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, by 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 fanastic 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.)

AllPlay – Aliens are Attacking [Review]

Welcome to Earth

Location:  at your own venue

Date Played: June 14, 2019

Team size: 1-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $1,950 for a company to purchase this for unlimited use

Publisher: Immersive Tech

REA Reaction

AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking was designed for corporate teams to play in a conference room (either their own, or an escape room company’s). Aliens are Attacking was a good escape game, not just “good for a corporate group.”

The core mechanics of the game work well. The puzzles were interesting, varied, and fun. It engaged multiple people on a small team. The greatest opportunities for improvement revolved around on-boarding and use of character roles.

Various items laid out and our team puzzling.

The success of this game will depend heavily on the set up and presentation of the experience. It’s for that reason that I think it would be best delivered in the conference room of an escape room company, with some theming added to the conference room, and a professional in-character gamemaster at the helm.

The pricing of the game is fair. The content is strong.

  • If you’re an escape room company looking for a way to make some money with your conference room space, this is a strong option.
  • If you’re a corporate group looking for an escape room team building game, this is a great choice that doesn’t require physical mobility or exertion.
  • If you’re an escape room player and this is available to play near you, don’t be scared off by the corporate team building concept. This was a strong escape game that played a little differently.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Corporate groups

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles
  • Nifty computer interface

Story

Humanity had called out to other worlds and one of them had answered “surrender.”

With an alien armada approaching we had to analyze and decipher the available information and determine a way to fight back.

The Security Specialist's Documents printed in orange.

Setup

AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking is not available direct to consumer. This is sold to escape room businesses as a game specifically for play in a conference room-like environment. It required a computer to run the game and a table to spread out the printed materials.

AllPlay does not charge a monthly fee nor have any restrictions in terms of usage. You are truly buying Aliens are Attacking to own it. There is no DRM either.

The software guided the progression of the game and handled all solution verification and hinting. For any truly stuck team, there was a mechanism for bypassing puzzles.

A coordinate entry screen.

Gameplay

AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking was a location-independent escape game designed for corporate groups to play at their own locations. It would be best played in a conference-room environment. (It would be even better if that setting were appropriately themed.)

It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and figuring out how to interact with the computer interface.

All 3 role documents.

Analysis

➕ As far as corporate team building games go, we think this one has legs. We brought together a group of players who work in corporations of different sizes that bring in different sorts of team building experiences. Everyone agreed that Aliens are Attacking was engaging and would likely play well at their respective companies.

➕ The print design looked good. There were a lot of printed materials and the design was high quality.

➖ It was a lot of work to set this up. Lindsay, one of our regular teammates, took on the role of gamemaster. She played through the game on her own ahead of the group, following the materials. She then printed all the materials at Staples and organized them into labeled folders.

Without a person organizing this on behalf of the group, Aliens are Attacking wouldn’t have run smoothly. We imagine that if this were just handed to some administrator at a large organization, it wouldn’t go well. We strongly urge companies providing this game to send a gamemaster along with the materials.

➖ Aliens are Attacking lacked onboarding. It look us a while to understand how the computer program and the printed materials interacted. We spent a good deal of time at the beginning floundering because we didn’t understand how the game worked. (Our “gamemaster” hinted a bit once she’d laid out the game for us.) Professional gamemastering would mitigate this problem.

➕ Once we understood how this game wanted to be played, the gameplay flowed smoothly. The structure worked well.

➕ The puzzles were interesting and varied. They were satisfying solves.

➕/➖ The computer interface was fun to use. We took turns poking at it. It also took some getting used to. We kept wanting there to be a mouse.

➖ At the beginning of the game, we were assigned “character” roles. These were underused and didn’t add anything to the experience.

➕ The team could skip a puzzle if it proved to be too difficult. After we’d reached a certain amount of time, that option became available. We appreciated how this would give teams of non-puzzlers the opportunity to see the game through to end without building frustration beyond reasonable levels. This factored into a score at the conclusion of the experience.

➕ There were different levels of winning which we think would work well for corporate team building.

