Outside the room
When Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor came out, I was impressed at how much fun they’d managed to pack into the box, so you won’t be surprised to hear that, when they published a sequel, I immediately ordered it on Amazon.
Dr Gravely’s Retreat promised to offer more of the same fun – the packaging was almost identical, the contents looked very similar and the only noticeable difference, beyond the story itself, was that this game says it’s suitable for 13+ rather than 10+, hinting that it’s either a darker story (which the cover of the box suggests) or contains more difficult puzzles.
The year is 1913 and you are the lucky winner of a free stay at Foxcrest Retreat, where the famed Dr. Gravely has improved upon the latest in spa treatments and relaxation for those of high social standing. You take a long all-expense-paid train ride to the retreat. Upon your arrival, however, you and your fellow guests may find the “health retreat” is not what it seems…
Inside the “room”
Having played the first game, we skimmed the rule book and were pleased to find the game would work in an almost identical manner – less reading for us! It’s interesting how context can totally change how you view something. As we got the game ready, we were met with a similar set of envelopes to the first time, an almost identical code wheel and the same sort of introduction, but this time round I wasn’t concerned – we knew they could produce a decent experience so were keen to get cracking.
As before, the first puzzle was there to make sure we understood how the code wheel worked but, frankly, few of the puzzles gave us much trouble – the admin of using the code wheel and the fun of reading the story snippets often took us as long as actually solving the puzzles.
That’s not to say the puzzles were entirely straightforward. There was a themed run of puzzles in the middle that may have some people really struggling, but we’d seen similar things before and therefore got through them reasonably quickly. Although they were an interesting addition to the game, I had a few concerns about them. Number one was that they were a bottleneck in the game: only one person could really play with the puzzles at once and, since this game is entirely linear, that left the rest of us looking on. I can also imagine some teams really struggling with sharing nicely, especially if they take a long time to solve them.
As I said, the rest of the puzzles were fairly weak and where they had much variety it was generally in similar ways to the first game. The strongest part of the puzzles, for me, was the way they were woven into the story. In particular, that themed run of puzzles that I referred to earlier really fitted in with the way the narrative ran at that point, and a couple of the other puzzles also echoed the story.
Once again, there were multiple options to finish the game, but this time round I found that decision somewhat odd. I guess they’re trying to make the game appeal to the widest range of player abilities but, when there’s no real penalty for taking longer to play the game, why would you skip the last puzzle? Perhaps a good way of finishing early if people aren’t enjoying it?
And that brings me nicely on to a significant problem with this game – the ending felt flat. In the prior outing, the final puzzle had felt very different to the rest and, in some ways at least, bound the game together quite well. This just felt like any other arbitrary puzzle, and solving it was a comparative let-down, which left the game petering out.
We took it fairly easy and escaped with 35 minutes gone having completed all the puzzles and not taken any clues.
Perhaps the novelty had worn off. Perhaps our expectations were higher. I think both of those certainly played a part, but I just think this game simply wasn’t as fun as their first attempt. While I applaud their attempt to create a series of physical, on-theme puzzles, I think the repetition that ensued and the feeling that only one person could really get stuck in at a time outweighed the benefits.
The story was what held this game together for me – the majority of the puzzles were basic and quick to solve, so it’s the narrative that gave me the fondest memories. If you compared the games to real-life rooms, you could view the previous outing as predominantly a single-room affair with some locked boxes and a cupboard to open. This felt like an exploration through several “rooms”, each helping the story unfold a little further.
In summary, I think it’s a half-hour of fun that’s worth the money but that will disappoint if you compare it to the first outing. I’d recommend playing with two or three people for the best experience. More than that will likely get frustrating.
Resetting the room!
ThinkFun have a set of instructions online, including videos, for resetting the game, which were both clear and straightforward. I’ve not played the game again so I can’t comment on how well it will fare after a few outings but it’s clear that it won’t hold up as well as the first game. Realistically it will give you quite a few outings if you’re at all careful and more than enough to justify the price.
We invited ourselves over to the same friend’s house as for the first instalment and they cooked for us again. Bringing this game along to a dinner party is definitely a good alternative to a bottle of wine!
Detailed Room Ratings