For over a month Lisa and I have been debating what to do with two massive escape room-esque Kickstarter puzzle games: The Enigma Box vs Simulacra Games: The Wilson Wolfe Affair.
General thoughts on Kickstarter
I have a small Kickstarter habit that dates back years. I love tossing a little money behind someone’s home-brewed dream project.
Some of those products have turned out fantastic and arrived on-time (or close to it).
Others have been serious letdowns or shipped years late.
That’s what happens when you give a person a some money in return for a pinky swear that they will deliver something amazing.
Kickstarter & escape rooms
Earlier this spring Lisa and I published a data-driven analysis of crowdfunded escape rooms.
Since we published that piece in June, I think that the era of crowdfunding real life escape rooms has passed.
But that’s not why we’re here.
Kickstarter & puzzle products
In early 2016, the women behind Escape Room in a Box asked us to promote their play-at-home, tabletop escape room. We thought this was a terrible idea so we said, “only if we can review it.” They sent us a prototype. We played it, enjoyed it, and reviewed it.
Since then we’ve done a couple one-off posts boosting Kickstarters for nerdy key blanks, which we did without a review… It turns out they are pretty awesome, by the way.
A year ago we did a roundup of puzzley crowdfunding campaigns. These were inexpensive items.
More recently, we’ve seen crowdfunding puzzle products that are expensive and ambitious in scope.
This started with Codex Silenda: The Book of Puzzles, a project we backed but didn’t write about. I was 100% certain that they would blow their timeline… and, oh boy, have they. Personally, I don’t care about that. I just hope that they ship a good and fun product that isn’t too sensitive to shifts in climate. (Their product is entirely wood, which could expand/ contract in detrimental ways.)
Now we have these two massive Kickstarter puzzle games: The Enigma Box & Simulacra Games: The Wilson Wolfe Affair.
The Enigma Box costs between $200 and $350. Simulacra costs between $80 and $250.
They have a lot in common:
- a ton of components
- composed of multiple puzzles (that could have been individual Kickstarter projects)
- promised to ship in mid 2018
- exceeded their funding goals
Setting aside shipping date, which I don’t think either project will hit, let’s take a closer look:
The Enigma Box – I’m pretty dubious of this thing. There are a ton of tangible components that will likely have to come from many different manufacturing facilities. Way too much attention has been focused on the gamebox for my liking. The Kickstarter makes a lot of weird (and sometimes false) marketing claims. It seems like a ton of the game will be digital, but there isn’t much evidence to suggest that those components exist. Try as we might, they don’t return emails, which is never a good sign.
I’m personally excited by Simulacra. I like the theme. It has a great aesthetic. It looks like there is a cohesive and substantial game. Simulacra also involves a lot of paper, which while less exciting than tangible objects, is a lot easier to produce. We also reached a person behind Simulacra.
We’re planning to review them both.
A crowdfunding policy?
The escape room community is rightfully excited about these big projects. If they live up to their own hype, they will be amazing.
The trouble is that when you back on Kickstarter, you never know what you’re gonna get. The bigger the project, the more opportunities for it to underdeliver or never deliver.
We’d love to say that “unless we can review the product, we can’t write about it.” However, that doesn’t work when there isn’t a product to review yet. Nor is it feasible to rush a review of a game like Simulacra that claims somewhere between 20 and 75 hours of gameplay (depending upon the level you purchase).
With all that in mind, we’re open to suggestions about how you would like to see us handle these things in the future.
Location: at home
Date played: October 8, 2017
Team size: 1-4; we recommend 1-3
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: £19 (+£2.50 Shipping) UK, €22 (+€4 Shipping) Europe, $25 (+$10 Shipping) Worldwide
Story & setup
When a great white shark washed up on the shore of South West England, investigators found several documents inside its stomach. We were called in to help investigate.
The Enigma Files was a play-at-home tabletop puzzle game. Escape Game Enterprises mailed us a collection of paper puzzles. This was about as straightforward as tabletop escape games get.
The Enigma Files contained paper puzzles. We determined which pieces connected to others in order to begin solving the puzzles. These puzzles all had at least two layers to them.
