Madmen and Heroes Review

Madmen and Heroes is a subscription box company that offers two different kinds of experiences.  The Resystance is a historical themed box that teaches you about specific historical events.  The Craaaft is a supernatural themed box that teaches you about paranormal beliefs from around the world.  Each box starts with an explanation about the content and what you must do to complete the game.  There are a series of clues and puzzles that you must solve in order to complete your quest. 

I enjoyed the themes from this company.  I was able to try two Resystance boxes, the Underground Railroad and Women’s Suffrage.  I also tried one of the Craaaft boxes which was Preta Problem, a Buddhist themed box.  I genuinely learned some historical facts and lore.  There’s no better way to learn than from a fun game or story.  Unfortunately, I think the theming is about the only good virtue about the boxes. 

There is a limited story with each box.  It usually only consists of a rough idea of what’s going on historically or what your goals are.  The Preta Problem for example had nearly two pages of writing explaining what Pretas are and how you need to find each one in the temple to help them.  The information was repeated a lot and could be edited down to less than a page with clearer writing.  The Resystance makes it seem like there’s a time travel meta story going on, but they never really build on that.  The premise is similar to that of Escape the Crate, but that company builds on the meta story every box.  So far, the Resystance is just visiting places.  I have no idea what we are resisting or what’s going on. 

The puzzles are usually a mess. A good puzzle is one that provides you all the information you need but still provides a challenge.  Most of the puzzles in this box do not explain what they want you to do.  It sort of explains what you are looking for and then there’s random clues sprinkled throughout.  There’s just no clear direction for what to look for.  The hint page on the website is pretty good though.  They provide roughly 3 hints, a ‘how to solve’, and the solution for each puzzle.  Without looking at this page though, you might not even realize something is a clue.  The answers compilate to a single password which completes the story with an epilogue.  Getting this password can be tricky figuring out if there are spaces or capitalized letters or the order to put them in.  For me, I just didn’t find the puzzles to be enjoyable. 

The quality of the images and prints are really low.  Most of it looks like they downloaded from a small internet image and had it blown up a few sizes.  Most of the images are grainy and pixelated.  The puzzle elements are usually just tacked on like a clipart.  They are made on good quality paper too which is a striking contrast.  I’m not sure why they spend time printing poor images on quality paper. 

Each box comes with a few trinkets.  The Resystance boxes come with random things that seem useless in the game and in life.  This is typical though for these types of games and this one doesn’t stand out as being the worst offender.  The Craaaft actually has some really fun goodies.  For the Preta Problem I got a long strand of Buddhist prayer flags and a necklace of prayer beads.  They didn’t play into the game at all, but it went with the theme and I like them.   

Each box is $30 a month.  For that price, they do not come close to the quality and content that other companies provide.  At most I would consider these boxes to have a $20 value.  It’s not like they are in a big rush either considering they have a 12-month rotation for their boxes.  This means every June they send out the same June box as the previous year.  They have plenty of time to clean up their content and offer a finished product.

I really wanted to like these boxes because of the themes.  It was a great concept that was never completed.  Maybe I will give them another shot in the future if they fix their quality and revamp each box with a story and better images.  I think hiring a graphic designer would be a good move.  Never leave a mystery unsolved!

-J.C. Mystery Detective

Sleuth Kings Review

It was the end of a painfully long day when the light bulb flickered at my desk.  I wasn’t sure if it needed to be changed or if the electricity bill was past due.  Business wasn’t going well and if it continued like this any longer, I might have to pack up my business.  A knock at the opaque glass door where my name was painted startled me.  That’s when she walked in.  She was beautiful despite her red puffy eyes.  “Excuse me.  Are you the private investigator?” she asked.  End scene.  Whatever happened to the old detective stories?  Or a private investigator set in the classic noir style with lots of fedoras?  Well the practice is still alive and well with Sullivan King and the monthly subscription box Sleuth Kings.

Once a month you will receive a case file to help Sullivan King solve a mystery.  Usually a murder mystery but the stories vary.  Each file consists of roughly three pages of story and four clues that are in the form of puzzles.  Once you solve the mystery the story is concluded in a separate envelope titled Epilogue.  What really makes this box pop though is that you get to talk with Sullivan King himself during the investigation via email.  Sullivan and you will work through the clues together until the mystery is solved and the day is saved.  Except for whoever was murdered in the first place. 

