Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was not designed for us. If you’re a regular reader of Room Escape Artist, we can pretty much guarantee that it wasn’t made for you either. This game feels like light entertainment for adults who don’t play or puzzle much.
Host Your Own Escape Room looked good, but it didn’t have much of anything going on beyond its elegant production.
Including setup time, we finished Host Your Own Escape Room in 20 minutes. There was a light searching component and approximately 3 puzzles (depending upon your definition of puzzle), all of which were incredibly common and basic puzzle types.
That isn’t to say that they were bad (except for the one that demanded a bit of outside knowledge). The puzzles were cleanly executed. However, there simply wasn’t much to it.
Creators in the escape room world are making so many delightful and creative games. Host Your Own Escape Room simply wasn’t representative of where this medium is moving.
Who is this for?
People who want to enjoy the faintest whiff of an escape room from the comfort of their own home.
The 3 puzzles all solve cleanly
High production value
We were trapped inside of a cinema in Tokyo.
A host is supposed to open the box, read the rules, and hide a few items in a room within their home.
Once the guests are in the room, said host reads a brief introduction to the setting and so begins the game.
The host can play with the group, provided they didn’t solve the puzzles in advance. They just have to hold back on searching (and maybe provide searching hints if they hid items too well or their friends are lazy searchers.)
If the team requires hints or solutions to any of the puzzles, the instruction booklet contains them in the last few pages.
Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was a standard play-at-home escape game with a low level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.
➕ For $20, the production value of Host Your Own Escape Room was impressive. All of the materials looked great. They had an elegant red, black, and white aesthetic that demonstrated that someone really cared about the presentation of this game.
➕ The option and instructions for adding a search component into the game were well executed.
➖ The story was only thematically relevant.
➕ The puzzles within this game all solved cleanly, and pulled from Japanese culture and puzzle design.
➖ The puzzles were all common puzzle types without much of a twist.
➖ A large volume of the objects within this game had no purpose other than to look thematic. It’s a shame that these components weren’t worked into the gameplay at all.
➖ One puzzle required outside knowledge.
➖ The phrase, “with interactive ending” literally meant that we needed to use a web browser in the most basic way possible.
➕ Host Your Own Escape Room came with a beefy notepad. It was hilariously large for this game. We’ve kept it and will be using it for some time.
Tips For Players
Space Requirements: a room with a door and a small table
Required Gear: an internet-connected device, paper and pencil (or pen if you like to live dangerously)
Buy your copy of Talking Tables’s Host Your Own Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
So You Wanna Save the World is envisioned as a monthly puzzle subscription service intended to replicate the feel of playing an escape room. The monthly package hasn’t launched yet, but this free prequel episode offers a taste of what the creators have in mind.
Considering the online setting, Episode 0 felt a lot like a puzzle hunt, but with more of a story focus. The secret agency backstory provided a clever meta-explanation for the physical mailer format. Using websites, videos, and phone calls upped the fun factor.
The gameplay itself felt uneven at times, as some moments of insight came significantly more easily than others. Trial and error played a role as we determined which components fit together. The puzzles ranged from delightfully challenging to frustratingly opaque.
The tone of So You Wanna Save the World was edgy bordering on aggressive. Players who prefer a more welcoming, supportive atmosphere should probably look elsewhere.
So You Wanna Save the World made big promises of being cinematic and game-changing. Episode 0 delivered a slick and entertaining game, but with some rough edges. Producing fun, balanced content every month isn’t easy, but with lots of playtesting, future installments could live up to those promises.
Who is this for?
Players with at least some experience
The edgy, roguish vibe
To banter with a smart-mouthed AI
We had been recruited by the Mail Marshals, a secret government agency embedded inside the post office. Two Mail Marshals agents, along with an experimental AI, provided evidence and secret messages for us to decipher in order to prove our worth and catch the bad guy.
So You Wanna Save the World used websites, phone numbers, and videos to present a series of puzzles enmeshed in a secret agent story. An online account saved our progress in a Case Notes section, complete with writeups of our progress so far. We could confer with other players via the Recruit Network (a Facebook group) if we needed help.
In future installments of So You Wanna Save the World, each episode will start with a physical mailing sent to players’ home addresses. This introductory episode began with a digital version of one of these mailers.
So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 was an online puzzle game with a high level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation and cracking codes.
The puzzles varied in difficulty and usually involved aha moments. This meant some puzzles took just a few moments to figure out and others took far longer.
