Mind Maze: The Secrets of the Shields (Play at Home Edition) review
|Follow a trail of puzzles and riddles through the streets of Oxford to uncover an ancient mystery. Something has been stolen. A mysterious box, left for the police with a cryptic note, sets you off on a trail of clues that will lead you around the city of Oxford. But there is more to the theft than meets the eye. An ancient mystery is hidden in the shields of Oxford and you will have to uncover the secrets to recover the treasure. Can you solve The Secrets of the Shields?|
|About 4 hours|
|2-5 players recommended|
|£8 per team|
|Play at home (based in UK)|
|Played by Daiman, Paul and Bharath|
|Completed in 4 hours 16 minutes|
Technically speaking, there’s very little in the way of visual theming here – the game takes place through an app that is just a delivery system for the game – simply screens of text unless the puzzle requires an image for completion. The point here is that it’s a street game – the theming is the entire town of Oxford! With The Secrets of the Shields being adapted for home play (which is how we played it), Google Maps/Street View essentially becomes the interface. You’ll also need to do the odd Google search here and there but yeah, the absence of theming is the point here.
That said, there’s a fully crafted story taking place here so it’s more immersive than a simple scavenger hunt and there’s clearly an interest in sharing a little bit of the town’s history throughout play – I can only imagine how much better this would be playing it as intended!
Mind Maze have repurposed their Oxford-based outdoor puzzle hunt for virtual play via the ClueKeeper mobile app and Google Street View. The third party app worked well and synchronises progress between multiple devices so you can remotely play as a team. When one person enters a valid answer, everyone’s apps update simultaneously. It also logs your every move so you can see how long you took to solve each question, how many clues you needed, and can go back to previous questions and answers. You can stop the game at any point (they’ve incorporated two optional break points) and resume whenever you like.
However Secrets of the Shields doesn’t fully translate into a play at home format due to some of the required information not being visible in Street View. They’ve tried to work around this by adding the missing details as images into the app, but it wasn’t always clear when we needed to use the app, Street View or both. The story was integrated well to historical Oxford though.
Typical for scavenger hunts, they mostly fall into the observation and deduction bucket. Although sometimes finding what you need is only the first step, there’s then a bit of puzzling to be done with the info that you have. For a play at home game, this style works well as you need something a little bit more engaging than spotting things on a screen! So you can rest assured that although it has been adapted from a street game, it has some more typical escape room style problems to crack.
One thing to note here – there are one or two puzzles that border on being leaps. There was one especially in the final throes of the game that completely went over our heads. Of course, everyone sees things differently but, to us, it just seemed a bit too much of a leap to get where you needed to be from what you had in front of you. Be prepared for a few challenging moments!
There’s a good selection of logic puzzles and ciphers and you’ll need a keen eye. They were pretty tough, partly because we didn’t always know whether we needed to garner the information from Street View or not. We got stumped on one of the earlier questions and eventually decided to get a clue. Only then did we discover there was a ‘free clue’ with key information that we needed to solve the question! These pictures should have been part of the question to avoid any confusion.
We ended up needing quite a few clues during the course of our game. Each one used knocks points off your overall score. We finished with 185 which won’t be threatening any leaderboards! Apart from one which required a bit of a logic leap, the puzzles were fair and would be a good challenge for those who think they can handle the difficulty level.
You’d expect that a scavenger hunt-style game may not work so well at home and to an extent that’s true but this game is a decent facsimile of the experience. Of course, the presence of Google Maps/Street View makes a game like this possible and it’s a credit to that technology that this game translates as well as it does. I can easily say though, for the four-plus hours that we played this game, that The Secrets of the Shields never felt like a chore. Especially in the scavenger hunt sections. It was only the toughness of a few puzzles that caused things to stall a little bit. I would quite happily play more games like this.
I have mixed emotions on this one. At times frustrating and at others satisfying. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this more if I was actually roaming the streets of Oxford instead of clicking around Google Maps trying to get a view that’s not blocked by a bus. The app worked well, it just could have been more clear when Street View was and wasn’t required.
Ideally all questions should have been answerable via Street View alone instead of the mishmash it ended up with. But I can understand why this happened as the game wasn’t originally designed for remote play. They even say themselves “We know it’s not a substitute for adventuring around a beautiful University City, but we hope it gives you a flavour of the real experience while you’re stuck indoors!” so when you think of it like that, I can forgive its shortcomings!
For £8 per team, this game definitely ekes the value out of the cost of admission! If you played as a team of four, this would cost £2 each for a circa four-hour game. That’s fantastic value. One thing I haven’t mentioned previously, the app that you play the game through is very robust. You can decide to stop playing at any point and return to the game days later. You do not need to play this in one sitting. We completed it in two, with two days between each session and everything was precisely as we’d left it.
The game is divided into three chapters, offering natural points to take a break and it’s a good idea to play like that to avoid fatigue. There does remain the obvious niggle though – that this would be much better played as originally intended but this approximates the experience brilliantly and is worth your time, especially at this price.
The play at home edition of Secrets of the Shields isn’t as good as the on location version would likely be, but Mind Maze openly admit that themselves. However it does give a good taster of the game (and city) for those unable to visit Oxford in person, whether due to lockdown conditions, mobility issues or distance. At £8 per team it’s a third of the price of the real world version, so although you don’t get the full experience, it’s actually a good price for what you do get. We completed the game over two days, taking a little over 4 hours in total, which works out at just £2 per hour.
Theming - 7/10
Puzzles - 7/10
Enjoyment - 6.33/10
Value - 8.33/10