Aliens are Attacking was an executable to download and install. No IT person worth their admin credentials would allow a foreign executable onto a company computer. If the game is being played on-site at a company, it should be brought over on a computer with a professional gamemaster.

➕ If this game were hosted in an escape room’s conference room, the setting could be themed to add to the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: color printer for paper documents and one laptop or computer with the following:
    • OS: Windows 10
    • Processor: Core i3 2GHz+
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Intel HD3000 or above
    • DirectX: Version 9.0
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 300 MB available space
    • keyboard
    • speakers

Buy your copy of AllPlay’s Aliens are Attacking, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you using the coupon code REA15 to receive 15% off.

Disclosure: AllPlay provided a sample for review and we receive a small commission on any games purchased using the REA15 discount code.

Now Available: “The Escape Room,” a Novel by Megan Goldin

The gold covered novel for "The Escape Room" by Megan Golden. There is a person peering through a narrowly opened door.

If you read our review back in March and have been waiting with bated breath, today is your day. The Escape Room is now available for purchase.

Don’t be deceived by the title. This 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 is not so much an escape room and you can’t really solve along… but we see potential in escape rooms playing a role in stories.

Puzzle Snacks [Book Review]

Incredibly great (9)

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Price: $10

Publisher: Tiller Press

REA Reaction

I love word puzzles, but I don’t have a lot of time. Puzzle Snacks stepped right into a void in my life with word puzzles for an extremely busy lifestyle.

Eric Berlin’s Puzzle Snacks made crossword-style cluing more accessible with “bite-sized” puzzles that asked the solver to think creatively about words. It linked words together in interesting ways.

Cover of Puzzle Snacks, "More than 100 clever bite-sized puzzle for every solver" by Eric Berlin.

While I liked some puzzle styles more than others, they were mostly quite enjoyable, and it was easy to skip the one puzzle type that really wasn’t for me.

Newer puzzlers will find these puzzles approachable. Experienced puzzlers will find them quick, yet elegantly satisfying. If you love crosswords, or want to like crosswords, we highly recommend picking up a copy of Puzzle Snacks to enjoy on your own or with a friend, for those fleeting free moments where you just need a word puzzle.

Who is this for?

  • Word puzzlers
  • People with limited time or limited attention span
  • All experience levels

Why play?

  • Crosswording made more approachable
  • Impressive and elegant puzzle designs
  • Bite-sized puzzles

Setup

Each page of Puzzle Snacks presented a crossword-like puzzle. There were 110 of these puzzles. We could dive into any puzzle at any time. They were each standalone solves.

The grid for one of the Spiral puzzles.

Gameplay

Puzzle Snacks was a puzzle book with a low-moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around solving crossword-like clues, and fitting words and letters together in interesting ways.

Analysis

Puzzle Snacks was loaded with elegant puzzles that made us stop and marvel at how everything came together. We were particularly taken with the “Spiral” puzzles that solved both forwards and backwards. Frankly it’s worth the price of admission just to solve these.

Puzzle Snacks made crossword-style word puzzles approachable. As noted in his introduction, author Eric Berlin stuck to everyday words that normal people know. Each puzzle had less than half the number of clues of a standard crossword. He wrote crossword clues for the uninitiated, opening these puzzles to newer word puzzlers or puzzlers with limited time or limited focus.

➕ The puzzles were satisfying solves. Moreover, they were truly impressive creations. I loved how the words fit together. In these puzzles, words I’d already solved clued the ones I was working on, similarly to in a crossword puzzle, but in my opinion, even more elegantly. I loved how the words spiraled, reversed, boxed, crossed, or pathed into each other in interesting ways.

➕ We finished every puzzle we started in that same sitting. That provided immense satisfaction. Even when we struggled, we could approach from a different vantage point and continue along. We were never stumped for more than a minute or two.

➕ The puzzle types repeated, but with different crossword clues and different words fitting into the puzzle designs. We could find the types we liked best and solve a few of them in a row. While we had to read and understand the directions for each puzzle type, we didn’t have to do that for each individual puzzle.