The email works by sending a message to Sullivan on the web page for that month’s mystery.  It’s all automated, but I like to write Sullivan messages as though I were really on the case with him.  I usually start with, “Hey Sully, what have you got for me on this case?”.  Once you send the initial message, all you have to do is reply to the emails without changing the email title so the computer knows where you are in the story.  If you need to talk about clue 1, you simply include “clue 1” in the body of the email and Sullivan will comment and help you out with that clue.  Once you have the solution, include “solution” in the body of the email and Sullivan will let you know what he found out.  The system works really well as long as you follow the directions on how to communicate.  The directions are told to you several times so you can’t miss them. 

The puzzles for the box range in style, puzzle type, and complexity.  The box starts with the four clues, but as you progress you will usually run into two or more puzzles that Sullivan will send you or that you’ll find by going to a website.  Some of the puzzles I understood right away and some of them I don’t think I would have ever solved.  There was one in the last box that I asked for all the hints and finally the solution and I still have no idea how they came to that conclusion.  It’s difficult to make brand new puzzles every month and sometimes I don’t think their puzzles work out as smoothly as they should.  For the most part though, the puzzles are always original and clever.  They are themed with the story and usually make sense with the story, in the sense that if everyone involved in a crime always wrote down encrypted clues to help you solve it. 

Inevitably with every puzzle box or book, you’re going to get stuck.  If you do all you need to do is email Sullivan King and he can help you out.  For each puzzle you will receive one hint and the solution.  The hint will explain to you roughly how you might solve the puzzle.  Usually the hint will make the solution obvious and you’ll just have to do the leg work to complete it.  Once you ask for the solution, Sullivan will solve it for you and discuss what to look at next.  If you want a lighter hint, the last of the printed pages is Sullivan’s initial take on each clue.  You can skip this page if you’re a pro and want to solve everything on your own.  This system is smooth until you get into the final puzzles that aren’t one of the initial clues.  A couple times I had to go through the motions of asking Sullivan to solve several puzzles that I already completed just so he can catch up to me and ask if I need a hint on the new puzzle. 

The stories are fairly simple making this more of a puzzle box.  You will hardly ever have to solve the mystery with deduction as the clues you gather will spell out “who dun it” for the most part.  There is an ongoing back story where Sullivan is looking for his missing father.  After you conclude the case, Sullivan continues to email you with updates on his search with additional puzzles and websites that continue the story.  You can even catch up to the story at any time without having to buy all the previous boxes. 

Similar boxes will sometimes include little trinkets or objects that are related to the story.  It’s rare in this box but they will include the occasional item if it’s needed to solve a puzzle.  I recently found a treasure and was rewarded with a tiny plastic treasure box and a penny, so that was exciting.  This box is more focused on the puzzles however and will take you around 2-3 hours to solve everything.  The trinkets in other boxes are highly over-rated and the Sleuth Kings give your money’s worth in good content. 

If you love puzzles and playing detective, this is the box for you.  Although the story doesn’t involve much deduction except when solving the puzzles, you’ll still get your monthly detective fix.  The unique email system makes this box a must try for me.  It seems like it could be a simple script but it adds so much excitement, especially as you’re waiting to see what Sullivan King found with your results.  They recently started a Rookie Detective subscription that is cheaper and should only take an hour to solve.  Or you can jump into Master Detective which has taken me 2-3 hours to solve.  You can even send them your address to get a free post card puzzle.  Good luck though because I have never solved that thing.  With that said, never leave a postcard puzzle unsolved!  Allright, I’ll give it another shot.

-J.C. Mystery Detective

Mystery Experiences Company Review

Do you have a couple of hours every month to help Forrest City or Port St. James solve their murders? Do you have the deductive reasoning skills and the right mentality to aide in a murder investigation? If so then the Mystery Experiences Company subscription box just might be for you. The Mystery Experiences Company has been around for a few years now and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Every month you receive a murder mystery delivered to your mailbox. Each box will take about an hour or two to read all the content and solve and is a completely self contained story.

The Mystery Experiences Company starts with an introduction letter asking for your assistance in solving a murder either from the FBI, local police department, or a historian that has discovered some interesting documents. You will recieve a newspaper covering the details of the murder and other events in town, a trinket or two related to the story, and several paper documents covering clues and important information you will need. There is also extra content that can be found as a website, a Facebook page, or even a phone number. Don’t throw away the box immediately because you never know when there might be something hidden on it.