The puzzles were presented in tandem with a story about the case we were working on. The tasks mostly emerged authentically from the story and the puzzle’s medium (video, audio, or graphic).
➕ So You Wanna Save the World integrated websites, phone calls, and physical mailings. The puzzles felt natural in all of these habitats.
➕/➖ The website, videos, and other materials went a long way towards making the experience immersive. The production value was slick and professional, but the characters lacked a sense of urgency. We found ourselves wishing the videos had expressed the intensity that saving the world would ostensibly require.
➖ Our interactions with Tachyon, our AI helper, were persnickety. We sometimes had to experiment to find the specific wording that would get her to react. When she didn’t understand, she berated us with insults that quickly became repetitive.
❓ Speaking of Tachyon…So You Wanna Save the World was explicitly not for children. The cursing was gratuitous and unabashed, and the story included descriptions of violence. This may limit the potential audience somewhat, particularly for families interested in puzzling together.
➕/➖ So You Wanna Save the World presented bonus evidence and Easter eggs concurrently with the main storyline. We enjoyed searching for the extra hidden content. At times the bonus puzzles stood out more than the ones on the main branch of gameplay, so we accidentally forked away without realizing. Further playtesting might help even out the difficulty of the branches.
➕/➖ Solving puzzles and determining which components to combine often required trial and error. Many of the stand-alone puzzles provided satisfying moments of insight. When we needed to choose which clues fit together to make progress, the lack of structure made things more challenging, and occasionally frustrating.
➖ Because we didn’t know what style or caliber of puzzle to expect, we had trouble getting our bearings at first. We spent almost an hour on the first puzzle before the insight necessary to solve it dawned on us. An easier start or some form of onboarding would give players a better idea of what sort of challenge awaited.
➕ The Case Notes section of the website recorded our progress and included recaps of previous puzzles. This helped us keep our findings straight and reorient ourselves after stepping away from the game. The Case Notes also helped show how a puzzle was solved when we weren’t quite sure how we’d done it.
➖ The first-person format of the Case Notes became jarring when the notes expressed attitudes opposed to my own. Late in the game, Recruit Willson praised a character whose actions I would never support in real life. Seeing my actual name on this entry was unsettling. A more neutral stance in the notes would preserve immersion.
➕/➖ The Facebook group was a creative in-game way to get hints. It was tricky to describe where we were stuck, since the puzzles weren’t linear or explicitly named. The other recruits’ posts were helpful, though we had to dodge spoilers for puzzles we hadn’t reached yet. Also, the group could become more or less useful in the future as the community grows or shrinks.
➕ The Mail Marshals backstory explained the purpose of the physical mailer components cleverly. Episode 0 started online instead of via snail mail, but searching through actual junk mail for secret messages in future episodes sounds like fun.
Tips for Playing
So You Wanna Save the World:Episode 0 requires an internet connection and a US phone number. A pencil and paper will come in handy, but otherwise you don’t need any special equipment.
Playing alone or with one companion seems ideal, since the puzzles aren’t particularly collaborative. If you typically like approaching puzzle hunts and similar games solo, try this one by yourself.
And ignore Tachyon when she tells you you’re a useless $*@%. You’ll show her.
The folks behind the EXIT The Game series have been cranking out tabletop escape games for a few years. Catacombs of Horror is decidedly the crown jewel in the current collection. We loved this double-length tabletop puzzle experience.
Looks can be deceiving. Doctor Esker’s Notebook didn’t look like much, but it had some brilliant puzzling. We highly recommend this little deck of cards. We also have the sequel, Son of Esker, waiting on our to-play pile. We can’t vouch for the sequel yet, but we are excited to give it a go.
Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzles are part jigsaw puzzle and part tabletop escape game. Players first solve a 759-piece jigsaw puzzle. Then they solve the puzzles embedded within the image to ultimately resolve a meta-puzzle. The Escape Puzzle twist added more purpose to the jigsaw assembly. Our favorites were Space Observatory, which was a more challenging jigsaw but an easier escape puzzle, and Witch’s Kitchen, which looked great and played evenly across all types of puzzles.
The Escape Game put a new twist on the tabletop escape room format with Escape from Iron Gate. This competitive escape game pitted us against each other in a quest to puzzle, act, draw, and trade our way out of prison the quickest. It’s easy to learn and accessible to non-gamers… but don’t underestimate its strategic depth.
I honestly thought this was going to be garbage, but I was wrong. These 3D puzzles are surprisingly satisfying and solid. They offer a lot of different designs, but I went with the Rubber Ducky… it was the one.
