A game that blurs reality
Dear Society Member,
An item that might be of interest has come into our possession. Our curators have dated the source book to the early 18th century, most likely French given the paper and bindings.
We need you to crack the cypher so we can decrypt the entire journal. Coded messages are of the utmost intrigue to our society as I’m sure you know.
We came across Society of Curiosities thanks to our friend, Jamie, over at Armchair Escapist. Society of Curiosities is a subscription-based mystery adventure box service, providing a new adventure for you at home every three months or so, brought to you by the same minds behind Kauai Escape Rooms (which look amazing and now I need to win the lottery so I can fly out to Hawaii). Of course, very few people are going to just sign up for a subscription service without some inkling of what to expect. That’s where Mysterious Map Heist comes in.
Mysterious Map Heist is the Society’s free adventure, to give you a taste of what to expect, and provides a prologue to the underlying narrative of their boxed adventures. I have to say, Mysterious Map Heist gives an excellent taste, and I am totally ready to join the Society of Curiosities now… Sadly, they don’t appear to ship outside the USA or Canada, so I shall have to resign myself to simply enjoying the introduction to the Society.
Mysterious Map Heist is essentially an ARG, or alternative reality game for those like me that had never heard of the term until a few weeks ago (I’m a bit of a Luddite, I know). In other words, the game plays out in the real world and makes use of multiple platforms to deliver the story. It all begins with your briefing letter, a text message to your contact (she has a US, UK, and a Canadian number), and an encoded message…
The real-world platform of text messages, combined with our impressively conversational Society contact, Pip (the chatbot we were interacting with), meant that we were immediately drawn into the story and the immersion that we’ve found to be all too lacking in many play at home games was actually very much present. As we traversed the internet, directing the ground team to the locations we found in our research, and performing some really unique tasks in real-time, it was easy to become fully involved, blurring the lines between reality and game.
Decoding, translating, some deduction, and of course, internet researching, all play an enormous role in the mission. Paying careful attention to things you come across will come in handy too. In fact, the puzzles weren’t so much puzzles as they were situational problems that one came across, requiring research and a decision to be made about how to proceed. These are actually my favourite type of tasks in a live escape game, as it allows the suspension of disbelief, drawing the player more firmly into the story and the world that has been created, and it worked perfectly in Mysterious Map Heist.
This situational problem solving meant that puzzles and tasks were often multi-layered, with several steps to complete before you have the required information to relay to Pip. Tasks were generally well signposted, but I can imagine that a number of players struggle at the first hurdle if they’re unfamiliar with the names and types of cyphers out there.
Hints are available from the Society if you are feeling a bit lost, and are located in the Society Members’ portal, on a separate tab from your mission briefing. Hopefully, you won’t need them, but they’re nicely laid out, revealing information in a gradual manner, and utilising drop-down menus to ensure you only receive as much help as you need. One of the wonderful things I noticed when going through them to write this, was that while the solution was provided for each puzzle, it was accompanied by the reasoning behind how you were intended to get there.
While this format does take away some from the immersion, it is effective. Really, the only way it could have been improved would have been to find a way to incorporate it into your conversation with Pip, thereby keeping everything within the game environment. This actually came into play a bit anyway, with Pip offering a bit of guidance when we weren’t specific enough with an answer or two, and it would have been nice to have seen this expanded upon, but that’s just me being picky.
Mysterious Map Heist is a fantastic little intro to the world of the Society of Curiosities and, filled with real-world interaction plus one moment of nail-biting suspense, managed to create a surprising amount of realism I simply was not expecting from a free game.
- Device with an Internet connection
- Mobile phone
|Value for Money|
Team: 2 players
Time Taken: 32 minutes