➕/ ➖ The book provided hints at the back. These were noted in such a way that we could find them easily, but wouldn’t accidentally read more information than we wanted. They said just enough to give us something to sink our teeth into if we’d paused. That said, there weren’t enough hints to walk someone through an entire puzzle piece by piece. If you’re seriously struggling, you’ll have to look at the solution to hint yourself, which means spoilers.

➖ The first puzzle seemed stylistically different from most of the others. It asked us to think a bit differently. While we enjoyed it, we found it more challenging than the majority of the puzzle types. It seemed like an odd jumping-off point for the rest of the puzzles in the book. It might turn off a few would-be solvers.

➖ We found the “quote” puzzle type excessively tedious. After solving one of those, we decided not to do any more of that variety. 

➕ We’ve solved a lot of puzzles and there are tons more in this book. I’m looking forward to taking it on planes and trains.

Author Eric Berlin also wrote The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, a fun story where you get to solve alongside a character.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table, or even just a lap
  • Required Gear: a pen or pencil and occasionally a straight edge. We recommend FriXion pens.

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

Disclosure: Tiller Press 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.)

Pringles Mystery Flavor [Review]

Once you pop… the fine print mysteries don’t stop!

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 26, 2019

Team size: Do you want to share?

REA Reaction

Wow. That didn’t suck. Pringles bucked the trend and delivered an edible Mystery Flavor product… instead of some lab accident that they could never sell with proper labeling. (The people behind Peeps are monsters).

I’m a Pringles fan. I enjoy the texture. I’m fond of the flavor. I love the tube and stackability. I think it appeals to my sense of order.

The Pringles logo on the Mystery Flavor Pringles tube.

Is this Mystery Flavor better than the original? Probably not.

Is this Mystery Flavor superior to Sour Cream & Onion Pringles? Hell no… but what is?

However… the flavor isn’t the real mystery. Instead, it’s the bewildering rules of the contest. The rules clearly state “No purchase necessary…” but you cannot submit a flavor guess without an image of your ^&*$!@# receipt!

The top of the Mystery Flavor Pringles tube. The $10,000 prize is highlighted.

It takes digging into the rules to learn that without a receipt, you have to mail in a 3” x 5” piece of paper containing a bunch of information… which is what we’d have to do to enter the contest, since a lovely reader sent us this product as a gift.

Anyway, the Mystery Flavor Pringles were good, but the contest itself was a laborious waste of time.

Who is this for?

  • Pringles fans
  • Mystery food junkies
  • Lawyers

Why play?

  • The food’s pretty good.

Gameplay

To begin, you’ll have to acquire a tube of Mystery Flavor Pringles, only available at Walgreens.

Next you’ll want to check for the flavor seal. You can’t have any of that mystery escaping the tube.

The sealed top of the Mystery Flavor Pringles tube. The words, "Look for the flavor seal" are centered in frame.

Your next step is to pop the top. Finally you can indulge in the mysterious flavor.

One whole, unbroken mystery flavor Pringle resting on a bed of broken chips. The chips have an orangey appearance.

The last step is submitting your flavor guess for a chance to win $10,000 — or in my case, you can spend a few minutes reading a rules PDF before abandoning the contest because it’s structured for administrative ease, not user need.

Analysis

➕ These Pringles actually tasted good. We’re going to finish that tube off and we won’t even trick our friends into eating them.

Spoiler: What did it taste like?

It had a sort of barbecue cheese thing going on. It was very cheesy and smelled most strongly of cheese. There was a bit of paprika in there. I think it was a queso or nacho. If I’m being precise, I think the flavor was “cheap stadium nacho.” I’m confident that if you guess that, it will earn you $10,000 in the contest.

[collapse]

➕ The gold packaging featured a cryptex-like design spelling out the word “MYSTERY” really spoke to me.

The gold Mystery Flavor Pringles tube with a cryptex-like graphic that reads "MYSTERY."

➕ I really respected the decision makers over at Pringles who resisted the urge to force the graphic designers to make the logo bigger.

