This house mysteriously moves through space and time, and no one knows its destination. Will you be brave enough to enter?
Experience the thrill of an escape room in Mystery House: Adventures in a Box, which features a mix of technology and tradition. You are imprisoned in this house, and the only way out is to solve all the riddles you find inside! You must search for clues in the box, which features multiple doorways on all sides. At the beginning of the game, you insert enigma cards in the box top, and these cards will tell a story as they're revealed and resolved during play. An app drives you through the game and records the progress of your team and your playtime.
The base game includes two adventures: "Family Portrait" and "The Lord of the Labyrinth". All future expansions will use the same base game box as a game system.
Cooperative play, App-assisted
Designer: Antonio Tinto
Artist: Daniela Giubellini, Alessandro Paviolo
Publisher: Cranio Creations
Category: Cooperative Play, Escape Room
Price: $31.99 Amazon.com
Mystery House is an escape room game with a 3D physicality. Using a specially-crafted game box with “window” cutouts, players peer “inside the house” to explore and examine the objects within. This app-assisted game comes with 2 scenarios in the box. It does not involve any marking or destroying components, so even though the scenarios themselves offer little replayability, the game can easily be passed on to a friend to play, as well.
Escape room games are everywhere these days, but Mystery House is a unique specimen among them. This 3D adventure uses the game box as the titular “house,” with “window” cutouts on all 4 sides. Specially-made cards are inserted into the top, such that they are visible through the windows.
The game is app-assisted, so players will need to use a smartphone during play. The app keeps track of time – players aim to finish the game within 60 minutes – and also provides an interface in which they can explore locations, enter codes, and use items.
Now, due to the one-shot nature of this game, I don’t want to give away any major story elements, but the basic game system functions around players peering through the windows at the cards inside the house. If a player sees something they wish to explore, they enter the coordinates where they see it (say, card D1) into the app, and something might happen, such as finding an item.
To demonstrate how the app interaction might work, I will use a made-up, spoiler-free example. Suppose the players had previously found a key item. Inside the house, they can see a locked door at card C2. Using the app, the players try the key at this location, and it works! With the door now opened, the app instructs the players to remove card C2, which reveals the card behind it.
As players venture deeper into the house, they will continue to encounter new puzzles and challenges. In order to prevent “cheating” by trying a bunch of random combinations in the app, incorrect entries deduct time. When players solve the last puzzle, the app will inform them that they have completed the adventure. It should be noted that the game continues on even if they exceed the 1 hour time allotment, though extra time gets subtracted from their overall score.
Mystery House is a cool idea, and though it admittedly looks neat on the table, it has some very significant problems.
First, the rules lack clarity in some key areas. For example, it is not clearly stated if players can look “diagonally” into the house. The spirit of the game seems to suggest that players are meant to look at the sides of the house straight-on, but when we did this, we became stuck and only later realized that we needed to peek in at an angle. Looking diagonally usually means seeing a card that is obscured by a different card, so when we did this, we felt like we were unintentionally cheating, seeing something that we weren’t supposed to see yet.
The app ranges from unhelpful to frustrating. Ignoring its grammatical errors, the clues it provides often just spell out what players can already see (e.g. a player wants to examine a torch, and the app simply says “A torch sits on the wall.”). Additionally – and this is a very slight spoiler – we ran into issues with synonymous clues. We were examining a statue of a bird, and when the app asked us input what we saw, it gave us the options of “Bird” and “Owl.” The options were organized alphabetically, so we saw “Bird” first and immediately selected it. Since the app gives 20 options at a time, and since we were under a time limit, it’s understandable why we didn’t sit there and read through all the other options it gave us. However, it turned out the app wanted “Owl,” so in addition to being penalized for entering the wrong word, we spent even more time trying to figure out what had happened and realizing we needed to enter a different term.
Since the house has 4 sides for players to view, I tried the game with 4 players, thinking it would be perfect – at all times, everyone should have something to look at… right? As with any escape room game, when new information is uncovered, everyone wants to view it, but in this case, that means everyone wants to look at the same side of the house. In practice, then, either a) players have to take turns viewing the new information individually while the others sit idly by and time ticks down, or b) everyone has to cram onto the same side of the table, craning their heads to try to see where the action is.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Mystery House, though, is that its 3D gimmick doesn’t actually add anything to the experience. Tabletop escape rooms usually operate on a system of gaining, combining, and discarding cards (think of the Unlock! or EXIT series), and at its core, this is exactly what Mystery House does: players start with a certain number of visible cards and they have to figure out how to use and combine them to venture deeper into the house. The problem is that the very aspect of Mystery House that tries to be innovative ends up muddying the waters of an otherwise elegant game concept.
Though the idea and presentation of this game are really cool, my group and I found it to be a major miss.
A review copy was provided by Asmodee.
+ Has a strong table presence
- Rules lack critical information
- App is frequently unhelpful or downright frustrating
- Multiplayer experience can become cumbersome due to the nature of peering into the house
- 3D aspect does not add to the experience