While paper-based, it played in the style of an escape room.
There was minimal setup and it was easy to get rolling. The puzzle structure was straightforward. It soon became clear how these pieces would ultimately fit together, which gave us a finite goal.
The Enigma Files had a clear objective. It was also immediately apparent when we’d solved the game.
Although entirely paper based, the puzzle components interacted in fun ways and solved cleanly. We enjoyed the more involved puzzles.
The puzzles felt well tested.
The Enigma Files was well made, but homemade. It didn’t have the polish of many of the other play-at-home games.
Some of the elements in the box seemed unnecessary. If they were puzzle pieces, we didn’t need them. If they were story elements, we didn’t get that from them.
The solution didn’t mean anything. It didn’t have any bearing on the brief staging. We were left wondering why that was the solution… and for that matter, why the setup mattered at all.
Should I play Escape Game Enterprises’ The Enigma Files?
The Enigma Files was an escape room-style puzzle game to play at home. While the setup and solution weren’t meaningful, the puzzling was clear and satisfying.
Note that you can request hints for The Enigma Files over email. We did not try the hint system and can’t speak to its speed or efficacy. Honestly, this was a mistake on our part.
The Enigma Files was entirely paper-based. It was well made, but not as polished as many other escape room-style play-at-home games.
If you’re just getting into these types of games, there are more exciting ones on the market for less money (consider that this one is shipping from the UK).
If you enjoy this type of hour-long, at-home puzzle game and you’re looking for another one to sink your teeth into, The Enigma Files would be a good choice. You’ll likely enjoy the gameplay.
Buy your copy of Escape Game Enterprises’ The Enigma Files, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Thank you to Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson for sharing their copy with us.
Location: Sylmar, CA
Date played: December 1, 2017
Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3
Duration: 45 minutes
Price: $34 per ticket weekdays, $38 per ticket weekends
Story & setting
The Elevator Shaft was a new Chapter 2 in THE BASEMENT trilogy. This new game completely replaced The Boiler Room.
Following the events of Chapter 1, The Elevator Shaft, like The Boiler Room operated under the pretense that your team failed the first game. You were gassed and your unconscious body was delivered to Edward Tandy’s one of a kind body disposing, Death Star trash compactor elevator shaft.
Tandy did not know, however, that the engineer that he had enslaved to build the elevator had also hidden an override sequence. Could we uncover it and save ourselves?
In keeping with what we’ve come to expect from THE BASEMENT, The Elevator Shaft had a dark, detailed, and badass set. Moreover, The Elevator Shaft environment felt alive. The set was always doing something different… whether you wanted it to or not.
The Elevator Shaft was a horror adventure where the interactions were born of the environment and necessity. It also had the most refined puzzle game of THE BASEMENT trilogy.
The Elevator Shaft had an incredible set. It was detailed and believable, but it wasn’t busy. It worked.
THE BASEMENT created phenomenal and ever-changing practical effects for The Elevator Shaft. These kept us on edge for the entire experience.
The combination of set and effects delivered a true adventure game. It was exhilarating. There were incredible badass moments… both solo and team.
THE BASEMENT installed a couple of serious puzzles within this adventure. These layered, team-effort solves were fair and satisfying.
THE BASEMENT sells 6 tickets to The Elevator Shaft, but it’s a 3-player escape room, 4 tops… unless you have teammates who primarily want to watch. Even with 3 players (which I think is ideal), at certain times The Elevator Shaft bottlenecked when only a single player could truly advance the game. THE BASEMENT should make this a flat-rate, privately booked experience.
While most of the set and props were high quality, one prop looked so fake and party-store-esque that I was shocked to see it in a game from THE BASEMENT. The good news… this could be effortlessly replaced with something more appropriate.
THE BASEMENT fully commits to using electricity as an interaction in their games. I’ve written about this in past reviews and I’m not going to rehash my feelings on electricity once again. The Elevator Shaft had something that made a lot more sense than previous electric interactions. It was perfectly safe in this escape room, but had it been “real life,” under the circumstances we were in, this would have likely killed everyone in the room. Given that THE BASEMENT’s product is effectively horror realism, this turned me off.
