Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
We’ve written before in this space about the recent rise of mail-order mystery stories, where consumers pay a hefty sum of money in order to treat themselves—or, even better, an unsuspecting but horror-loving friend—to a series of weird artifacts showing up on their doorstep, telling some kind of spooky epistolary tale. The idea behind companies like Hunt A Killer or The Mysterious Package Company—which was nice enough to send us one of its “products,” the three-part haunted house story Filigree In Shadow—is that they’re not just selling envelopes and boxes full of strange, elegantly crafted documents and macabre trinkets; they’re selling you an experience, or the ability to gift an experience to others. As with the advent of escape rooms and other experiential luxury offerings, MPC aims to force the world to be a little less ordinary for a minute, offering a break from a place where ghosts and mystical goblins aren’t leering out of every mirror, waiting to delight and destroy us. It briefly pulls off the only magic trick that matters, convincing our brains that magic might be real.
In the case of Filigree In Shadow, that means picking through a series of elaborately designed documents detailing the history of a very bad house, supposedly bequeathed to the reader by some mysterious and distant relatives. The stories themselves lean toward certain stock tropes, but the experience of putting them together—solving puzzles both explicit, and those based around simply stringing together a narrative of what’s occurred—and the level of care that’s gone into the components make the whole thing more engaging than the sum of its parts. For me and my partner, it became a series of extra-nerdy and very cozy date nights, ones where we’d pour ourselves a glass of wine, and then pore over the letters and stories of doomed magicians and creeping things in mirrors. We’d compare notes, tell each other the stories, and slowly separate out the plot threads, mostly centered on a variety of hapless souls getting utterly murdered by evil ghosts. We even spent one delightful evening just teasing out a code hidden throughout the various letters and documents on offer, eventually performing a convoluted cryptogram to unravel all sorts of nasty otherworldly messages hidden in the texts.
As my colleague Alex McLevy found with his experiences with Hunt A Killer, that communal aspect is what makes these packages work, producing the sorts of moments when you’d look across the table at someone and smile, knowing you’re doing something singularly strange together from inside your magic circle. That moment of otherworldly delight comes at a literally high cost—we don’t usually talk about things like “value” or price points in our coverage of games here, but at a current rate of $300 for the whole experience, it’s undeniable that Filigree is a “for the person who has everything” sort of gift—but as a unique experience, it stands successfully on its own. Magic is rare in this world, and if we have to make it for ourselves in order to get a break from the mundane, well, so be it.