Puzzle Snacks was an inspired idea for a book. It’s a collection of word puzzles deliberately designed for quick solving. They don’t require any crossword puzzler wizardry, nor do they necessitate an extensive vocabulary. They are straightforward, fun, and clever. We ate them up.
Created by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, Ship of Theseus is an immersive novel with layers of storytelling. The other day, Room Escape Artist correspondent Sarah Willson published her review that was months in the making. All I can say is, I wish that I had the time to dive into the deep end on this one. I’m glad she did.
When I was looking for a Sudoku book, the Bletchey Park Puzzle Books caught my eye, not because they are special from a puzzling standpoint, but because the cover art was simple and understated. Most puzzle books of this style have loud covers that look like they were designed by a 6-year-old who just learned about WordArt.
Lisa and I love dessert… a lot. We like making desserts and we especially enjoy consuming them. Chocolate key molds bring together a few of our favorite things. We’re guessing that there might be a few other folks who feel the same way.
Ex Libris is a competitive tabletop game where everyone is a wizard librarian working to assemble the most impressive and best organized collection of magical books. If that description is speaking to you, then you probably need to buy this game.
I hate this game. If there’s someone in your life that you aren’t fond of, but are stuck with, and you need to get them a present, this is the low key, passive-aggressive gift you’re looking for. For a good time, read my review.
I’ve long wanted a lightweight, full-sized screwdriver with interchangeable bits that is also easy to toss into a bag. It turns out that penetration tester (and quite possibly the most interesting person on the internet) Deviant Ollam found the solution.
I freaking love this screwdriver. It lives in my bag now. I’ve already bought a second one to give to a friend. I have a feeling that I’ll be giving these things as gifts pretty often.
We bought our first house this year and I’ve been learning to do a little electrical work. This tool is a lifesaver. Sure, you can do it with a multimeter, but why bother when the non-contact voltage tester is so effortless?
This little guy plugs into an AC outlet and immediately checks its functionality. This is one of the most efficient tools I’ve ever used. If I had to use a multimeter to check every outlet in the house, it would have taken so much more time and effort.
Earlier this year I asked Justin Nevins, the creator of the one true Cryptex, what his favorite tool was. His answer was an airbrush, which surprised me. He suggested this Paasche brush and followed it up by saying, “I swap out the plastic bottles for glass. I like this brand over Testors’ because of the metal components.”
We’re producing an escape room convention on August 23 & 24, 2020 in Boston. The escape room creator in your life (which may be you) should absolutely attend. We’re doing the hard work and believe that we’re building something special.
I love me some hot sauce. I’m not competitive about it, nor am I a masochist. I just love me some spice and the flavor of habanero peppers. Secret Aardvark is a flavorful, medium-heat hot sauce with no calories, carbs, or sugar. I put it on basically everything that isn’t a dessert.
Why is this on here? I love it. Also, it’s “secret” aardvark. It’s totally on-brand for us.
Created by artist/ engineer/ architect Chuck Hoberman, the Hoberman Switch is far more interesting than a fidget toy. When you toss this ball in the air, its outside flips inside and the color changes.
Escape from Iron Gate was quite the surprise and a breath of fresh air in a tabletop escape room scene that’s always riffing on the same “real-life escape room on your table” structure.
The Escape Game’s take on the tabletop escape room was 100% competitive, not collaborative. It had a board-gamey feel to it. We moved our meeples through different areas of a prison, rolled dice, collected sets of item cards, and earned those cards through solving puzzles – and playing charades or Pictionary.
This was an approachable game. Whereas I find myself playing tabletop escape games mostly with puzzle people, I could play Escape from Iron Gate with almost anyone.
Moreover, as we played harder, we started to find more strategic depth than we’d expected.
The main drawback to Escape from Iron Gate was that some (not all) of the puzzle types got stale. For example, if you’re an escape room veteran going in, substitution and pigpen ciphers aren’t going to throw you for a loop for even a second. We found ourselves disregarding these and drawing something else, which was fine.
I really enjoyed this game, and absolutely recommend it for families and friend groups. It was light-hearted, easy to learn, and varied. I truly liked that we weren’t just solving puzzles, or just playing Pictionary or charades. The constant flux of game modes kept things playful.
Moreover, this is a fully replayable game. We have replayed it and we will continue to do so. We’d love it if The Escape Game created an expansion with more challenging actions, puzzles, and a set of blank “create your own” action and puzzle cards. Personalization would add even more replay value to Escape from Iron Gate.
