THE MYSTERY AGENCY - The Vanishing Gambler
Since the start of lockdown we've seen a boom in the play-at-home and play-online area of escape rooms. "The Mystery Agency" was one of my most highly anticipated experiences, as it comes, in part, from the mind of Henry Lewis - one of the geniuses behind Mischief Theatre. "The play that goes wrong" is one of the funniest shows you will see, with many bizarre things going wrong in a way that disguises the genius required for such choreography. Knowing this, I couldn't wait to see how this would translate into a play at home game.
Pros: Props, internet use, narrative
Cons; Hint penalty, signposting
When you first open the box you have very little available to you - only a newspaper detailing the plot (a notorious gambler has vanished from his prison cell), and a bag of evidence pertaining to the case, which is currently locked. The lid also guides you towards a web page, which reveals your ultimate goal (locating the gambler) and your first clue (helpfully marked "FIRST CLUE - START HERE"). From then on the game becomes a blend of virtual and physical clue hunting, with us rifling through the evidence and frantically googling as much as possible.
The props are all great quality, and feel very authentic, leading to the hidden clues being very subtle. Factors you'd usually overlook on items suddenly became leads. The web pages themselves also felt very real - a little too real in some situations, where we accidently stumbled onto a real page and was a breath away from a very confusing situation!
That being said, there were a few small issues with the props; a very hard to see image, some leaps of logic, and in one case could only find 4 of the 5 figures we needed (so had to use brute force to complete it).
Throughout the game it's fairly clear what the next puzzle to solve is, and what you're looking for (dates, numbers, passwords), and there is a hint folder on the website giving a clear guide to which puzzles to solve in order. The hints themselves are also pretty useful - providing you a couple of nudges before an ultimate answer. However, using these hints add a time penalty (and a rather large one), so we avoided using these at much as possible. Unfortunately, this meant we found ourselves rather stuck more than once, in a way that was incredibly frustrating. Situations where we were almost there, we were determined to figure out ourselves, but just couldn't quite manage it. The game felt quite stop start from this perspective a lot of short bursts of activity, followed by confusion and reading the same thing clues multiple times.
The game features a fairly even split of physical and online puzzles and clue solving, which I really enjoyed. There was a good balance between deductive/lateral puzzle solving and straight forward logic. Some of the signposting between puzzles and clues could be a little clearer, but otherwise I enjoyed the breadth and variety of puzzles.
The puzzles were mostly linear, with only a couple which ran simultaneously, so we were mainly working together, focused on the same items.
Was it worth the money?
This box costs £40 new, but I purchased it second hand for £30. On one hand, this box is able to be reset and resold, which potentially brings the cost down. However, if this seems too much effort I wouldn't consider it worth the £40. Based on enjoyability and puzzles, I'd rather have payed £20-£25 for this, and probably would be reticent to dish out full price for one of their other boxes (although I wouldn't rule out playing them).