➖ I’m not sure what’s going on with the weird repeating pattern down at bottom of the tube. That was a great opportunity to embed a cipher or puzzle… or do nothing. Nothing would have looked better.

➖ The contest website was mediocre and submitting to it was a pain. This begs the question: why would Pringles do something to build goodwill with its customers – like run a contest – only to make the whole process so arduous that it leaves those customers with a bad impression of the brand?

The Pringle Tasting Hot Take

As a thank you to our Patreon supporters for helping us reach our early goals, we recorded our Mystery Pringle tasting for them. Each month we share a hot take on Patreon. It might be a reaction to an escape room just as we finish playing it. It might be a reaction to something more unusual. Join our Patreon backers for more exclusive content!

Tips For Playing

  • Mystery Flavor Pringles are only available at Walgreens.
  • You must submit your flavor guesses by July 30, 2019, to be eligible to win.

Thank you to Rex Millar for sending us our tube of Mystery Flavor Pringles.

Can’t Escape Love: A Reluctant Royals Novella [Review]

Innuendo Sauce

Location:  at home

Date Read: June 2019

Team size: 1; we recommend 1

Page Count: 139 pages

Price: $4.99 paperback; $1.99 kindle

Author: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: HarperCollins

REA Reaction

In Can’t Escape Love, romance novelist Alyssa Cole brought together a nerd blogger and an escape room designer in a 2019 novella, as part of her Reluctant Royals series. I’m not a romance novel connoisseur, but when my sister mentioned this novella, I was intrigued to see how someone outside this industry would portray my lifestyle. After all, the main character was a nerdy, 100% focused, busy-all-the-time woman blogger.

Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole's Novella cover depicts a woman in a wheel chair sharing ice cream with a man.

Can’t Escape Love cultivated the characters’ romance around a genuine issue: building escape rooms in established intellectual property and navigating the fandom that comes with that opportunity. The novel nailed what’s at stake in this scenario.

I found the writing hokey. To me, the characters’ relationship felt unrealistic, and at times downright silly. That said, I lacked the context of the larger series and the romance novel genre.

If you like romance novels and are interested in the idea of an unusual novella based around escape rooms, bloggers, nerd culture, and diversity, try this out.

Who is this for?

  • Anyone with experience in puzzles, escape rooms, blogging, or romance novels
  • Discerning romance novel aficionados looking for a lot more story than sex
  • Folks who recognize that representation matters
  • Best for people who have read Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals novels, given how novellas tend to work (see below)
  • People interested in how escape rooms are portrayed in other media

Why Read?

  • Worlds-collide crossover between escape rooms and blogging that plays out in a romance novella
  • An antidote to bodice-ripper stereotypes about romance novels (complete with three-dimensional characters, consent, and a heroine who doesn’t need saving)
  • A plot that addressed genuine issues, albeit in a magical version of the world where you can always expect a happy ending

Story

Reggie was a nerd blogger and a businesswoman trying to launch an online media company in the 21st century. (Sounds familiar!) Gus was a puzzle-obsessed designer tasked with creating an escape room based on a popular anime series for an upcoming con.

Reggie struggled with insomnia. Gus had the most soothing voice.

Gus couldn’t understand the appeal of the IP he was working with. Reggie was a huge fan.

When they traded his voice for her knowledge, they discovered a chemistry. Could they escape love?

Gameplay

Can’t Escape Love was a fairly typical romance novella in some ways (story structure and role in a larger series) and an emphatically non-stereotypical one in others (decidedly feminist and inclusive perspective).

There wasn’t any gameplay, per say. As a reader I could appreciate that the characters were enjoying puzzles, but I couldn’t solve alongside them.

Core “gameplay” revolved around reading.

Analysis

➕ Alyssa Cole captured the blogger life pretty realistically. I could identify with her portrayal of a nerdy blogger. Reggie had depth of character and her day-to-day was relatable.

➖ The puzzle enthusiast character lacked depth. I wanted more insight into the puzzles Gus was designing and solving. Puzzlers and escape room players will likely want more from this character and his work.

