Cryptogram Puzzle Post [Review]

That art!

Location: at home

Date Played: Spring-Summer 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ minutes

Price: £7.50 per single issue, £20.00 per seasonal (three issues) subscription, £70.00 per annual (twelve issues) subscription. International shipping is available.

REA Reaction

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was an art-and-puzzle hybrid that delivered a story in monthly installments. While it was made of only paper and ink, it never lacked for narrative, aesthetic, or puzzle depth.

Due to its linear nature and lack of self-service hint system, when it stalled, there was no graceful way to make any forward progress. The puzzle content was uneven, but when it was on, it was magical.

We give away or throw away all of the play-at-home games that come our way. I am absolutely keeping everything we’ve received from Cryptogram Puzzle Post. It’s so beautiful that I may frame it all.

The back of one of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post envelopes. Sealed and with the illustration of a letter emerging from an envelope.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Art connoisseurs
  • Occultists
  • Players with at least some puzzle experience

Why play?

  • The illustrations are bonkers
  • Some of the puzzles are fantastic
  • The presentation

Story

This monthly subscription followed the cryptic and epic journey of the mysterious protagonist Anna on her journey thorough witchcraft, alchemy, and the arcane.

Three incredibly intricate and beautifully illustrated Cryptogram Puzzle Post envelopes.

Setup

Each monthly installment told Anna’s tale through:

  • magnificent illustrations
  • a poem to set the tone
  • a musical playlist to establish the mood
  • a bit of prose to present the story
  • puzzles to take us on the journey

Each mailing came in a beautifully illustrated envelope (which was not part of the puzzle) and 8 sheets of paper. The first sheet contained the poem, playlist, and a bit of explanation, none of which played into the puzzle.

From there, we tackled each of the 7 puzzle pages sequentially. The answer from one page fed into the puzzle on the following page until we reached the conclusion of the installment.

The first page of a Cryptogram Puzzle Post laying on an open envelope with a beautiful illustration.

Gameplay

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was an at-home puzzle game with a variable level of difficulty from mailing to mailing and puzzle to puzzle. The challenges ranged from straightforward to complicated.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

The first puzzle page for one month of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post.

Analysis

+ I’m going to keep raving about the illustrations on the envelopes because they are so damn beautiful.

+ When the puzzles flowed, they flowed really well.

– When the puzzles didn’t flow, Cryptogram Puzzle Post ground to a halt.

– There seemed to be no rhyme, reason, or indicator for the difficulty. We would have appreciated a more deliberate difficulty curve.

– While we could request a hint PDF and an answers PDF, Cryptogram Puzzle Post really needed a structured, self-service hint system. When we got really stuck, I had to stop puzzling, look at the PDFs and then essentially gamemaster the experience for Lisa and our friends.

– One month was printed in yellow ink… and it basically made the content invisible. We found ourselves shining a blacklight on the pages to better reveal the content.

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was really creative with the puzzles, especially considering that everything was purely paper and fairly limited in size.

+ I am not much of a poetry person (humorous haiku notwithstanding), but I enjoyed the tone set by the poems at the start of each package. Similarly, the playlists were an unnecessary, but welcome addition.

+ While the components were all paper, we felt good about the price and value of these mailings because they were so beautifully created.

Tips for Playing

  • The paper is thin. Be careful erasing.

Subscribe to Cryptogram Puzzle Post, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cryptogram Puzzle Post sent us a complimentary season of this game.

7-Eleven Mystery Monkeys [Review]

See no evil, hear no evil, taste no evil.

Location: at home

Date Played: June 24, 2018

Price: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

REA Reaction

We had a bag of 7-Eleven’s mystery-flavored monkey gummies at the Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans tour… so a few of us tasted them, for science.

The three flavors ranged from joylessly benign to gross.

Close up of the "see no evil hear no evil speak no evil monkeys" gummi monkeys.

Who is this for?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Why play?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Story

7-Eleven issued a package of red, green, and blue gummies in the shape of  “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkeys.”

The packaging teed it up as a flavor mystery… so we attempted to solve it.

The package of 7-11 Mystery Monkeys gummi candies featuring "see no evil hear no evil speak no evil monkeys."

Setup

The packaging was bland and the monkeys’ colors slightly washed out. Many of them had a distorted shape.

