London, Jun 2018
Third and last of the relaunched versions of Agent November’s games was Murder Mr. E. For anyone who’s coming to this without having read the previous two reviews already, I need to again clarify up front that I played as part of a launch event, with a huge team of ten bloggers, and that therefore this review may be unrepresentative in a variety of ways.
In contrast to their other flagship games, Murder Mr. E is designed for indoor play – but not as a fixed room. Instead, the game components come as a suitcase full of intriguing padlocked containers, suitable for investigating while seated around a large pub table. (Depending on the venue, I believe the game may also start with the items left around the room to be discovered, instead of packed into a suitcase.)
As the name suggests, this is a whodunnit. That’s not a theme that’s been tacked-on last minute to a set of puzzles; everything is based around the idea of finding out more about each of a set of six suspects, and builds up to a final choice where you have one chance to name the murderer.
As with their other games, Murder Mr. E is heavily based around three- and four-digit padlocks. The labelling of which padlock is opened by which solution is a little less clear in this game than in the others, and we found ourselves trying several codes in all available padlocks just to be sure. (There was also a mix of otherwise very similar padlocks, some of which needed the code to be aligned to the side and others to the edge; I’m sure if that had tripped us up the operator would have quickly stepped in, but it’s an entirely unnecessary trap for the unwary that I hope they’ll promptly eliminate.)
Covering ourselves in the opposite of glory, we failed the game: we unlocked all the information but picked the wrong suspect anyhow. I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the team size: a game that requires assembling many fragments of information and then pulling it together to draw the right set of conclusions is one that is very vulnerable to the communication failures to which large teams are prone. My advice to teams who wish to do better than we did is to nominate someone as a co-ordinator and make sure all narrative snippets are funnelled via them; and also if possible to make sure all players can freely move around the table, to keep track of everything that’s going on. And of course to play with a more reasonable number of players.
What Murder Mr. E really reminded me of was a play-at-home game. It is of course a very deluxe version of that, with more content and much bigger and higher quality components than a typical home escape game, not to mention the live gamemaster. However, the style has many similarities, starting from the portable design and the way it’s played around a table. The murder mystery aspect of it means it also has commonality with the ‘host your own murder mystery’ games you can buy for dinner parties. For bigger groups I imagine it might work well played in that style, with no time limit, as an open-ended investigation played throughout an evening where players can drink and chat while dipping in and out of the game – though as far as I know that’s not a play style that the company offers.
With a smaller and better organised group than ours, piecing together all the information for the final decision could give a very satisfying finish to the game, a final challenge that ties everything together in place of simply reaching the end of a sequence of locks. But the main reason to play Murder Mr. E is its unusual design. Having everything on the table in front of you means a more sedentary game that’s well suited to an evening combined with a pub meal; it fits a slightly different niche to more typical escape games. It’s perhaps better suited to teams other than enthusiasts, but works well as a curated evening of puzzle solving for a group who’d never think of trying a home escape game.