This mail-order mystery was a lot of fun, but also not at all what I was expecting. As a family that has done several boxed escape rooms, I was expecting there to be a lot more tasks to complete and puzzles to solve. I was basically expecting this mail order subscription service to be like Hunt-a-Killer, but aimed at kids. It was definitely PG-rated, however, it was more a fun novelty than a mentally stimulating family exercise. For what it was I felt like it was overpriced. There were definitely moments that left me thinking, “That’s it?” However, in the end, the kids had fun, and the last shipment was particularly enticing such that they all were happy we did it. Given the cost, however, I don’t think I will be doing their other mysteries unless they have an amazing sale.
Mail Order Mystery: Treasure Hunt! Details
Product: Mystery at Magnolia Gardens
Company: Mail Order Mystery
Recommended Age Range: 6 and up
Price Range: ~$100 for all 6 installments
I was imagining this “experience” to be more about solving puzzles than it actually turned out to be. There were a few codes to decipher, but that was it in terms of puzzle-solving. Also, they all used the same solution method and the information needed to break the code was provided in the second letter. Additionally, it wasn’t actually necessary to solve the codes in order to get the treasure. Unlike escape rooms and Hunt-a-Killer boxes, solving puzzles is clearly not the point of this mystery.
The main point of these boxes is for kids to get cool stuff in the mail. There were a lot of novel items, like letters from various people, a treasure map, a newsletter, a key, and eventually an actual treasure chest which I will describe in more detail below. The newsletter in particular was full of fascinating factual information making this experience somewhat educational. However, all in all, I would say each letter provided about 20 minutes of entertainment most of which was just me reading aloud to the kids from the contents.
I chose to purchase the kit as a whole and then disperse the letters one at a time on our family vacation. This sort of took away from the “getting something in the mail” thrill, though none of my kids would have believed it was real anyway. It might have been fun to try and pretend this was real, but I don’t think my older two kids would have bought it, plus I have a weird hang-up about any sort of lying. I’m not even a parent that does Santa Claus. Needless to say, my kids all knew it was just for fun.
One thing that I wish the letter to parents would have said is that you should hide the treasure chest. I do wish I had known this, but I didn’t. I think part of me thought we would get the treasure chest with the first letter, then the point would be to solve puzzles to figure out how to open it, but that was not the case. The first letter informs you there is a treasure and sends the key. You get letters from a series of interested parties, then in the end they send you the treasure box whether or not you solved any of the ciphers. Also, one of the letters asks you to make a call. It is worth calling and hearing the answering machine, but you do not need to leave a message. No one is getting back to you.
My kids were over the moon when they were able to open the treasure chest. There was basically a collective gasp when they were able to see the treasure. I could see how this would be a particularly joyful moment for single children. However, my kids immediately broke into squabbling over who got what. In the end, this is how they divided it and everyone was satisfied:
12-year-old: All the old-looking coins, which were actually pretty neat looking and are made of metal.
10-year-old: A squid or Kraken necklace, a couple pretty shells, and the lock and key to the treasure chest.
8-year-old: The coveted metal necklace with neat symbols on one side and a skull and crossbones on the other. Everyone initially wanted this. After the agreement was made, he also asked for and received the treasure map from one of the letters, which only caused mild grumbling.
6-year-old: The treasure box with a shark tooth necklace that seemed to be made of plastic and a metal ring. He also got all the remaining shells in the treasure box.
I am too embarrassed to admit how long it took them to come to this agreement, but in the end, everyone was satisfied.
Overall, I do not think I will be buying any more of these mysteries unless they are significantly discounted. Personally, I think the escape rooms from ThinkFun and Usborne and the Hunt-a-Killer experiences offer more family fun for less money. However, if you want a mail order experience like this that is extremely kid-friendly, I don’t know of any better options. The company clearly works hard to put out quality material. It might make a great gift to ask for from indulgent grandparents.