Norfolk, Dec 2017
With their first two games set in Norwich Guildhall, History Mystery had already set a high bar for their locations, but their third game takes that to a new level by being set in an actual church. The church in question is part of the Blickling estate, and the game is premised on its historic connections to the Boleyn family and the events leading up to the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
Your task is to advance the marriage between Anne and the monarch and thereby secure the political fortunes of the Boleyns, which is a happier outcome if you disregard the historical Anne’s eventual fate. That’s an unusual plot that isn’t an obvious fit for a puzzle game, and I’d wondered beforehand how the game content could be made to relate to it. It is in fact very successful at evoking the story of the ten-year courtship, and the way it does this is one of the game’s distinctive and successful features.
The church at Blickling is both ancient (in parts) and lovely (throughout), and makes a spectacular setting for a game. Players have the entire floor area to play in, not just a room or corner, and the startling amount of space made it feel almost like an outdoor game. The host is present in person as the church verger, and describes the progress of Henry and Anne’s relationship in response to each successfully solved puzzle. The result is that even though many of the puzzles themselves bear little connection to the story, there’s a clear sense of advancing narrative that will also leave most players knowing a little more about that period of history.
While much of the puzzle content is unconnected to the Boleyn story, the game makes excellent use of the church environment. Although on our Sunday morning slot we were the only people in the church, you’re potentially playing in a space shared with tourists or worshippers, and you might well find yourselves peering at the same points of interest as other visitors. A little respect for the building should avoid any clashes, and I felt the game had been a useful way to appreciate the church too.
A couple of game elements were familiar from the other History Mystery game I’d played the day before, though the repetition didn’t particularly cause problems and in both cases I felt they were used more skilfully in The Queenmaker. The company’s increased experience shows through throughout in fact. That’s visible most of all in the clever story-led structure, but the game also has an original hint system, some tech to add variety to the sequence of padlocks, and a strong ending that wraps up the game with its most complex and sophisticated sequence.
Describing a game as ‘educational’ can be a backhanded compliment, in that it suggests learning comes at the expense of fun. But, like History Mystery’s first game, The Queenmaker is educational and is all the better for it. It’s an interestingly different game that manages to do justice to its lovely setting; and if you need any further reason to go, it combines well with a visit to Blickling Hall stately home next door.