If you enjoy tabletop games, party games, and puzzles, you’ll enjoy their combination in Escape from Iron Gate.
Who is this for?
This is general audience tabletop game.
Avid puzzlers, talented drawers, and skilled pantomime actors will have some advantages.
Some amusing puzzles
It had a lot more depth than initially appeared
We had all been wrongfully accused of crimes and locked up in Iron Gate prison. Naturally, the only path to freedom was a puzzle prison break.
Escape from Iron Gate was a competitive tabletop game the blended a few genres into a unique experience with a party game vibe.
We aimed to collect sets of item cards that would allow us to bust out of different areas of the prison. We had to proceed from the cell block, to the yard, to the cafeteria, and finally to the warden’s office before achieving freedom (and winning the game.) Each area required each player to collect a unique set of items.
We earned item cards by solving puzzles, playing dexterity mini-games, and playing Pictionary or charades. Dice rolls and luck of the draw determined which games we’d play when.
The details are explained in this video:
If there was a gap in the rules or the group wanted to tweak the way things worked, we were encouraged to create our own prison rules. We quickly added our own rules and adapted the game to our play group.
The REA Rule: Whenever a player used a card set to break out of an area, that player had to tell the group a story about how they used each item to do the deed.
The Escape Game’s Escape from Iron Gate was a party board game with a puzzle-solving component and a moderate level of difficulty.
Unlike escape rooms, Escape from Iron Gate was a competitive (not collaborative) game.
The puzzles were drawn from a massive stack of cards and included a mix of spatial puzzles, logic puzzles, riddles, ciphers, and reasoning challenges. They were all contained on individual cards, so they were static.
Core gameplay revolved around rolling dice, playing charades, playing Pictionary, accomplishing mini dexterity challenges, searching, solving puzzles, negotiating, and planning ahead.
➕ The artwork looked great. We liked the matte aesthetic and the color scheme. Everything felt polished.
➕ Escape from Iron Gate was easy to learn. The engaging rules video presented the game clearly. The rulebook included a full-page diagram of the sequence for a turn, which we found to be especially helpful while we got the hang of the gameplay.
➕ The structure of actions, puzzles, and trading kept everyone continually engaged, even on other players’ turns.
➕ Escape from Iron Gate was reasonably well balanced. For a puzzle game, it included quite a bit of chance, but that kept it interesting. Even with the chance, it felt fair.
➖ Some of the puzzles quickly became tasks (especially the ciphers). We could only have the aha moment the first time we encountered some of these puzzle types.
➕ Gameplay was funny. The whole concept was ridiculous. Escape from Iron Gate didn’t take itself too seriously… which encouraged us to laugh along with it.
❓/➕ Acting and drawing really didn’t fit the prison escape theme all that well. We debated whether the actions in the game were thematically relevant, but in the end it didn’t really matter to us because they were entertaining.
➕ The red filter hint/answer system was simple and effective. Additionally, hints mattered less in this game than most tabletop escape games because failure to solve a puzzle didn’t break the game.
➕ We appreciated how Escape from Iron Gate drew from escape room mythology, but stood alone as its own game. It was set in The Escape Game’s Prison Break. We enjoyed the nods to that game. In no way, however, did it feel like playing a rehash of that escape room (or any other tabletop game).
Tips For Players
Space Requirements: a small table
Required Gear: each player needs scratch paper and a pen
The Escape Game encourages players to make their own house rules. We embraced this whole heartedly. REA house rules included telling a story of how you used your items to pass each gate.
This would work well as a family game or a drinking game. We can see lots of great opportunities for adding drinking game rules.
Buy your copy of The Escape Game’s Escape from Iron Gate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Ship of Theseus, also known as S., is hard to categorize. Presented in book form, it’s an ambitious piece of experimental fiction with many layers of story and meaning. Ship of Theseus started with an innocuous central premise — who is the author V.M. Straka? — and infused it with unique storytelling to create an epic reading experience.
Ship of Theseus felt more like a novel than anything else, but its supplemental documents and many narrative layers made it more involving than passively reading a regular book. At times, the unusual format felt as exciting as a movie and as nonlinear and interactive as a game.
There were ciphers embedded in Ship of Theseus, and deciding how to tackle the layers of story required some strategizing. But mostly the point was to explore and gradually gain familiarity with its rich fictional world of academia and intrigue.
