Unsolved Case Files (Review)

While stumbling through Big W during my Christmas shopping, I wandered into the board game section out of curiosity and among the usual suspects of Monopoly, Guess Who, Twister and the like I happened upon a funky looking murder mystery called Unsolved Case Files. Now it must be said that a game in one of these big retail chains isn’t usually a sign of high esteem, but at $34 it interested me enough to give it a whirl.

The premise is that you are independent investigators opening up a cold case in the hopes of solving it. The case my friend and I cracked open dealt with the murder of one Harmony Ashcroft, tragically killed the night before her wedding back in the ’90s. Though a local vagrant had been charged with the crime, there’s something fishy about the matter. The real killer is still on the loose, but first we had to prove the convicted man innocent.

With that loose instruction, the game then dumped a spiffy-looking manila folder full of photographs, transcripts, and forms in our lap and let us loose. There’s no dice to roll, no tokens to move, no stats to track; merely evidence and your own curious mind.

Once you think you have the solution to your current goal (in this case establishing the innocence of the aforementioned vagrant) you can enter it online through a linked website which will then inform you whether you are right. If so, you’ll be given the go-ahead to open an envelope with your next objective and some new evidence. Complete three objectives and you’ll solve the case. (If you weren’t right there’s the option to get a hint.)

I must point out how nice all the evidence is. There’s a coroner report, newspaper clippings, witness statements, transcripts of interviews, a map of the area, an envelope full of photographs, and more. Even the game’s list of contents is presented as an official police document! Though the photos sometimes don’t quite keep up the verisimilitude, it’s easily forgiven because the overall effect is so impressive.

As for the case itself, it’s remarkably satisfying. I was concerned going in that it might prove to be too simplistic or even unfairly difficult, but in the end the solution was interesting, tricky, and ultimately fair… though I’ll confess that I was lucky enough to be doing it with a very clever person who managed to make some astute connections that completely slipped past me. In the end, we both agreed that this was a fun mystery and a very enjoyable experience.

A couple of caveats, though. First of all, it’s a one time only experience. Once you’ve played it the genie’s out of the bottle, and I can understand if that’s a deal-breaker for you (like a good book, I’ll be passing my copy on to a mate.) Secondly, the subject matter follows crime tropes and though there’s nothing graphic or exploitative it may prove triggering for some people (but if you’re a fan of true crime books and the like you’ll find this pretty tame.) Finally, the puzzles and subject matter aren’t really great for kids; I’d say 15+ is probably a reasonable call.

I guess the best place on the shelf for Unsolved Case Files on the shelf is somewhere between those escape room box sets and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. And I think I’ll be getting more of these cases, because that’s a shelf that needs more filling.

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