What? A new style of escape-the-room game, you say? Count me in! I first saw people playing Mystery House at Essen 2019 and it looks remarkable. A group of people holding up a 3D box full of pictures hidden behind panels and peering down corridors with torches. What is this thing?
We bought a copy on the spot, brought it home and have now played through the two scenarios that come with the base game. Like many escape-the-room games, you are presented with a variety of puzzles and you have to use items, spot clues, come up with codes and, in this case, make it to the centre.
So not so much escaping out of a maze, but rather trying to find your way to the centre through all the puzzles. Let me tell you about it…
Each scenario of Mystery House requires you to intially set up the “house” by putting numbered panels into their appropriate slots. When you look through the holes in the side of the box, these panels then become the various walls (external or internal) of the house, which each have images on them.
So for example you might look through a window into one room and see a sofa and a small table with a lamp on one of the panels. You hold up the house between the players and each player inspects a different side of the house, while calling out to each other what they can see.
The game requires a companion app and if you think you can see something interesting, you type the panel reference into the app and tap on the thing (from a list of possibilities) that you can see. This might give you an item (represented by cards) or it might reveal a clue or it might be nothing.
You then piece together the clues and try to open the various doors you can see. When you succeed and pass through a door, the app instructs you to remove certain panels, which allow you to see further into the house. Once you make it to the centre and complete the final puzzle, you win!
There are a few things that can make these kind of games good. The first is the puzzles themselves. Quality puzzles are pretty much indispensable. The puzzles in Mystery House are decent. They’re not particularly innovative, but they do the job fine.
We found that there were a couple of moments when the puzzles didn’t seem to make sense though. We got through one puzzle (by asking for a hint), which removed a couple of panels and then we discovered that the crucial clue we needed to solve the previous puzzle was on one of the panels we had just revealed! I think more playtesting was required before they went to print.
The second consideration is the co-operative experience. Are some of the players sat around feeling redundant while the alpha gamers solve all the puzzles? Mystery House provides a great experience in this regard. You can only look at one side of the house, so you need to work with the other players. Every now and then, you can turn the house so that the players are looking at a different side. Maybe you’ll spot something the previous player missed.
The app is also operated by one person, but after a while, the app instructs that person to pass it on to the next player round the table. These things do a great job of making everyone feel involved. I recommend playing with 4 players for the best experience. You could play with fewer players fine, but I wouldn’t recommend more than that.
Next up, is the technology/mechanics. Does the app work well? Do the pictures on the panels do their job? Unfortunately, there are two major issues here. The app itself is fine, but the panels are quite small. Peering down a corridor (even using a torch), it was often difficult to make out exactly what the pictures were meant to be showing. There was a lot of guesswork involved.
The second issue is the translation. Our copy was in English, but it had clearly been translated to English by someone whose first language wasn’t English. There were a lot of errors and confusing translations. Careful proofreading by a native English speaker would have made a huge difference.
Finally then, there’s the innovativeness of the actual concept. Here Mystery House knocks it out of the park! I think it’s a fantastic idea. The idea of gradually removing panels and revealing more and more of the house is brilliant.
The game clearly has issues, but they’re not insurmountable. The translation should be a straightforward fix. The difficulty of seeing the pictures can be addressed by having brighter artwork with clearer pictures. The artwork needs to focus more on utility and less on mood.
If the creators spend more time working on interesting puzzles and playtesting them thoroughly, they could produce a top-notch escape-the-room game. The nice thing is that adding extra scenarios (which address all the issues) is very easy to do once you have the base game. You just need a new set of panels and item cards.
Have you played it yet? What do you think?