Puzzle Out – Downtown Countdown [Review]

Puzzle Hard with a Vengeance

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Date played: August 11, 2017

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

Downtown Countdown took us on a 2.5 mile walk through downtown Jersey City on a quest to disarm a bomb. Downtown Countdown was part scavenger hunt and part puzzle game.

Puzzle Out’s neighborhood of Jersey City was a fun area for a walking tour. We visited historic buildings, passed numerous restaurants and shops, and of course, took in the gorgeous waterfront view of New York City.

A beautiful image of a WWI memorial, a soldier bayonetted, the Freedom Tower and Lower Manhattan in the background.
It’s a strange WWI memorial, but it made for a dramatic picture.

Downtown Countdown relied on the ClueKeeper smartphone app, designed for location-based clue hunts, to track our progress. While much of game was tracked in the app, Puzzle Out also provided us with a binder of useful information that was also integral to the gameplay. Downtown Countdown culminated in a physical escape room-esque finale.

In-game: The start screen for accessing Downtown Countdown within the ClueKeeper app.

Puzzles

Downtown Countdown started as a scavenger hunt where we simply had to puzzle out our next location. As the game progressed, the puzzles became increasingly complex. In addition to location, we solved for answers that earned us points in the app.

The puzzles relied heavily on observation as well as basic word and number skills.

Standouts

Puzzle Out’s neighborhood was ideal for an outdoor puzzle hunt. We learned quite a bit about historic Jersey City. We played on a beautiful summer evening and the view of the city was spectacular.

We enjoyed how the later puzzles combined observation and calculation.

ClueKeeper was a great choice. It’s a well-designed and time-tested app created exactly for this type of game.

In-game: The game introduction, a note from the villain Simon explaining that he has planted a bomb and that we need to follow his directions.

Downtown Countdown culminated in a tangible escape room-like series of activities that required teamwork and communication. It was well designed to instill a sense of urgency. This was an exciting way to end the game.

Shortcomings

The difficulty curve of the puzzling seemed off. At first there were barely any puzzles. Then without warning, around the midpoint, the puzzles became pretty involved. In one instance, we thought additional clue structure would have been helpful.

At times, ClueKeeper was a little finicky about exact location. We couldn’t get it to register that we’d arrived at the final puzzle.

We would have loved to visit more of the businesses in downtown Jersey City. The almost entirely outdoor game seems like a missed opportunity for community building and cross marketing.

Some of ClueKeeper’s most interesting functionality was not used at all in Downtown Countdown. The app’s augmented reality feature works really well and could have improved this game.

Should I play Puzzle Out’s Downtown Countdown?

We enjoyed how Downtown Countdown merged a walking tour with a puzzle game. The puzzles weren’t too challenging, but they were enjoyable. It was a fun way to look at and learn about Jersey City.

We played Downtown Countdown on a warm evening with clear skies. Downtown Countdown took place almost entirely outdoors. If it had been cold or rainy, I don’t think this experience would have been quite as enjoyable. That said, I suppose we might have moved more quickly and thereby scored higher.

Over the course of Downtown Countdown, we walked 2.5 miles through city streets in a busy area. We needed to move swiftly, but also pay attention to traffic.

You don’t need to be a local to enjoy the game. You do, however, need to know how to read a map or follow instructions in the app.

It might appear that you could play Downtown Countdown entirely on the app, but take notes in the binder. Trust us, you’ll want the notes.

Happy puzzling and take a moment to enjoy the view along the waterfront.

Book your session with Puzzle Out’s Downtown Countdown, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Puzzle Out comped our tickets for this game.

 

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