Mystery House: Family Portrait
Adventures in a Box
Written by: The Bat
I bought this game because it looked like we got to build a haunted house and play the game in it. And I was right. When I pulled it out of the box, I got two separate games in small boxes, an instruction book, and the house frame. It was a square with lots of slots to insert little cards that come in the game boxes. While we only played one of the two games, Family Portrait, I am massively excited about the prospect of turning the frame into another entire little house for the next one.
We also had to download an app. Since the only experience I’ve had with app-related games was Tonipal’s Treasure and its app was janky and difficult to use, this game had nowhere to go but up. And up it went. I guess there are good things to the fact that I unintentionally played the worst of our games first. But Sorry, Readers, I digress. My rant about that game can be read in its post. We are here to talk about a much happier night, the night of Mystery House.
It all began like…. Well like an escape room.
Dragon: You know, except the fact we were trying to get into the house instead of escaping.
There was a story, some background music, and then the timer started. No first instruction or obvious first step. Just look around. Definitely a promising start.
Props & Decor:
The main prop I have to talk about for this game is the house itself. Once you insert all the cards (and try to just focus on the grid coordinates so the pictures are still a surprise), you have to look at them by peering through the little windows on the sides of the house. This is a very fun concept, taking your flashlights and peering through windows makes you feel like an intrepid detective. It is also like playing in a somewhat dim escape room, where you need the flashlights to make discoveries.
After a while, having to see things this way got a bit harder and a bit old. If you shine your light straight on through the windows to see what is further inside, you will either blind yourself with the reflection or blind your teammate trying to see on the other side. Also, it is unclear how much you can see around corners, so you don’t know exactly what you are supposed to be able to see. If this gets too frustrating, I found it does not harm the game to take the little cards out of their slots to see them better, as long as you put them back.
The items you find are not exactly props, as they are pictures on cards, but they are well-drawn and appropriate to the storyline. They give it depth in some cases, and in others just help solve puzzles, just like items in a real escape room. The items in the rooms are also well placed and mysterious, if sometimes a bit hard to see. Once you do, their purpose definitely falls into place. Lots of Ah-Ha moments when you see the hints for this one.
A lot of the puzzles were simple object interactions and finding the keys. While I have heard some people complain about those types of puzzles, there is a fun aspect to the simple triumph of matching the key you have been holding to its appropriate keyhole and revealing the surprise lying beyond. And the app does that well, creaking doors and drawers open (with the sound effect) to reveal a new object.
There were also a few actual puzzles to solve. Difficulty varied from one that I figured out by barely looking at it, to one where we needed hints to locate all the pieces, to one that we needed the hints to explain how it was done. After the reveal, however, they all made perfect sense and more Ah-Ha moments ensued. This game was fun to puzzle out. (Sorry Readers, couldn’t resist).
The hints were helpful, although the general ones may not have been calibrated to where we were in the game. There were a couple of moments of “Should we know about that yet?”
The hardest part of the puzzles was finding all the pieces to solve them. Sometimes we didn’t remember where we had been and where we hadn’t. Maybe we should have written that down?
The storyline and the app set the theme for this creepy game. I loved the background music and sounds on the app. They made me feel like I was in a real creepy-themed escape room. And the storyline is not all thrown at you at the start but discovered along the way in documents and items you pick up throughout the house. You are given very little in the original intro, just a description of how you discovered the house. Once you know the whole story, it kind of comes together like magic. You aren’t sure whether to feel sorry for the family in the “Family Portrait” or horrified. And the app gives a beautifully written ending and you can play past the end of the timer to find it. No lack of closure there.
Even though we didn’t know where in the house we were supposed to be sometimes, the game was very fun to play. Our pizza got here during the game, and we didn’t even stop to eat. (This may partly be because there was not a pause button, but oh well. I had enough fun I don’t even mind). It earned its 4 out of the 5-star difficulty; we definitely felt challenged. Our score was calculated by the app at 3 stars, based on our time and number of hints. For only two people on a higher-level game, I don’t think that’s too shabby. And I am super excited to play the next one, which only has 3 stars of difficulty.
A couple of tips:
- Write down the rooms as you see them, and what you saw. It seems like a lot but will help you later.
- Have a flashlight for the person who has to give up their phone for the app. Everyone needs a light.
- Do get the box close to eye level by propping it on something. If necessary, you might even end up “cheating” by removing the cards for a closer look or taking off the “roof”. Honestly, it did not seem to detract from the game when we took the cards out.