Brisbane Escapes: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor @ home

Your employer, a brilliant astronomer, recently fired his entire staff, becoming a recluse. He has not been seen for some time. You visit his home to see what has happened. Can you solve the mystery at the stargazer’s manor?

General Details

“Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor”
ThinkFun, Escape the Room series
120 minutes (90 minutes if more than 3 players)
2-8 players

How We Played

16 April 2017
3 players
Succeeded – best ending
Hints: 0
40 minutes 8 seconds

The Experience

Given the popularity of escape rooms, it was only a matter of time before the board game equivalent arrived. ThinkFun’s Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is the first take-home escape room I have tried. So how does it compare to physical escape rooms?

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Obviously, Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor cannot compete with traditional escape rooms in terms of its setting. It is, after all, a box of envelopes filled with bits of paper and cardboard. It is worth remembering that, where an escape room is likely to cost $30 or more per person, that is the total price for Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor.

Nevertheless, Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor attempts some immersion. Each envelope represents a room and is adorned with pleasant artwork that you must scour for clues. The story is one of the strongest elements, with new aspects of the mystery revealed in piecemeal fashion on cards as you progress. Most pleasing of all, some of the puzzles require physical manipulation, with certain devices in the game going beyond what one might expect of paper and cardboard puzzles.

The most intriguing facet of Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, and one I hope to see more of, is the multiple endings. Here it is implemented in a simplistic fashion, but it does suggest potential for more interesting possibilities.

Puzzle Design

One limitation of Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is the puzzle codex. This is the device that allows you to know whether you solved a puzzle. It is a series of wheels that you arrange in patterns to reveal codes. Not only does this make it possible to accidentally see a solution to a future puzzle, but it also means that all puzzles have the same basic structure. First, find the appropriate symbols, then simply match each to a colour. As a result, puzzle variety is a little limited, as it is mostly about using different devices and techniques to locate patterns hidden in the artwork.

Within that framework, though, there is a pleasing range to the puzzles. They include spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, observation, and search skills. Nothing is terribly difficult. One problem, especially given the game’s very high recommended player count, is the lack of simultaneous puzzle streams. The game is completely linear, and no puzzle can really handle more than two people working on it at a time. With the recommended maximum of eight players, about six of those players will spend most of their time bored. Two or three players is where Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor really shines.

The Bottom Line

Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is a reasonably successful translation of the escape room concept into board game form. Though the puzzle framework hampers their variability, the strong narrative drive and pleasant artwork make up for this. With a small player count, Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor can provide a pleasant diversion. Careful players may even be able to re-use some components and pass the game on to new players.