It sounded like The Elevator Shaft had a dramatic conclusion around a fail state. The win-state conclusion that we saw, however, was anticlimactic, especially considering the thrill of the whole experience up until that point.
Should I play THE BASEMENT’s The Elevator Shaft?
I was sad when I heard that THE BASEMENT was closing The Boiler Room, as it was hands down my favorite game that the notorious horror escape room company had to offer. I am thrilled to report that The Elevator Shaft isn’t just a worthy successor; it’s a vastly superior one.
The Elevator Shaft was intense and smart. It contained a ton of cool moments. If you win, you’ll feel like a hero. I suspect that if you lose, you’ll really feel like a victim.
If you played and enjoyed The Boiler Room, you should revisit The Elevator Shaft. While you will instantly recognize a few key features, the gameplay, set, and overall experience is improved in all but one way: capacity.
The Boiler Room capped out at 4 players. While The Elevator Shaft has a much larger physical footprint, that physical capacity does not come with enough interactions to keep half a dozen engaged players active for most of the time. With only 3 players, we still had people standing around waiting for substantial periods of time.
If you like horror and are seeking set-born interactions, then you’re in for a treat with The Elevator Shaft. Bring the smallest team you can. Buy out the game if that’s a financially viable option or book at odd hours / last minute in the hopes that no one else will crash your game.
Note that you should wear clothes and shoes that you don’t care that much about to The Elevator Shaft. This goes for all THE BASEMENT’S escape rooms, but especially this one. Your stuff likely won’t be ruined if you don’t heed this warning, but there is some risk.
If you want nothing to do with horror, this clearly won’t be your escape room.
If you’ve never played an escape room, The Elevator Shaft will likely deliver a spanking to you and your team; this was a hard game. It’s winnable, but challenging. You should probably level up your skill before attempting it, or go in looking for a messed up adventure that you won’t “survive.”
Book your hour with THE BASEMENT’s The Elevator Shaft, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: THE BASEMENT provided media discounted tickets for this game.
Damn treasure hunters!
Location: Windsor Locks, CT
Date played: November 12, 2017
Team size: 2-15; we recommend 5-8
Duration: 60 minutes (can be extended for small groups)
Price: $29 per ticket
Story & setting.
We embarked on a treasure hunt for pirate gold. We entered a local cabin where we hoped former treasure hunters had left behind enough clues that we would strike it rich.
Raiders of the Lost Room was based on the true story of Pirate David Marteen who, according to legend, buried treasure nearby in East Granby, Connecticut. The folks from AdventurEscape told us that they had been kicked out of the local historical society for asking questions about the legend. (It seems the historical society gets a lot of wannabe treasure hunters.)
The large gamespace felt vaguely like a cabin with old eclectic furniture and a fireplace.
Raiders of the Lost Room was an old-school escape room. There was a lot to puzzle through. In this non-linear room escape, there was a lot available to work through at any given time.
These puzzles involved search, observation, spatial reasoning, riddling, ciphering, and dexterity.
Raiders of the Lost Room was inspired by local Connecticut lore. AdventurEscape built their escape room on top of an existing treasure hunting legend. This was a great idea.
The puzzles in Raiders of the Lost Room would keep a larger team entertained. For the majority of the game, there were plenty of different puzzles to work on, many of which could engage a couple of people working together.
We enjoyed AdventurEscape’s implementations of more common escape room puzzle types. They added intrigue without tedium.
There were some unusual puzzles in here too; they were generally a good time.
We appreciated one late-game puzzle that relied on different skills and contrasted with the earlier puzzling. It was refreshing and exciting.
While we enjoyed the interaction in this puzzle, it lacked in-game feedback. We continued trying to solve it long after we’d succeeded.
In one instance, Raiders of the Lost Room suffered from a gating problem. One puzzle was open from the first moments of the game and we spent a lot of time approaching it incorrectly before we received enough information to tackle it appropriately.
Raiders of the Lost Room needed polish. AdventurEscape could make interactions more precise, clean up wear, and add more aesthetic flair to the cabin.
