Enigma Emporium – Carte Rouge [Review]

Loaded Deck

Location:  at home

Date Played: Summer 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: 8-12 hours

Price: $25

Publisher: The Enigma Emporium

REA Reaction

We’re big fans of Enigma Emporium’s postcard-based puzzles… so we were eager to dig into their larger, more elaborate, and beautiful deck of puzzle cards.

We ciphered through the cards in two extended sessions and found the experience mixed.

The Carte Rouge deck.

We loved the concept, the art, and a lot of the early puzzles… but as the mystery pressed on, it got repetitive. Then it got really repetitive.

Overall, Enigma Emporium absolutely delivered when it came to production value. From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to love and we’re happy that we played through it. At the same time, it’s hard to keep ourselves from imagining other things that could have been done with such a gorgeous deck of puzzle cards.

If you’re into cipher-play and have the patience to buckle up for a 6 – 12 hour mystery, then Carte Rouge is worth exploring.

Who is this for?

  • Code breakers
  • Story seekers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Beautiful card art and high production value
  • An interesting story hidden behind ciphered messages
  • You enjoy progressive discovery

Story

A mysterious and strange deck of cards had arrived in the mail. A note was included asking us to investigate its origins and purpose.

The King and Queen of Hearts from Carte Rouge. Both have clearly have ciphered messages around the boarders and on their clothes.

Setup

Carte Rouge was an actual deck of 52 cards plus a pair of jokers. Embedded in the card art (particularly the face cards) we found hidden messages and puzzles.

They were printed on quality card stock. If one wished to purchase this deck and use it exclusively to play card games, that would be a viable option.

The cardback from Carte Rouge.

The art itself looked fantastic. Enigma Emporium managed to maintain that classic card art, while hiding loads of messages.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge was a play-at-home escape game with a high level of difficulty relative to most tabletop escape games.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, deciphering, making connections, and keeping organized.

The Jokers from Carte Rouge are covered in intricate ciphers.

Analysis

➕ We were captivated by the puzzle-in-playing-cards concept. This setup also facilitated collaborative gameplay. We could spread the cards out among players and work through the puzzles as a team.

➕ The cards were beautiful and intricate. They looked and felt like the real deal. The artwork was exquisite.

❓ The puzzling in Carte Rouge was almost entirely deciphering. If you enjoy ciphers, this is your tabletop game; it’s great. If you don’t want to solve ciphers and translate passages, this will not be for you.

➕ Our favorite ciphers were clued brilliantly by other patterns. For us, these ciphers were the pinnacle of the gameplay in Carte Rouge. Most of them appeared earlier in the experience.

➖ Much of the ciphering resolved to narrative embellishments, but didn’t advance the plot of the game. We translated brutally long passages, working through them long after the aha moment. In the end, a lot of it was flavor. This got repetitive.

➖ Multiple puzzles used the same cipher. Once we’d worked out that particular system, we had to work through a number of different instances. This was repetitive and seemed like a missed opportunity.

➖ While sometimes the ciphers were subtly clued in the artwork, other times they weren’t clued it all (as far as we could tell). As we played, we found that there were limited encipherment options. We’d just hack at different possibilities until a passage resolved to something meaningful.

➕ Enigma Emporium crammed a lot of game into only a little space. This was impressive. They fit an incredible amount of information into a card.

The 2, 3, & 4 of Clubs from Carte Rouge. They look normal except for an "R" printed in the middle of the 2.

➖ The deck of cards itself felt like a missed opportunity. We were anticipating mechanics involving magic, placement, math, poker hands… really anything that one does with a deck of cards. Yet, it didn’t matter how these cards were held or arranged. In fact, there was little interaction between the cards at all. Additionally, most of the cards were barely used. The gameplay revolved around only a small portion of the deck and we didn’t need to do much beyond regard and rotate.

➖ The hint system lacked sufficient granularity. We’d be hinted at the same thing repeatedly and then be provided the answer. Furthermore, the hints for some key puzzles were buried in the sequence of hints for the final puzzles. In an effort not to spoil later puzzles for ourselves, we didn’t find them until well after we needed them.

