This is a quality dossier!
Explore The Vandermist Dossier, a treasure trove of touch-real clues and documents, untouched since the 1970’s. Will you follow the leads and figure out what happened to 19-year-old amateur sleuth Abigail Vandermist?
One positive (possibly the only positive?) to come out of this whole global pandemic situation is the development of so many fantastic escape room-style games that can be enjoyed from home. But there was a company in the Netherlands that was ahead of the game, developing immersive, narrative driven, table top puzzle games, as early as 2016/2017. That company was Diorama Games.
Okay, technically, that company was “Puzzelpost,” but that’s one in the same, as Puzzelpost are now Diorama Games. The rebrand is simply part of taking the next step and bringing their games to an international audience with the Kickstarter campaign for their first game, The Vandermist Dossier.
The Vandermist Dossier is part one of a trilogy. The project actually began as an English translation of Puzzelpost’s original games, but in modifying the first game for the international market, Diorama have not only translated, but also redesigned and expanded the game with additional puzzles, a stronger narrative, and even more surprises. (Or so I gather; I haven’t actually played the game which inspired The Vandermist Dossier.) The end result of The Vandermist Dossier is pretty close to perfection.
The Vandermist Dossier falls firmly into what we have classed as an Escape Box, and it is an exceptionally well done one at that. From the moment we opened the mysterious box that arrived at our door, we knew we were in for a treat. The materials contained within The Vandermist Dossier are high quality, and cleverly designed.
The narrative is the driving force behind the game, making it a surprisingly immersive experience. The story is so integral to the game that everything serves to move it forward, from Abigail’s letters to the puzzles contained within the dossier. Every reveal as a puzzle was solved pushed the pace of the game, giving us a sense of excitement as we discovered more and more about Abigail’s mysterious disappearance.
The hardest part of an escape room in a box to get right is the conclusion, but Diorama have managed to do this too, tying together everything in a nice, satisfying package. Of course, a few questions are left unanswered, but that’s to be expected, knowing that there are still two more chapters planned.
On a side note, one of the most pleasing aspects of the game was that The Vandermist Dossier managed to create the impression that this was an alternate reality to explore without actually utilising the Internet. Whether that was because we were investigating a disappearance that took place in 1979 and therefore predated the Internet, or for some other reason, it was refreshing, after so many games that have taken us into the digital world, to have everything we needed in front of us, and only need technology to forward the information we discovered at the conclusion of the game.
Riddles, codes, and hidden secrets, oh my! The puzzles in The Vandermist Dossier were varied, and full of fantastic reveals that often pulled an “Oooo, that’s clever!” or “How on Earth did I miss that?” as we delighted in the revelations. The signposting was spot-on, and the way the story, the materials, and the puzzles all weaved together in an intricate pattern to create an entire world.
In broad terms, there were many escape room-esque puzzles, with hidden codes and a number of sneaky secrets hidden in plain sight…if you know where to look. I don’t really want to say much more about them other than they were clever, logical, fair, and oh so satisfying to solve, while still being so perfectly on theme that they served to further the narrative, rather than simply impede one’s progress through the game.
The clue system is the one exception to not needing the Internet, other than to send the information you’ve uncovered, of course. In the event that the puzzles within the Vandermist Dossier are presenting you with something that just isn’t clicking, Diorama have provided a website to help.
The hints page uses what we’ve come to regard as the standard of granulated nudges, followed by the solution for each puzzle. One of the nicest touches, however, was the inclusion of an “Explanation,” which details exactly how to solve a puzzle without directly giving the solution, allowing players to still get a sense of completion on anything that’s truly stumping them.
Whether players choose to take Hints, Explanations, or Solutions when they’re stuck, these are all nicely laid out on the website, with images to make it perfectly clear which puzzle you’re requesting help on. And each clue (or solution) is hidden behind a drop down to ensure you only ever get help on exactly what you need, and only ever just as much help as you require, with no chance of spoilers.
It’s been a while since we’ve played a boxed escape game that truly wowed us, but The Vandermist Dossier did just that! Everything from the materials, to the story, and of course, the puzzles, had us thoroughly delighted as we followed Abigail’s clues to track down her whereabouts.
Diorama launch their Kickstarter campaign for the Vandermist Dossier on 28th September and if you’re a fan of a strong narrative and pleasing puzzles, this is one you’ll probably (definitely) want to back. I know I am definitely looking forward to The Medusa Report (Part 2 of the trilogy.)
- Pen and Paper
- Internet and email account*
*We played an early version of the game prior to its Kickstarter launch. Kickstarter backers and later purchasers may not need email.
|Value for Money|
Team: 2 players
Time Taken: 80 mins
*Disclaimer: we weren’t charged for this experience, but this has not influenced our review