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Company: Killer Mystery
Game: The '80s Were Killer
Country: USA 🇺🇸
Type of Game: Tabletop Games 📬
Date Played: June 30, 2023
Difficulty (based on 3 players): 5/10
Size of Team: Unlimited
Time: Approximately 5 Hrs
Price: $39.00 (Monthly)/ $175.00 (Season Pass)
The time is the 80s. The setting is LA, I mean Cielo Con Angelitos. The air is hot and expansive. The mood is new wavy. As you park your silver Delorean on the hills overlooking the rich enclave of Lightheart Canyon you look out over the city as it becomes colored by the setting sun. The sky washes all in its sepia tinted tonic of neon pastel. You feel a sublime ennui. The final act of the human drama has once again come to its predictable end. There has been a murder. Beneath you lays the bodies of Kate and Louis Hansen, splayed gruesomely beside the canyon road. Their corpses appear to be the product of an almost animal savagery. Something about their affluence stops you from being wholly sympathetic, and you look on with the practiced antipathy of a stoic detective. There is no escaping the jungle that is Cielo Con Angelito, not even in these hills, no matter how exclusive and how secluded and how high you try to get. The Hansen's were a family that was never able to keep itself out of the paper. I'm sure it could have been any of them, or the millions of other people they probably screwed over on their way to the top. Still, lady justice must have her answer, and with that thought you descend into the crime scene, beginning your long journey into what will sure be a dark night.
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They've done a good job branding and giving the game the right flavor and of creating a unified aesthetic. Who doesn't love the 80s, it's a perfect setting for a murder mystery. That being said visually It will not be completely unfamiliar. It's kind of a fun collage of familiar murder mystery visuals. The thing they did best was in terms of the realism of the document, which does in a lot of cases look very very official. It is a bit wordy and could use some more graphics to balance that out. The paper is that good quality stuff, nice to the touch, perfect for frantically shuffling through as you try and piece it all together.
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Not to mention the competition, but I would be remiss if I did not at least mention Hunt a Killers own 80s inspired box "Class of 98" (that is there reunion date, but it goes back to when they were students, and that was in the 80s), which has significance because of its immediate but superficial similarities to the one here being reviewed. But really I mention it only because it was for me my first mystery box, and although it started off with great promise and with a very suggestive and exciting 80s aesthetic, by the end it became the epitome of style over substance. I really therefore put a lot of hope and faith that this box would be different, and that maybe we can finally do that great 80s setting some justice. Ok, that's all I am going to say about that, this is a new box, a fresh beginning, and I will wipe my mind clean and completely clear myself of any prejudice or bad after taste and be prepared to experience something for the first time. The 80's were killer is a episodic tablet top mystery game. There are 5 sequential episodes per box broken down into 5 scenes, each with their own collection of materials and evidence. Each episode is guided by one overall objective that you are supposed to pay attention to and answer by the end. The scenes are supposed to represent timeframes within the story, along with the evidence or narrative that is uncovered and made available to push the investigation further. It's a lot like other kinds of detective mystery boxes where you slowly use the information you have to piece together a coherent narrative. Expect a lot of materials and a lot of information. You'll be taking copious notes and trying to keep all the material organized as you slowly piece together and build a narrative around this complex web of clues.
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A game lives or dies by the quality of its puzzling, and with that truism I will start my deep dive into my experience with the game. After having gone through episode 1 I have extremely mixed feelings. In a way I feel this game typifies a lot of what can go right, but also a lot of what can go wrong with this type of production. On the one hand you are getting a lot of interesting material. You get an ambitious story that is a complex overarching narrative with many moving parts and interesting characters. On this level the game offers you a lot of bang for your buck. On the other hand I feel like it had several classic pitfalls of these types of episodic mystery boxes that made the experience frustrating. For starters, there needs to be more guidance as regards objectives and puzzle chains when playing the game, more signposts of success. It desperately needs to reorder the material around progressively guiding players towards more concrete and meaningful objectives, as opposed to simply giving one very general objective for the whole box which was too broad to encompass all the information and possible directions the player could go. I think at times it makes the mistake of giving you information without making you work for it, that is without having to solve it through any kind of deductive puzzle or the making of a deeper connection between fragments. There's a lot of intimation, but much less hard puzzling. Although the mystery itself does bloom quite beautifully, teasing you with more and more question and hypothesis, part of the time I was puzzling and making inferences and deductions, but most of the time I was simply hypothesizing, making educated but unverifiable theories from out of what I was simply being shown. Less puzzling and mystery solving and more like piecing together fragments of information to form a narrative. And this may be exactly as intended, on the website the creator points out that the game plays more like an interactive novel than a classic style deductive puzzle, so keep that in mind. On a further note, regarding the nature of episodic mystery boxes, their quality of delivering a mystery in installments is both potentially a virtue as well as a vice, in that you are given information that might not be resolved in this episode or this scene. Now this keeps the player excited and guessing and points to a larger story, honing their focus and interest, but when too much starts to not add up it can also leave them hanging. The information and the process of discovery has to be exceptionally well conceived so as not to leave the player high and dry, hungover on too much disparate information and not enough closure. You have to make them feel like they are really uncovering the plot, solving it, and pushing the narrative forward, instead of being led along without any agency. It's a fine line, and one that I think this game does well at times and at other times not so well. Without spoiling anything, there was a long and arduous code breaking puzzle at the end of the game that held crucial information - because of course, it's the end, time for the final denouement - that was very ill advised and which in most people I think would induce a mental breakdown. At the end, when the time comes for you to "solve" the episode, it all simply hinges on one very simple question, the answer to which is basically spelled out for you. This goes back to the need for progressive objectives. I feel like the whole experience would be better served if by the end the player was tested to a much greater degree to demonstrate the correctness of their narrative reasoning. Show us your grand theory, and not just your answer to a Yes or No question. Sure it is an interesting revelation, and a kind of twist that does certainly illuminate the plot, but it is not really the total summation of what came before it, but only a new jumping off point; and it kind of negates the work the player has done throughout, or it simply postpones that information to what we can only hope is a more grand conclusion in the next box. Of course its only episode 1, and things should still be up in the air, but we need a better conclusion for what was a lot of playtime.
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This game has a lot of potential, and it tries to build a narrative that is grander and more captivating and complex than your average tabletop mystery box experience. Even given my frustration I still kind of really want to know what happens next. But it really does come down to whether or not the game is fun to play, and to answer this I would still say yes, but going forward it needs to make some significant tweaks. At its core the joy of these detective mystery games is to be found in the process of working through some very clever puzzles, and in this case the whole narrative and puzzle structure lacked unity. Either the material did not solidify properly with the overly broad objective, or the game simply gave you the crucial information without making you really have to work for it. Sure by the end you have a wonderful handful of intimations, and some genuine deductions to show for your puzzling, but it often feels like you are simply being led down the path that you should instead be uncovering. The flipside of this is that the game does feature some very interesting plot lines. I think by the end of the first episode you get this picture of a fairly complex conspiracy that has been building up around this family for quite some time, and with this there are a lot of interesting questions that arise. I do feel like this game is a labor of love, you really get a lot of content for your money. I just want to believe that by the end of this epic chronicle that all my labors will not have been in vain, and that though I recommend The 80s Were killer, it won't just be for its promise but for its eventual payoff.
(If you do decide to try this game, give us a shoutout or tag us on social media so we know you heard it from "ESCAPETHEROOMers"!)
Disclosure: We thank Killer Mystery for providing us with samples of the game. Although a complimentary experience was generously provided, it does not impact our opinion on the review whatsoever.