➖ All these ciphers begged for an interesting extraction, hidden within the cards. Instead, the game resolved with a narrative quiz of sorts. This felt out of character with the rest of the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Required supplies: a small table, an internet-connected device, paper and pencil
  • While you don’t need a laptop, we found keeping track of solutions in a spreadsheet to be helpful.
  • If your reading vision isn’t great, you’re going to want a good magnifying glass.

Buy your copy of Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review. 

Cain’s Jawbone: A Novel Problem [Reaction]

This is a true story

“In 1934, The Observer’s crossword writer, Edward Powys Mathers, wrote a unique novel Cain’s Jawbone. The title, referring to the first recorded murder weapon, was written under his pen name Torquemada. The story was not only a murder mystery but one of the hardest and most beguiling word puzzles ever published.”

Cain’s Jawbone was a 100 page novel/ puzzle presented in loose-leaf. The book had no binding, the pages were simply stacked. The goal was to deduce the proper order of the pages… and there were 32,000,000 possible permutations of the pages.

The box art for Cain's Jawbone depicts a library with a deadman on the floor and a person in the shadows outside of the window.

Back when it was originally released, only 2 people were confirmed to have solved the puzzle. The solution, however, was never made public.

Crowdfunding A Recreation

In 2017, a crowdfunding project was launched to reproduce Cain’s Jawbone.

Along with 826 other people, I backed it. It took a few years, but it exists now.

Cain's Jawbone's box open, it contains a stack of individual book pages.

Solving Cain’s Jawbone

I’ve spent a bit of time rummaging through Cain’s Jawbone without any serious solving intent. It’s a whole lot of puzzle. It would require a level of time commitment and intensity that I simply do not have. I knew this when I backed it… My contribution was because I liked the idea of this puzzle existing.

Maybe one day in retirement I’ll find the time to solve something this deep; I mean that without a hint of hyperbole.

Cain's Jawbone open and the loose pages removed.

Reaction

Since I cannot review this product, I am going to share a few observations to help you decide if you want to buy this puzzle.

It’s from the early 1930s and that comes with a two big implications:

  • There are a lot of antiquated references that I suspect you’ll have to research if you want to solve the puzzle.
  • It uses phrases that are generally deemed offensive today.

On that note – yes – Edward Powys Mathers’ use of the moniker “Torquemada,” presumably in reference to the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, seems a strange choice almost a century later. One might call it unexpected.

Solving Cain’s Jawbone is going to require a hefty mix of obsession, time, and organization. I love that it exists, it’s fun to peruse, and I like having it on my shelf staring at me and me thinking, “maybe one day…” but that I’ll likely never solve it.

Loose pages of Cain's Jawbone.

If this sounds like the kind of challenge or conversation piece that you’d like to own, buy a copy of Cain’s Jawbone while you can.

Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror [Review]

Break from tradition

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 9, 2019

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 2-4 hours

Price: $24.95

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos

REA Reaction

Lisa and I are fans of Exit: The Game – fans who have really wanted them to break from their patterns and put a new twist or two on their games. We’re also fans who have wanted them to release fewer games of higher quality… and we got our wish.

Exit: The Game Catacombs of Horror box art featuring a skull, and lit candle.

The Catacombs of Horror was an oversized 2-part game with one long narrative. Within it, Exit: The Game embedded many strong story-driving puzzles and a phenomenal final puzzle sequence. Best of all, they broke away from many of their most notorious clichés without breaking from their tried and true game system.

Of note, they dramatically reduced the focus of an in-game journal, making it far easier for a group of 4 people to comfortably enjoy collaboratively puzzling.

There was still room for improvement, particularly when it came to a few puzzles that yanked us out of the game world.

Overall, The Catacombs of Horror represented a massive quality jump for the series.

If you’re brand new to the series, I still recommend The Sunken Treasure as a strong on-boarding game. If you’re comfortable with Exit: The Game’s system, then The Catacombs of Horror is a must-play.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Occultists
  • Best for players with at least some experience playing the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • This was a noticeably stronger product than previous Exit: The Game installments
  • Many of the puzzles integrated well into the narrative
  • The Catacombs of Horror was a 2-part experience and crammed a ton of value into both halves
  • The final puzzle was 🔥

Story

After a friend had disappeared in the catacombs beneath Paris, we’d ventured into the grim maze to try to find him.