Due to its length and complexity, Ship of Theseus was intimidating. If you’re looking for a straightforward read or clearly delineated puzzles, the setup may feel overwhelming. Just like with certain other J.J. Abrams projects, not all the open questions got clear answers. But even without uncovering all of its secrets, Ship of Theseus had a lot to offer casual readers.
If you love the feeling of exploring someone’s communications and unlocking a grand story piece by piece, Ship of Theseus was made for you.
Who is this for?
Avid readers who enjoy being immersed in a story’s world
Fans of experimental literature
Rich, intricate world building
Impressive construction of story layers
Mysteries at every turn
V.M. Straka wrote many novels, but his true identity remains shrouded in mystery. His final book, Ship of Theseus, followed a man with amnesia journeying to distant lands to discover his true identity and motivation. Straka’s translator published the novel posthumously in 1949.
Decades later, two students at Pollard State University meet by writing notes back and forth in a copy of Ship of Theseus left at the university library.By delving into Straka’s web of associations and solving hidden messages in the book, Jen and Eric connect over a shared interest in discovering Straka’s identity. Along the way, they’re thrown into a conspiracy story of their own with life-or-death stakes.
Ship of Theseus waspresented as an old hardcover book. It had copious notes written in the margins and an assortment of paper mementos interspersed throughout the pages. Besides the authors’ names on the box, the entire package appeared to be an artifact from the story’s fictional world.
The novel unfolded as a stand-alone narrative within the literary intrigue surrounding the associates and scholars of V.M. Straka.
In the margins, Jen and Eric discussed research about Straka, goings-on in their corner of academia, and typical getting-to-know-you topics. They also shared theories about secret messages hidden in Ship of Theseus. They wrote in different colors in different time periods, so part of the reading process involved untangling the timeline of their findings and the events they described.
By perusing the novel, the translator’s footnotes, the conversations between Jen and Eric, and the documents slipped between the pages, I attempted to puzzle out the concurrent narrative threads and eventually solve the central question: Who is V.M. Straka?
Ship of Theseus was primarily a nonlinear reading experience, but certain elements felt a bit like solving puzzles. Determining the timeline of Jen and Eric’s notes based on the color of their pens gave me logic puzzle vibes. Piecing together details from different timelines and different sources helped deepen my understanding of the story world.
Ship of Theseus included a number of ciphers within its pages. The margin notes frequently pointed out odd details about certain passages and theorized about possible hidden messages. Jen and Eric wrote out solutions to several of the book’s ciphers in the margins.
Because Ship of Theseus was presented as a found object, no other solutions were available. The creators initially published websites and social media posts dedicated to solving the mysteries of Straka, in the vein of an ARG. These are cryptic, however, and some of the links may have decayed in the ensuing years.
Reading and rereading Ship of Theseus and its supplementary documents created an increasingly clear picture of Straka’s life and legacy. I felt comfortable putting the book down when the story seemed complete enough. Hunting for puzzles to solve felt like a whole new dimension — one that, in my case, eventually became a burden.
➕ Ship of Theseus felt like an artifact with a rich backstory. The paper and binding were yellowed and worn like a real old book. Maybe I’d imagined it, but the pages even smelled a little musty. This authentic design set the stage for the story to come. It also meant I didn’t have to be careful with the book. If you scuff it up or accidentally splash tea on the pages, that only makes it more lifelike.
➕ Between the novel itself, the translator’s footnotes, the inserts, and the margin notes, Ship of Theseus contained at least half a dozen points of view from several different time periods, all presented at once. It blew my mind to imagine the work that must have gone into keeping all these layers straight and combining them to create an immersive, cohesive story world.
➕ As a novel, Ship of Theseus stood on its own as an odd but engaging piece of fiction. The parallels between the novel and the side stories added to the intrigue.
➕/➖ The expansiveness of the mythology was impressive, even extending to seemingly official websites and social media posts. But the book came out in 2013, and certain links are no longer live (if they ever were). I found online communities dedicated to solving the book’s mysteries, but the conversation had died down since its publication. At that point, I felt like I was on my own.
➕ Because of all the simultaneous layers, the material appeared out of order and without full context, especially the margin notes. This structure may sound daunting, but in practice it felt empowering to make connections among all the story threads. After I’d spent a few months with Ship of Theseus, it felt like a major triumph to have gone from utter confusion to near fluency with the story’s literary world. But that doesn’t mean less patient readers will get lost: even without deep knowledge of what everything means, the story feels complete, and regular plot reminders help keep most things straight.
