At this year's UK Games Expo I had a bit of a fan girl moment when I found out that Jon Gracey and his fabulous nails were attending. For those who don't know him, he runs amazing Werewolf Live sessions and appears on many a No Rolls Barred video (www.youtube.com/@NoRollsBarred). Wait ... am I allowed to mention another board game reviewing entity? Ah well I've done it now... You can find out more about him by visiting his website http://jongracey.sexy (yes that really is his website URL). It would have been rude not to have bought some merch from his stand! And of course I had to get a photo with him!
One of my purchases was one of his Mini Mysteries games - The Medieval Mishap, which is a bit like an escape room in an envelope.
Players: 1 - 5 Ages: 8+ Game Time: 1 - 2 hours
In this immersive app-assisted puzzle game, you are set a mission by Agent Lance Steele, Deputy Director of the secretive organisation known as the Ministry of Time. Disaster is afoot because his newest Junior Agent, Gwen, has gone missing on her very first assignment.
She was sent back in time to investigate a strange anomaly in medieval England but didn't return from her mission. There are some clues, but they are tricky to decipher; coded parchments, cryptic journals, strange devices, and an unmarked map of… somewhere?
Steele suspects that something dark is happening and it's imperative that you work out what happened to Gwen and better still find and rescue her!
One thing that is great about The Medieval Mishap is that the whole game is contained in one package, a sturdy cardboard envelope. Easy to do within the comfort of your living room, or to take on your travels. All the components are of really decent quality and bonus points that it is all recyclable too, with no plastic, so quite environmentally friendly
Inside you are greeted by a package designed to look like an evidence folder and the puzzles inside are labelled as exhibits to make it feel like a real investigation and the puzzles are all themed around the medieval period.
Each puzzle is set by a character on the companion browser app. It's great that each of the puzzles tells you which exhibits are needed to solve them, so that you don't waste time arguing or scratching your heads and if you're struggling you can get hints.
Personally, I would have preferred the game to be entirely paper-based for it to be played anywhere, but that said I do feel that the app enhances it. The voice acting brings the humorous characters you meet alive and you can also enjoy the music (which I found reminiscent of the music from the online version of Wingspan) and background noises, as well as jokes and puns from the town crier (even if the immersion is broken a little by his voice sounding like it's coming over a tannoy). A possible hybrid solution might have been to have an optional companion booklet with scripts, to introduce some roleplay. This could also have had hints at the back and the answers. I think at the very least there should have been a downloadable option so that it can still be played without internet access. Why am I now having a nostalgic moment in which I'm imagining an old-school version with a cassette tape?
The different puzzles within are of a variety of difficulties and in my opinion can be enjoyed by both gamer gamers and families. It's brilliant that the puzzles relate to medieval life, such as crop rotation and identifying nobles by their coats of arms. It is also family friendly in that there are no grisly images of crime scenes or a murder.
In terms of replayability there is none, but I feel that's in the spirit of the game. I of course had some trepidation about the game officially being one use, where normally you'd be writing on and even cutting up some components, but my hubby and I played in such a way to preserve the game as much as possible to be able to enjoy it with friends after our own successful play-through. With my (lack of) memory I could probably do it again in a couple of months and still feel challenged, but suspect that super-brained hubby of mine would speed through another run through even if it was in years' time!
I love that the content of the game includes more information than just what is needed to solve the puzzles (such as the debrief document). This makes it more immersive and educational, which is not something you'd likely experience in an in-person escape room with a time limit. This is enhanced by there being a download available after you complete the mission that gives information about the medieval period, and you can also print of a certificate to boast of your successful mission (parents could also buy one of the pin badges as a secret extra prize for their kiddos too, as I embrace my inner small child I also bought one for myself at Expo haha).
Another plus point is that the artwork throughout, on paper and digital, is lovely and feels very in keeping with the theme. I've not taken many photos of the game as I didn't want to spoil things too much for any one who wants to buy the game and get the full experiencing of opening the package.
Largely speaking, I feel that it can be fun for all the family as it is a cooperative experience in which kids and adults can work together to solve each of the puzzles and the final solve. Teenagers would probably be fine without any supervision. For the feast based puzzle, I suspect some families may struggle a little, especially with younger kids, but it's a good way of testing maths skills. You can write on the summary sheet, but we got our geek on and used an Excel spreadsheet! It's great that the app provides you with a series of clues if you are struggling, and you can even request the full solution if you are truly scuppered.
Some groups may have an enthusiastic alpha player who shouts out a solution before other players have found it, and some adults or more experienced puzzle solvers might feel the need to hold back on a solution to give other players a chance at a solve, but whether or not such thigns a problem depends on your group dynamic.
In terms of player count there's no reason you can't do it solo, and there is in my opinion technically no hard upper limit on the upper count beyond practicality of everyone being able to see and interact with components.
I had underestimated the time it takes to get all the way through, so hubby and I had been a bit rushed towards the end, so if you want to play it make sure that you set aside an afternoon! I might be missing something, but I couldn't see there was a way to save your progress on the website to be able to complete it over multiple sessions.
One fairly major issue I had with the game was accessibility. Some of the fonts were quite small and for one of the puzzles it was hard to differentiate the green needed for one of the clues, despite me not having any form of colour blindness. Potentially some puzzles might be unplayable to the colourblind, but I lack knowledge in that area to know for sure. It is good however that all of the words spoken by characters are shown on screen, which would make it accessible to people with hearing impairments.
Some people might find the price point a little high at £28 given that it's a one and done, but I'd say that it is comparably priced to other similar products when you take into account the overall gameplay time.
Overall I had a great experience playing The Medieval Mishap, so much so I've since ordered The Egyptian Enigma (which is currently sat on my Shelf Of Opportunity). With it being a one and done, it's not my usual style of game, but I do love puzzles and found solving the mission to be an exciting challenge. I'd recommend it for both gamers and families. It's a fantastic way to spend an afternoon and is sure to make you smile as you play. It may have scored a little higher had it not been for accessibility issues, and the necessity for internet access throughout playing. I hope that there will be more Mini Mysteries games to enjoy in the future.
Your resident Word-nerd