As an avid podcast listener, I’ve heard a lot of hype about Hunt A Killer over the past year, and I’ve always been intrigued by its core concept. Hunt A Killer’s main product is a subscription box that lets you solve a single mystery over multiple sessions, but I was hesitant to commit my time or money to a six-month subscription to a game I wasn’t sure I’d like. These two solo games, however, are much easier to get into, with a session lasting two hours or less.
In these games, you (and a group of friends, if you want) are a private investigator looking at evidence sent to you by a contact to solve a case. One of the games, Homicide At The Heist, was an Ocean’s Eleven type scenario. A heist to steal a diamond goes wrong, the burglar dies, and his brother hires you to find out what happened. The second, RIP At The Rodeo, was much more interesting – a rodeo clown gores a bull and his ex-wife suspects foul play. He’s asking you to help find out who caused his death.
The selling point of these games is that they use a mix of physical and digital media, although each game relies on digital to varying degrees. Some of my friends liked it and some didn’t – I felt the strength of the game was in its lovingly designed props, although I really enjoyed seeing screenshots of messages between the game’s characters. There’s a lot of information in digital media, but gaming felt best when I had high-quality gadgets in my hands. I especially liked that both sets featured locked boxes that collected information until you figured out how to unlock them. It’s important to note here that the digital component helps with accessibility, as some proofs are handwritten and transcribed in digital sources, but I don’t think this necessarily always contributed to the gameplay.
I never felt like information was being arbitrarily withheld from me, which is quite an achievement for a game that needs to balance gameplay with story. Between the two games, we read pages of transcripts, autopsy reports, police interviews, and event brochures, some of which helped us break into password-locked folders and figure out combinations for physical locks. As we built timelines, checked alibis, and discussed possible motives, we felt the story sharpen like a fog clearing. There were red herrings, but they felt like entanglements left after people messed up, rather than obstacles that made the experience difficult.
It helped that the writing was very funny. I laughed out loud a few times when reading the proof to my friends, especially in RIP At The Rodeo the characters grew on me. They all had their own personalities and drama that showed in every part of the game. For example, you find a victim’s diary that is full of minor spelling mistakes and written in a harsh personal voice that shows you more about him instead of telling you. Or you’ll be reading a transcript of a conversation and a character will say something stupid and the rest of the party will make fun of him. Although the quality of the puzzles varied from game to game (I preferred Rodeo), the quality of the writing remained high. It’s a nice touch that after you find out who the killer was, you get a letter telling you what happened to the rest of the characters and resolving any additional plot lines.
I’m not sure if the difficulty was inconsistent in the two sets or if we were just tired after solving the first and didn’t have as much energy for the second. RIP At The Rodeo was fairly easy if you had the patience to read the evidence carefully, and we didn’t need to access the in-game hint system. Homicide At The Heist, on the other hand, had us banging our heads against the wall trying to open a locked box because we refused to look at the clues. Eventually I started turning the wheels of the lock to break it which worked and when we saw the solution we knew we would never guess what the combination was. Overall, Heist felt much more indirect and abstract than Rodeo, which was more personalized and concrete.
These games made me feel like a genius when I found a hidden clue, then like an idiot when I stumbled upon a puzzle, and then like a genius again when I solved the mystery. They made me feel like an armchair detective solving crimes from the comfort of an old sofa in a friend’s apartment. They made me feel like a conspiracy theorist coming up with outlandish theories about what happened and trying to find evidence to support it. It was a lot of fun playing a well-written mystery game with friends that I didn’t have to prepare for because everything was already in the box, plus you get some cute souvenirs in each box. I just wish they’d build on their strengths in good writing and well-crafted props instead of pushing themselves in digital media where it’s not necessary.
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