Gameplay

This was a straight flavor mystery without a contest or an obvious means of learning the “correct flavor.”

Analysis

+ When the monkeys weren’t mangled, they were kind of cute. The “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkeys” aesthetic was charming.

– There’s no reason to put these in your mouth. The flavors ranged from neutral to gross.

Spoiler - Flavors

Our group’s consensus on the flavors:

Green – Purgatory (had essentially no flavor at all)

Blue – Blue Gatorade? (some kind of enjoyed, most hated)

Red – Child’s Robitussin (universally reviled)

[collapse]

Thank you to Drew Nelson for carrying these gummies to New Orleans just so we could have another mystery.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 7 [Review]

Sweet victory

Location: at home

Date Played: April 29, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run Box 7 wrapped up the On the Run series. It had some solid puzzles and a satisfying conclusion. Yet again, we were thwarted by a website form inconsistency that soured our experience. Given a bit of distance, we’re pleased with the variety in the series and the story we unraveled through the boxes.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • The conclusion of the saga
  • Chocolate

Story

Dispatch by Breakout concluded in Box 7 with a visit to the land of chocolate and dubious banking: Switzerland. This final chapter closed out the On The Run story arc and resolved all of the major storylines that we had explored over the past seven months.

While this was the end of the line for On The Run, it was not the conclusion of Dispatch by Breakout. A new standalone two-box story follows it.

Chocolate resting atop an envelope from the Bailey Detective Company.

Setup

Our Swiss conclusion to On The Run was loaded similarly to the previous boxes, with a collection of documents and one unusual item: a bar of chocolate.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 7 played similarly to the previous box, opening with a run of puzzles that gave way to a series of game-concluding deductions.

Analysis

+ The puzzles played well.

+ The deductions felt justified, even if some of them seemed like they came crashing back into the story from the setup seven months ago.

– Like the first box, there was yet another Instagram account that felt phoned in.

+ The story of On the Run resolved cleanly.

– I hit yet another snag inputting a name into a web form. This false negative left me spinning for an hour and reevaluating my read on the case, until I gave up and asked a friend who had already finished the box. He pointed out that I had it right all along. The frustration and lost momentum that this caused was unnecessary and killed the otherwise positive mood.

+ The chocolate was a lovely prize for having completed the On The Run gauntlet. The escape room community often debates about what makes for a good prize for winning teams. While I don’t think that a prize is necessary in escape rooms… I wouldn’t mind an industry standard based around chocolate.

A final thought: Overall, On The Run has been a shaky, but generally improving, series of boxes. I’m looking forward to seeing where Breakout takes this series. I hope that they clean up their digital inputs and add a structured self-service hint system. Slack just isn’t cutting it. If they can continue to tell a compelling story and figure out how to make sure that their games don’t needlessly dead-end, then I will keep coming back for more.

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 7.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complimentary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Unlock! – A Noside Story [Review]

Clown around.

Location: at home

Date Played: June 8, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $14.99

REA Reaction

A Noside Story was funny, playful, and chaotic. In this installment of Unlock!, anything could happen. This made the story interesting, but the gameplay confounding. While anything seemed plausible, each puzzle ultimately resolved to a specific, if outlandish, solution. There was a lot to love in this game, but it was entirely too frustrating.

If you love Unlock!, give it a shot. Everyone else can comfortably take a pass on this episode.

Unlock - A Noside Story box features the evil clown holding a ray gun.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Players with at least some experience with the Unlock! series

Why play?

  • Detailed and amusing card art
  • A silly and creative story
  • A handful of good puzzles

Story

A Noside Story was a direct sequel to one of the first Unlock! games, the superhero story Squeek & Sausage. A smoke had covered the town, emanating from notorious Noside’s lair. It was up to us to once again put a stop to this villainous clown’s evil plans.

In-game: The top card of the game deck says "Do not flip over without permission! A Noside Story. Press Start to Start."

Setup

A Noside Story was functionally identical to the first batch of Unlock! games. For a detailed breakdown of the series’ core mechanics, give my review of the original three games a read through:

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

Gameplay

Unlock!’s A Noside Story was an at-home escape room with a high level of difficulty. Much of the difficulty stemmed from the silliness of the story and in-game interactions. Added challenge came from managing the Unlock! game mechanics.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, puzzling, and card management.

In-game: Noside Lair card surrounded by the 6 cards for items found around the lair.