In-game: printed sign reads, "STOP: Do not open this box until you have solved the hourglass riddle."

Setup

The Catacombs of Horror was structurally identical to other Exit: The Game products that we’ve reviewed with one significant exception: scale.

This particular edition was a beefy double-sized game with one cohesive story. There was a midpoint that allowed us to stop. It even justified the break in the narrative.

In-game: An assortment of card decks, paper props, a tea candle, and multicolored skulls.

I did a more through breakdown of how the Exit: The Game system works in my first review from oh so long ago:

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Catacombs of Horror was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: green, white, and red skulls.

Analysis

➕ With The Catacombs of Horror, Exit: The Game broke their patterns in many ways. The most obvious one was the length of the game. The amount of content felt right for a casual evening puzzle game with friends. It even included a narrative-justified break point. The content also matched the price point.

➕ The journal – a mainstay from Exit: The Game – showed up much later. The result was that the journal was less restrictive. The game felt a lot more accessible.

➕ Exit: The Game introduced many novel puzzle concepts. These were unexpected and enjoyable.

➖ A few of the puzzles removed us from the world of the game. Although we enjoyed these puzzles, we didn’t think they made sense in The Catacombs of Horror, because the game went so far out of its way to keep us in the game world.

➖ One puzzle had this weird preschool aesthetic that didn’t match the rest of the game… it was jarringly different.

The Catacombs of Horror was packed with “aha” moments.

➕ With a longer game, there was time to follow the breadcrumbs as we played and piece things together later. These were satisfying solves.

➕ The final puzzle was climactic and about as immersive as we’ve seen from a play-at-home escape room. It was worth chewing on and we felt we earned our win.

➖ Exit: The Game (and really all of the tabletop escape game market) made a big deal out of the game timer. I think that this time system does the game a disservice. We went way over… mostly because we were enjoying the company of our friends as we played. It just didn’t matter. These games can only be played once. Savor the experience over whatever time you and your group want.

➕ There was an interesting non-time-related lose condition in The Catacombs of Horror. This was way more interesting than watching a clock.

Tips For Playing

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, scissors, matches
  • This shouldn’t be your first game from Exit: The Game. Please play one of their shorter episodes first.

Buy your copy of Exit: The Game’s The Catacombs of Horror, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Thames & Kosmos provided a sample 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. We appreciate the support.)

Mystery Oreo – 2019 [Review]

Mystery Flavor Oreos II: The Stuffing Strikes Back

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 17, 2019

Price: $10.50 online

Publisher: Nabisco

REA Reaction

They’re back… The flavor mystery that got us into reviewing flavor mysteries has returned! This year’s mystery is more enjoyable.

The bright white Mystery Oreo packaging with a question mark dotted with an oreo.

By more enjoyable, I don’t mean amazing. I mean, they’re edible and we might make it through the entire package… instead of pranking our friends with them like we did back in 2017.

This time around I’m feeling confident that I know what the flavor is – and you can find that hidden behind a spoiler box down in the “Analysis” section.

I’m comfortable recommending these Oreos as a mystery flavor worth exploring. They’re weird. I wouldn’t buy them regularly. But dammit… it’s interesting and baffling that Oreo manages to make the cream white.

We published a hot-taste video for our Patreon supporters last night. Back us on Patreon for more oddities like this one. A little support goes a long way.

Who is this for?

  • Adventurous Oreo lovers
  • Mystery flavor detectives

Why play?

  • The flavor is interesting and kind of good

Story & Setup

The folks at Nabisco have decided once again to sell us a new Oreo flavor mystery.

Back in 2017, they ran a Mystery Flavor Oreo… and, oh boy, did we hate that one. The good news is: this year’s mystery tastes way better.

Closeup of lines of oreos in the packaging.

From now through November 10, 2019, anyone can submit a guess and enter for a chance to win $50,000.

