But what about the puzzles? Won't someone think of the puzzles!
More and more puzzle games have gone further to innovate to keep the puzzles fresh. From folding paper components, using the box as a clue, to these days using the power of technology to add to the experience. This is the first game outside of an actual escape room (that I’ve been aware of anyway) that uses physical components like this and to be quite blunt with you, they’re a ton of fun. The physicality does bring you in mind of an actual escape room where you’ll be interacting with items in much the same way. It adds a whole new element to it and a satisfaction that you can pass someone a set of dice and say, “you solve that and I’ll get to work on the poker chips”
One of the fun things here is that, yes there are puzzles that you could (if you’re playing with others) hand off to people and let them work on separately, but there are also puzzles that will bring everyone together to work on purely because of how they're presented. I know it sounds cryptic but trust me it’ll all make sense when you see it.
I’m always a fan of when these types of games innovate and cleverly use different mediums to help not only give you new and exciting ways to be presented with puzzles, but also keep the story flowing. That’s done to great effect here because what you get in the box isn’t going to be the only resources at your disposal. It's a great way to let designers of these games think outside the box and find new ways to tell a good story alongside these games. Again I’m aware I’m being cryptic but trust me, you’ll thank me that I am.
Sweet little mystery.
The puzzles in this box are clever, engaging and a lot of fun to solve. We always know when we’ve hit a good puzzle game when we lose count of those celebratory high five moments when we solve a puzzle. It’s better still when we manage to do it off our own backs. It’s such a satisfying feeling. That being said, any hints we did use only served to give us a nudge in the right direction. The Vanishing gambler gave us a really good challenge. It was enough that we weren’t flying through the puzzles, but not too difficult that we weren’t having to get the solution and still end up having a confused look on our faces. There’s nothing worse than being given a solution and knowing that there was no way you would have solved it on your own.
One last little touch that I liked is that it gives you a choice whether or not you want to use the timer. It’s a nice choice to have, I usually prefer not to have a timer. If I’m not in an escape room then I don’t really want the pressure of having to solve these in a set time. For me it kinda takes some of the fun out of it but the fact that it’s an option to have it is great if you're in a group or are someone who likes that challenge.
One oddity we did have in our game was the first padlock to open the evidence bag. I seemed to solve that one pretty quickly. I know that sounds like more of a boast than anything but I know I’m not that clever and I couldn’t imagine it would have been that simple (don’t worry I won’t tell you what I did). So I went back and checked the hints when we’d finished and as it turns out I’d managed to open the lock using a completely different code. It’s strange because it hasn’t opened with that wrong code since. It reminds me of a similar thing that happened in an actual escape room. Not sure what happened, maybe I’ve developed some kind of intermittent code breaking superpower. Whatever it was I’m beginning to think that I should change careers and become a safecracker.
All Mysteries come at a (reasonable) price
The Mystery Agency games do come in at a little bit more than the puzzle games that were used to. But trust me those components go a long way to justify that price and it’s going to be cheaper than going to an actual escape room, even more so if you split the cost with your friends. The great thing is that the game is fully resettable so once you’re done, set everything back and pass it onto your friends for them to enjoy. They’ll love you because you given them a fun experience in a box, but end up resenting you because now they have to buy the others, which you can then borrow thus completing the circle of life…..or puzzles in this case
After playing and enjoying this box we now need to try the other two in the range so you can rest assured I’ll be badgering anyone I can to go in with me to grab the other two. If they sound like something for you and your family or group, jump on over to https://themysteryagency.com to grab yours.