In recent years, puzzle/escape room-style games have become more and more popular. What was pioneered by games like T.I.M.E. Stories, has evolved through titles like EXIT and Unlock. These smaller games from Kosmos and Space Cowboys did away with the need for a base system, and stood on their own, in consumable portions. The $15-20 price points, made the fact that they could only be played once a little easier to swallow. A new challenger has entered the arena in the escape-room-in-a-box battle royale. Mystery House, from Cranio Creations offers a whole new physical, immersive approach to the genre.
Mystery House returns to the idea of a console-like base game in which different adventures can be plugged in. Inside the box, there is little more than the board itself. It is a 3D square grid, mimicking a house with five openings along each of its four sides.
Each different adventure comes in its own box. Included in the base set are the Family Portrait and the Lord of the Labyrinth stories. In the adventures boxes, you find a number of room cards that have a letter/number grid locations to be plugged into the house. This is a very cool effect and the key concept behind the game. Once set up, you see a different set of things depending what side of the house you’re looking at. Players are encouraged to sit facing different sides of the house and reporting to each other what they see.
Also in the box for each adventure are numbered item cards representing things you might come across during the game.
All of the action is driven by an app, and I have to say, it’s the best integration of an in-game app I’ve seen in a long time. It’s super easy to use, keeps track of the items you’ve collected, and keeps the action going at a good pace. (I will say that there are more than a few instances of spelling and grammar errors in the app, but those are the minor things you can overlook, when it doesn’t have any affect on gameplay).
Once you start an adventure, you have 60 minutes to complete it (the clock just starts counting up if you go past that time). One person controls the app and players communicate about what they see and what they want to explore further. If there’s a chest on C1, you look up the number and pick ‘chest’ from a list of words. The app will give you more information on the item. As you gain new items, you can try and use them in different locations. Be careful! If you use the item in the wrong place, it’ll cost you 30 precious seconds.
You’ll have to figure out how to use the items you find, and find a number of codes that will get you further into the game.
With its 3D presentation and exciting, immersive gameplay, I can confidently say that Mystery House is a fun experience. You take turns with the app, and it helpfully reminds you to pass it on to the next player. Looking into the house and reporting back what you see is a really fun element. What’s important, and what’s a red herring?
I recently attended a board game convention weekend, and brought Mystery House with me. There was a lot of excitement and buzz around it, with a bunch of people wanting to play. Over the weekend, it probably ended up being the most played game. It has a very interesting table presence and as teams celebrating solving a clue, other people took note and wanted to try it out. The feedback was generally (not universally) positive. At the very least, people enjoyed the experience.
I’ve now played both stories in the base game. I definitely had fun with them. They were some fun puzzles to solve and you do get into the narrative as it unfolds. I will say they are not flawless. There are a few spelling and grammatical errors, which happens, but would be nice to see them cleaned up in future expansions. A few of the puzzles required some leaps of logic that were difficult to make. This is not uncommon with escape room games or even escape rooms themselves. Mystery House was not the worst offender I’ve seen by far.
The big question, is whether or not consumers will buy into the idea of a system that you plug new consumable adventures into. For me, Mystery House scratches the itch. It’s a new approach to and established style of game. I’m excited to see how it does in the retail market, and what new stories they’ll be able to tell using this system.
Thanks to Asmodee North America and Cranio Creations for providing a media copy of Mystery House for this article.