Even though every month contains a new mystery, they all build on one another on what they call the meta-mystery. This is the game’s little universe where you encounter the same characters and companies to solve the bigger picture of why so many murders occur in such a small area. Perhaps not nearly as frequently in the towns of Agatha Christie novels but it’s getting close. Forrest City and Port Saint James will soon have statistics close to some of the most dangerous cities in America with more than 12 murders a year. They also have a disturbing amount of serial killers. Maybe there’s a reason that this area seems to track so much violence and it’s your job as the Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot of your own story to solve the mystery.

The external content such as the websites and phone numbers are well-made. The websites look real and contain all the pages and information you would expect from a professional business. You might see a website for the hotel where the murder occured. If you’re observant you might notice a hidden link somewhere that allows you to “hack” into some emails or security records. Sometimes a character will have a Facebook page that contains some rumor or gossip that could be vital to your investigation. They are never skimpy on these pages and they are sometimes started several months before the actual box and maintained afterward for ongoing characters. The phone numbers are usually pretty short but it’s always exciting when you find one. My rule is if I find a number code that’s 9 digits long, it’s probably a phone number. It used to be obvious with the same area code every time but now they’ve made it so it could be any area code throughout the United States.

Every box contains at least a trinket or two. They are usually cheap items but they are always fun. Sometimes the trinkets seems a little random but I do feel that they always try to put in items that match the story or were part of the story itself. Almost every single time, I end up putting on the items or eating something if it’s edible. Only to find out when I dive into the story that the item was the murder weapon, or found on the dead body, or possibly poisoned a victim. For an Alice in Wonderland themed serial killer, I ate a mint only to find out that the victim may have been poisoned by the killer. Luckily I found out later she was murdered by some other means, phew!

Not every box has puzzles and it highly depends on the context of the story. The Mystery Experiences Company never includes a puzzle that isn’t part of the story. If there are ciphers or codes, it’s because you’re reading letters that were encypted by the victim or suspects. If there are puzzles, it’s because a devious serial killer is playing games with you or a curator for a oddity shop doesn’t like just handing you all the information you need. Most of the subscribers don’t enjoy doing the puzzles and the amount of puzzles has greatly reduced making it more of a logical story based mystery. Normally you will have a list of suspects that you will narrow down as you learn more about them and compare motives and opportunity.

Wycliffe Sanatorium by Mystery Experiences Company

Things that could use improvement:

Its hardly a big deal but it seems like every box has an odd spelling error or incorrect information about witnesses. Supposedly this is all done on purpose to give it an extra layer of realism. I believe this but it can make things frustrating to solve. The problem with creating this extra realism is that we are limited to the information we are given. In real life you have extra clues and avenues to pursue to verify information. I’ve also heard that the spelling errors are part of the metamystery but I have never seen anybody verify this. This is a little nitpicky but occassionally something will be left out of the box. You can contact them and they are helpful to get you a PDF version if it was a paper document.

I think this is something that every author and creator needs to hear. I wish the boxes were more diverse with the characters. They don’t do a terrible job, but adding more diversity to the cast won’t hurt. The problem is usually because the stories include families, but they are almost always white families. If I have to go to one more murder scene with a large, rich, white family as the victims I will throw myself over one of their multi-million dollar balconies. The most glaring mistake was casting two prominent voodoo leaders in the city as two white people. This is something that we all need to think more about and remember that in fictional stories it doesn’t matter if it’s realistic to the exact demographics of real towns.

Sometimes it feels like you didn’t have enough information at the end to come to the right conclusion. It’s the nature of logic puzzles to narrow down the correct answer with just a single piece of information, or the smoking gun as it were. To make it challenging you have to hide this vital information to some degree or else the whole mystery would be obvious. Just keep in mind that it might take a few boxes to get used to how the mysteries are laid out and what information you need to keep an eye out for. My favorite twist recently was the Carver box. It was all there but I didn’t see it coming!

Overall I think the Mystery Experiences Company is one of the strongest in the subscription box category. If you need help with anything, there’s a community on Facebook that is always willing to be of assistance. This might be the best part of Mystery Experiences Company as you will become friends with a bunch of like minded sleuths. If you love creative murder mysteries that span different types of murders and time periods, this is an excellent box. At $35 a month it’s a little bit expensive as far as entertainment goes but well priced compared to similar boxes. Each month is a brand new murder but there is no official way to purchase past experiences. Although occassionally they will bring back a popular box as a premium experience. So if you’re up to it go out there and help save Forrest City and Port St. James. They definitely need it. Never leave a mystery experience unsolved!

-J.C.Mystery Detective