➖ The story felt corny. His voice? Really? I don’t read a lot of romance novels, but there were so many cringe-worthy lines as they started to fall for each other. For instance “… maybe it was the happy-anime endorphins rushing through her veins, but everything they said to each other seemed to be dipped in an innuendo sauce and served with a side of ‘let’s bang’ fries.”

➕ While I didn’t connect with the story, the emotions seemed heartfelt. I could empathize with the characters.

➕ In the story, Gus was designing an escape room based in a popular IP. Fans will play this escape room and judge it… as only the fan can. Alyssa Cole nailed this conflict. She also captured a fan’s excitement for a creative world.

Time Run faced these same hurdles in real life with Sherlock: The Game is Now. Creative Director Nick Moran alludes to this commitment to getting it right for fans in our interview from last summer, before the room opened. His talk at Up the Game in 2019 homed in on the challenges involved.

Gus was out of his element designing an escape room around IP he didn’t understand and couldn’t appreciate… until Reggie showed him what it meant to her, and convinced him of its value. As we see more escape rooms based in IP, this will be what sets the good ones apart.

➕/➖ Can’t Escape Love was a crossover that could appeal to both puzzle nerds and romance readers, and especially to anyone who already likes both. I’m thrilled to see escape rooms featured in different genres of culture. That said, Can’t Escape Love didn’t quite build the necessary bridge. As someone who doesn’t know and appreciate the format of a romance novel, the story felt contrived and, at times, downright preposterous. Someone who reads romance novels but doesn’t know or appreciate escape rooms will probably feel similarly, wondering why the characters care so much about that weird thing people do for fun that seems terrifyingly like Saw.

❓Romance novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. That said, romance novels can do good things in the world, and even more so when they represent the vast array of humans who fall in loveCan’t Escape Love is this kind of romance novel. While its style may not satisfy everyone’s desires, it’s written with intent.

Can’t Escape Love is a novella in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series. Novellas typically give more depth to minor characters who show up in the longer novels in a series. This makes novellas awesome if you’ve already read the novels and wanted to see a minor character’s happy ending. This also makes novellas a little confusing and light on context as a place to start. I read Can’t Escape Love without having read any of the novels that give it context. Without this, the culminating conflict fell flat. I could relate to the conflict as a person who is close to her sister, but I wasn’t invested in the characters’ own drama and I didn’t really understand a good portion of it. In contrast, my sister had already read the book about the protagonist’s sister and knew exactly what the final conflict was about (and could also relate as a person who is close to her sister!).

Speaking of my sister, this is her first appearance on Room Escape Artist. We co-authored this review.

Tips For Reader

  • You will get more out of the story if you either already like the romance genre or want to give it a whirl.
  • You will get more out of the story if you’ve read the novels in the Reluctant Royals series. I found it a bit hard to get into. I think my lack of a previous connection to the characters had a lot to do with this.

Buy your copy of Can’t Escape Love, 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.)

Simulacra Games – The Wilson Wolfe Affair [Review]

Animated

Location:  at home

Date Played: Spring 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-4

Duration: variable, there is a lot of game

Price: £59 for Silver Package, £119 for Gold Package, £219 for Platinum Package

REA Reaction

We dove down the rabbit hole that was Simulacra Games’ The Wilson Wolfe Affair, Silver Package (the smallest, but still quite substantial edition).

This puzzle hunt-style game was very difficult in comparison to escape rooms and felt pretty average in terms of puzzle hunt challenge level.

A movie poster for Wilson Wolfe "Ice Odyssey" features the feline title character exploring frozen tundra dragging an ice block with a mummy in it.

The Wilson Wolfe Affair really shined in its production value. The materials and design were consistently beautiful. The writing felt strong and in-character throughout every item… and there were a lot of items. Additionally, the puzzles that made use of some of the more animation-focused components really stole the show.

The Wilson Wolfe Affair stumbled in some aspects of game design, particularly on-boarding, which was chaotic, and led to many of the game’s less than stellar moments. There were also a few puzzles that played it a little too loose for my taste.