Analysis

+ Unlock! consistently nails illustration. Each game has a distinctive and beautiful look. A Noside Story was no exception.

+ I respect the fantastical elements of A Noside Story. Paper-based tabletop games don’t need to be constrained by physical reality. I appreciate seeing a game explore that idea.

In-game: Three cards one featuring a dog, another Noside's front door, and the last is a cow modified with a funny glass brain helmet.

+/- A Noside Story was funny and playful. It made us do unusual and silly things. While this was entertaining, the silliness produced a lot of logic leaps and scenarios where any solution seemed plausible.

– The hidden penalty cards punished us for being incorrect. This seemed particularly unfair in a game where many correct solutions seemed just as possible as the incorrect ones we’d guessed.

+ There were a handful of great puzzles. One puzzle mixed card play with the app to produce something especially sweet.

A Noside Story was rated a 1 of 3 in difficulty. I’m struggling to tell why it was less difficult than Adventures in Oz. It followed a more typical Unlock! structure, but the logic of this installment was far more challenging.

– One of the hallmarks of the Unlock! series has been the fact that players do not destroy anything in the process of play. In A Noside Story, however, we had to destroy one of the cards to solve a puzzle. It would be possible to solve this puzzle non-destructively, but that wasn’t the intent. Destructable elements can be a lot of fun, but this interaction was a boring and unnecessary deviation from what we’ve come to expect from Unlock!

– The hidden numbers in Unlock! continue to be the bane of this entire play system. It was even worse in A Noside Story because there was a number on a card that was part of a puzzle… but corresponded to another card in the deck. We were not supposed to take the card.

Tips for Playing

  • While the Unlock! series is generally replayable, this particular episode had a destructible component.
  • 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 A Noside Story, 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.)

Exit: The Game – The Polar Station [Review]

Alien on the rocks.

Location: at home

Date Played: May 21, 2018

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $13 to 20 per game

REA Reaction

While we’ve generally enjoyed Exit: The Game’s boxed escape room series, The Polar Station didn’t totally click with us. It had some of the coolest tangible puzzles and it leaned into the destructible nature of the series, but it felt like these puzzles were often missing a bit of clue structure. Because of the gaps in the hint system, we’d have to reach for solutions.

I loved the ideas that Exit: The Game played with in this installment, but I have to recommend their other boxes ahead of this one.

Exit The Game: The Polar Station box held over assorted game components.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • People who are fans of the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • Clever puzzles.
  • Mass component destruction. This Exit: The Game is particularly destructible.
  • Low cost

Story

Our Arctic research lab had gone into lockdown. We had to determine what had triggered the lockdown and escape before our lab became our grave.

Setup

The Polar Station functioned identically to Exit: The Game’s previous installments.

The series is puzzle-focused, with a light touch story, and destructible components.

The components are all paper-based, including decks of cards, printed booklets, and card-stock “strange items.” If you are unfamiliar with the basic operation of this series, check out our review of their first three titles:

Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb [Review]

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Polar Station was a puzzle-driven escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ In Exit: The Game boxed escape rooms, every detail mattered. The Polar Station was no exception.

? We found the puzzles in The Polar Station to be more challenging than in the other installments from Exit: The Game. We struggled to reach a lot of aha moments. Some of these may have been us underperforming. However…

– … Many of the puzzles lacked adequate cluing. We’d be on the right track, but missing a crucial detail that wasn’t really there for us to uncover.

– … This revealed a limitation of Exit: The Game’s 3-tiered hint system. For more complex puzzles, the hints jumped straight from basic observations to the solution. The hints provided all the information we’d already gleaned from the puzzle… and then the solution. Looking back at other games in the series, I think that the more complex puzzles deserve a 4th hint card to help players who have almost solved the puzzle.

– The “strange objects” didn’t really warrant their hype. There wasn’t any reason these components needed to be put on a pedestal.

The Polar Station asked us to think outside the box. Having played the earlier games by Exit: The Game, we saw this coming, but The Polar Station still delivered a satisfying aha moment.

+/- If you’re already a fan of Exit: The Game, then this offered more of the gameplay that we’ve come to expect from the series. If you don’t find the series enjoyable, I don’t think that this new installment will dramatically change your opinion.