Should I play AdventurEscape’s Raiders of the Lost Room?
Raiders of the Lost Room was packed full of fun and challenging puzzles. These were enticing and approachable.
AdventurEscape has continued to iterate and refine Raiders of the Lost Room. While at times this leads to choppiness, it generally means that the clue structure exists if you persist in finding it.
There is a lot of find, as is the nature of most large-team games.
Players of all experience levels can enjoy Raiders of the Lost Room. We recommend that newer players especially bring a larger group and communicate well. For more experienced players who won’t be overwhelmed by the volume of challenges to approach, Raiders of the Lost Room would be a lot to tackle as a small group, but doable.
If you have a large group looking for adventure, we recommend this search for pirate gold.
Book your hour with AdventurEscape’s Raiders of the Lost Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
These don’t suck.
Team size: A 4-ounce package contains 54 bears. Recommended team size… depends on how much you like gummy bears.
Story & setting
Haribo has 5 mystery flavors in their limited edition Gold-Bears Mystery Flavors package.
We love food and we love mysteries… so for better or worse, we’re doing this.
Could we guess the flavors for the following 5 bears: yellow, blue, pink, red, and orange?
With each correct guess, we were entered to win a mystery box of HARIBO® swag and treats. The more correct guesses, the more contest entries. And with stakes like that, who could possibly say no to this challenge?
The packaging and bears looked pretty normal.
The mystery bears looks like regular gummy bears, but in slightly different colors. They had the same feel and consistency. The puzzle was in the flavor.
There was an extra puzzle to tell the difference between the yellow and orange bears.
There are 5 mystery flavors in one package. It’s a fun group solving activity.
If you like gummy bears, you’re going to like these. While these aren’t typical gummy candy flavors, they aren’t the types of flavors that you’d want to keep far from gummy candy.
Once you submit your answers on the Haribo website (given multiple choice options), you’ll receive immediate feedback whether you guessed correctly. This isn’t a brain buster.
The maroon bears were especially enjoyable.
The yellow bear and the orange bear look remarkably similar, but are distinct flavors. If you don’t set up your tasting session under a light source, you’ll be at risk of mixing up the colors.
I haven’t seen the prize, but it sounds lame in comparison to the prize for the Limited Edition Mystery Oreos contest.
Should I eat Haribo Gold-Bears Mystery Flavors?
David and I aren’t huge gummy bear fans. Our candy of choice is always chocolate. However, friends who like gummy bears think that these are pretty delicious.
Back in 2013, I made a gummy bear birthday cake. I dissolved the gummy bears and turned them into frosting. I added gummy bear flavors into the cake batter. This cake was overwhelmingly one flavor. It was a huge hit with the birthday girl, but to me, it just tasted like artificial lime. This is all to say that more variety is a good thing.
I commend Haribo for making palatable and guessable mystery flavors. We didn’t love them all, but they worked.
It’s pretty fun mystery game for a small group and it provides immediate feedback.
If you’re a gummy bear fan, or you can’t resist a mystery, order yourself a package of Haribo Gold-Bears Mystery Flavors.
(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)
It’s been a wonderful and relaxing weekend tabletop games for Room Escape Artist!
Hanukkah starts on Tuesday evening and it’s only 15 more days until Christmas… find great gifts in our Room Escape Lover’s 2017 Holiday Buyer’s Guide!
Featured escape rooms
This week, we had the pleasure of an interview with the Room Escape Divas. Tune in to hear about the craziy adventures we’ve had and some thoughts on where the escape room industry is heading.
SparkFun’s The Prototype HARP was a test of electronics skill and puzzling know-how. It was an odd, fun, and difficult beast to conquer.
From the community
Darren Miller has published another seasonal puzzle hunt style puzzle. The theme? Christmas, of course.
Thank you to Jason Lisnak for submitting this pondering from philosoraptor:
Pantone, the self-proclaimed, and largely followed authority on color has announced its color for 2018… and it’s Ultra Violet.
We adore chatting with the REDivas (Room Escape Divas), so of course, we couldn’t say no to another invitation to appear on their podcast.
