With a vibrant look, Submarine stood out aesthetically among the first wave of Ravensburger Escape Puzzles.
From a puzzle solving standpoint, this installment pretty much nailed it… except for one noteworthy issue: a puzzle that didn’t quite resolve correctly. While this didn’t break the game, if this were your first attempt at an Escape Puzzle, it would be a harsh and confounding ending.
If you’ve already enjoyed an Escape Puzzles or 2, Submarine would be fantastic. Just watch out for a bit of confusion near the conclusion and you’ll have a good time.
This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.
While wandering the harbor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we’d happened upon an old man and his submarine. He’d previously used the boat to explore wrecks, but he’d grown too old for sea adventures and had offered the sub to us. We’d accepted and he explained its inner workings to us… but we’d been bored by this.
As soon as we’d pulled away from the dock, something broke and we sank to the bottom of the sea. We had to figure out what to do to survive.
➕ The jigsaw puzzle was vibrant. It featured great art.
➕ It was a moderately challenging, but fair assembly. There was a lot of blue, but there were also lots of fish and details to help pull everything together.
❓ We found most of the “escape room” puzzles to be a touch easier than those in the other Escape Puzzles released in Ravensburger’s first wave.
➖ The story in the instructions featured a choppy English translation.
➖ One of the puzzle solutions was at best lacking a significant clue… but it was probably just an incorrect inversion of the numbers. This was disappointing, but it wasn’t game-breaking… especially if you’ve played other Escape Puzzles and have a sense of how they work.
The actually correct answer to the above fish puzzle is 846.
For unclear reasons, the game reports the correct solution as 462. We stared at this thing with a few really experienced puzzlers (including 2009 US Sudoku National Champion, Tammy McLeod) and we couldn’t imagine a way to get 462. I have to believe that this was a typo.
➕ The concluding meta-puzzle was another clever solution. Ravensburger pushed this game mechanic considerably farther than we’d expected.
While wandering through the woods, we’d decided to sample some of the local mushrooms, as one does. The wild mushrooms had had unexpected effects, as they often do, and we’d felt faint and stumbled into a hollow.
As we came to our senses, we’d realized that we were in the home of a witch… and if we were ever going to get out, we’d need to find the antidote for the poison shrooms.
➕ As a jigsaw puzzle, the image was entertaining with a lot of details to enjoy.
➖ The image was pretty brown. It felt like the box art was more vibrant than the puzzle itself.
➕ The variation between the box art and the jigsaw puzzle was fantastic. We found the differences in this puzzle more playful than in the other escape puzzles in the series.
➕ The “escape room” puzzles were clear and solved cleanly.
Space Observatory offered a slightly more challenging jigsaw than the other Ravensburger Escape Puzzles, but concluded with a softer series of “escape room” puzzles.
If you’re more of a jigsaw puzzler, Space Observatory is the smart place to start. It worked well from beginning to end. Its meta-puzzle was a little easier to grasp than those in the other Escape Puzzles.
Whether you’re new with the series, already a fan of these, Space Observatory put on a strong show for the Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzle series.
This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.
While exploring an observatory, we’d happened upon a letter from a professor warning us of an impending cataclysm. The professor had build a device capable of saving the world, but couldn’t activate it. It was up to us to save the world.
➕ When it all came together, the jigsaw puzzle’s art was delightful.
❓ While we were assembling the jigsaw puzzle, a whole lot of it felt really similar… especially the many shelved books. Whether this is wonderful or annoying really comes down to personal preference.
➕ One of the “escape room” puzzles featured a really clever twist that was a bit confounding for more experienced puzzlers.
❓ The concluding meta-puzzle was considerably easier than those in the other 3 Escape Puzzles. This would be great if Space Observatory was your first Escape Puzzle… and may be less interesting if it was your fourth.
The added twist of an additional system of puzzles
Setup & Gameplay
We’re going to publish short reviews of each puzzle in the series. For the sake of simplicity and repetition reduction, we’re covering the basics in this overview.
While the individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzles each offered a unique picture and puzzle set, they all followed the same structure:
1. Jigsaw Assembly
We began by assembling the 759-piece jigsaw puzzle. This progressed normally with only two deviations from traditional jigsaw puzzles:
First, we had to remove the extraneous rectangular pieces. These appeared to be a byproduct of Ravensburger’s production process. They were a minor annoyance.
Second, the edge of the Escape Puzzles was a bit strange. There were only 3 piece shapes and any of the pieces could interconnect with any other. Edge assembly relied completely upon the pieces’ colors, patterns, and textures.
Additionally, many of the edge pieces had 2, 3, or 4 digit numbers printed on them. These became relevant later.
2. Puzzles Within the Puzzle
After assembling the jigsaw puzzle, we identified and solved the 6 or 8 puzzles within it. Some puzzles were obvious; some were more concealed. They were all embedded within the jigsaw puzzle image.
Each puzzle resolved to a number. Once we derived a correct answer, we’d find the piece with the corresponding number printed on it around the edge of the jigsaw puzzle. Then we removed that piece.
If we got stuck, we could reference a hint website for help. The hints were tiered, but usually only had two tiers.
3. The Meta-Puzzle
Each escape puzzle concluded with a meta-puzzle, or a puzzle made from the solutions of other puzzles.
We had to take our collection of numbered edge pieces from the previous step and determine what to do with them. I won’t say anything else about this, but it was our favorite part of these puzzles.
➕ The “escape room” puzzles at the end were a delightful addition to the traditional jigsaw puzzle. It was exciting to finish the jigsaw and then receive an entirely new challenge to cap things off. This game component was a welcome dynamic.
➕ Ravensburger makes high quality jigsaw puzzles that are printed well and fit snugly. They also have a beautiful blue backing that doesn’t add much from a functional standpoint, but looks more elegant than the traditional grey or brown backings that are common on most cardboard jigsaw puzzles.
➕ 759 pieces was a good piece count. It was serious enough to present a challenge without being so large that we were reluctant to dive in.
➕ Ravensburger cleverly included differences between the box art and the puzzle art. These changes were part of the environment itself and felt logically grounded. They also ensured that we couldn’t solve the puzzles without first solving the jigsaw puzzle.
➕ Ravensburger puzzles don’t have a crazy amount of puzzle dust. There’s still dust, but we’ve seen so much worse.
➖ Each Escape Puzzle’s box contained numerous square frame pieces that had nothing to do with the puzzle itself. They were garbage. These appeared to be an artifact of the production process. While it was not a big problem, it was a bit annoying to have to sift these junk pieces out of the box.
➕ Each Escape Puzzle had its own quirky story to set up the “escape.” The story was relevant to the final meta puzzle.
➕/➖ The “escape” puzzles were static print puzzles, akin to the kind of thing that one might find shared on social media or within a puzzle book. For the most part, these were executed well (detailed, non-spoiler analysis to follow in the individual puzzle reviews). While there is a limit to how much a designer can achieve with this format, Ravensburger did more with this structure than we were expecting.
❓ Some of these puzzles got a bit math-y. It never involved anything beyond basic computation, but I know that there are some escape room players who are allergic to mathematics in any form.
➕/➖ The web-based hint system was adequate. It did a great job of highlighting the individual puzzles… and an ok job of providing granular, incremental hints. This system could benefit from the inclusion of more dropdown menus to allow the player to better control the flow of hints.
❓ The edge pieces were unusual in that they all fit into one another. This made the edge considerably more difficult to assemble. It was completely doable, but required a lot more attention to detail and effort. For some, it may be easier to start from the middle.
➖The puzzles within the image all solved to a number that we’d find printed on an edge piece. This meant we could get most of the way to an answer and hack our way to the proper solution based on the available numbers.
❓We spent considerably more time solving the jigsaw puzzles than solving the “escape room” puzzles.
➕ Some of the numbered edge pieces ultimately culminated in a final meta-puzzle… and this mechanic was really cool. Ravensburger used it in clever ways in all instances. It was a delightful way to conclude the experience.
Tips For Player
Space Requirements: You’ll need a flat surface. The puzzles all measure 27 x 20 inches (70 x 50 cm).
Required Gear: None. We like to assemble our puzzles on a large piece of foam core in case we have to move them.
We take a lot of handwritten notes about the games that we play and the posts that we’re thinking up. As a result, we burn through a few notebooks per year. So when I was perusing Amazon at 3AM and happened upon the “Escape Room Notebook” I figured, why not?
I’m not going to pretend that this deserves a full review.
It’s a 6” x 9” inch notebook with 150 ruled pages. As a child, Lisa would have referred to this as an “empty book.”
The cover is flimsy. It’s filled with printer paper. The rules are laser printed. It has no bookmark. The corners aren’t rounded. It’s adequate as a notebook if it never leaves your desk.
We made it our own, with our stickers for decoration, as we do with most of our notebooks. Its inaugural trip was our escape room marathon weekend in Austin and San Antonio. We took a lot a notes!
As we packed up for the journey home, however, we noticed it was already showing a lot of wear. It’s too easy to damage. This will likely be the first notebook that we retire before filling its pages.
I have no idea why this product exists… but I’m still kind of amused by it.