Tips for Playing

  • Make sure that you have a pair of scissors handy.
  • More than in other Exit: The Game installments, an X-ACTO knife and cutting surface help a lot. It’s not a requirement, but I highly recommend having them on hand.
  • Do not discard the box or any game materials until after you have finished playing.
  • It isn’t possible to replay this game without going to great lengths to copy and preserve destructible materials. You can do it, but I don’t think it’s worth it, especially for The Polar Station.

Pickup a copy of Exit: The Game’s The Polar Station, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Thames & Kosmos 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.)

PostCurious – The Tale of Ord [Review]

By Odin’s Beard!

Location: at home

Date Played: June 2018

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 1-4

Duration: 3-4 hours per package; we recommend splitting each package into multiple sessions

Price: $165 for a total of 4 monthly packages

REA Reaction

PostCurious’ The Tale of Ord wove an epic tale through interconnected narrative and puzzle components, delivered in a series of four parcels. As The Tale of Ord progressed, the density and challenge grew dramatically. We loved the grand vision in this smart, innovative, and tightly-written saga.

While the depth was impressive, PostCurious occasionally struggled to narrow the focus for puzzle play.

We highly recommend The Tale of Ord to puzzlers who welcome a substantial mystery. It’s a worthy commitment. Don’t try to play this one casually or Loki will have a good laugh at your expense.

A notebook reads, "The key in learning is from your mistakes" beside an assortment of items from the box.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some puzzling experience

Why play?

  • Brilliant, challenging puzzles
  • A well-designed hint and answer verification system
  • Efficient narrative storytelling woven into the components
  • A ton of content

Story

Two professors from the Emerens Institute had gone missing. We’d been hired as private investigators to track them down through their research, writing, and study of Norse mythology. Along the way, we found a deeper, supernatural mystery.

Setup

We had received four monthly packages, filled with letters, documents, and mysterious items.

The vast majority of the components were paper-based and carefully designed. The packages also included a variety of unusual components, which culminated in a remarkably clever puzzle box.

In-game: A keychain, a collection of pills, and an engraved wooden medallion.

Gameplay

PostCurious’ The Tale of Ord was a puzzle-focused, narrative-driven at-home puzzle game with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections and puzzling. Completing The Tale of Ord was an accomplishment.

In-game: A card with a complex knot pattern, on top of an unusual paper maze of some sort.Analysis

+ #$%^ Tale of Ord was tightly written. Seriously. When we reread everything after finishing the game, all was revealed. The level of clarity that we had in our second reading was nuts.

+ PostCurious created a broad array of puzzles with shocking precision. There were more than a few instances where we paused to reflect on how well a puzzle design came together.

+ The clue and game instructions were naturally embedded throughout the various letters and readings provided by PostCurious. This technique inspired our approach to the puzzle that we hid in the Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans Tour.

+Tale of Ord balanced puzzles and story. Pure lore flowed seamlessly into puzzles.

+ The props, whether they were made of paper or something more elaborate, were thoughtfully designed. They felt like they belonged.

? We knew we’d need a computer with an internet connection to play. We hadn’t realized the extent to which a computer would be necessary.

Tale of Ord was framed up as 4 chapters, but it felt more like 8. It would have benefitted from additional natural break points. After we found ourselves burning out from solving each chapter in one sitting, we started creating our own breakpoints. The content was great, but the chunks were too big.

+ The hint system was structured and easy to use. The hints asked us questions before bluntly delivering answers, which we appreciated. This allowed us to earn most of a solve, even when we needed a nudge.

+ PostCurious included an answer verification tool with the hint system. This let us know when we were close or had a correct answer. This was a massive improvement over most of the other mail-delivered games that we’ve played, where we’ve frequently found ourselves unsure of our solutions with no easy method of finding clarity. This was so well done; it should be an industry standard.

– We occasionally struggled with expectations. Initially it seemed like each box was self-contained… until it wasn’t. PostCurious generally did a good job of making it clear when we needed to reference back to past materials, but some of them had us tied up in knots.

– Most chapters had a spot or two where the clue structure felt tenuous and weak. Sometimes the puzzles were especially tough to start; others felt like a stretch to extract a solution. These became particularly frustrating, especially when we were at the tail end of a long session and trying to close out a chapter.