In this episode:
We apologize for the poor audio quality… Our microphone threw a tantrum.
0:00 – Parody of “Bear Necessities”
1:00 – The proper pronunciation of our last name
2:15 – WroEsacpe, the Polish Escape Room Conference, and Polish escape games (read more)
18:00 – Escape, Immerse, Explore NYC 2017 (read more)
31:40 – Holiday Buyer’s Guide (see the guide)
35:30 – Golden Lock-In, escape room trends, and interesting things that we’ve seen this year
“Some of these owners are so insane, and us players are going to benefit from it… incredibly.” – David Spira
Polish title: Midnight Killer MK II
Location: Wroclaw, Poland
Date played: October 26, 2017
Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4
Duration: 77 minutes
Price: 160 złoty per group (approximately $45)
Story & setting
A man who went by the pseudonym Midnight Killer was arrested in 2016, convicted of many murders, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The man denied involvement in the killings, but all evidence pointed to him. The slayings have started once again, all following the same pattern established in the Midnight Killer murders. Is this a copycat? Did the killer have an accomplice? Or does he have some means of killing from behind bars? We had to investigate.
Midnight Killer MK II had a large and intricate set; some of it was pretty intense. At the beginning our gamemaster split the team into captives and rescuers. The opening minutes of the escape room differed dramatically for the players depending upon their roles.
The puzzles within Midnight Killer MK II were rooted in the theme and narrative. Some of these puzzles tied in literally; others were more metaphorical.
Piwnica Quest integrated tangible puzzles into the set.
Throughout Midnight Killer MK II, the themed puzzles represented both abstract and literal ideas.
The set design was carefully, deliberately, and cleanly executed.
Piwnica Quest included phenomenal, original illustrations in this escape room. We greatly appreciated this unnecessary detail.
Piwnica Quest implemented technology well in Midnight Killer MK II. The tech interactions facilitated the puzzles. They had purpose.
I’ll never forget one early moment when I looked upon a portion of the set… It was strange, a little messed up, and surprising.
The ending added a lot of depth to the experience. It was as fun as it was unexpected.
The split beginning was too uneven. One group had a lot to do; the other could accomplish almost nothing until the group reunited.
Our gamemaster warned us before the game that a puzzle would “require patience.” They really understated how much patience we needed. This interaction took a silly amount of time.
The ending, cool as it was, went on for one too many interactions. Piwnica Quest added one final completely unnecessary step that killed the momentum of an otherwise brilliant and dramatic finish.
Should I play Piwnica Quest’s Midnight Killer MK II?
I loved Midnight Killer MK II. Piwnica Quest built this escape room with love and care.
The puzzles were designed with intention. The set was built well. The technology was interesting. The escape room was creative. But above all, the Midnight Killer MK II was fun.
I strongly recommend that experienced escape room players visit Midnight Killer MK II. If you haven’t played any escape rooms, play a few so that you can visit Piwnica Quest and truly enjoy Midnight Killer MK II. This escape room was fantastic.
Battle the true enemy: scurvy
Location: Bridgewater, NJ
Date played: November 13, 2017
Team size: 3-8; we recommend 2-5
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $200 per team
Story & setting
We had been taken captive and brought aboard the dread pirate Blackbeard’s ship. It was time to escape.
Escape Room Center’s spacious location inside a strip mall has a corporate and family-friendly aesthetic. Their 6 escape rooms are adjacent to one another, with walls reaching 3/4 of the way to the ceiling. This was a structure that we’ve seen before and hated… However, Escape Room Center makes it work.
Blackbeard’s Brig was a pirate ship-inspired, simply constructed and sparsely decorated gamespace. It was light and airy. It represented a pirate ship, but never pretended to be one.
Blackbeard’s Brig included a selection of nautical- and pirate-themed puzzles. They ranged in complexity and tangibility. There was a lot of puzzle variety.
Blackbeard’s Brig included a few satisfying layered puzzles. These complex interactions were a lot of fun to work through.
The set decor provided a little nudge toward one potentially more challenging solve. It was a subtle touch.