Setup

Once again, the Oreos look just like regular Oreos. The coloration of the white cream gave nothing away (which is kind of a creepy miracle of science in its own right.)

Closeup of a whole oreo on a plate.

The packaging was also elegant and eye-catching. Having bought ours off the shelf at our local grocery store, that packaging jumps right off the shelf.

Gameplay

Things are pretty simple. You eat the cookie and guess the flavor.

If you want to get fancy, twist open the cookie and guess the flavor (which kind of helps because the cream is the mystery.) The chocolate cookie part was traditional.

Closeup of a half eaten oreo on a plate.

Analysis

➕ The cookie didn’t suck and it evoked a strong sense of nostalgia. That nostalgia wasn’t for Oreos, but for a different Nabisco product line.

➖ These Mystery Flavor Oreos were entirely too sweet for us to have more than a cookie or two.

Spoiler: What did it taste like?

Graham cracker and cinnamon. More specifically… I’m betting on Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

[collapse]

Mystery OREO’s website has started posting hints. The only hint currently visible is super cryptic… but if my flavor guess is correct, then I think that I get it. Kind of. Maybe? I’m still happy to see anything resembling hints.

➕ Once again, the packaging was lovely. The agency and brand managers behind this product line have good aesthetic taste. It’s tough to design bold packaging that doesn’t look like it was designed by a 5-year-old who just got an extra big box of crayons with all of the colors!

Buy your copy of Nabisco’s 2019 Mystery OREO, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(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. We appreciate the support.)

Escape Room in a Box – Flashback [Review]

Cameo

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 27, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $20.99

Publisher: Mattel

Disclaimer

I’m going to open by being especially up front. We know the creators of Escape Room in a Box very well.

There’s a mutual respect and friendship that we need to be clear about. David has collaborated with the women behind this product on a television pilot… and there’s enough affection in this friendship that Juliana and Ariel named the main character of Flashback Dr. Lisa David.

No one is hiding anything.

We wrote as honest a review as we would for anyone else, but if you’d like to disregard our thoughts on this product, feel free to stop reading now.

REA Reaction

Mainstream, mass-produced tabletop escape games are almost exclusively made from paper; Escape Room in a Box is the exception.

We were big fans of Escape Room in a Box’s The Werewolf Experiment and we’re huge fans of Flashback. Anyone can open this box and just play it. There aren’t laborious rules, quirky apps, or unusual nuances to understand. That’s how escape rooms are supposed to work.

The weakest points in this game were two of the puzzles that felt like they needed a little more work. One lacked precision; the other required lighting conditions that won’t always be present. Neither of these broke the game in a significant way.

From the writing, to the art, to the puzzles, Flashback demonstrated that Escape Room in a Box wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. These are still two of the strongest, most escape room-y tabletop games on the market.

Whether you’re new to the genre or you play them all, we recommend Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles that are far more tactile than most tabletop escape games
  • A cute story and strong writing

Story

We’d received an urgent letter from Dr. Lisa David warning us that we were in grave danger. One of her friends had descended into madness and was coming after us.

We had to delve into her past in order to determine what was wrong and remedy the situation.

Setup

Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback was a natural successor to The Werewolf Experiment. The game was loaded with tangible components and played like a real life escape room. We opened the box and the progression of play was self-evident.

There were minimal rules and no software to futz with.

Flashback was structured in three 30-minute segments (blue, red, and purple). They could be solved in any order or in parallel; each stood on its own as a unique path. For reference, we completed all 3 paths in about 45 minutes.

Gameplay

Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The folks at Escape Room in Box write their games in a playful, entertaining voice. They leaned into this with Flashback, delivering an adorable story through fun and relatable banter.

➕ Flashback relied heavily on tangible props, more so than the majority of boxed escape rooms. One of these interactions will likely stop some players cold (rest assured, it was well clued). In this way, Flashback felt more like an escape room than many of the play-at-home games in this style.

➕ The colored puzzle tracks were clear. We could play them sequentially or simultaneously, and we never felt lost. We enjoyed how the tracks were themed by puzzle type, which was grounded in the narrative. The gameplay worked well.

