The Summer of 2021 is, perhaps surprisingly, a good time to be a horror fan. There’s the fantastic three-part anthology Fear Street on Netflix now, a new Candyman movie around the corner, and everything from Resident Evil to Dr. Death available on streaming. But if you wanted to continue your summer scares in more of a hands-on way and put your mystery-solving mind to the test, look no further than Hunt A Killer’s latest offerings.
I’ve had an absolute blast playing the hands-on murder mystery-in-a-box challenges from Hunt A Killer over the last year or so. From the company’s partnership with Lionsgate for their subscription series, Hunt A Killer Horror: Blair Witch (which was provided to me for free to review), to their first retail expansion with their all-in-one box, Death At The Dive Bar (which I bought myself because I enjoyed the experience so much), the table-top mystery game company is just starting to heat up.
In June of this year, Hunt A Killer also announced the release of two additional retail games: Murder At The Motel, available exclusively at Target and Target.com, and Body On The Boardwalk, available for pre-order on Amazon. They’re also releasing a new premium box, Camp Calamity, on their website in August. I’ve been able to play through Death At The Dive Bar, Murder At The Motel, and Camp Calamity (those last two being provided free of charge) to bring you a review today. And I’m happy to say that Hunt A Killer’s latest thrilling adventures are just as entertaining if not more so than those that came before. Let’s take a look, case by case.
Death At The Dive Bar
A murder at the local dive bar. A mysterious, masked figure. A small town full of suspects. When owner Nick Webster falls from a cliff behind his roadside tavern, his death is ruled an accident. But one of his employees suspects foul play, and she needs your help to prove it. Players channel their inner detective to investigate the murder at the Old Scratch Tavern. Uncover the motives of each suspect through ciphers, clues, and puzzles that progress the story to its thrilling conclusion. Realistic evidence and documents guide players through a challenging and immersive experience with tons of twists and turns. Do you have what it takes. To Hunt A Killer?
Other than the tactile assets you get in every box—ranging from various documents, to newspaper clippings, notebooks and journals, tchotchkes, and useful items like organizational totes or even clothing—one stand-out aspect of the Hunt A Killer series of experiences is their range of difficulty. Death At The Dive Bar comes in at the easier end of the spectrum and, as such, offers up a perfect introductory mystery before diving into the rest of the series. And if you’re short on time (and/or fellow sleuths to solve it with), the easier mysteries can be knocked out relatively quickly; all the better to clean up all the crime scene photos from your living room table before company comes over and asks awkward questions.
The narrative of Death At The Dive Bar is both hyper-local and broadly relatable, a testament to the Hunt A Killer brand of storytelling. You learn about the life, and love, and last moments of Nick Webster as you comb through all the evidence presented to you, likely spread out all over the table, or, if you’re like me, the floor. (Don’t judge, it gets the job done just the same.) With a dash of the supernatural, some fun nods to the devilish mythology of Ol’ Scratch (which is liberally scattered about and hard to miss), and some very troubling real-world motives at play, it’s incredibly fun watching the truth of Nick’s death come into the light. It’s not the most difficult of cases, but it is a satisfyingly solid one.
Murder At The Motel
The game centers on the murder of Julian Foard, an independent contractor who was renovating The Sunset Motel in Garfield, Nevada. Players must work to eliminate suspects, uncover love triangles, and most importantly, uncover the truth about what happened to Julian on the day he died.
For the die-hard murder-mystery solvers out there, Murder At The Motel feels the most traditional. The Whodunnit has no real spooky or supernatural qualities to it at all, even in passing or by way of red herrings. Not every Hunt A Killer story has this; they actually exist on quite the fun and varied spectrum. The Blair Witch tie-in is obviously rooted in the fictional witchy mythology that forces you to think outside the box (literally), while other mysteries might have a bit of Scooby-Doo to the clues before ending in a totally realistic (mostly) solution. Murder At The Motel, however, is more of your hard-boiled, Sam Spade / Philip Marlowe type mystery.
The setting here really sells it, a somewhat seedy roadside motel languishing in the shadow of a desert casino, leeching out an existence mainly by catering to the also-rans of life: drifters, escaped cons, hard-working service industry providers, sad and lonely drunks, and even an ambitious entrepreneur or two. It’s your classic mixed bag of characters, all of whom could have a problematic past and a motive for murder. Was it business? Was it pleasure? Did the murderer hope that what happens in Garfield stays in Garfield? It’s up to you to piece the clues together and figure it out!
