“As a newly commissioned paranormal investigator, gather your thick scrapbook of evidence and pay a visit to the three-dimensional Mysterious Manor – no assembly required! Secrets may lie hidden in every dark corner, behind every closed door, making repeated exploration of the manor crucial to your investigation!”
I love at-home puzzle games that play with a novel medium, so when the crowdfunding campaign for Doomensions: Pop-Up Mystery Manor launched, I was a day one backer. A little over a year later, a large and brightly-colored box arrived on my doorstep promising me a demonically good time.
Originally a collaboration between The Mysterious Package Company and the Curious Correspondence Club (they have since merged), the creators of Doomensions have a reputation for producing high quality experiences with solid components. So I was happily unsurprised to open the box and find a bunch of solidly made components inside. The manor itself is a 16.5in×10in (42cm×25cm) pop-up book with a pleasingly hard cover. The other main component is the research dossier, it lays out the game and its five chapters, and has a nice, study cover and is filled with well-made game props. Even the accessories, like an included magnifying glass, hint book, and notebook feel nicer than they needed to be.
Once setup, the manor is an imposing figure on the table top, standing nearly two feet tall with additional height granted by the pop-up attic.
Atmospherically enough, the paper creaks and groans as everything pops up into place. Though, thematic as they were, those pops and groans were an ill-omen of the biggest downside of the experience: while cool, pop-up books are made of paper and are both delicate and finicky. Doomensions is a really unique and cool experience, but even with a very high-level of production quality, it’s nigh impossible to mass produce a pop-up experience that’s going to work perfectly well. I played the game over five sessions, putting the game away and setting it up again each time. As I played through, the pop-up components inside began to warp and tear, as the glue that was holding everything together weakened. Unlike most pop-up books that only open 180°, this game opens a full 360°, which seems to have put a little more stress on the components. Some of the components inside required opening flaps to search inside of them, which was hard to do without tearing the paper.
There was also a minor issue of the paper pieces in the research dossier being glued in with rubber cement and hard to remove without tearing the pieces. Shortly after the game arrived, I received a follow-up email with suggested instructions on how to remove the pieces without tearing them1From MPC: “The easiest way to separate items held by rubber cement from the dossier without ripping them is to hold the dossier with one hand and slowly rotate the item held by rubber cement with the other hand.”, and those worked pretty well, save for one minor rip.
Those issues didn’t bother me, it’s a pop-up book I’m rummaging through, I expected it. I mention it only because it might bother someone else, and this may not be the experience for someone that would be.
Overall, I had an enjoyable time exploring (and escaping) the mysterious manor, clocking in at about 5½ hours of spooky fun. Let’s dive in further.
Doomensions tells a pretty typical—though well-fleshed out—haunted house story. Somebody has taken an ancient artifact they shouldn’t have and now there’s a malevolent spirit loose in the house that has killed four other people. Using the clues left behind from the previous victims, you need to solve some mysteries and banish the ghost.
The game is played through the research dossier, which is cleverly designed and sturdily made. The game is played over the course of five chapters, which are self-contained enough that you can put the game down between chapters without worrying about forgetting vital clues between sessions. The props inside are glued in2As mentioned, maybe too well. so you don’t have to worry about parts from future chapters flying out as you’re moving ti around. Letters and newspaper clippings throughout the dossier do an excellent job of providing atmosphere and stakes throughout the experience.
Each chapter in Doomensions tells the story of a different victim and–in a very clever and thoughtful integration of narrative and puzzle—the puzzles in each chapter are themed around the personalities and methodologies of that chapter’s spotlighted victim. So, for example, when you’re following in the footsteps of the medium, you’ll be trying to connect to the spirits with a (non-trademark infringing) spirit board and tarot cards; whereas the ghost hunter’s chapter will find you using spirit boxes and a camcorder to try and track the ghost down. It’s little touches like this that elevate a puzzle game from good to great.
Doomensions is the rare completely offline puzzle-game experience. Everything needed to play the game and solve the puzzles is either in the dossier or the manor. I found the puzzles to scale in difficulty from easy in the beginning to a more medium difficulty by the end of it. The puzzles are clearly marked and well-delineated, so you should always have a pretty good idea of which components you need for the puzzles and what items in the house you should be hunting for. For those that are stumped, it comes with a hint book that provides progressive hints and solutions to the puzzles, while using a few clever tricks to prevent you from accidentally spoiling yourself.
Each puzzle solves to a three digit number and the game comes with a very “Exit: The Game“-esque solution wheel for you to determine whether or not you’ve successfully solved the puzzle. Unlike the Exit: The Game games I’ve played (which require you to lookup in a deck of cards whether or not you’ve found the right solution), the Doomensions puzzle wheel itself will tell you if you’ve solved the puzzle and—if not—which part isn’t right. (I really hope that the Exit series steals this mechanic!)
I found most of the puzzles to be pretty fun and well-written, with clever paper props that use skeuomorphism to increase immersion. As mentioned in the Narrative section, the puzzles were designed to capture the flavor of the people you were investigating. My favorite puzzles being those that belonged to the ghost hunter in Chapter Three, with the puzzles aptly capturing the feel of playing Phasmophobia. Other chapters had you doing things like analyzing blood splatter and interpreting a seance. Very fun, thematic stuff.
However, I’m sure you noticed my qualifying “most” up there. There were a few puzzles that I felt like suffered from the “solve to three numbers” format the game adopted. There were several puzzles that required you to search for and count particular items throughout the house. There are a couple of problems I had with that type of puzzle: The first is the things you’re looking for were often hidden, leaving you unsure of when to stop and check your answer or if you need to keep looking. Second, the house is big and there are often multiple things in each room. So it’s easy to lose count, or check your answer and realize that you don’t have the right number, and have to start searching all over again. One time I had ended up with a number one higher than I should have. Did I count something twice or did I count something I wasn’t supposed to have? Either way, I had to start over. It skidded the gameplay to a stop and added frustration to an otherwise smooth experience. That said, those few, frustrating puzzles weren’t enough to put me off of the experience; I still had a great time in the manor.
All of the puzzles in the game were color-accessible, which is always very nice to see and much appreciated by me. The color palette as a whole throughout the game was very nice, with bright, popping colors that proved that you don’t have to be dour shades of grey to make a fun horror game.
Despite a few minor bumps in the night, I really enjoyed Doomensions, finding it to be a cleverly designed, beautifully produced, and unique puzzle experience. I recommend it to anyone who wants to explore a haunted house at home or thinks the idea of a two-foot tall, 360° pop-up book is really cool. While I played through it solo, it’s big enough to easily accommodate a few more players.