Later in the escape room, a few unexpected props facilitated more interactive puzzling.
Escape Room Center designed some funny puzzle solutions that nodded to our captivity aboard this brig.
The puzzles and props were all thematically connected to the pirate ship setting. Escape Room Center built a particular pirate ship aesthetic for this puzzle game and it worked.
One early puzzle seemed unnecessary. It was likely meant to be an on-ramp for uninitiated room escapers, but it was uninteresting and entirely grounded in “escape room logic” where an item had meaning that was neither logical nor earned.
The wear on one puzzle added unnecessary confusion for a brief while.
Blackbeard’s Brig was a pirate ship-themed puzzle room. We enjoyed the thematic puzzles, but we never suspended our disbelief. While this was Escape Room Center’s deliberate design decision, Blackbeard’s Brig was still escape room first and pirate ship second.
The walls were far too glossy. Had they been matte finished, they wouldn’t have glistened and seemed so out of place.
Should I play Escape Room Center’s Blackbeard’s Brig?
Escape Room Center is a bright, open, and inviting escape room facility. Blackbeard’s Brig had approachable puzzles and unintimidating surroundings. It belonged here.
Blackbeard’s Brig was primarily about the puzzles. These varied in challenge level, puzzle type, and interactiveness, which made this escape room more interesting than it originally appeared.
At Escape Room Center, we weren’t meant to believe we were on a pirate ship. We were meant to share a collection of seafaring solves and a few chuckles. That’s exactly what we did.
Blackbeard’s Brig would be a great choice for new escape room players, families, and corporate groups. This is a wonderful place to learn the basics of escape room puzzling.
This would also be a fun playthrough for more experienced players who prefer puzzles to set design. It won’t be too challenging, but it will probably surprise you. Escape Room Center certainly surprised us a few times.
Book your hour with Escape Room Center’s Blackbeard’s Brig, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Escape Room Center provided media discounted tickets for this game.
If only puzzles became hunts for real treasure.
Author: Eric Berlin
Page Count: 209
Price: ~$8 in paperback
Winston Breen is a teenager who loves puzzles. When he inadvertently gives his sister a birthday gift containing a mysterious puzzle, Winston, his family, and his friends find themselves in the middle of a treasure hunt.
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is written at a middle school reading level.
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is full of puzzles. These are mostly word, number, or spatial puzzles. They are presented on paper and solvable without any additional tools. (At times, however, a writing implement is helpful.)
Some of the puzzles support the narrative. I could solve them alongside Winston and the other characters or continue reading to learn the solutions.
Other standalone puzzles are peppered throughout the book. I could stop and solve them if I felt inclined.
Winston is a likable and relatable character. I was immediately drawn to this puzzle-loving kid. His adventure is fun and entertaining.
The main narrative revolves around solving a puzzle. This puzzle is challenging and engaging. I wanted to solve it almost as much as Winston and the other characters did. In the end, the solution was satisfying.
Berlin interjects standalone puzzles throughout the book. Because they are presented by Winston and the other characters to each other, they feel like they belong. These puzzles are strategically presented at breaks in the action. I never felt that I was creating my own cliff hanger by stopping to solve something,
Some of the standalone puzzles feel like homework. Winston likes any sort of puzzle. I’m a bit more discerning. Sometimes I could see how to solve a puzzle, but I wasn’t interested in going through the motions.
Should I read The Puzzling World of Winston Breen?
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is a fun read.
I particularly recommend it for preteens or teenagers who enjoy puzzles. They will enjoy Winston and solving along with him.
The puzzles can be easily enjoyed as a family. As they popped up, I would occasionally offer them to David too. He could engage in the puzzling with me even though he wasn’t reading the story.
If you just want to solve puzzles, this won’t be for you.
If you’re intrigued by puzzles, but you find that a book of them lacks the context and meaning you need to want to solve them, then The Puzzling World of Winston Breen might be just the story you need to get puzzling.
Order your copy of Eric Berlin’s The Puzzling World of Winston Breen from Amazon using this link, and a small percentage of your purchase will go towards supporting Room Escape Artist.