Hunt a Killer – Nancy Drew: Mystery at Magnolia Gardens
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So, Hunt A Killer is one of the better known “Escape Room at Home” companies – but one that I’ve never tried before. Why is this? Well, though I love the genre, and I’ve tried many different types of escape room games, the cost and commitment of Hunt a Killer has kept me away. The original Hunt A Killer stories were sold as a six-month subscription, with a new installment coming each month – at around $30/month. It was hard for me to sign up for a subscription without having any experience with the company at all. So, despite the constant bombardment of ads on my Instagram, I managed to remain a HAK virgin.
This year, the company started to make some standalone boxes; available from their website but also through traditional retail channels. For me, this was the perfect opportunity to give their games a test drive. The pricepoint remains the same – around $30 for the 60-90 minute episode – but there is no commitment here past the single box.
As their website describes: “When Nancy Drew begins to investigate a potential poisoning at the botanical garden known as Magnolia Gardens, she soon becomes poisoned herself. In the small window before her symptoms take hold, Nancy collects all of the evidence the player will need, and to interview the potential suspects. Someone at Magnolia Gardens is using the facility’s dangerous plants for nefarious purposes, and Nancy needs your help to find out who before the culprit strikes again. To unearth the culprit, the player must figure out which suspect had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime.
Players channel their inner detective to investigate the mystery of Magnolia Gardens. Uncover the motives of each suspect through ciphers, clues, and puzzles that progress the story to its thrilling conclusion. Realistic evidence and documents guide players through a challenging and immersive experience with tons of twists and turns.”
As with many similar games, when you open the box, you are presented with a LOT of material. There are plenty of pictures, faxes, booklets and whatnot. There’s even a metal pencil box which is locked with an actual metal lock! We spread it out all over the dining room table – but then we found the letter for Nancy Drew herself that gave us the introduction we needed as well as some direction on where to start.
The puzzles are well thought out, and as the box proclaims, they are medium in difficulty. Our group of three had no issues with the puzzles nor did we require any hints. But, if we did, they are available on the website for the game – you will need a code provided in the rulebook to access the hints – this is a nice safeguard to prevent people from accidentally stumbling across hints they shouldn’t see.
However, other than for hints, you’ll not need the website – everything you require is provided to you in the box. You’re given a bunch of evidence; some of it possibly conflicting – and you’ll spend a fair amount of time trying to establish a timeline of events and corroborating evidence. There are six main suspects in the game, and you will get a little dossier on each.
As you piece together the evidence, you’ll figure out the timelines of each of the suspects as well as inconsistencies in their stories. The story itself felt pretty easy to figure out, but then again, this is rated at 2 out of 5 in difficulty; so that’s probably just truth in advertising. Additionally, though the box says 14+ for the age suggestion; given the fact that Nancy Drew is really a series of books targeted at middle schoolers; the puzzles felt appropriate for that age group as well.
After you’ve read everything (likely more than once) and think you have figured out the solution – you can check how well you did with the answers in the solution envelope. Be sure not to open the envelope until you’re done playing the game, because once you read the solution, you’ll be done with the game forever. You can only play it once. And, when you’re done, there is an epilogue that you can view on the website.
For my first experience with the Hunt A Killer puzzles, this was a success – a very enjoyably 71 minutes was had with the box. This mystery seems to be pretty heavy on the reading, and that might be the one thing that keeps the younger games from enjoying this one. I’m guessing that the overall difficulty level was on the easier end as compared to their monthly subscription boxes, but I was impressed enough with the physical components and the puzzle construction to be willing to give their other products a try. Maybe they’ll end up under the Christmas Tree this year?
Opinionated Gamers Rating: I like it.
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