The Vandermist Dossier
- Designer: diorama.games (aka mailordermysteries.com)
- Players: 1-5 (we played with 3)
- Age: 12+
- Time: 2-3 hours (we took 81 minutes)
- Played with preview copy provided by diorama.games
- kickstarter link – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/diorama/the-vandermist-dossier
As you probably know, the Opinionated Gamers are big fans of escape rooms and puzzle hunt games. In the past few years, we have reviewed all different sorts:
- Escape the Room board games (Exit, Unlock, Escape the Room, Werewolf)
- Real physical escape rooms (Playground, Mission Mars)
- Virtual escape rooms done over the internet (The Escape Game)
- At home escape room puzzles done by physical escape rooms (Chasing Hahn)
- Print and play puzzle packs (Print+Play+Cut)
I was contacted by the designer of The Vandermist Dossier and given a chance to play an advance version of the game. The company is planning a Kickstarter campaign later this month, and they were looking for some players to try it out. I will show a few pictures of the components here, but don’t worry – no spoilers. In addition, the designer said that some of the components would be upgraded from what I have based on the success of the campaign… (Though, I’ll admit that I was pretty blown away by what I found in the box in its current prototype state!)
So, the story here is a missing persons case from the 1970s set in a small town in the Netherlands. In their own words: “A narrative puzzle adventure about a small Dutch town, a missing girl, and Cold War family secrets.”
You are asked to pick up the investigation, using the dossier from the original investigation. In this green file folder, you’ll find all sorts of notes and other things to help you along such as newspapers, phone book pages, photographs, etc. All of the bits are aged, and this really helps transport you back into the 1970s. You’re looking for Helena’s missing sister, who herself went missing investigating a different missing person!
You will solve the different puzzles in the game, with the game silently nudging you along the path. In general, there is only one active puzzle at a time, and the way the puzzles are cleverly constructed, you’ll know when you’ve completed a puzzle and have moved onto the next one. If you get stuck, there is a hint system in place – which gives you incremental hints so that the satisfaction of solving a particular puzzle is not spoiled (where possible). Of course, if you get to the final hint, it is simply the solution to the puzzle, but I like the way that before that, the hints walk you through the process of solving the puzzle in stepwise fashion – so that you might be able to just back into solving mode with the right nudge.
The puzzles are of varying style and difficulty, and there were more than a few “A-Ha!” moments as the puzzles and story unfolded. This particular puzzle is strong in the narrative sense, and you really do feel like you are uncovering different parts of the story/mystery as you progress through the puzzles.
Everything is contained within the box – you will not need to use the Internet for any sorts of searching of external info – and we were certainly surprised (at least twice) to find out that the solution to a particular puzzle had been sitting in front of us the whole time! Clever puzzles indeed! And I really appreciated the way that the puzzles and the narrative story were woven together; never did it feel like a puzzle was just thrown in randomly; the solution (or solution process) of the puzzle always was related to the current state of the story you unravel in this game.
The game is meant for 1-5 players, and the documentation suggests that the game will take 2-3 hours. For our prototype purposes, we were required to have Internet access as the hint system was found online; though it appears that plans are for the final product to be self contained. It is meant to be the first part of a trilogy of similar games, but don’t worry, the conclusion to this first episode is complete and could easily stand on its own.
Like most games of this sort, it really can only be played once as you’ll remember the solutions and clever puzzles for sure! We played with three players, and there was definitely enough “puzzle” in the box to keep us all busy. We did not get stumped by any of the puzzles, though there were one or two which we had to sit and think (and chat about) before seeing our way through. We did not require hints, but we did later look at the hint system as commented on above. We probably would have done OK with one more or one less. Five, IMHO, might be too big of a crowd, but of course YMMV. Our game took about 81 minutes, though we did have an interruption in the middle where we stopped the clock (but it’s hard to say whether we stopped our brains from working during that time).
The components were fantastic. Perhaps the best I’ve seen for a do-at-home escape room. Sure, most of the others that we’ve done have been mass-produced, and there’s no way you can meet this level of detail in the mass market. The physical components actually felt old. Wrinkles and creases were appropriate, and things like stains, burn marks, etc all added to the overall aged-feel to the game.
If you want to see a bit more, the KS video can be found on the campaign page https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/diorama/the-vandermist-dossier – or you can watch it here
This was a great experience for us, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying out the final two parts of this trilogy. We were given a sneak peek at one of the puzzles later in the series, and it definitely looks cool and hopefully will tie together the story along the entire trilogy. For anyone interested in the genre, I’d highly recommend trying out the Vandermist Dossier. This is one of the best at-home escape rooms that I’ve played since the start of the pandemic, whether in person or at home. I was truly impressed with the final prototype, and I can only imagine the final production to be even better.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor