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.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 5 [Review]

The Encipher Strikes Back.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 20, 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 suffered from its position in the middle of the series. The puzzles drew on ciphers from the previous box more often than they offered new challenges. It also didn’t provide anything new in terms of story. This box was a lull in the middle.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 5 assorted papers from the box and a post card that reads, "I believe there is a on the front written in masonic cipher."

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
  • To get to the Box 6

Story

On The Run Box 5 took us to Tanzania on our quest to save our BFF from a tangled conspiracy. This chapter marked a shift in the narrative as the number of new questions slowed and we started to uncover answers.

Setup

On The Run Box 5 included an assortment of paper articles and documents, and as well as the website-based content that we’d come to expect from the Dispatch series. In keeping with the format, this box’s main event was a Mancala puzzle complete with a bag of glass beads.

The Mancala board with glass beads and a burlap bag to hold them.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 5 felt like Groundhog Day as we looped through an assortment of common ciphers as well as a greatest hits list of the ciphers from Box 4.

This was a grueling middle chapter if I’ve ever seen one.

Analysis

– The cipher that had overstayed its welcome in the previous box returned with vengeance. Revisiting it did not reignite dormant affinity.

– The cipher that had suffered from an ambiguity problem in the previous box also returned with 4x the content. What had started as a great, if slightly fuzzy, concept turned into a grind in the purest sense of the word.

+/- The Mancala puzzle was an awesome concept and a fun prop. The puzzle itself needed a stronger clue structure.

+ The concluding sequence of interactions and content was strong and a saving grace for this box.

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 5.

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 complementary 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.)

Argyx Games – Apocalypse: Prelude Review & Kickstarter Announcement

🤘

Location: at home

Date Played: May 20, 2018

Notes: The Prelude to Apocalypse was a mini puzzle game available for preview in advance of the Kickstarter launch.

REA Reaction

Argyx Games Prelude to Apocalypse Episode 1: Sign of the Cross was a fun and challenging lead-up to their larger Kickstarter release.

This was first and foremost a puzzle game. We didn’t need to be superhuman puzzlers to play through it, but we did need to pay close attention and really think things through.

Aesthetically, the game’s story, iconography, and overall vibe had a heavy metal feel that is under explored in escape games.

This well-designed teaser has filled us with hope for their larger game. We have already backed their Kickstarter, which went live earlier this week.

The Argyx Prelude gaming components including a matchbox, a bloody tape measure, a nail file labeled Youtube, and bible scripture.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • English or French speakers (the game is available in either language)
  • People who will not be bothered by demonic references
  • Players with at least some puzzle solving experience

Why play?

  • Clever and compact puzzle design
  • Well-designed game flow
  • Well-thought out hint system

Story

We had received a package from a fanatical serial killer who went by the name Abaddon, the Angel of Death from the Book of Revelation. Abaddon’s package included a collection of puzzles encouraging us to find his fifth victim before he did.

This initial package was the Prelude to Apocalypse Episode 1: Sign of the Cross. The full story will unfold in Argyx Games’ Kickstarter with an intended release of Christmas 2018.

Setup

We had received a collection of items, a few dramatic religious passages, and a letter heralding the death of Abaddon’s next victim.

The collection was clearly homemade, but felt deliberately designed. The items were all in a black, white, and red color palette. The printed materials were on different paper stock, each with a carefully chosen font to match its purpose and origin.

Gameplay

Argyx Games’ Prelude to Apocalypse was a puzzle-focused play-at-home escape game with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, connection building, and puzzling.

Gameplay required an internet-connected device.

Analysis

+ The puzzles were clever and offered a little more challenge than we had been expecting. I’d put the difficulty somewhere between your average tabletop escape game and an easier puzzle hunt.

+ The paper materials each had a unique feel and purpose.

Prelude to Apocalypse had a fairly homemade construction. This doesn’t bother me all that much in single-use play-at-home experiences, but I can easily see this being a sticking point for some.

– We struggled with one of the typesetting decisions.

+ I liked the aesthetic of Prelude to Apocalypse. It’s rare to see a hand made puzzle game that has deliberate art direction.

– We hit a snag inputting a solution that we were confident in. When we switched from inputing by phone to inputing by laptop, we had no more trouble.

+ The self-service hint system was structured and segmented such that when we did get stuck, we were able to find a hint that nudged us in the right direction.

? Based on the Prelude, I don’t really have a sense of how strong the narrative will be. The puzzles were good, but felt puzzley. If you’re seeking something akin to interactive fiction, I’m not really sure what to tell you. It feels like there is an intention to tell a story through this game.

+ Based on what we’ve seen from Prelude, we feel confident that Argyx Games will be able to live up to their stated plans and ambitions. Kickstarter is always a gamble, but Argyx Games’ product seems grounded in reality.

+ Given that this was a brief teaser into a much larger game, we’re excited to see what else Argyx Games has in store for us.

Tips for Playing

  • I recommend having a laptop on hand with an internet connection while playing this game.

For more about Apocalypse Episode 1: Sign of the Cross, visit their Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Argyx Games sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy of this preview game.

Exit: The Game – The Forbidden Castle [Review]

“It’s just a flesh wound!”

Location: at home

Date Played: May 24, 2018

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $13 to 20 per game

REA Reaction

The Forbidden Castle followed the format we’ve come to expect from Exit: The Game, with some added twists. It offered more challenge than the original releases from Exit: The Game and these were generally fair and fun. It built toward a silly conclusion, but also a culmination that felt bigger than the sum of its card-stock parts.

If you’re a fan of Exit: The Game, this one is absolutely worth playing.

If you’ve never played Exit: The Game, I’d strongly encourage you to start with one or two of their earlier installments.

If you aren’t a fan of Exit: The Game, I wouldn’t expect this one to suddenly convert you.

Exit The Game: The Forbidden Castle box being 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?

  • This is our new favorite from the Exit: The Game series
  • Clever puzzles
  • A silly, but fun final puzzle
  • Low cost

Story

The Forbidden Castle was structured as a direct sequel to The Abandoned Cabin. While on vacation, our imprisonment-prone family entered an old castle and suddenly realized that we were locked in by an unseen villain who had left a series of clues and puzzles that could lead us to our freedom, if we were cunning enough.

Exit The Game: The Forbidden Castle's booklet and decoder wheel.

Setup

The Forbidden Castle functioned identically to Exit: The Game’s previous installments.

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

The components were 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 Forbidden Castle was a puzzle-driven escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Exit The Game: The Forbidden Castle's knight being held over assorted game components.

Analysis

+ The first few puzzles had a good difficulty curve.

+ Overall we loved the collection of puzzles that we encountered in The Forbidden Castle.

– One puzzle was too ambiguous and hinged on an unusual combination of observation and trust. Conceptually, this puzzle was brilliant. In practice, the execution was too opaque.

The Forbidden Castle’s components were physically small, but a few of the puzzles felt much bigger.

– One of the puzzles was answerable without actually solving the puzzle.

The Forbidden Castle used the same decoder disk answer system as all of the other Exit: The Game installments. However, in this one, they added a good twist.

+ The final puzzle was a lot of fun and a touch silly, which added to its charm.

– One of the “strange objects” was a sword. We needed to trim this sword to make the puzzle work properly. Admittedly, this was a minor issue in a game where we were regularly taking scissors to the components.

The Forbidden Castle's sword with a sliver of card stock cut off beside a pair of scissors.

– There was a decision point in The Forbidden Castle. The team essentially had to choose blindly between two different puzzles. Solving one puzzle destroyed the other, which was a bummer. We backtracked post-game and sort of figured out the other one, but we didn’t love trashing a puzzle, especially without any context guiding the decision.

+/- 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

  • You’ll need a pair of scissors.
  • 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.

Pickup a copy of Exit: The Game’s The Forbidden Castle, 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.)

 

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 4 [Review]

A New Hope

Location: at home

Date Played: March 20, 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

In On the Run, Box 4, we worked through quality puzzles. Although it was cipher-heavy, we mostly enjoyed solving these. What Box 4 lost in story clarity it made up for in puzzling.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 4 with a strange deck of cards 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 got more puzzley in Box 4

Story

In Box 4, On The Run visited Australia. In this episode we encountered a significant plot twist that introduced a potential new ally.

Setup

Based purely on its components, The Australia box was fairly bland. Everything was paper- or website-based. The main prop was a deck of cards.

From a puzzle standpoint, however… things were more exciting…

Gameplay

On the Run Box 4 had a lot more puzzle content than the previous boxes, with a wide variety of things to solve.

This box also introduced a blacklight. More on that in a moment.

Analysis

+ I really enjoyed puzzling through Box 4. Up until this point, my commitment to On The Run had been predicated on a curiosity about this story. The trajectory of the series, however, had been leaning considerably more puzzley with each box, and this one had a lot to chew on.

– One of the ciphers was fun, but overstayed its welcome.

– Another nifty cipher had a little bit of an ambiguity problem.

– At this point in the story, there were so many open plot threads that I’m not really sure that I was even following all of them.

+ The arrival of a blacklight made me cringe because I didn’t want to have to blacklight every sheet of paper that had come in all the previous boxes or would come in the future boxes. My gut reaction was unnecessary because Breakout included a persistent game mechanic that subtly indicated when and where to use the blacklight.

+/- However, there was no way for me to be completely sure that I could trust this blacklight indication mechanic… so I blacklit everything to be certain. To Breakout’s credit, my extra effort was unnecessary.

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 4.

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 complementary 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.)

The Witness [Review]

Puzzling Nirvana

Developer/Publisher: Thekla, Inc.

Director/Producer: Jonathan Blow

Dates Played: January-April, 2018

Platform: Windows, MacOS, Android, PS4, Xbox, iOS

Duration: 18-25 hours, 40-50 hours for completionists

Price: $9.99 on iOS, $13.60 on Android, $39.99 on Steam

REA Reaction

The Witness asked me to observe and to think. It was puzzle bliss.

Designer Jonathan Blow took a simple puzzle concept and built upon it in brilliant and unexpected ways.

The resplendent environment and clever puzzles left me wanting more, even after 25 hours of play, most of it spent thinking.

In-game, and array of basic puzzles that build in complexity.
A series of starter puzzles.

Who is this for?

  • Patient puzzlers
  • Digital aesthetes
  • People with any level of video game experience

Why play?

  • Immersive world
  • Innovative puzzle design
  • Excellent difficulty curve
  • You will be smarter by the end

Story & setup

The Witness began with no backstory. I walked down a long, dark hallway and found a panel. On the panel was a line with one circular end. Touching the circle and dragging along the line opened a door to a gorgeous island. That first panel I had encountered was the simplest version of a seemingly endless series of line mazes found on puzzle panels everywhere.

It’s easiest to describe this game by what it wasn’t. It didn’t have any items, characters, music, dialogue, or written words. There was some light philosophy in the form of audio recorders I found lying around, but other than that, it was pure puzzle zen.

In-game: A lush forrest with a dirt path running through it.

As I wandered around, I was initially reminded of the island in Myst. The structural similarity was obvious, but graphically, it had come a long way since then. The colors in The Witness popped. There was an orchard of bright pink cherry trees and a desert temple that gleamed in the sun. Even the salt mine was beautiful in its own way. When an early boat ride around the island included a trip through a shipwreck, I started to realize how big this island was.

The exploration was rewarding. Even after investing my first ten hours into the game, I found a new area and wondered how I could have missed it. New perspectives on familiar areas also delighted my aesthetic side. Statues I found throughout the island weren’t puzzles at all but rather subtle nudges to look at everything from a different perspective.

Gameplay

Every puzzle panel in The Witness was an iteration on that original line maze I had encountered at the beginning. And there were a ton of panels – more than 500. Prior to jumping into The Witness, I wondered how it could sustain one concept through an entire game, but after just a few hours of play, I understood its genius.

In-game:
Something quite a bit more complicated.

The puzzles in each area of the island introduced me to a new variation. Sometimes I was required to use the environment to guide my solution: shadows or branches that had fallen upon the panel, for example. Other times I had to decipher the symbols on the puzzle (with a certain amount of trial and error) to learn the new rule required to solve it.

It created its own visual language as I built on my successes. I began to see line patterns both in the game world and in real life.

Analysis

+ This game was an epiphany generator and I quickly became addicted.

+ The Witness was an open-world game with essentially one type of puzzle. Despite this, I found myself engaged throughout. New concepts were introduced gradually. The puzzles didn’t overstay their welcome.

+ This game was a work of art. Certainly aesthetically, but also in its masterful creation of fun, fair, creative, and challenging puzzles. It taught concepts without coddling, trusting that I was smart, determined, and patient enough to see it through to the breakthrough moment.

– There was one sound in the game that I found grating. As I sat working with my trusty line (sometimes for hours at a stretch), there was always a low hum coming from the panel. The mute button became my sanity-saver.

-/+ The Witness always rewarded me for solving a puzzle with the same thing: more puzzles. As a lover of games, I’ve been conditioned to expect something to happen when I make progress: more XP, an improved weapon, a fun cutscene. I had to leave those expectations aside and accept that this game was a unique animal. My own intelligence was leveling up and that was better than any bit of digital swag I could have received.

+ Creator Jonathan Blow didn’t want you to feel smart playing The Witness. He wanted you to understand that you are smart.

+ When The Witness was released, Blow begged people not to watch walkthrough videos. After my first major puzzle roadblock and subsequent breakthrough, I understood why: I didn’t want to deny myself that rush as my brain grew a little larger.

+ After occasional periods of frustration, there were times when I thought I would never fire this game up again. Every time I did, however, I would get through my roadblock and wonder why I’d almost given up.

– There’s no hint system and no manual. When I did find an overly obtuse puzzle, I eventually had to give up on it. Thankfully, The Witness doesn’t require you to solve every panel to reach the end.

+ Beyond the beauty and craftsmanship of the island and its puzzles, the most significant strength was its balance. I rarely found the easy puzzles too tedious or the hard ones too taxing.

– When I completed a puzzle, there was barely any sound effect aside from the gentle clunk as power was supplied to the next series of puzzle panels. If you’re still addicted to Candy Crush, this absence of dopamine rewards will bother you.

+ The best teachers make you feel like a genius when you reach the lesson they’ve been gently guiding you toward all along. In its best moments, The Witness felt like a Buddhist monk showing me the way to enlightenment. The road was long, but it was incredibly satisfying.

Tips for Playing

  • Don’t watch walkthrough videos. You’ll miss out on the reason to play.
  • Perfect for a long flight. Los Angeles to Singapore will feel like nothing.
  • Spend some time away from the puzzle panels and just look at the world.

Purchase your copy of The Witness on Xbox One, PS4, iOS, Mac, or Steam.

(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.)

Escape from the Room – The Curse of Old Maid Milly [Review]

Crazy cat lady puzzle book.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 2018

Team size: 1 -¯\_(ツ)_/; we recommend 1-2

Price: $16 per copy

REA Reaction

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly was a charming and generally straightforward reimagining of a real-life escape room as a puzzle book. While it wasn’t a challenging game, it captured the quick-hit escape room puzzle style quite well.

If you’re looking for a puzzle book to push the boundaries of your puzzling ability, there are more challenging options out there. If you’re looking for a puzzle book that captures the feel of an escape room, this a great choice. We loved carrying it with us on our travels.

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly being held up beside an airport window.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Travelers
  • Crazy cat people

Why play?

  • It’s cool to see an actual real life escape room adapted into a book.
  • The puzzles play well.
  • It’s inexpensive and fun.

Story

This real life escape room-turned-puzzle book casts the reader as Dr. Alan Harris, a professor of paranormal activity. Dr. Harris was investigating a room where a mysterious reclusive cat lady named Milly had died when he was suddenly locked in.

Could Dr. Harris uncover the secrets that have kept Milly’s soul trapped in her home and escape?

Setup

The Curse of Old Maid Milly began its life as an actual escape room in the United Kingdom (review by Ken Ferguson at The Logic Escapes Me). After closing the real life escape room, the creator converted it into a book-based escape game. According to Ken, roughly 50% of the puzzles were changed in the shift to print.

Each 2-page spread of the book presented either puzzle and story or a black and white sketch of the game environment.

Puzzle and story pages would deliver most of the content as prose. Light gray text was explicitly for story and could be ignored by the more puzzle-minded. Black text was necessary for the completion of a puzzle.

Gameplay

Maps

Map pages depicted a larger area. The map would be labeled with corresponding pages that contained illustrations of what we would see if we looked in that direction.

Location Illustrations

The black and white sketches filled us in on the aesthetics of the room and contained observable clues for solving puzzles.

Puzzles

Puzzle pages contained a page number (more on that in a moment), light gray story text, and black puzzle text. Some puzzles also contained additional graphics.

The answer converter the allows players to translate directions and letters into numbers.

Inputting Answers

Puzzle solutions came in the form of page numbers. To verify an answer, we had to flip to that page and see if we should be heading there. If we were correct, the page we flipped to had the next segment of story and a puzzle.

Not all of the puzzles initially resolved to a number. There was a consistent translation mechanism that enabled us to convert directions and words into numbers.

Satchel

Occasionally the book would inform us that Dr. Harris had decided to save an object in his satchel. This news was always delivered in black puzzle text and satchel was bolded for extra effect. Whenever this happened, we needed to log the item, as we would eventually need to recall it in order to solve certain challenges.

Analysis

+ This was a good beginner puzzle book. The puzzles resolved cleanly. Few offered serious challenge. When we were stumped, it was usually because we had failed to notice a detail.

+ The page jumping mechanic was an interesting approach to answer checking.

– Because we were constantly jumping from the back of the book, to the middle, to the front, and back again, at any given point in time, we had little concept of how deep into the game we were.

– We did not enjoy the satchel game mechanic. It made a good effort at recreating the feel of using found objects to solve puzzles, but it wasn’t exciting. These “puzzles” felt more like throwaway moments. It was more effort to track satchel items than it was worth.

+/- The story was good, but entirely too wordy. There were times where if felt as if the story text may have been added simply to fill white space on the page.

+ The light gray vs black text to separate story from puzzle worked well.

+/- Old Maid Milly had a cute print-based take on escape room search puzzles. We didn’t love these puzzles, but they absolutely captured the right vibe.

+ The hint system was structured and easy to use.

+ This book was fun to carry around on a trip. We would make a little progress here and there. It was easy to put down and pick up again.

Tips for Playing

  • You will want some sort of bookmark.
  • You need to log all of the satchel items. Failure to do so will result in annoyance and backtracking later on. We might be speaking from experience on this.
  • It is possible to play this game without writing in the book, but requires extra effort.

Book your hour with Escape from the Room’s The Curse of Old Maid Milly, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape from the Room provided a complementary copy of this book.

 

Puzzle Card – Happy Birthday [Review]

A birthday without puzzles is sad.

Location: at home

Date Played: April 14, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-2

Price: £4.25 (approximately $5.77) plus shipping costs for the UK and international destinations

REA Reaction

A puzzle card is like a gift and a card rolled up into one very thin package. For the right recipient, this thing would be an great birthday treat.

The front of the Escape the Room Puzzle Happy Birthday Card.

Who is this for?

  • A puzzler celebrating the anniversary of their birth

Why buy?

  • It’s a birthday card with a puzzle inside.

Setup

The Escape the Room Puzzle Birthday Card is exactly what the name suggests: It’s a miniature text- and image-based escape room birthday card.

Everything is self contained within the card with the notable exception of the answer mechanism, which requires the solver to visit a web site.

The card is large (A4), printed on heavy card stock, and covered in puzzle-related content. There is also a small outlined space on the back for writing your message to the recipient.

The back of the Puzzle card and a small box to address the recipient. Ours says, "From RoomEscapeArtist.com"

Analysis

+ It’s a birthday card with a puzzle! How great is that?

+ The puzzles resolve cleanly. While they likely won’t blow your mind, they offer a touch of challenge.

– The birthday card isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

The interior of the card shows edits in read, "slither" is crossed off and rewritten as "sliver." An extra period is added to complete an elipsis.

– There were a pair of typos in the opening paragraph (unless these were British-isms that simply read wrong to our American eyes). We spent a portion of our solve time trying to figure out what they meant only to find that they did not factor in at all.

+ The answer verification mechanism was smart.