+ Box two cautioned us to “solve it during the daytime.” That instruction was worth heeding. The hint system had a bypass for those who cannot play during the day, but you should know that if you bypass that puzzle, you’re doing Tale of Ord wrong.

+ The list of characters was pretty short. After having played other games that were constantly introducing new characters, this narrative simplicity was a gift from the gods.

+ At its best (which was often), Tale of Ord had beautifully layered puzzles providing elaborate challenges that exceeded what we have come to expect from both escape rooms and subscription puzzle games. Solving these puzzles felt so good.

In-game: a beautiful, intricate laser engraved/ laser cut wooden puzzle box.

+ The final puzzle and its components were beautiful. What a way to close the loop on an epic tale.

Tips for Playing

  • Chapter 2 must be played during the daytime. Curious, right?
  • Keep track of all your work and solutions. You will need to visit some of them again.
  • You’ll need a computer; a smart phone just doesn’t cut it.
  • The Tale of Ord was a serious commitment. Don’t approach it haphazardly.

Order your copy of PostCurious’ The Tale of Ord, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PostCurious sent us a complimentary reviewer’s copy of this game.

 

Brainwright – Cat Stax & Dog Pile [Review]

🐈🐕🐈🐕🐈🐕🐈🐕

Location: anywhere

Date Played: June 2018

Team size: 1

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $12 purr box

REA Reaction

Cat Stax & Dog Pile are adorably themed packing puzzles with a three-dimensional twist. As a puzzler who isn’t particularly skilled at packing puzzles, I enjoyed the difficulty curve and found my skills and approach to this puzzle style improve with practice. Plus, I liked the pieces.

Both games follow the same rules and structure, but each contains unique piece shapes and puzzle layouts. Feel free to pick the box that appeals most to you or buy both.

If I had to pick one, I’d recommend going for Cat Stax. I found it easier to work with the piece shapes and it came with a mapping to show how to put the pieces away.

The Dog Pile & Cat Stax boxes.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Dog & cat people
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Cat Stax & Dog Pile are good packing puzzles with a wide range of difficulty
  • The dog and cat pieces are adorable
  • They offer a lot of puzzle play at a low price point

Story

There’s no story here.

Setup

Cat Stax & Dog Pile are two different flavors of packing puzzle with a 3D twist.

Packing puzzles are spatial puzzles where the solver has a grid and a series of pieces that must be fit within that grid. There isn’t really any complexity in the concept. The challenge is in figuring out how to arrange the pieces correctly.

Each Cat Stax & Dog Pile box contains:

  • 12 dogs or cats
  • 48 puzzle challenges
  • a sealable case that measures 5.1 x 3.3 x 1.5 inches

Note that the animal shapes and puzzles are different between the two versions.

Cat Stax & Dog Pile add a twist to the packing puzzle concept in the form of piling/ stacking. These puzzles begin two dimensionally and eventually give way to mind-bending, interwoven, three-dimensional packing puzzles.

The assortment of Cat Stax cat figures.

Gameplay

Brainwright’s Cat Stax & Dog Pile were fairly standard packing puzzles with a wide range of difficulty levels, from “that was simple” to “I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever solve this.” The harder challenges incorporated the piling/ stacking twist.

Core gameplay revolved exclusively around spatial awareness and experimentation.

Analysis

+ The dog & cat figures were super cute.

+ The unusual shapes lent themselves to challenging puzzles.

+ If you’re good at packing puzzles, the third dimension ramped up the difficulty.

– If you’re not great at packing puzzles, the third dimension ramped up the difficulty.

+ The lid of the box made for a good play area.

– For some reason that was unclear, Dog Pile did not contain an image of the right way to pack the figures away. (Cat Stax did include this.) For reference, this is how to pack away the pups.

The assortment of Dog Pile dog figures.
Dog Pile box arrangement for reference.

Tips for Visiting

  • Double check that you have pulled the right pieces out for each puzzle.
  • If you purchase both, don’t mix up your dogs and cats.

Purchase your copy of Brainwright’s Cat Stax or Dog Pile, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Brainwright provided samples for review.

(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.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 6 [Review]

Return of the Jigsaw

Location: at home

Date Played: April 29, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend  2-4

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run Box 6 was exciting because it started to wrap up the plot threads from previous boxes in the series. Although we were incredibly frustrated by inconsistencies in website forms, we were eager to see resolution start to take shape.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 6 with a jigsaw puzzle, a scroll, and assorted papers from the box.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • The series starts to conclude

Story

The next stop in On The Run’s globetrotting puzzle conspiracy was Greece. On this leg of the journey we tied off a variety of loose ends, drawing ever closer to a complete understanding of the murder mystery that we’d been exploring for half a year.

Setup

In keeping with tradition, On the Run Box 6 contained an assortment of documents and evidence, with two unusual props: a small scroll and a jigsaw puzzle.

A blue and white jigsaw puzzle.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 6 once again deviated from the previous boxes. This episode began with a few traditional puzzles and then shifted its focus to exploring the evidence, deducing, and unraveling the conspiracies that were the impetus for the series.

Analysis

+ The puzzles were clear and well clued.

– I love jigsaw puzzles, but I’m kind of torn on the presence of one in this series. Regardless of whether it belonged, I wish that the jigsaw puzzle was more exciting and aesthetically pleasing as it was a drab puzzle with a lot of visual noise likely to ramp up its difficulty.

– One otherwise fine puzzle suffered from imprecise printing where the font and ink/ paper selection combined to create a situation where it was incredibly difficult to tell + and ÷ symbols apart.

+ I liked the deduction portion of this box. It followed in the footsteps of the closing interactions of the previous box and it finally felt like we were doing detective work.

+ It was fantastic to finally close out some of the storylines and begin to get some closure.

– We had been meeting up with a friend in a convenient Manhattan Panera to work on the previous Dispatch boxes. As of this box, we had too much content to carry around and our friend had to trek over to our home. The On The Run boxes were mostly self-contained, but not entirely, so we felt that we had to have all of the boxes on hand in order to puzzle. This also meant that we were constantly worried that we had missed or forgotten a detail that could have been hidden somewhere among all of the previous content.

– We lost a shocking amount of time because we didn’t include a middle name in a website’s form field. This wasn’t the first time that we’d had the correct answer, but didn’t format it exactly as the website demanded. This had been annoying in the past, but in this instance it was game-shattering. Breakout, please, sort out your naming problems. Upper/ lower case shouldn’t matter. Middle names shouldn’t matter. Or if they do, establish that early and keep things consistent. 

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 6.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complimentary subscription.

(If you purchase via our link, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Exit: The Game – The Forgotten Island [Review]

WILSON!

Location: at home

Date Played: May 26, 2018

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $13 to 20 per game

REA Reaction

The Forgotten Island was a standard Exit: The Game installment. If you’ve played any of the originals, you’ll be familiar with the structure, vibe, and tricks. This particular installment had a number of especially clever puzzles mixed throughout it and a few that felt like they could benefit from additional clue structure and maybe a bit of editing.

If that puts a smile on your face, you should buy it. If you don’t like the series, this one will not change your mind.

The tropical island cover of Exit: The Game's The Forgotten Island.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • People who are fans of the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • Clever puzzles
  • Affordable tabletop gameplay

Story

While we were out sailing, the weather had taken a sudden turn and we’d capsized. We’d washed ashore on a deserted island. As we looked around we realized that everything on this island was locked up… even a boat.

The answer card deck, riddle card deck, a stack of help cards, a strange item, the decoder wheel, and the Forgotten Island journal.

Setup

The Forgotten Island played exactly as did the original three Exit: The Game episodes. I discussed the mechanics of this destructible game in an earlier review. If you’re curious about how this series works, give that one a read:

Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb [Review]

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Forgotten Island was a puzzle-driven at-home escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ There were a lot of excellent puzzles in The Forgotten Island. They played with perspective and space especially well.

+ There was an especially entertaining group sequence. This puzzle on its own would be a good argument for having four players present.

– Being a nautical-themed escape game, there were a lot of map-based puzzles, and we had access to too many similar components at the same time.

– One of the most interesting puzzles suffered from a lack of clue structure.

– The final puzzle was interesting, but too laborious. The ending of The Forgotten Island fizzled while two players plodded through it.

+/- Once again, if you like Exit: The Game, this is a quintessential Exit box. If you love the style, you’ll likely enjoy the puzzles in The Forgotten Island. If you dislike Exit: The Game or you find yourself getting tired of it, this will feel like more of the same gameplay.

