PlayMonster – Break In [Overview]

Layers of Innovation

Location:  at home

Date Played: Fall 2020 & Winter 2021

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 2 hours

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

The Break In series is an innovative feat of engineering; I am surprised that these games exist.

At their most basic level, the games in the Break In series were tabletop escape games where the goal was to break into some exotic location. These games felt like escape rooms where we were breaking into a place, complete with scene changes and an evolving narrative.

Each game began by lifting the lid off of the box. From that point forward literally everything under the lid was part of the game.

The box within was made up of a plastic frame and cardstock panels, and designed to look like a model of the building that we were breaking into.

Break In Alcatraz and Area 51 boxes beside one another with a few game components above them.

As we progressed, the cardstock panels opened like an onion revealing interior settings.

There was an insane amount of creative design and construction in each game… and the biggest surprise was that the boxes opened differently from installment to installment. We held back our original review of Alcatraz until we could play and compare it to a second installment. I’m glad that we did.

Your mileage may vary from game to game on puzzle clarity. There were also some challenges in on-boarding. Overall, however, this was a high quality series with a unique gimmick. It’s remarkably affordable; it feels like it should cost more than it does.

Of the current batch, we felt that Area 51 was a bit stronger than Alcatraz.

Series Installments

Who is this for?

  • Innovation hunters
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Functionally, the game was impressive
  • A new take on answer verification
  • Unique gameplay

Setup & Gameplay

With Break In, the boxes were the game. This series was co-designed by the same folks who created ThinkFun’s Dollhouse, so it should come as no surprise that the game box was used structurally to add physical space to a tabletop escape game.

Upon lifting the box top, we were presented with a hexagonal box with art on the top and sides depicting the game’s exterior location.

Closed Area 51 game

We also found a stack of cards. These contained a mixture of story, puzzle, and hint content. The progression of the game explained which cards to access in which order.

An instruction and story card.

As we solved puzzles, they resolved to a combination of 3 elements:

  • Symbol
  • Number
  • Color

The symbol corresponded to one of many “solution sticks.”

Solution sticks covered in symbols and colored lines.

The number corresponded to one of a few slots in the box into which we could dip the solution stick.

We then used the color that we found to align the solution stick to the correct level.

The detachable corners of the box.

If we did this correctly, we saw a symbol in the tiny window below the slot with a symbol. That new symbol gave us the next card in the aforementioned deck, and we would advance to the next chapter of the game.

Repeat until completion. As we progressed, the game opened up, revealing new sets.

Opened Area 51 game with side panels unfolded.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, reading, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Structurally, the Break In series was genius. It was phenomenal how these games used nearly every inch of the package to build the game environment and create a 3D space to play.

➖ As a series, Break In offered a new type of tabletop escape game with a unique play style (until others start drawing inspiration from it). With newness comes a heavier burden to teach players how to engage with the game. These games needed a softer, more explicit on-ramp to get players comfortable with the structure. We figured it out, but it was more work than it needed to be.

➕ The games in this series focused on conveying narrative through the puzzles, environment, and cards. Since we progressed through different physical sets within the game, this also allowed for a solid 3-act story arc.

➖ The hint system within Break In existed within the game’s card decks. While it can help players through the game, it would benefit from additional granularity on some of the more challenging puzzles.

➕ Getting a wrong answer cleverly drives you towards a hint.

❓ There were a lot of cards to juggle at any given point within the game, especially when factoring in the hint cards.

Everything about these games felt more elaborate than it actually was. The game environments were mostly cardstock with detailed imagery. They were accentuated by occasional tangible props and interactions. For the most part, these felt deliberate and smart, and added to the world.

➕ For $20 per game, there was a lot of value packed into each Break In game.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: a pen and scrap paper

Buy Them Now

Buy your copies of Break In, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PlayMonster provided samples for review.

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