My wife and I love Friday game nights at the house. It’s a great chance to trick convince her to play review copies of the games I’m working on over a glass of wine, while catching up on life.
Since joining the Meeple Mountain team, I’ve played so many one-shot escape room/true crime games that I have lost count: games from the EXIT series, Cold Case, Suspects: The MacGuffin Affair, and now four games in the Unsolved Case Files series.
The latest one to hit my desk: the 2021 release Unsolved Case Files: Avery & Zoey Gardner (UCF: AZG). (If you haven’t read up on the story of these games, I highly recommend a visit to the website to learn about their journey!)
What follows is a spoiler-free review of this fully resettable gaming experience. Like all Unsolved Case Files games, the game’s clues lead players to open 3 bonus envelopes of additional questions to answer, all while using an app to track progress and submit your guesses.
I’ll also give you a sense of where this game ranks in this catalog.
Murder, She Sketched
It’s 4:23 in the morning when the 911 call arrives.
Twin sisters Avery and Zoey Gardner are alone at their family’s lake house cabin when a strange man breaks into the house. Avery knows that her sister is in trouble. When Avery makes the 911 call, she hears footsteps approaching the closet where she is hiding. The dispatcher hears a loud scream before the line goes dead, and dispatchers arrive at the home to find Avery dead and Zoey missing.
An additional wrinkle comes to light: the lead homicide detective in the case, Angie Cullen, is in hot pursuit of the murder/kidnapper, but no one has heard from her for hours. The cops need help, and you have been asked by a local cop—who just happens to also be dating Detective Cullen!!—to help investigators track down clues on the whereabouts of Zoey.
UCF: AGZ has all the trappings of other games from this series, such as murder scene photos, witness statements, newspaper clippings and the like. This time around, you also get a full-blown notebook that was left behind by Cullen at the scene of her disappearance.
This is no ordinary spiral-bound notebook: Cullen had lots of incredible notes and clues to share, including a bunch of strangely well-drawn sketches of the various suspects in the case. (Yes, she did all of this in just a few hours. Board games!)
This helps elevate the game beyond the rote act of sifting through clues to decipher a murder. Strangely, as creative as this element is for this series of games, UCF: AZG features the most narrow investigation I’ve seen in the series so far.
Let Me Guess: It Was XXXXX
UCF: AZG stumbles in only one key area: it’s not very hard to figure out whodunnit.
I don’t think this is bad on its own. In fact, this was the “easiest” (relatively speaking) case of the four I’ve tried so far. I was surprised that we had a good sense of who the killer might be from the onset.
What changes in this game is how you can prove who the killer is. It was a minor stretch for us to believe that investigators pored over some of these clues then didn’t take a step that makes some sense to take, given the information provided.
Once we were able to solve the first of the 3 bonus envelopes, the 2 remaining gates to jump through were surprisingly easy to navigate. The game just makes itself too narrow in the end; once you determine who murdered Avery, the plot rolls downhill like an action B-movie with a PG-13 ending.
A Pleasant Introduction
UCF: AZG wasn’t the first game in the series, but I think it is the best entry point for these games. That’s because the game doesn’t break any logic rules (I’m looking at you, Jamie Banks!!), is creative enough to be interesting, and my sense is that even junior sleuths will be able to figure out where the story is headed.
Like other Unsolved Case Files games, the content, language, and complete lack of real gore makes the murder cases very approachable for families who have watched any of the Marvel films in recent years. (Heck, there’s even a family-specific case available now, Honey the Bunny.)
That makes it perfect for a 90-minute night (or less) with either friends, a partner after a long work day, or an option while on the road. I love that each game features a $10 discount coupon for a future game purchase, to keep you hooked.
Harmony Ashcroft is still my favorite case in this series, followed by Avery & Zoey Gardner, Jamie Banks, and Honey the Bunny. I’m looking forward to trying the other four games in the series!