Tips for Playing

  • Make sure that you have a pair of scissors handy.
  • Do not discard the box or any game materials until after you have finished playing.
  • It isn’t possible to replay this game without going to great lengths to copy and preserve destructible materials. You can do it, but I don’t think it’s worth it.
  • Play in good lighting. If you need reading glasses, have them available.

Pickup a copy of Exit: The Game’s The Forgotten Island, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Thames & Kosmos 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.)

Unlock! – The Adventures of Oz [Review]

There’s no place like home.

Location: at home

Date Played: May 26, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 90 minutes*

Price: $14.99 per ticket

REA Reaction

Space Cowboys really outdid themselves in The Adventures of Oz, one of the Unlock! series’ latest installments. As implied by the name, this episode took us on the adventures of Dorothy and Toto. It told the story and presented puzzles.

The Adventures of Oz was easily our favorite game in the Unlock! lineup thus far.

This, however, should not be your first Unlock! game. Newbies should learn the ropes in a less complex chapter.

Unlock! The Adventures of Oz box art features Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow waling the Yellow Brick Road.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience with the Unlock! series

Why play?

  • Fantastic storytelling through gameplay
  • Beautiful card art
  • Fun puzzles inspired by and integrated with the story

Story

We weren’t in Kansas anymore. The Adventures of Oz followed the familiar story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; we puzzled our way down the Yellow Brick Road.

Unlock! used the original L. Frank Baum tale as the inspiration for this game, as the original is in the public domain… so expect silver slippers.

The folded map, the first card, and the magic mirror.

Setup

Functionally, the core game mechanics of The Adventures of Oz were identical to the previous Unlock! games that we’ve reviewed. If you want a more thorough description, check out our review of the first three games:

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

That being said, The Adventures of Oz added a few twists.

Character Cards

There were four character cards in The Adventures of Oz, each with its own quest or side-quest.

The Dorothy and Toto character card.

These were persistent cards that lasted all – or most – of the game and should be assigned to different players. (Double- or triple-up character cards if you have fewer players).

World Map

Upon opening the box, we immediately noticed a folded map of Oz. There came a point early in gameplay when we were instructed to unfold it.

Magic Mirror

There was a thick cardboard magic mirror with 4 bits of cardboard that need to be poked out. As with the map and character cards, the game instructed us when to reach for the mirror.

Story Focus

The Adventures of Oz put a heavy focus on narrative gameplay. It told a story rather than recreated the feel of a traditional escape room.

Gameplay

Unlock!’s The Adventures of Oz was an at-home escape room with a high level of difficulty. The puzzle difficulty varied. Added challenge stemmed from managing the Unlock! game mechanics.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, puzzling, and card management.

Analysis

The Adventures of Oz told a well-known story legitimately well.

+ The card art was beautiful. I found myself looking at cards not as a puzzler, but simply for enjoyment.

+ The character cards were a great addition. They had a variety of functions that added new dynamics to Unlock!’s gameplay.

+ The Magic Mirror was an inspired and versatile prop.

– One puzzle had us wandering through the woods to a dubious solution.

+ There were a few puzzles that put an emphasis on teamwork. These were among the highlights for us.

-/+ *While the game box noted that The Adventures of Oz would be a 60-minute game, the timer on the app was for 90 minutes. 90 minutes was a more realistic playtime, which was great since there was a lot of game… but this typo set incorrect expectations. 30 minutes can be a big deal when planning a game night.

The Adventures of Oz would have been brutally challenging to play without having at least one player at the table who was already comfortable with the idiosyncrasies of the Unlock! series.

– Pixel hunting for hidden numbers is an Unlock! standard… and it had a significant presence in The Adventures of Oz.

– It was challenging to keep track of discarded cards. In The Adventures of Oz, the discard icons were smaller than in Unlock!’s previous games (and they weren’t large to begin with), so this was even more challenging. This visual deprioritization made a bad problem worse.

A tutorial card compared with an Oz card. The "discard" icon is noticeably smaller.
The size difference from the tutorial to the actual game is striking and continues to be one of my biggest struggles when playing Unlock!.

– I absolutely hate that the Unlock! hint system offered no explanation of the solutions. Space Cowboys, could y’all see fit to issue an update to your app that fixes this?

+ All in all, this was hands down our favorite Unlock! game and one of our favorite tabletop escape games in general.

Tips for Playing

  • 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 The Adventures of Oz, 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.)