If for some reason you’ve read this far and actually want to be the confounded owner of this mediocre notebook, then by all means, get yourself one for $7 on Amazon.
(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.)
An ever-so-slightly-used copy of What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks was handed to me by my dear friends Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson in an oversized Ziploc bag. It was in the bag because they were smart. They gave it to me because it’s clear that they harbor some hidden ill will towards me. It was only slightly used because it was not that fun.
We managed a couple of rounds and found a few laughs before we stuffed everything back into the bag… and had more fun and more laughs making a gif.
When I was finished, my nose felt angry, like my smell receptors had just been subjected to an olfactory DDoS attack.
Who is this for?
A shared and harmless yet mediocre experience among friends can be pretty funny.
Bad smells, like poop jokes, are funny.
WowWee’s What’s That Smell? was a scent mystery game where players competed to guess smells.
Core gameplay revolved around scratching, sniffing, guessing, writing funny memories, and questioning your life decisions that led to playing What’s That Smell?.
The box contained 48 scratch & sniff scent cards. Everyone drew a card, scratched, and sniffed.
Then everyone proceeded to fill out three questions on a form:
The Escape Room is a novel that uses the escape room setting as a hook for a corporate thriller about corruption in the financial industry.
The escape room gimmick seems like a good opportunity to integrate puzzles into a mystery storyline, but readers intrigued by the titlewill likelybe disappointed that The Escape Room is no more of a brainteaser than the average thriller novel.
The bleak setting, clichéd characters, and unrefined puzzles made the reading experience feel almost like being stuck in an elevator right along with these four unpleasant people.
If you’re an avid reader of thrillers with some time on your hands, you may decide it’s worth indulging your curiosity. But don’t be deceived by the title—at its core, The Escape Room isn’t really about an escape room at all. If you’re looking for engaging puzzles or an elegant mystery, don’t think twice about skipping this one.
Who is this for?
Voracious readers who can’t get enough thrillers
People who like seeing investment bankers suffer
To find out who made it out alive
Four shady investment bankers from Stanhope and Sons were summoned to play an escape room as a team-building exercise. They got more than they bargained for when they were locked in an elevator together and forced to solve the mystery of why they were really there and what happened to their former colleague Sara Hall.
The puzzles are not a particular selling point for The Escape Room. It’s marketed as a thriller, with no particular emphasis on a game component except as part of the plot.
The story includes a handful of simple riddles and word puzzles, some of which must be solved with knowledge only the characters have. There is no interactivity or game structure to the puzzles—you can’t really solve along as you read.
➕ The concept of describing two timelines at once in alternating chapters made thereading experiencemore interesting. Guessing where the storylines converged was one of the more enjoyable things about the book.
➖ The writing style felt repetitive and clichéd. There were extravagant details about suits, ties, makeup, jewelry, gourmet food, and other accoutrements of wealth. All this description seemed like overkill, especially for a book that also emphasized the dangers of greed.
➖ The escape room itself wasn’t much like an actual escape room at all. The handful of puzzles had no structure or progression, so there was no game to play along with. Also, the escape room took place entirely in an elevator. This limitation put the immersion factor much lower than the recentEscape Room movie, for example. But the game aspect of The Escape Room also fell short of some of the incredible real-life escape rooms we’ve seen set in small spaces, such as The Basement’s Elevator Shaft, which made an elevator setting far more interesting and dramatic. Since a novel can have unlimited special effects, it would have been exciting to see a more innovative use of the escape room setting.
➖ Spending hundreds of pages stuck in an elevator with such despicable main characters made The Escape Room less fun than it could have been. The four investment bankers embodied variations on the standard greedy villain,with backstories that didn’t do much to give them emotional depth. If their characterization had provided more insight into how they felt rather than just what they wanted, the plot would have felt more like a robust narrative than a chess game.
➕/➖ Near the beginning, the characters’ interactions in the elevator scenes were amusingly reminiscent of bumbling escape room first-timers. But in later chapters, they easily made logic leaps that would be challenging for real-life players.
➖ The mystery structure felt haphazard and lacked the element of surprise. The pacing dragged, and the plot played out quite predictably. (The cover text even hints at the endgame.) The story could have benefited from some crafty red herrings, an aha moment where everything falls into place, or some form of redemption for any of the greedy, selfish characters.
❓The Escape Room is a book about how money and status corrupts, but it simultaneously implies that money can buy happiness. There is no middle ground, and both ends of the spectrum are portrayed as unenviable, with no way out. It was a bleak point of view.