All in all, I’m happy that we spent 4 evenings playing through The Wilson Wolfe Affair. I was content with only playing the Silver Package. Although there is a part of me that’s curious about some of the puzzles we never got to see, when all was said and done, I was fine turning to my teammates and saying, “That’s all, folks.”

If you’re a puzzle hunter and can get your hands on a copy of The Wilson Wolfe Affair, I think it’s a worthy challenge. If you’re unfamiliar or inexperienced with puzzle hunts, please don’t make The Wilson Wolfe Affair your maiden voyage. Attempt something a little more guided and with tighter, more definitive puzzles. (I discussed this in my Cryptex Hunt Primer.)

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Deep puzzling
  • Some nifty interactions

Story

A secret society was operating from within a 1930s Los Angeles animation studio whose most popular character was the cartoon cat Wilson Wolfe.

We had received a package of items from the studio and had to decode and decipher the secret organization’s communications.

Simulacra Games/ Jinks Studios box.

Setup

We cracked open a box and found a wide variety of meticulously designed paper puzzles.

The documents ranged from animation cells and movie advertisements to internal corporate memos and a newspaper, among many other things.

The printed materials varied greatly depending upon the item, but the print quality as well as the art direction was unquestionably strong.

An assortment of items including a journal from 1936 and a pamphlet titled "Modern Magick."

Gameplay

Simulacra Games’ The Wilson Wolfe Affair was a play-at-home puzzle hunt with a very high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling, making connections, piecing together the story, and staying organized.

A newspaper, a map, a poker chip, an a patch with a South American-esque design.

Analysis

➕ The Wilson Wolfe Affair was loaded with challenging and largely entertaining puzzles, more than 35 of them.

➖ There were some puzzles that were too tedious, requiring pixel hunt-like detail fishing. There were also a few puzzles where the solutions were too loose for my taste.

➕ The writing and art were wonderful and consistent, especially considering how much content was in the box.

➕/➖ The online hint system was mostly sufficient and helped us get back on track when needed. The biggest struggles that we had were when we couldn’t tell exactly what puzzle we were working on, which happened from time to time because of the nature of the game structure.

➖ Opening The Wilson Wolfe Affair felt like drinking from a firehose. There were tons and tons of materials. It wasn’t entirely clear which items went together, or which puzzles we should start with or leave for the ending. The Wilson Wolfe Affair needed stronger on-boarding.

➖ There was a journal that included cluing. This thing was kind of strange. Sometimes it was the key to solving a puzzle; other times it offered nothing or worse, functioned as a red herring and led us wildly astray.

➕/➖ There was a clever system that conveyed how many letters in each puzzle’s answer. While this was clearly designed to lend a hand to the solvers, we didn’t figure out what it was until we were almost finished with the entire game. We thought it was a separate puzzle and not a clue. I’m not pointing fingers…. It’s possible that this was conveyed somewhere, but we never found it. This ties back to the need for stronger on-boarding in The Wilson Wolfe Affair.

➖ The net effect of the disconnects between on-boarding, the journal, and the puzzles themselves was that we solved them in a completely random sequence. In most puzzle hunts, this wouldn’t be a problem. The Wilson Wolfe Affair, however, attempted to convey a story. In the end, we could barely follow the story because it was more out of sequence than a Christopher Nolan film.

➕ The more tangible puzzles were among the most memorable and unique of the game.

❓ We played the less expensive and less expansive Silver Package. The larger versions of the game seem to have included many more tangible puzzles, and tangible puzzles were among my favorite parts of the game. On one hand, I’m really curious what they played like. On the other hand, when we finished up the Silver Package, I felt satisfied and didn’t really want more content.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a large table
  • Required Gear: paper and pencil or frixion pen, an internet connected device
  • Recommended Gear: a spreadsheet for keeping answers organized

Buy your copy of Simulacra Games’ The Wilson Wolfe Affair, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

To do so, you’ll have to check the second-hand market because it is no longer available from Simulacra Games. You can sign up on their website to learn more about their future projects.