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Hunt A Killer’s ‘Nancy Drew – Mystery at Magnolia Gardens’ Review: A Great Intro

Rating: 7/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $30
Mystery at Magnolia Gardens front cover
Sarah Chaney / Review Geek

Growing up, I read my fair share of mystery books, from Nancy Drew to Sherlock Holmes, and even contemplated becoming a detective in real life. While that dream didn’t come true, I’m still obsessed with binging true crime stories and solving fake mysteries, so I enjoyed living vicariously through Nancy Drew in this mystery board game from Hunt A Killer.

In Nancy Drew – Mystery at Magnolia Gardens, someone has been poisoned at Magnolia Gardens, a botanical garden, and it’s up to Nancy Drew’s assistant—played by you—to figure out whodunnit. After reading through all the materials you find in the box, you have to figure out who had the means, motive, and opportunity to poison the head honcho at Magnolia Gardens.

Although this particular mystery is a standalone board game, Hunt A Killer offers more intricate monthly subscription boxes, where a single mystery unfolds over six boxes in six months. If you, like me, don’t want to shell out money before investing in a large subscription that’ll last six months, these standalone games are the perfect way to test the waters. After playing Mystery at Magnolia Gardens, I can’t wait to see what a longer mystery from Hunt A Killer looks like.

Here's What We Like

  • Wholesome fun for the whole family
  • An affordable intro to Hunt a Killer products
  • Puzzles were somewhat intricate

And What We Don't

  • There's no physical puzzle key
  • Steep price for zero replayability

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What is Hunt A Killer?

If you’re unfamiliar with Hunt A Killer, it’s an immersive murder mystery game you can play alone or with friends. Each murder mystery contains six “episodes” or boxes that make up a complete story, delivered to your doorstep monthly.

For an entire season, or six boxes, it costs $195; because six boxes over six months make up a complete murder mystery from start to finish, this is Hunt A Killer’s most popular option. However, you can also purchase a quarterly membership that renews every three months for $99 or a full-year membership (with two murder mysteries to solve) that costs $360.

With every box, you’ll receive more clues, paperwork, and the occasional special physical item, like a locked box or some other kind of prop. You use these clues to piece together the mystery and ultimately find the culprit by figuring out who had the means, motive, and the opportunity to commit the crime.

Purchasing a Hunt A Killer subscription is expensive and sometimes more than a person might want to spend on an experience that they don’t know they’ll enjoy. Luckily, Hunt A Killer started making standalone board games you can test out at a much more affordable price point of around $30. You can try out a one-time board game, see if you like Hunt A Killer’s style, and then invest in a fun game night activity for friends and family by buying a subscription.

Setup: Make Sure You Have Plenty of Room

all content of Mystery at Magnolia Gardens
Sarah Chaney / Review Geek

Almost everything you find in the game box is paper, though there’s also a prop tea strainer, a ring, and a locked metal box you could use later as a pencil case or something similar. Because many of your clues and case info come from separate pieces of paper, you’ll need a lot of surface area to spread everything out before you get started.

While I was solving the mystery, there were quite a few times when I needed to reference multiple documents at once, so it’s best to have everything where you can see it instead of keeping things stacked on top of one another. There are some papers you can set aside while you’re investigating, like the solution envelope and the introductory letters, but you’ll want to keep track of where they are to reference toward the end of the game.

Despite having so many papers to look at while investigating your case, it’s super simple to figure out how to begin. The game recommends beginning with Nancy Drew’s letter to you, which tells you to start by reading her case notes and each character profile. After that, you can peruse the remaining documents in whatever order makes the most sense to you.

Gameplay: A Pretty Fun Mystery

Mystery at Magnolia Gardens isn’t a typical tabletop game, where there’s a board, players taking turns, or moving pieces. Instead, the gameplay is mostly reading: not surprising in a game where you play a detective.

The game manual tells you which document to start with; from there, it’s a pretty simple flow of information. I’d recommend reading through everything, or at least skimming, before you start pairing documents together, trying to figure out clues, or ruling people out as the culprit.

Mystery at Magnolia Gardens character cards
Sarah Chaney / Review Geek

The puzzles were simple enough to figure out on my own but challenging enough that I didn’t figure them out immediately. Actually, there was one puzzle I couldn’t figure out, but it didn’t end up being relevant to me accurately figuring out who the culprit was.

Although there’s an envelope in the box that’ll tell you who the culprit is and why they did it, there’s not a puzzle key for anything you can figure out. One of the pieces of paper mentions that you can go to Hunt A Killer’s website for hints and notes on the game, but you have to enter a passcode to view the materials, and I couldn’t find that anywhere.

lock puzzle from Mystery at Magnolia Gardens

It took me about two hours to read through everything and be 99% sure who the culprit was, but if I was solving the mystery with one or more additional people, I think we could’ve solved it in an hour or so. I wish the experience had been a bit longer, only because this is a one-time playthrough, and the end culprit doesn’t change. Hunt A Killer’s subscription mysteries are longer, though they are more expensive, so I wish the single-play games like this one were a tiny bit longer or maybe a bit more intricate.

Conclusion: A Great Intro to Hunt A Killer Mysteries

I don’t want to give any spoilers away, so I’ll say that I enjoyed the experience and was proud of myself for catching the culprit. Playing Mystery at Magnolia Gardens was a short experience, but so is going to the movies or out to dinner, and you’ll often spend more money at the movies or a sit-down restaurant.

It’s fantastic that Hunt A Killer offers standalone games as a segway into its subscription boxes, so you can spend much less money to see if it’s worth it. Although I might not consistently subscribe to Hunt A Killer, getting a 6-month subscription every now and then would be an excellent idea for monthly date nights or family game nights. I can’t wait to try out more games from this company!

Rating: 7/10
Price: $30

Here’s What We Like

  • Wholesome fun for the whole family
  • An affordable intro to Hunt a Killer products
  • Puzzles were somewhat intricate

And What We Don't

  • There's no physical puzzle key
  • Steep price for zero replayability

Sarah Chaney Sarah Chaney
Sarah Chaney is a professional freelance writer for Review Geek, Android Authority, MakeUseOf, and other great websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing concentration. Her degree, paired with her almost two years of professionally writing for websites, helps her write content that is engaging, yet informative. She enjoys covering anything Android, video game, or tech related. Read Full Bio »