➕ The game looked and felt polished. We appreciated the quality paper materials. The art looked great, especially in the purple track.

➖ While some of the artwork was adorable, it didn’t carry throughout all of the puzzle tracks. More memorable art throughout the game would have further supported the narrative.

➖ A few of the puzzles lacked precision. In one instance, the prop didn’t match its cluing quite closely enough. In another instance, we didn’t have the environment that the puzzle demanded or enough direction as to how to create it. These puzzles felt unrefined.

➕ With Flashback, Escape Room in a Box integrated the narrative and puzzles more closely than in their original game, which was a delight.

➕ The hint system was easy to use, self-service, and comprehensive.

Flashback was easier than many of the play-at-home escape rooms on the market. This will be a quick playthrough for experienced puzzlers, though no less fun because of it. If you’re looking for meaty puzzles, however, look elsewhere. Flashback would be a great choice for beginners and families.

➕ At $20, the value of this game is insane relative to other similar products made entirely of paper.

😏 Objectively speaking, Doctor Lisa David was a most excellent character name.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, access to a kitchen
  • I would recommend playing the puzzle tracks sequentially. There’s no real reason to rush though this game. Savor it.

Buy your copy of Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mattel provided a sample 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. We appreciate the support.)

Yoda Games – Pharaoh’s Revenge [Review]

“Do… or do not.”

Location:  at home

Date Played:  July 30, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Price: $24.99

Publisher: Yoda Games

REA Reaction

Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge was fairly standard tabletop escape game written in both English and German.

The puzzles played cleanly and offered a bit of challenge. That said, the hint system was annoying to use and there weren’t any truly special or memorable puzzles that stuck with us after playing the game.

The German & English cover for "Pharoah's Revenge an Escape Room @ Home"

The bottom-line on this: I’d be surprised to encounter many players who think it’s their favorite tabletop puzzle game, but I’d be equally surprised to find an experienced tabletop puzzler who thinks it’s abysmal.

If you’re a fan of tabletop escape games, Pharaoh’s Revenge is a solid choice.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • You like puzzling
  • An interesting answer verification mechanism

Story

We’d discovered a new ancient tomb in Egypt. Along with the burial site and treasure… we’d also found a brand new curse! We had to solve the Pharaoh’s puzzle in order to spare our lives from his trap.

Setup

We began by cutting out 5 colored strips of card stock, each a different length; these were used to input and verify solutions.

In-game: an introductory letter on a sealed envelope, a piece of acetate, a dry erase marker, and a small piece of cardboard with 5 different size/color bars on it.

The materials within Pharaoh’s Revenge were double-sided with English and German language components.

The game was a fairly typical tabletop escape game consisting of mostly paper components sealed within envelopes filled largely with paper components.

The most unusual component was a sheet of acetate and a dry erase marker that was critical to some of the puzzle solves.

Gameplay

Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The game could be played in either English or German. We played in English; it played cleanly. All written puzzles were double-sided, German on one side, English on the other. This worked well.

➕ The answer verification system was simple, nifty, and unique.

➕ The puzzles were solid and offered enough challenge.

➖ There weren’t any really special, memorable interactions.

➖ The hint system was less than stellar. Yoda Games built their hint system into a website and required us to navigate to specific URLs in the instruction booklet for each individual hint. The hint website had no navigation whatsoever.

➕/➖ Pharaoh’s Revenge could be repackaged for another playthough by a different group, but we couldn’t find instructions for said repackaging. We would have had to keep track of that information from the beginning, but we didn’t know to do that up front.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: scissor, pencil, and paper

Buy your copy of Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Yoda Games provided a sample 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. We appreciate the support.)

Argyx Games – Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross [Review]

A shadow…

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 18, 2019

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

Duration: 2-4 hours

Price: $55.70

REA Reaction

We backed Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross on Kickstarter after playing and reviewing the Prelude to Apocalypse a year ago. Our play through of Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross confirmed our growing suspicion not to promote a Kickstarter without playing the game itself. Although we liked Prelude, the full game fell flat.

Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross had solid creative direction, an interesting premise, and one or two fantastic puzzle concepts. It was burdened, however, with repetitious and tedious gameplay.

