Room-in-a-box, Sep 2017
Murder Mystery is one of the two expansion scenarios so far released for Escape Room The Game (at time of writing, another two are pending translation to English). Where the other expansion, Welcome to Funland, made me warm to the series, this one immediately dropped the ball again.
The story is a whodunnit set at the end of the 19th Century, with a railroad tycoon lying dead in a pool of blood (delicately hidden behind furniture in the game illustration, there are no scenes of a graphic nature here). As with all the games in the series, there are a series of three puzzles, each of which is solved by inserting the correct combination of plastic keys into the Chrono Decoder gadget. The game requires that gadget plus a couple of other components from the base set.
With this game, the three stages of the puzzles correspond to solving elements of the murder mystery: finding the murder weapon, identifying the motive, and selecting the correct suspect. So far so good: that’s a nice way to fit the standard format of this series to the murder mystery theme.
However, of those three stages, each one seemed flawed to a greater or lesser extent. One was simply very quick and easy; the official walkthrough gives a much more complex chain of logic that I suspect will be representative of the thinking process of very few players. Another is okay but weak, with a jumble of information that will likely lead you to the right answer but without much of an ‘aha’ feeling of having cracked the puzzle. And the other, by far the most substantial section of the game, has a host of small problems that together make it difficult to enjoy. We entirely missed one clue, only to find that it didn’t matter because the answer turned out the same for each of the available options (!). The one point where we did need a hint (which was actually a perfectly reasonable and fair puzzle) turned out to not be covered by the hint card system. And a sloppy re-use of the same set of letters in unrelated locations was an invitation to over-thinking.
Anyone with poor eyesight should stay well away from this expansion, since several points require very close inspection of small printed details on the components. More generally the puzzle design seemed sometimes more based on muddling through to the answers than clues that resolved crisply to definitive solutions. That’s not entirely fair, since once it’s fully solved it does all fit together and make sense in a way that doesn’t admit of alternative solutions; but with a sprinkling of ‘gotchas’ and plenty of opportunities for confusion, during the game it gave the impression of being more ambiguous and arbitrary than it actually turned out to be.
There’s nothing here that’s broken to the point of unplayability, and if you’re a big fan of the series then you’ll probably enjoy it. But everyone else should skip Murder Mystery and wait for the next couple of expansions to be released.