For our time and money, this was the most bang for the buck out of this trio. At the end, we were left with some strong feelings about who the murderer really was, and didn’t necessarily agree. That made for a rather tense final call-in to provide the killer’s identity, a test of our investigative skills. (Luckily, Hunt A Killer does offer plenty of opportunities to get hints, tips, and outright solutions along the way if you get stuck or frustrated.) I’m happy to say that our record as part-time fictional mystery investigators is still spotless.
With this new game, players will investigate clues to discover the murder of a camp counselor whose charred remains were found in Camp Ashburnes fire pit.
Summer is the perfect time to immerse yourself in this classic not-so-campy summer camp murder mystery. Yes, I happen to be a fan of the OG Friday the 13th mythology, and yes, I absolutely loved the summer camp setting of Fear Street: Part Two – 1978. (And don’t even get me started on Sleepaway Camp and the like.) This all primed me to absolutely love Camp Calamity before I even opened the mailer.
But what I found when I tore open the package was something unexpected. Normally, Hunt A Killer kits come in the familiar black boxes with red lettering. This mystery came packaged in a mustard yellow box adorned with charming doodles and tons of messages scrawled by kids on the last day of summer vacation. What a wildly different appearance for the mystery series, and what a way to set the tone of the case that would soon be presented to us.
Like Fear Street, the full story of Camp Calamity plays out over a number of years, though the mysterious death of a senior counselor is covered in a matter of days. That storytelling gives you a sense of history, not just mystery, and a feeling of a lived-in world with real people who have real, deep relationships. Add to that the camp-conjured mythology of the Burning Baron, and this one has everything you could want in a mid-level mystery from the up-and-coming company. Highly recommended across the board(game)!
Already played all of these games and are looking for more? Keep an eye out for Body On The Boardwalk, available on Amazon later this August:
This game will challenge players to solve the murder of Katie Dunn, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances at the Brittany Beach Boardwalk. After Katie’s death, her boyfriend Teo quickly becomes the prime suspect. Teo’s mother hopes to clear his name, but even she has to admit that the evidence against her son looks bad. This new roller coaster of a mystery will be a thrill ride for players.
If you’re a fan of Hunt A Killer’s handcrafted narrative style, you’ll be thrilled to know that the brand has also expanded into more traditional storytelling spaces. World-renowned children’s publishing/education/media group Scholastic recently teamed up with Hunt A Killer for “a wide range of all language formats including novels, eBooks, and audio books.” First up? Perfect Score by Angelica Monai, set to publish in January 2022. The original young adult novel is said to feature “a mind-bending mystery, all new characters, and intriguing clues characteristic of Hunt A Killer games.” Here’s the official synopsis:
In Perfect Score, Jo is skipping class at her fancy new private school, North Shore Prep, when she witnesses Mr. Medina fall in front of an oncoming L train. The police call it a tragic accident, but Jo knows what she saw was murder. With help from her friends – and the inside scoop from her public-defender parents and her mentor at the state attorney’s office – Jo opens up her own investigation into Mr. Medina’s death, uncovering a scandal brewing at North Shore Prep in the process. Jo has a slew of suspects, including administrators, students, parents, and even local politicians. Any one of them could be the killer—and if Jo doesn’t act fast, she could be the next victim.
But wait, there’s more! The immersive entertainment gurus behind the scenes at Hunt A Killer have also partnered with legendary publishing company, Simon & Schuster, for a new Nancy Drew retail game titled, Mystery At Magnolia Gardens. The all-in-one game, fitting Hunt A Killer’s style, sees Nancy investigating “a poisoning at a botanical garden filled with exotic plants that are not just pretty, but are also toxic.” Here’s the synopsis:
Now with Mystery At Magnolia Gardens, all the clues will come in one box for a thrilling game night experience. Players will use their detective skills to help Nancy Drew solve a beguiling mystery at a botanical exhibit known as Magnolia Gardens. While investigating a potential poisoning at the exhibit, Nancy herself becomes mysteriously ill and it’s up to the players to help her solve the case. The game will contain a variety of realistic evidence, including maps, police reports, personal effects from characters, and more to help detectives piece together what has happened before the culprit strikes again.
You can preorder Mystery At Magnolia Gardens through Amazon now for its anticipated October 15 release date. As a bonus, a further expansion is planned for 2022. Now’s a great time to get in on the fun with Hunt A Killer!
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