5 Minute Mystery
Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 5-30 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Low
Recommended: Yes for children
Website: 5-Minute Mystery (wiggles3d.com)
Solo and Multi-player Review
5 Minute Mystery was a successful (extremely successful since they hit over 10,000 backers) Kickstarter by Wiggles 3D in December 2019. Wiggles 3D are a mid-sized publisher and they had a smooth, well run campaign. The game itself is produced to an extremely high standard and its real time co-op play, including a solo mode, is very attractive. Furthermore, the lightweight gateway gaming will pull in a lot of casual gamers, but does it offer anything for the more serious fans?
The game puts players in the shoes of investigators helping out after a robbery at a museum populated by cute cartoon characters. Each game consists of a set of five mysteries which are completed in rounds. Mysteries involve looking at a scene of the museum and spotting abstract symbols hidden around the scene. Spot all the symbols and you can claim a clue which partially identifies a culprit, get enough clues and you identify the culprit, winning the round. Win some number of rounds and win, probably.
That’s the first minor quibble, the rules are actually non-specific about how you win the game, it explains that you have five rounds and how to win a round, but it doesn’t pin down if you need to win all five rounds. It’s a small thing, but for a quite simple family game it doesn’t take much to pin down, and the win conditions are quite important. The issue with this game ends up being that it’s a slickly presented lightweight game, and so it was never going to have big issues, but the small quibbles end up dragging it down.
For example, this is a game that needs to be played in a brightly lit room, and sometimes for no good reason. To explain, of necessity the images that are being sought out in the scenes are abstract symbols rather than the unusual objects of a more traditional digital hidden object game, and so they’re quite muted, that’s not too annoying since hiding the objects in the scenes is the central tenet of the game. However, when you find your clues you then have to use them to eliminate suspects. Some of the clues are objects that the suspect is carrying or wearing (and god forgive you if you hold tight to the fact that a parasol is not an umbrella) but some of them refer to the creature having skin, scales, fur or feathers. Clearly the creators were concerned that some people wouldn’t be totally certain if particular creatures counted as having skin or fur, and so they gave the creature images a background to clearly identify which category each belongs to. It’s a background consisting of a black image on a very dark navy-blue field. I have pretty good vision, but in a room with a standard household overhead light I was totally unable to tell the difference between the fur background and the skin background. I could be wrong, but this didn’t feel like something that was meant to be a test of ability in the game, and I’m not clear why the different categories weren’t also colour identified, or just shown with a high contrast colour. This isn’t helped by the points where you won’t check the background because you know full and fine well that a tortoise doesn’t have scales, because they have skin (and a shell). You would be wrong, in the world of 5-minute mystery tortoises have scales.
There’s really no mystery or investigation element to the game, if you spot the abstract shapes in the scene quickly enough you win, if you don’t, you lose. As far as deduction goes the game is a pretty simple process of elimination, having as much in the way of actual deduction as a game of Guess Who. If you’re just looking to spot things in a scene that’s fine, but if you’re looking to solve any kind of mystery, you’re likely to be disappointed.
The game centers on the ‘Codex’ a high production value gadget with revolving barrels on it carrying images of the hidden symbols available in the scenes. When the symbols are found the rings of the codex are meant to be rotated to show the correct facing, allowing it to be used as a notation system when it’s time to check if all the images have been spotted. A set of punchboard counters would do just as well. Actually, since the rounds are timed and spinning a barrel is slower than grabbing a counter, better. Counters would also have been a good deal cheaper for players. That said, the revolving codex has a lot of table presence and clearly attracted backers to the campaign, but once you realize quite how little game impact it has it’s hard not to be disappointed, again.
There is a slight issue with swingy difficulty also. When a scene is completed it generally allows players to pick up a random clue, one of four from one of four categories. This tends to even out across the five rounds recommended in the game, but it can mean that a given suspect can take between three and twelve clues to nail down and when a game is lost (possibly lost?) on the final puzzle due to a suspect that randomly takes double the clues of all the other suspects you’ve come across, it’s hard not to feel quite frustrated, and not in a good way.
The Solo game is pretty close to the co-op version, a few of the cases are cut out and one fewer object is required to be found each round, but other than that there’s not much change. This makes sense since the game is based on what is a fundamentally solo experience. That said, it’s a slightly odd experience played solo, boiling down as it does to staring at card after card looking for the same few abstract shapes against the clock. Although it’s essentially the same process as the digital games its recreating the feel is actually quite different, since the time limits are tighter while the scenes and objects are less varied.
How much play you’ll actually get out of this as a solo game is very much a question of personal taste, most of the challenge of the game comes down to how many processes can be carried out in a given time limit rather than any kind of actual puzzle. So, the game is a combination of fast observation and pattern recognition combined with quick fingers and multitasking. Personally, that’s the sort of challenge I prefer when shared with friends, with solo play being reserved for something a little more considered and cerebral. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I find that this sort of filler or intro game is what I need to get other people up to speed and in the mood for a longer gaming session, but if I’m on my own and sitting down to play a game, everyone involved is already on the same page. If you are looking to stare at images and frantically finger twiddle when on your own (not in a dirty way), this is a pretty high-quality way of doing it, and there’s not a lot else out there filling the space on the tabletop for you.
When playing in a group the game suggests giving one player the codex to operate while all players are allowed to look at the image and the suspect cards are shared among all players. How well this works is possibly dependent on the group at the table. If the images are communicated verbally then there is a certain amount of fun to be gained from figuring out a useable language of “the circle with all the blobs around it” while searching for symbols, heightening the multi-tasking nature of the game. If, however, images are found and then simply indicated to the codex holder with a finger point, or if the codex holder simply spots the symbols themselves then the game can result in a silent and quite insular affair or worse, a solo game while other people watch. Sharing the suspects is also a slightly odd move since it can result in one player having all their suspects eliminated and so having a little less to do earlier in the round than their team-mates, its not a major loss but if playing with higher counts can leave some players feeling as though they have little to do until the image and codex revolve around to them.
Generally, the game feels as though its 8+ age limit is quite close to the ceiling of who would actually find it amusing for long periods of time. It certainly has plenty of features that will amuse younger players with its cartoon animals and simple play, and could help with team work, communication and turn taking. That said, the fact that the game has slightly unclear structures around its actual turn taking could cause friction with younger players, particularly with mixed age groups. If there’s a significant chance that one of the group will take charge or shut out the other players if the rules don’t enforce them not doing so, that will probably take an adult overseer to keep things fun for everyone.
5-minute mystery is slickly put together, produced and presented. It’s also mildly fun to play for 25 minutes of gaming. The question is whether this sort of game is really relevant in a world where everyone can have a simple digital hidden object game in their pocket at all times, and personally that answer is, not all that much.