The Detective Society: The Cursed Exhibition: Episode 1

By | December 28, 2022

Room-in-a-box, Sep 2021

Rated 3.5 out of 5
Toby says:

Now one of the best known and most successful subscription titles in the U.K., The Detective Society is now launching its third season, which like the previous two will consist of six games telling a single story. This one opens with a murder in a museum that may or may not be linked to a missing and allegedly cursed artefact.
The game comes in a sleeve rather than a box, but the deceptively slim package hides a nice array of documents and objects. These include plenty of printed paper materials, but also several more physical components. The latter definitely boost the production values, though turned out to be used surprisingly briefly, which made it feel a bit like they’d been included as window dressing – although the puzzle in question was excellent.
The game items also include a plastic pouch fastened with a physical padlock; the use of a real lock is nice of course, and I also very much like how there’s a story-based reason given for it.
Most box games proceed in a more or less linear way, with a few letting you tackle the puzzles in any order. The Cursed Exhibition has a more unusual structure, where most of the content forms what’s essentially a single big logic puzzle. This is an ambitious and risky approach, because it means players have to synthesise rather a lot of information in one go, and where other games provide a succession of small triumphs as each step is solved, here the payoff comes (almost) only at the end. If a team struggles with the game in a way that undermines that final payoff, it could leave the whole game unsatisfying. But I think the risk of that is fairly low, partly thanks to an excellent hint system with a clear structure and fine-grained hints.
We probably overcomplicated things, with extensive conspiracy theorist style notes drawing out what we’d discovered. Or maybe not – I’m not quite certain whether we could have reached the correct answer without working out quite so many details. It’s definitely a game that will best suit players who like gathering information and fitting it together; I’d also recommend scrawling all over the game components, where needed.
The unusual structure might not suit everyone, but was refreshingly different and satisfying to solve, and felt much more like conducting a real-world investigation than would a more typical sequence of puzzles. Bear in mind though that this is only the first chapter of six, and you’ll be solving only some of the mysteries raised by the story – for that reason it’s best played not standalone but as part of the full subscription package. 3.5 / 5

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