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MYSTERY HOUSE

Published by Schmidt spiel. Designed by Antonio Tinto.  rrp €38.49   
2-4 players (four being optimum) Any age that can recognise small items and objects.

 

This is a most unusual escape room game. It requires players to have an APP on a mobile appliance and for all players to have good eyesight and a means of propelling light forward, a torch, phone light etc. It is also advisable to be able to set the playing arena - the Mystery House - at eye-level (or as near as possible) to all players - when they are sitting down around the table of course.

Before I get into describing the game and telling you my thoughts on it the first thing I should do is to put out a warning. The game requires a lot of peering and peeking through the small windows of the Mystery House so if you are someone who struggles to see very small things in close-up then it is likely you will not be as entertained by the game as someone with excellent short sightedness. You should also try to play in as light a room as possible and ensure that additional light sources are available for all players.

The game comes with two one-time-play adventures, "Family Portrait" and "The Lord of the Labyrinth", both of which use the same labyrinth style house/board; these are supposed to be completed within an hour. We played 'Family Portrait'  and from opening the box, reading the rules, preparing the setup and completing the quest, 150 minutes had passed - the App on Grant's phone continued assessing our performance way after we had finished 'successfully'. 

 

The setup is similar for both games and will continue to be the same when expansion packs pop up on the market - believe me they aren't going to be far behind. Opening the box confused us for a moment because it is a side-flap opening and not a lift the top off style. Okay you can laugh, but virtually every boardgame I have, and I have a fair few, are top and bottom boxes with components and board in the bottom and a box lid that slips over to contain them.

Having overcome the first mystery (opening the box) you pull out a top and bottom inner box, take off the top, remove the components (the two adventure boxes are separate items) and rules, and fit the top back into place. This will give you a squared container with five equal size and equidistant windows around each side and a top that has numbered and lettered criss-cross of slots which make a 25 space grid with each of those 25 spaces isolated from the next by a thin but strong edge.

Remember to install the APP on your phone or device and key in the necessary clues, get hints, etc etc throughout play - mainly after all players have come to a decision and the Apperator (my name for the Operator of the App) is requested to search accordingly.

There are two lots of cards in each box. One set is playing-card size and show the clues and equipment required to solve the puzzle of the room. The other set are sarcophagus shaped and thicker card. These slot into the box lid grid to create the interior walls and doors of the house. Although each of these cards is marked/identified with a Letter and Number on the top (head part) of both sides - one in Red and one in Blue - the cards being placed in the slots which match their Number, Letter combination. There is only legal one way each wall or room card can be placed into the grid which means one player may be looking at A6 whilst the opposite player sees Q1 or similar.

 

With players positioned around the table so that they are each flush-on with one of the Mystery House's sides, they can each see through some of the windows and into the house, some windows are walled up, others may have a door in them, occasionally you may be able to enter the house through one of these windows but this is rare and you should be looking for the front door and a means to get through it. To make things easier and prevent player's moaning and groaning at having to change seats, the MYSTERY HOUSE can be rotated - though it is best to ensure all players are happy for it to be moved (they usually are). 

Whenever you make a decision to do something, look at something, the team leader - did I forget to say this is a cooperative game? - puts the gathered information into the App and is given an answer. This is done often throughout play, mainly when you are trying to use something you have found, or perhaps combine things you have found, open doors, cupboards, chests etc. The App also has hints that add 20 seconds to your time, or takes it away from your allotted hour. These hints are fair but often slightly cryptic though always pertinent to what you are asking about, such as 'Look in door #B4' or 'You need a specific key shape to open this cupboard'. that type of hint, helpful but not overly direct so that you don't have to think.

 

It seems that as I get older either rules are not as clear as they used to be or, most likely, I don't understand them as quickly as I used to. For example here the rules say players can only look into windows on the side where they are sitting which gave us the (wrong) impression that we could only see what was immediately in front of us and not around and not left and right or up and down. Once we realised that the game allows us to see what we can actually physically see through these windows, though being able to see things and being able to reach them are often not nearly the same, in fact it can be downright frustrating to see a need object/item and not be able to reach it. Though this of course then sends all players into a searching frenzy trying to find their way to the item. When this occurs you have four pairs of eyes looking through the North, East, West and South walls of the building blinding each other with their phone and torch lights.    

 

As you make progress you clear away some of the walls and open some of the doors (remove the cards from the labyrinth) and your way forward becomes clearer, as do some of the tiny items you couldn't quite make out by using a torch and looking through a window - it is not allowed to lift cards out to get a 'proper' look at them. You are also rewarded with cards that represent what you have found and it is up to you to discover how some of the odd things can be utilised - sometimes this is painfuly obvious, you need something to break open a door or a chest etc and you are carrying between you a wrench or crowbar, something like that. This is where frustration gets the better of me again because if the App tells me I cannot open the box with the crowbar I want to know, and understand, why, because logically brute force should open it one way or another. Then it gets even worse when, like so many computer games, once you have used the crowbar to open a doorway it is used up and you have to discard the equipment card. I can understand discarding a bow or a handgun when they are out of arrows or bullets, but dropping a crowbar because it's been used to jimmy an inside door does my 'ed in'.                                                                                                                                                        

 

The 3D design certainly gives a great new look and feel to visual games like this. The box/playing area itself isn't particularly impressive as it stands, it's just a box with holes in its edges. But once you have slotted the outer and inner walls into it the perspective changes immediately and amazingly and you really want to get in there and inspect the heck out of it.

The App device can be passed around if you want but we found it just as easy to maintain one player as designated leader and App reader. They asked the other players before looking at hints and gave everyone fair play to put forward what they could see and decide in which order things should be checked. As long as you all agree to work together them controlling the App isn't any manner of problem. Once started the App keeps running as a timer and also as a game enhancer - for example when the door creaks open you get to hear a creaking door. Neither Visual or Audio is a new concept in games but it is still extra pleasant when it works this well.

The second adventure replaces the two sets of cards but uses the same grid shell of the Haunted (or not) Mystery House and my understanding is that future expansions will also require the base game for the house but will have different tales of the unexpected and different Apps or add-ons to this App. The Mystery House App offers you the choice from the two available game adventures that come with this base set.

Any age player can play/help. You can even have more than one youngster on a side using their bright vision to find things that old, tired eyes, miss. Supposedly playable in an hour, yes I would say probably for our second adventure (we are waiting for sore eyes, necks and backs to get better before we dive in again) though for a first game I think 60 minutes was rather pushing it.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015