We can’t really recommend Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross at this point unless you’re super into puzzle/ crime thrillers and are willing to push through the gameplay. Finally, we apologize to those who backed it based on our enjoyment of the demo.

The opened box for Apocalypse. A letter is addressed to Lisa.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • An intriguing aesthetic
  • Some interesting puzzles

Story

A serial killer who goes by the name “Abaddon,” a reference to the Angel of Death from the Bible, had sent us a care package filled with encoded evidence of his crimes and a challenge: learn his secrets and stop him before he killed again.

A wooden lockbox, with a bloodied lock beside a bible and a notebook.

Setup

We received a package with a bloodied lock box, Bible passages, and other documents. We had to puzzle through them in order to follow the narrative and crack the case.

Gameplay

Argyx Games’ Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross was a play-at-home detective game that blended escape room-style solves into a light puzzle hunt.

It had a high level of difficulty relative to most play-at-home escape rooms.

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

The box for Apocalypse Sign of the Cross.

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed the tangible puzzle components. The props – paper and otherwise – looked good.

➕ Argyx Games designed a mystery with an artsy, haunting vibe. The branding was on point.

➕ Argyx Games incorporated some classic escape room play into a boxed game. This led to a wonderful aha moment.

➕/ ➖ The web-based hint system worked pretty well. It was granular. It also showed the flow of the game so that we wouldn’t take hints we weren’t ready for. We would have liked it to include more description of how to derive a solution, once we’d walked through the hints to the end of a puzzle path.

Apocalypse demanded an obnoxious level of precision. This was especially frustrating when we practically needed a magnifying glass to work with the props.

➖ Many of the puzzles felt similar in style. We spent a lot of time reading and searching.

➖ The final puzzle was a let-down. It was a fantastic concept, but it asked us to make a lot of leaps. David finally solved it, hacking away with a bit too much persistence. At that point the rest of the group had checked out.

➖ I clicked a link which called an international phone number. Then I received a text from Verizon telling me I’d been charged for that call. This was inexcusable. While Argyx Games did provide an alternative way to get the necessary information, we didn’t know that at the time I made the call. It wasn’t until we looked at the puzzle’s hints that we found out this charge could have been avoided.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: paper and pencil, an internet-connected device (preferably a computer over a phone)
  • For North Americans: when the game wants you to make an international phone call, don’t. Check the hints for that puzzle instead.

Buy your copy of Argyx Games’ Apocalypse: Sign of the Cross, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle [Review]

Crossword Puzzle Puzzle

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 30, 2019

Team size: we recommend 3-5

Size: 550-piece jigsaw

Price: $18

Publisher: Babalu Inc

REA Reaction

The Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle was exactly what the name suggests: a jigsaw puzzle made from a crossword grid. It played out in two distinct phases:

  • Solve the crossword puzzle
  • Assemble the jigsaw puzzle using the crossword puzzle as a guide

As a crossword, it was solid and approachable. It wasn’t too easy or particularly difficult; there wasn’t anything wrong with it.

Loose jigsaw pieces surrounding a paper crossword puzzles.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

As far as 550-piece jigsaw puzzles go, it was quite challenging. A black and white letter grid was certainly solvable, but it didn’t provide any of the color, size, and texture clues that are typically helpful in jigsaw puzzling. It also wasn’t much to look at.

The Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle was puzzling for sport. I would never break this out with my family after a holiday dinner. With a small group of dedicated puzzle people, however, we had a remarkably fun time pushing one another and inventing different techniques to increase our effectiveness.

Play this if you love puzzles for their own sake. Make sure you have the right people at the table. There is a second Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle sitting on our shelf and we will solve it.

Who is this for?

  • Crossword & jigsaw puzzlers
  • Best for groups
  • You have to love puzzles

Why play?

  • The intrigue of a mash-up of two familiar puzzle types
  • Solving works best as a group

Setup

First solve the crossword puzzle. Then you’ll have the “picture” for the jigsaw puzzle.

Jigsaw pieces scattered around a crossword puzzle.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

Gameplay

Crossword Jigsaw was a mash-up of two puzzle types: crosswords and jigsaws. Both were standard. In combination, however, Crossword Jigsaw had a high level of difficulty.

