Unlock! – Tombstone Express [Review]

Off the rails.

Location: at home

Date Played: August 4, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $14.99

REA Reaction

Unlock! is branching out and experimenting with the tabletop escape game format. In their most recent batch, this has had mixed results ranging from the fantastic Adventures of Oz to the interesting yet confounding Noside StoryTombstone Express took even more risks and pushed the boundaries of what Unlock! can offer… and it went off the rails.

The puzzling was weak and infrequent. We had access to so many cards at once that it was tough to have any idea of what was going on, let alone what was important.

The creators of Unlock! were playing with a lot of interesting ideas, but they didn’t come together cohesively. Play Tombstone Express because it’s experimental and unusual. If that doesn’t interest you, then you can comfortably skip this episode in the series.

Unlock! Tombstone Express's box, with a beautiful locomotive in an old west scene.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • People who are open to experimental narrative tabletop gaming
  • Players who really love the Unlock! series
  • Best for players with at least some experience with the Unlock! series

Why play?

  • Narrative-driven gameplay
  • It’s different and unique

Story

The year was 1890 and we had to protect a US marshal bearing a precious gem that could seal a peace treaty with the Apache nation. Our train was an hour away from our destination in Tombstone, Arizona.

In-game: An intro card explaiing the story, two decks of cards, 6 card stock bullets, and 5 bits of gray card stock.

Setup

The basic game mechanics of Tombstone Express were functionally identical to the earlier Unlock! games that we reviewed. Those mechanics are described in detail in our earlier review:

Unlock! Escape Adventure – The Formula, The Island of Doctor Goorse, and Squeek & Sausage [Review]

The key difference in Tombstone Express was that it focused heavily on narrative, with the app time-releasing events, and the core game mechanics being used more to facilitate narrative than puzzle play.

Gameplay

Unlock!’s Tombstone Express was an unusual tabletop escape room with a high level of difficulty. Much of the challenge stemmed from wrangling all of the Unlock! rules along with the massive number of active cards.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, managing cards, and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The folks behind Unlock! have made an interesting decision to morph the series away from pure escape room style play and use the series to tell stories.

Tombstone Express put an interesting spin on the red card + blue card game mechanic.

– Tombstone Express rapidly descended into madness. We quickly reached a point where we had more than 20 cards in play, which was paralyzing. There was too much going on.

– With so many cards in play, the Unlock! hint system, which wasn’t amazing under the best of conditions, became almost useless. It turned into a guessing game as to which cards were even relevant to take a hint on.

– As Unlock! introduces more features, I wish that they would do a better job of setting expectations and explaining new ideas in the intro or tutorial. Their old tutorial doesn’t cut it for the newer, more narrative-driven games.

– Unlock!’s penalty system continued to feel random and punitive.

+ Using the app to time-release events was a creative twist that made the software feel relevant and important.

A desperado card with a card stock base knocked over by a card stock bullet.
We had to stand these desperado cards up with a little base and throw paper bullets at them to knock them over.

– Some of these time released events were annoying time wasters… and the bullet game mechanic was pretty lame.

– There weren’t many puzzles; the puzzles that were present were weak.

+ Case-solving was a nifty endgame.

– Deriving the correct solution wasn’t necessarily a given. We only got one guess. If we screwed up, we automatically failed, ending the game immediately. There was no way to see the correct solution or the proper case deduction without replaying the entire game. It was a pretty sour ending.

+ Tombstone Express had beautiful card art.

Tips for Visiting

  • Inspect everything for hidden numbers.
  • Be sure to keep a close eye on which cards are in play and which cards should be discarded. A single lapse in this can wreak some havoc.

Pickup a copy of Unlock!’s Tombstone Express, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Asmodee sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy of this game.

(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.)

2 thoughts on “Unlock! – Tombstone Express [Review]

  1. We played this and completely agree with you. At our escape room, we offer a few of the Unlock games for sale, but would never sell this one because we felt it was a mess and just plain tedious and overwhelming to play.

    1. I think that’s a good idea. This was the roughest of all of the Unlock games that we’ve played thus far. It’s a shame because there were some fun concepts.

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