➖ One character in The Escape Room was an autistic math genius who was repeatedly described as having “poor social skills” and dehumanized with descriptors like “robotic” and “otherworldly.” Beyond these harmful stereotypes, she was also treated badly by other characters, and her story was told largely through other people’s speculation about her motives. It was disappointing to see her treated like a plot device rather than a fleshed-out character with her own agency.
➕ The opening of The Escape Room teased a thrilling story of an escape game gone wrong. The excitement of that prologue made it clear that the escape room scenario could provide an intriguing hook for plenty more thriller novels in the future.
Tips For Reading
The Escape Room is a quick, easy read that won’t provide too much of a challenge on a long flight or a lazy weekend.
Be aware that the plot includes detailed descriptions of sexual assault and violent death.
If you can’t figure out a puzzle, don’t beat yourself up. It’s probably just because you’re not a high-powered investment banker at Stanhope.
Buy your copy of The Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Zen Puzzles’ Great Horned Owl was a beast of a ~300 piece puzzle. With an almost monochromatic aesthetic, a clever but cruel puzzle within the puzzle, and many similar looking pieces that fit together, but didn’t go together… this was far more challenging than I was prepared for when I opened the box on a whim.
I’m glad that I gave it a shot. It offered something unique. Once I realized what the puzzle was and adjusted my mindset, I came to enjoy the experience.
This is a pricey puzzle that would make for a great gift for the serious jigsaw puzzler in your life. It was small, but it put up a fight.
Who is this for?
Jigsaw puzzlers who want to see something strange
Cruel but clever twist
This laser cut wooden puzzle featured a great horned owl. It included whimsy pieces in the shape of owls and critters that owls eat.
At first glance, Zen Puzzles’ Great Horned Owl seemed like a fairly typical jigsaw puzzle. It quickly revealed a couple of layers of complexity.
➕ Zen Puzzles added a crazy dynamic to the Great Horned Owl puzzle that I’ve never seen before. I was a bit bewildered for a few minutes while solving this puzzle. That’s a feeling that I cannot recall a jigsaw puzzle inspiring in me before.
Spoiler - The Surprise Twist
➖ There wasn’t enough shape variation among the pieces. Entirely too many bits with similar patterns fit snugly together.
➕ The whimsy pieces were funny and helpful. If they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have enjoyed solving this puzzle.
➖ Great Horned Owl wasn’t a visually exciting puzzle, even though the image itself was quite nice when complete.
Tips For Player
Space requirements: a small table
Be careful when assembling pieces; many incorrect pieces kind of fit together
This puzzle was deceptively challenging and will likely take longer than most ~300 piece puzzles.
Buy your copy of Zen Art & Design’s Great Horned Owl, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle was a fairly quick solve at 80 pieces. The unusual piece shape, however, made for an interesting puzzle.
Each Nervous System puzzle is programmatically generated and laser cut, meaning that each is unique.
It’s a lovely gift for a jigsaw puzzler, but at $65 for less than an hour of puzzling, it’s probably not an everyday purchase.
Who is this for?
Jigsaw puzzlers looking for something a little different
Laser cutter fans
It’s a quick yet satisfying solve
The Radial Puzzle was a generatively created jigsaw puzzle “based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys.”
Additionally, this colorful puzzle featured whimsy pieces that were inspired by microscopic lifeforms.
Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle was a small but unusual jigsaw puzzle with a higher degree of difficulty when compared to other similarly sized puzzles.
➕ Radial Puzzle, like everything we’ve seen from Nervous System, was a work of art.
➕ The strange, organic-looking pieces required a mindset shift when it came to puzzling approach. I enjoyed working with pieces that had so many little variables.
➖ The many tendrils of each individual piece were fragile and required more care than most puzzles.
❓ I enjoyed a quick an interesting solve… and part of me even preferred a quick challenge. If you’re looking at value specifically as a function of time / money, however, then you’ll likely find the Radial Puzzle wanting.
Tips For Player
Space Requirements: A small table
Be gentle with the pieces; the tendrils can be fragile
It’s not a difficult puzzle, but it will require far more effort than your average 80-piece puzzle
Buy your copy of Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Duration: about 5 hours, 7 hours for secrets and commentary
Price: $24.99 on PSVR and Steam
Publisher: Schell Games
I Expect You to Die was a series of five lovingly designed VR escape rooms in a 007-esque world. It embraced the storytelling advantages of having me in a VR environment while mitigating the challenges of having me escape these rooms while swiveling in a chair.
The attention to detail and love for both the spy genre and escape rooms continued through to the last mission. This was the way to do VR escape rooms at home.
Who is this for?
