Just a small box with a deck of cards; no instruction book to be found. That’s what dV Giochi’s Deckscape and Decktective games offer to players looking for an escape room or mystery-solving experience.
Both designs share a similar concept: progressing through a numbered series of cards. How you do so varies, though – giving each a very different feel. Both can also be reset (by reordering the cards by number) and replayed. This sets them apart from many escape room games these days, for sure, which often have you mutilating components in various ways to progress.
Let’s take a look at an example of each!
Deckscape: The Mystery of El Dorado
The Mystery of El Dorado begins with a harrowing plane crash and a mad grab for supplies, then ends with a rumbling volcano and a desperate attempt to claim at least one piece of treasure for all your trouble.
This was a timed game in which you were graded on a scale: 0-75 minutes gets the highest accolades while 91+ is the lowest – though it does say you have “done it just under the wire.” And this congratulations even for the lowest tier of performance fits the general feel of the game. You’re not going to be told you’ve failed. You kind of can’t.
There is good and bad in this. Deckscape is definitely a “fail forward” game. You march inevitably and steadily towards the last card in the box regardless of your choices and solutions to puzzles. This makes it a good entry level experience for younger gamers, whereas players who like Kosmos’ Exit games are going to feel like their hands are being held, for sure.
However I don’t see Deckscape as a direct competitor to the Exit titles; much more, as I described above, as a gateway to them. There are two cards within The Mystery of El Dorado that give you consequence-free and unlimited clues should you choose to use them as opposed to the penalties incurred when seeking clues in Exit. Experienced players can choose not to avail themselves of those cards (and likely won’t need them; the difficulty is not very high) while they serve as good guides for those who find themselves stumped.
The last 10-12 cards feel like a gauntlet of puzzles one right after the other, which I thought was thematically neat given you’re inside El Dorado. Makes sense there would be tricks and traps to keep you from the treasure!
And while you do fail forward, poor choices or incorrect solutions strap you with penalties that artificially increase your time when it comes to game-end scoring.
The Mystery of El Dorado occasionally has you split the deck into multiple stacks to represent the different paths you can take – which was a cool feature. It also came with a map component that featured in a few of the puzzles.
Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost
The Gaze of the Ghost is a neat mystery involving murder and art theft. As players progress through the deck, developments occur at the scene of the crime and it is up to the players to correctly decipher clues in order to answer a series of questions to get to the bottom of the theft and murder.
My group really enjoyed the 3D crime scene you constructed within the box using cards. It also evolved as developments called Plot Twists took place and the diorama was affected correspondingly: A newly broken window, a fallen chandelier with a dead body beneath it, a bloody trail showing the direction it was later dragged when removed. Very neat!
On their turn, players could either play a card from their hand or archive a card. Each card was a potential clue – only coming to light for the group if the player chose to play it instead of archiving it. This meant that while every player worked on the clues presented, each player also had to carefully curate which clues were available to all and which were deemed disposable for one reason or another. And, of course, each clue card drawn brought you that much closer to the questions that would determine whether or not (or how well) you understood those clues!
You’ll need to carefully examine the scene and compare physical evidence and clues against the testimony of a handful of witnesses in order to score well.
Shown below, the diorama you build with the cards and the box is really clever, and the Plot Twists have you swapping the cards out to show changes in the scenery (like the busted window). You mark your answers using plastic clips before flipping the card over to check them.
I really like the fact that both styles play in right about an hour, facilitated in part by the steady march through the deck in each game. I volunteer with a tabletop club at a local school, and we only have one hour together. I could slap a Decktective or Deckscape game down and be reasonably confident we could finish it. No set up and no explanation of how the games play necessary; all of that is baked in. You just start!
I liked the Decktective style better than Deckscape and will be more inclined to snag future titles in that line. Both are relatively simple and lightweight, but Decktective’s play style gave you more choices and more consequence for said choices which lent it a weight I felt Deckscape lacked. Although I will say that dV Giochi has a Crew vs Crew Deckscape coming out later this year that is a “team v. team escape room experience” that has me intrigued. Maybe that competition will elevate the Deckscape titles a bit!
Get Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost and Deckscape: The Mystery of El Dorado from Amazon using those links, and can find even more titles in both series on dV Giochi’s website. I’ve also seen them at Barnes and Noble.
Disclosure: dV Giochi provided Nerds on Earth with review copies of Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost and Deckscape: The Mystery of El Dorado in exchange for an honest review.