Room-in-a-box, Sep 2021
I don’t normally review games that are pending a crowd funding campaign, but I’m making an exception here for two reasons. Firstly, this game has already been available for some time in Dutch – the Kickstarter is for the new version, upgraded and translated. And secondly, it’s such an impressive game it deserves all the publicity it can get.
It opens with a familiar premise: an old case of a girl gone missing, with a collection of documents that may just hold the secret of what happened. Even before opening it, it stood out for the unusual size of the game box; and the contents must count as the best presented I’ve seen in dozens of box games. They looked the part; some even smelt the part.
An online page is provided for hints and verification of your final answer (the latter part being still under construction at time of writing). Other than that the game is self-contained, with no online components or dependencies. In fact, it’s unusually physical. I sometimes play box games over Zoom, sending photos of components to my teammate as needed – but that’s really not an option here, because of the nature of the components and the puzzles.
There’s a lot to read, with text setting the scene and filling out the characterisation, as well hiding clues. At all points that’s handled with a deft light touch, never breaking immersion and successfully building a vivid impression of the characters and setting. All puzzle games involve a degree of suspension of belief, but with this one it’s remarkably easy to treat the materials as if they were genuine.
Along with the graceful and convincing world-building, The Vandermist Dossier manages to pull off a set of first rate puzzles, including one that I’d really not have expected to be possible in a box game. Each solution is, once found, clear and satisfying, and often surprises you with its ingenious reveal. It gripped me while playing and left me wanting to share it with friends, and to play the sequels.
This is a premium product, and it comes with a higher price tag than most box games – although it looks like it’ll retail for less than I was expecting. The Kickstarter price reduces that further, unless you get tempted into the personalisation options. You can also reset it and pass it on to a friend, though one item in particular may not be quite as pristine after the first playthrough. You can certainly find cheaper games, and if you search hard you might even find one or two that reach similar heights of creative, satisfying puzzles. But what Vandermist’s price tag offers is the combination of that strength of puzzle design with equally superb components and immersion. If you’re looking for something special, then this may fit the bill. Be warned it could become an expensive habit though: the English versions of parts 2 and 3 are due out next year.