Tips for Using

  • Ignore the typos. They aren’t part of the puzzle.
  • Make sure that you have a web browser handy to submit your answer.

Order your Puzzle Card Birthday Card, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Pilot – FriXion Ball Erasable Gel Ink Pens [Review]

This is a neat trick.

Price: $8 – $26 per pack

REA Reaction

When one of our friends whipped out a FriXion pen, wrote a bit, and effortlessly erased it without making a mess I pulled out my phone and ordered a package on Amazon right then and there. Ever since, these things have become our go-to pens for puzzling.

Blue FriXion pen on graph paper, beside the word, "Erase" with a line erased down the middle of the word.

Who is this for?

  • Paper puzzlers
  • Kids
  • Adults
  • Adults who are also kind of kids

Why buy?

  • The pens write beautifully.
  • They are fully erasable.
  • The eraser creates absolutely no debris.
  • They come in fun colors.

Setup

FiXion pens are loaded with thermo-sensitive gel ink. The eraser is a rubber nub that, when rubbed against the ink, heats it up and makes it disappear.

Analysis

+ The FriXion pens look great.

+ They feel nice to hold and are easy to write with.

+ The eraser works incredibly well and leaves behind no eraser debris.

– The friction of the eraser is a little bit harsh on thinner paper stock. In one of the puzzles that we’re reviewing, we almost destroyed a page when erasing… so we reluctantly switched back to pencil for that one puzzle series.

+ FriXion pens come in packages of professional black and blue… and packages of more entertaining colors.

A FriXion pen being opened by pushing on the clip.

Tips for Using

  • The actuator for opening & closing the pen is the clip, not the eraser. The adjusted location takes some getting used to.

Buy FriXion pens in black, blue, or multicolor.

(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.)

Nervous System – Geode Puzzle [Review]

As difficult as it is pretty.

Location: at home

Date Played: April 6, 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-2

Price: $60 per puzzle

REA Reaction

Geode Puzzles by Nervous System are beautiful, intricate, and remarkably challenging for compact, approximately 180-piece jigsaw puzzles.

If you love jigsaw puzzles and don’t balk at the price, I highly recommend putting one of these on your table.

Geode puzzle mostly assembled.

Who is this for?

  • Experienced jigsaw puzzlers
  • People who like beautiful, well-created things

Why play?

  • Beautiful and challenging design
  • Incredibly intricate laser cut wooden pieces
  • Impressively challenging for its size

Setup

Nervous System’s Geode Puzzles are programmatically generated, laser cut wooden jigsaw puzzles made with quarter-inch birch plywood.

Nearly all of the pieces have thin, asymmetrical tendrils that interlock in wildly unpredictable patterns.

The backs of 7 geode puzzle piece with long tendrils.

Nervous System offers 23 different styles, each with a different color pattern and shape. They all have irregular edges.

Because these puzzles are programmatically generated, there is no definitive piece count, so they are all “about 180 pieces.” The pieces came together in a compact 8.5 inch puzzle.

Geode puzzle fully assembled.

Analysis

+ I love odd jigsaw puzzles with unusual pieces. These thin tendril-like pieces were incredible. They dramatically amplified the difficulty.

+ The unusual shape of the puzzle added a good challenge.

– While none of my pieces broke, I am confident that it would be easy to accidentally snap limbs off of the puzzle pieces. I wouldn’t give this to brutes or children.

? Nervous System’s website offers an ever-changing selection of variants on the Geode puzzle. I have no idea if the fact that they are computer generated and unique offers any tangible benefit to the puzzler.

– While each one is unique. A palette swap or minor shape variation won’t be enough to bring me back to this particular product line.

+ While solving this Geode Puzzle felt like a worthy challenge, it wasn’t a massive commitment. It required less than 2 hours of my time. There weren’t thousands of pieces for me to flip, collate, and manage.

Tips for Playing

  • Be gentle with the pieces. If they don’t fit, wiggle things gently. If that doesn’t work, try a different piece.
  • You don’t need a lot of space or time, but Geode Puzzles are more difficult than you’d expect, given the size of the puzzles.

Buy your copy of Nervous System’s Geode Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you to Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson for lending us their Geode Puzzle.