Escape room players of every stripe
Quick thinkers who are cool under pressure
James Bond fans with a sense of humor
Solid, well-clued puzzles
Excellent graphics, VR physics, and immersion
I began I Expect You to Die in my spy office. My unnamed boss, speaking through the intercom, walked me through the basics of being a modern spy.
My mission changed from level to level, but they all involved foiling the nefarious plans of the evil Dr. Zor of the Zoraxis Corporation. In my first mission I started off captured by Dr. Zor. To escape, I simply had to drive a malfunctioning car out of an airplane that was filled with poison gas at altitude.
My boss was with me the whole way, providing a bit of guidance in my ear when I tried to do something I wasn’t supposed to do and scolding me when I “wasted time” doing something silly like shoot a doughnut with a gun.
I Expect You to Die followed the escape room industry trend of giving me a mission rather than asking me to actually escape a room. One level had me neutralizing a bio-weapon while posing as a window washer. Another had me in a one-man submarine at the bottom of the ocean. Each was creative and became thrilling as the events unfolded.
The environments were realistically constructed with a dash of cartoonishness. It was real enough for me that at one point I attempted to put my real-life controller down on a solidly virtual desk.
The five levels were also unique to one another. Perhaps most importantly, the various situations would be at home in any James Bond movie but didn’t feel ripped off from any existing installment of that franchise.
The game was built to be played while seated in one spot (although some swiveling was necessary). I wasn’t limited to items within my reach, however, because the spy agency had fit me with telekinetic implants. I could point at something I wanted in the distance and bring it right to my hands. I could also freeze items in midair for easy access in the heat of the action.
Puzzles were a mix of linear and non-linear. Most solutions relied on my ability to observe, make connections, and improvise when a bad situation got worse. There were few traditional puzzles. At times, the solution was straightforward: use this item with that item. Other times it was necessary to understand the presented concepts on a deeper level for me to be successful. It was an extra challenge when I had to do something urgently or with good accuracy in an attempt to quickly save my skin from Dr. Zor’s devious traps.
However, like the best Sierra & Lucasarts adventure games, part of the fun was dying in hilarious ways. Because this was a video game, each mistake taught me what not to do and I got faster as I tried it again. In fact, each level had a “speed run” time. I often dove back in to see if I could do a level in 45 seconds, one which had originally taken 45 minutes to beat the first time through.
➕ One worry I often have with VR simulations is whether the items will behave as I expect them to. In I Expect You to Die, physics were not a problem. Flammable things burned when lit, plastic cups bounced while ceramic ones did not, and lasers shined in a straight line.
➕ Attention to detail was fantastic and took full advantage of the VR environment. When I was posing as a window washer, I was able to look over my shoulder at the city below me, even though there were no puzzle elements there. In the train level, I looked out off the bridge and saw flocks of birds flying by.
➕ I knew I was in good hands from the opening credits. I was drifting through a two-tone 3D animation that riffed on every famous Bond opening title sequence. Bullets flew by my head and missiles launched from below as an excellent Shirley Bassey-style ballad soared through the theme song to “I Expect You to Die”.
➕ I was rewarded for messing around. Eat a moldy sandwich! Put a hat on a bear! Light your cigar with a burning log! When I finished a level, the game presented me with extra goals called “souvenirs” that hinted at other fun things I could have done. This added greatly to the replayability.
➕ The telekinetic ability to summon objects from afar was a clever narrative and mechanic workaround. Most VR goes the route of allowing the player to teleport around the environment; telekinesis felt considerably more grounded in this scenario (even if it was fantastical).
➖ My telekinetic implants allowed me to freeze items in mid-air. While this was useful for hovering code-breaking sheets where I could see them, it was just plain weird and oddly reality-breaking. It bothered me more than opening a cabinet from 20 feet away. I expect this mechanic was invented for players using traditional controllers, but it would be nice to disable it for VR controller users.
➕ What I Expect You to Die did best was surprises. Moments of victory were followed by unexpected moments of peril. Then having survived it, an even greater feeling of accomplishment.
➖ Some levels contained items like bundles of money that had no purpose. While not strictly red herrings, they occasionally got in the way of items I actually did need.
❓ In some worlds, it was possible to lose items I actually needed. While throwing stuff over my shoulder was immensely satisfying, I learned to think twice about whether I may need the thing in the future.
➕ After I had completed the main story, I had the option of turning on commentary! This was something I had never expected. There was lots of it and it was full of interesting insight into the design decisions of making the game.
Tips For PLAYING
While this game can be played with a traditional controller, it’s more immersive to play with two VR controllers.
Try everything. Sometimes there are multiple ways to solve a level, and lots of fun things to discover!