We found that this was best experienced with a group to facilitate the piece searching and keep the pace up.

Closeup of loose jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

Analysis

➕ Crossword Jigsaw combined two common puzzle types to create a puzzle that looked and felt familiar, but exhibited unique challenges.

➕ It’s rare to find a jigsaw puzzle that can actively engage 6 people. While we found it worked best as a group of 3-4 people, when we opened the box, 6 people actively participated… until dinner was ready.

A pile of jigsaw pieces beside a crossword puzzle.
Image by Ryan Byrne.

➖ Crossword Jigsaw was not approachable. We knew to start by solving the crossword puzzle and the frame of the jigsaw. Beyond that, it took some trial and error to find a technique for forward momentum.

➖ A large part of the experience was trial and error. We could narrow down by the letter on the piece or the shape of the piece, but solving was less strategic than in most jigsaw puzzles that we’ve solved to date.

➕ We played Crossword Jigsaw with friends. Jigsaw puzzles are individual experiences. Even when you solve them with friends, each person works largely independently on different sections of the whole. Crossword Jigsaw worked better as a group communication game to find the right pieces and assemble the puzzle.

❓ The image is a crossword puzzle, and not a particularly attractive or interesting one. If you’re doing this, it’s purely for love of puzzles.

Tips For Player

  • The finished jigsaw puzzle measures 24” by 18.”
  • The jigsaw has 550 pieces.
  • The same crossword can be downloaded so that the puzzle can be shared with someone else and they can enjoy the same level of challenge.
  • We recommend group solving this one.

Buy your copy of Crossword Jigsaw, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Babalu Inc provided a sample 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. We appreciate the support.)

The Escape Game Unlocked – The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn [Review]

Where in the World is Hahn?

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 27, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: about an hour

Price: $25

REA Reaction

The Escape Game is an escape room chain headquartered in Nashville, TN, with locations across the United States. They are one of the few chains that we regularly recommend.

The Escape Game Unlocked is their play-at-home line of games of which The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was the first episode. This is not to be confused with The Escape Game’s Monthly Mysteries, part online scavenger hunt and part mystery game, which we have yet to play and review. This review covers only The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, the initial game from The Escape Game Unlocked.

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a solid starting place for a new series that has a lot of potential, but needs to figure out what makes it special.

Closeup of the game's rules, a small notebook, and a set of blueprints.

From a production standpoint, there was a lot to love. The components looked great and the digital interface was fairly refined.

From a puzzling and gameplay standpoint, most everything was solid, with a few puzzles that felt bogged down in interface oddities. The puzzles were good… with a little too much counting. The hint system was adequate, but could use a lot more granularity.

If you’re a tabletop escape game player, I’d suggest giving this one a try. While the Escape Game has not produced a must-play game in The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn, for fans of play-at-home puzzle games this is absolutely worth exploring. We’re curious to see where they take the series.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Mystery solvers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles
  • Fun computer interface

Story

Our handler had tasked us with tracking down the identity and crimes of an infamous art thief who went by the name Vincent Hahn.

The entire game had a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-meets-art-theft vibe.

Setup

To get started, we opened up a black sealed envelope of documents and puzzle components. Then we logged into a website where our mission was introduced to us.

The game bounced back and forth between the physical and digital.

Digital interface for identifying the suspect based on old school records.

Gameplay

The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and interacting with the computer interface.

The sealed black envelope for The Escape Game Unlocked, The Heist Vol 1: Chasing Hahn.

Analysis

The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn looked professional. The printed materials were nicely designed and used varied paper of high quality. The computer interface also looked good.

❓ The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn relied heavily on the computer interface. It was nifty, but it also focused the group around a screen for the most of the experience. One person had to drive, taking the group from screen to screen. An acceptable ratio of screen time to printed material time in tabletop escape gameplay is personal; read this however you choose.

➕ The Escape Game Unlocked didn’t fall into many of traps that hamper digital interfaces. For example, inputs were not case sensitive.

