Nancy Drew: Mystery at Magnolia Gardens (Game)

I have a really soft spot for Nancy Drew. I didn’t grow up with the character (I was a Three Investigators and Five Find-Outers kinda kid) so this isn’t based on the nostalgia of childhood. Rather it is fixed on a couple of experiences as an adult.

The most recent and rather powerful one is that my kid loves the character. Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew is still my daughter’s favorite series of books and these titles have been responsible for her becoming interested in mystery stories more generally which I obviously love.

The deeper reason though is that there was a series of video games made a few years ago by a company called Her Interactive that adapted titles from the book series. In the early days of our marriage my wife and I would play these together and we worked our way through the whole range – only stopping when the games stopped being published. We both have really fond memories of puzzle-solving together so when we saw that Hunt a Killer had made a Nancy Drew mystery game in a box, we both ended up getting it as a gift for the other…

The idea is that you are a friend of Nancy Drew who has found herself mixed up in another case. During a visit to the Magnolia Gardens in River Heights, Nancy stops by the director’s office for a cup of tea and notices that her friend is having a bad allergic reaction. She realizes that something is wrong with the tea but ends up hospitalized a short time later. Unable to work on the case, Nancy sends all of her materials to some friends – the players – asking them to pick up where she left off and to complete her investigation.

The player has three questions to solve – who was the poisoner, how did they do it and why.

The players have everything they need within the box and will not require any additional knowledge or objects to solve the case. I would suggest that players may benefit from pens and paper and I will share that we found clear tape to be helpful, though it is not essential…

In addition to the solution envelope, the box contains a couple of objects – one of them locked with a combination padlock – and a variety of documents. The instructions will give the player a suggested way to start their investigation though you can tackle them in any order you wish. Some groups may prefer to pass the items around and take turns reading – we preferred to read them and summarize for each other.

We had a lot of fun with it. The 60-90 minute play time suggestion proved to be pretty much spot on for us and we found the difficulty level to be pretty accurate. The puzzles all seemed pretty logical, the solution made sense and we never had to utilize the online hint system. That’s probably just as well as we found that the website link given in the booklet was broken when we went to check it out after gameplay to read the epilogue. It is on the manufacturer’s website but we ended up having to search around for it.

The game is designed to be played with one or more people, though I would suggest that more is a good idea. While I am sure you could have a good time working on solving this by yourself, a large part of the fun we had was in sharing our thoughts and ideas with each other. One thing to be aware of is that this game is designed to be played just once as the solution will always be the same. That wasn’t an issue for us but I know that will be a consideration for players in assessing the set’s value for money.

The theming is done well and the puzzles were pitched well for casual, social play. As we expected we had a great time playing this as found it to be a highlight of our day together. It was fun to solve a mystery together – it definitely took us back to those days playing those Nancy Drew video games together. We would certainly be interested if Hunt-a-Killer ever make another of these and perhaps some day we’ll check out some of their other boxes.

Outfoxed: A Cooperative Whodunit Game


Ages 5+
2-4 Players (Cooperative)
20 minutes

The Blurb

Mrs. Plumpert’s prized pot pie has gone missing and now it’s a chicken chase to crack the case! Move around the board gathering clues and then use the special evidence scanner to rule out suspects. You’ll have to work together because the guilty fox is high-tailing it towards the exit! Will you halt the hungry hooligan before it flies the coop… or will you be Outfoxed?

Well, this wasn’t exactly what I had planned last week when I said to be prepared for something a little different this weekend. Actually, as I noted on Twitter I have no memory at all of what I had planned but all my ideas had to be shelved after what has been a really busy week.

We are still currently in the working from home phase which we have been balancing with frequent meetings and the need to entertain our five year old. Throw in the really frustrating mix of our AC unit breaking and really warm weather and it has not been the most comfortable week! Hence no Wednesday or Friday reviews.

Fortunately we were able to get our AC unit and furnace replaced. While that means I have to be a bit better behaved when it comes to expanding my TBR pile in the coming months, fortunately I had a whole set of books on their way before that and, it turns out (because I ordered it at the start of the stay at home order), a whodunnit board game that we could play as a family.

There is also an instruction booklet that is not shown.

While I normally would grumble at a game taking over a month to arrive, in this case the timing could hardly have been better. As it happens my daughter had recently discovered a children’s book series with animal detectives (The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake) and so the idea of a mystery game was enthusiastically embraced.

This game is also animal-themed as the players each play as detective chickens while the culprit is one of sixteen fox suspects. The players work together to identify clues that will enable them to identify and whittle down the suspects. The problem is that while they work to do that the thieving fox is making their way to their den along with their loot.

In terms of gameplay this feels like a blend of a sort of cooperative version of Clue and Guess Who. Players decide whether they will be looking for clues or identifying suspects on each turn. Then they need to roll three dice and get each of the sides showing a symbol matching their goal. If they fail to do this within three rolls the fox gets to move instead of the players.

The clues that are uncovered each show a different item of clothing that the different foxes are wearing in their suspect card pictures. Any individual item is held or worn by three or four foxes so the key is in balancing looking for suspects and new clues.

When a clue is uncovered it is placed into the viewer shown below. Each clue has a hole cut into it in a different place around its edge. When aligned with the window, if a green dot shows through then the guilty party holds or is wearing that item. If not, the guilty fox will not be. It is a clever mechanic that works well and keeps you from accidentally seeing the guilty party.

My daughter did raise the concern that the fox may have changed their clothing to avoid suspicion. She also wondered if all of the foxes may have been working together in some sort of conspiracy. She really enjoyed the story of the game and quickly understood the object of the game and the rules.

So, I love that this game has a luck component that allows adults and children to play together (though their role will be to support the young players in gathering evidence). Younger children could easily play with an older sibling and each feel that they contributed to the solutions. I also think that it teaches coordination of activities and deductive reasoning skills well to young ones.

The game pieces feel durable and the instructions are reasonably easy to follow. I enjoyed the theming of the game as much as my daughter and the twenty minute set up and play time is about perfect for a five year old’s attention span. There are also suggestions of ways that the players can adjust the rules to make the game more challenging.

Having had this for several days now, my daughter shows no sign of losing interest in the game yet and so I feel pretty good about this purchase. To my delight she is showing interest in other detective stories and I am looking into some series I might be able to shake with her (I may, for instance, return to the Miss Mallard mysteries or try the Cam Jansen books).

Do you have any favorite mystery stories or series that you might recommend to a 5 or 6 year old? If so I’d love to hear any suggestions.