When I was about the age of ten years old, my brothers and I were helping my dad clean out the garage attic. We had never been allowed up in that part of the attic before. We peered around at the Christmas decorations boxed up for next year, and then came upon a black, weather beaten trunk plopped up against the rafters.
“What is this, Dad?” we asked. “Ah, that’s a box of memories,” he replied. We opened it up with him right away, my favorite smell of dusty books billowing out as we raised the cover.
Holy cow. Peeking inside that trunk was like looking through a window into the fifties and sixties. We found an old toy pistol from his Roy Rogers fan days, we found an old brownie style camera (that still worked!), we found comic books and baseball cards, and so many other things I can barely recall. Immediately, we began trying to piece together this other life that we did not know our dad had.
Sure, we knew that he had been a kid once, at least we assumed so from the family album pictures, but here was living proof that Dad Was Really A Kid Just Like Us. We spent hours and hours poring through those memories and playing with the toys, probably in the same fashion that he and his brother did so many years ago.
Most of the games I play these days have gorgeous beige exteriors, but when you peel them back, there is an old familiar underpinning of logic puzzles or efficiency puzzles or spatial puzzles every time. The biggest complaint I hear from my gaming friends is that euro-style puzzle games are soul-less exercises, completely devoid of emotion. But what if a publisher could magically transport me back to that afternoon when we found Dad’s trunk? What if we could recreate that discovery, with a storyline that hit us right in the feels?
Hunt A Killer: The Cosmic Adventures of Supernova did that to us.
I’m sure like me you have seen their familiar ads on Facebook or their booth at conventions. Hunt A Killer is a company that specializes in gorgeously produced, narrative driven puzzle games. Although the game we played was not really an “escape room” per se — there was no timer to worry about, no locked door, and no puzzle to solve to find our way out — there is very much an escape-room-in-a-box type of feel.
They reached out to us with an offer to play one of their hit editions from 2022, The Cosmic Adventures of Supernova. Know going into this review that we are describing in general terms this particular game (no spoilers!) but the company’s business model is subscription based. If you like this sort of game, they will be happy to deliver a new entry on a set schedule for you and your regular game night friends to explore. Just remember, our thoughts here are on the one entry we did play, and this is not a review of the entire series.
I grabbed my son Matt and his buddies Aaron and Tally and we opened up the box for the first time. Faithful readers of the Gumbo know that playing a game with no pre-game prep is pretty unusual around here. Normally, at least one of us has already cracked the cover open, sorted out some pieces or sleeved some cards, read the rule book or got Paul or Rodney to teach us the game, right? That’s the first cool thing with these Hunt A Killer games. There’s nothing to prep, nothing to read in advance, and no overview to worry about. Jump right in to the story!
And that’s just what we did. Here is where I have to be a little cagey, though. The second cool factor of the Hunt A Killer Games, at least the Cosmic Adventures one, is that these are deep story driven puzzles but they can only be played with any particular group that one time. Not to worry, these are not ‘legacy’ type games or even destructible games like the Exit series, they can definitely be reset and given to family or friends to play. But what I mean is that any detailed discussion of the game would necessarily spoil your experience, because even though there is not just one way to finish the game, the majority of what players are doing will be focused on the puzzles that lead to the endgame.
But, there are some things that I can talk about in general that I think would help you see the merits or demerits in the game. I alluded to one in the preceding paragraph, namely that you can re-gift this to friends in the same vein that you can do the Unlock or Decktective series of games. Since the game is on the pricey side of our hobby — although the components, crafted storyline, and depth of experience all in some ways justify the price — knowing that you can share it with others means that there is more intrinsic value than at first glance.
Right after we sign up, the creator of the comic book, Gunny Graham, contacts us in a way that sets the scene for the entire experience. He has been looking for his missing twin sister, and needs our help.
I can also talk a little about how to play and the background of the story, since some of this is ‘public’ from the company’s website and BGG descriptions. In the game, players are fans of a comic book heroine, Supernova. You can’t miss her. She’s emblazoned right across the front of the supersized box (about the same size as Twilight Imperium IV Edition, no joke!) All of us are big fans, the kinds of fans that would join the “Official Supernova Fan Club”.
That’s all you have to go on.
There’s no ruleset in the box, no outline of gameplay, no player aid sheets.
It was kind of liberating, to tell you the truth. We opened up this giant box, and inside was a cornucopia of stuff related to the storyline. We found comic books, letters, toys, fan club accoutrements. Since there are no rules or guidelines, each of us just grabbed something that looked interesting, and started exploring its contents, trying to find clues that would give us an idea of where Gunny’s sister might be or what kind of trouble she was in. We also grabbed a handy dandy nearby legal pad and filled a couple or three pages of notes from our discovery of all the disparate items in the box.
Of course, there are the standard puzzle elements one would expect to find in any mystery box type of game — clues to uncover an understand, mysterious languages to decode — and sure some of the puzzles are little more obtuse than others. Overall though, the puzzles felt like Goldilocks a bit, just the right level of hardness, not too tough, but not too easy, either.
I hinted at the start that this puzzle game felt different from our usual card or paper style exit games. The reason that this struck us differently lay in the events that happened in the third reel of the game. (I’m borrowing a movie term, where movies are separated into three reels because that’s generally how they were delivered to the theater house. The third reel or third act was where the big action and wrap up to the movie took place, and if it fizzled, the audience generally left the theater unsatisfied).
When we got to the climax of the experience, after about three hours of exploring, I could feel the mood of the group shifting. Where before one could hear repeated expressions of Suprise! or Discovery! or Eureka! moments, in that last half-hour to an hour we became much more muted as the weight of the story began to sink in.
How can a puzzle game touch so many emotional chords? I think it comes with the way the game is produced. Everything appears tangible and real and hefty, and that verisimilitude draws the players into the confines of the box, the borders of the story and its well crafted world. Gunny is not just a faceless character on your player board that you admire when you notice the artwork and then forget about the rest of the game. Gunny is a real person, or at least as real as the magic circle allows.
Just thinking about our exploration of The Cosmic Adventures of Supernova, even a few weeks after our experience, reminds me of those feelings and the connection they gave me to that long-ago sun dappled afternoon when we discovered my father’s childhood for the very first time.
Life is a winding road, with unexpected side lanes that we can spot out of the corner of our eye. Most of the scenery whizzes by in a blur, never to be recalled or remembered. But for three hours in my game room, getting completely wrapped up in Gunny’s story and his creation of Supernova and his quest for his missing twin, the blur slowed to a panoply of crystal clear images. At that moment, we understood the gravity of our choices during the story. When we finished, we closed up the box, a little quieter than when we opened it.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo
A complimentary copy of the game was provided by the publisher. You can find more information about Supernova from the publisher’s website here.
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