➖ The computer interface wasn’t entirely intuitive. Although we figured out most oddities without too much hassle, one interface that was supposed to emulate a DOS-like terminal fell very short. We struggled to even figure out what we were looking at.

➖/➕ We were confused by still images that appeared to be videos. As still images, they eliminated red herrings, which we appreciated, but we were left confounded by the whole interaction.

➕/➖ The puzzle types varied pretty well. The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn leaned a bit too heavily on counting puzzles, where the challenge was parsing which information went together.

➕We especially enjoyed when the game asked us to use deductive reasoning to solve the puzzles. 

➕/➖ The hint system got us where we need to be. That said, we would have preferred a little more granularity and redirection in the form of questions as opposed to straight instructions.

➖ We know there are more episodes coming, but don’t know when. We didn’t get any closure from this episode.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: a computer with an internet connection (a laptop will be superior to a mobile phone)

Buy your copy of The Escape Game Unlocked’s The Heist Vol. 1 Chasing Hahn , and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game Unlocked provided a sample 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. We appreciate the support.)

Doctor Esker’s Notebook [Review]

Surprising Results

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 11, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $15

REA Reaction

Doctor Esker’s Notebook was a low-price, high-quality tabletop puzzle game.

Structured as a deck of cards, it was not overtly fancy or inherently impressive at first glance (and the photos below will prove that.) However, Doctor Esker’s Notebook had it where it counted: it was a brilliant puzzle game with a clever answer mechanism.

The most glaring issues with Doctor Esker’s Notebook was in the onboarding. Given how unusual the solution system was, it needed a better on-ramp to teach us how to play. Once we pushed past the initial confusion, however, we truly enjoyed this game.

If you’re the kind of person who’s on the lookout for smart, well-designed, innovative puzzle games, do yourself a favor and pick up Doctor Esker’s Notebook.

The small card deck sized box for Doctor Esker's Notebook.
The entire game was the size of a deck of playing cards.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle game
  • Inventive mechanics, solutions, and answer verification

Story

Doctor Esker had vanished, leaving behind only his lab notes. We had to piece his work back together and determine his fate.

10 stacks of cards each with different art.

Setup

Doctor Esker’s Notebook had a strange structure. The card backs allowed us to sort the game into 10 piles:

  • 9 stacks of puzzle cards
  • 1 stack of solution cards

We began with the “Start” stack of puzzle cards. Once we had the correct answer, we needed to assemble the solution cards. The assembly of the solution would key us into the next puzzle stack. Repeat until finished.

A QR code labeled "Hints."

It all culminated in a phenomenal final puzzle.

Gameplay

Doctor Esker’s Notebook was a puzzle-focused play-at-home escape game contained within a deck of cards.

It had a higher level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The no frills aesthetic of Doctor Esker’s Notebook was functional. It wasn’t fancy at all and it felt like a scrapbook. It was hand drawn. It felt like we were puzzling through someone’s mind… in a good way.

➕ Although the puzzles were drawn in the same style, they were enormously varied.

➕ The puzzles were playful and clever. They had funny aha moments. We laughed aloud.

➖ We love wordplay, but we found some of the wordplay in Doctor Esker’s Notebook to be a stretch.

➕ The answer verification system worked really well.

➕ / ➖ If we needed assistance, there was a hint website available. It got the job done. It wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t really lacking either.

➖ When we first opened the deck of cards, it was hard to get moving. The instructions weren’t clear enough. We were pretty confused on how the answer verification system was meant to work. Doctor Esker’s Notebook needed refinement in the onboarding process.

➖ We played more than half the game wondering about extraneous information. We eventually realized that we were solving for additional information about assembling a puzzle’s solution. We’d been assembling solutions the hard way. More clear instructions would have eliminated this confusion.

➕ There was no ambiguity as to what to solve when. We always knew we had all the components for the next puzzle. It was always clear when we’d finished a puzzle and how to move on to the next one.

➕ There was no internet connection or app integration needed for this pocket-sized game. We found that freeing.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor
  • Required Gear: pen and paper

Buy your copy of Doctor Esker’s Notebook, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Doctor Esker’s Notebook provided a sample 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. We appreciate the support.)