➕ Jen and Eric were strong, fleshed-out characters, right down to their distinctive handwriting. Because of Ship of Theseus’s nonlinear design, they developed over time in a unique way. The older margin notes reminded me of my own college days. The more recent ones illustrated how the characters have grown.
➕ Most of the ciphers in the book were pre-solved in the margin notes, but usually not on the same page. I appreciated being able to consider them as long as I wanted before reading on to find the code explained. Cipher aficionados might prefer to spend more time poring over the text before moving on.
❓Sometimes the notes indicated a seemingly important detail that might be part of a code, but never resolved the mystery. My internet research didn’t turn up any answers about the importance of these details. If they are secret messages, they’re extremely hard to decode. If not, they’re just red herrings.
➖ Ship of Theseus felt like it contained a multitude of hidden messages, but I didn’t find much to actually solve. Of the ciphers explained in the margins, the average puzzler couldn’t solve most of them without help. Not that they should’ve dumbed it down — but it hurt a little to solve literally nothing on my own.
➕ As a whole, Ship of Theseus presented a message of hope and perseverance. The conclusion of the various threads felt emotional and satisfying — though it never exactly felt like the end, because I can always pick up the book again and revisit Straka’s world someday.
Tips For Reading
Some of the margin notes refer to things that happen later in the novel, so reading the novel before the notes would be an efficient way to set out…in theory. However, it’s hard to ignore the eye-catching notes in the margins. See what feels right. You could read chapter by chapter, or go through the notes again after reading the whole book in order.
Even if you don’t attempt any extra sleuthing, Ship of Theseus is not a weekend read. Because it’s a longer narrative experience, it helps to keep notes, however you approach your readthrough. With all the out-of-context references, it might even be worth making an index. It all depends on how serious you want to get.
If you aren’t interested in rabbit holes, you can read casually and have most of the details doled out like a regular book. Without the extra trappings, Ship of Theseus is still a memorable, satisfying story.
Finally, don’t let the inserts fall out. But if they do, you can find guides online that describe where they all go.
Buy your copy of Ship of Theseus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Escape from the Grand Hotel was Professor Puzzle’s first foray into tabletop escape games… and they got a lot right.
The printed materials and package design were beautiful.
The gameplay took some clear inspiration from the ThinkFun tabletop escape games, using location envelopes and paper components to tell a puzzle-driven narrative. Their approach to answer verification was clever.
Professor Puzzle stumbled with hinting and editing. Bluntly, this game felt under playtested. There were too many little problems that were easily fixable. The hint system was innovative, but insufficient.
There are some interesting ideas and a lot of great execution in Escape from the Grand Hotel. If you really enjoy tabletop escape games, this one had a lot to offer. However, there were too many little flaws and gaps that got amplified by the limited hint system for me to comfortably recommend this to a tabletop escape game newbie.
Who is this for?
Players with at least some experience
Beautiful game materials
The structure and gameflow
The answer mechanic
The opportunity to make an evening of a tabletop puzzle game
The storiedGrand Hotel was once the place for the rich and famous to visit. After decades of disrepair, the mysterious and wealthy Blossom family had restored the hotel to its former glory. We were invited to its grand reopening.
Escape from the Grand Hotel had an interesting structure.
Each player received an invitation. This included character information and encouraged costuming. (We didn’t really use any of this because we didn’t realize it was an option until we already had our friends over and the box open.)
Once we began, we unfolded the beautifully printed cardstock hotel settings. We could observe what was in each space. In many, we also found additional paper items (puzzle pieces).
If we solved a puzzle, it would resolve to a clue to the next location within the hotel for us to visit. Sometimes this meant that we derived a room number. Other times we uncovered a more cryptic clue like the color of one of the doors or some other descriptor.
If we needed a hint, we could unfold one from the location. Interestingly, the hints were usually puzzles in and of themselves… puzzles without their own hints.
Professor Puzzle’s Escape from the Grand Hotel was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate to high level of difficulty. If you’re comfortable with tabletop escape room puzzles, this was moderately difficult. If you aren’t comfortable with the format, the limited hinting could make this game quite challenging.
Professor Puzzle also encouraged making the game into an event by providing character roles.
Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.
➕ We enjoyed the structure of Escape from the Grand Hotel. Each puzzle led us to another room in the hotel. It was fun to explore the hotel in this way.
➕ The first puzzle worked well for onboarding players. It wasn’t too challenging. Through it we understood how Escape from the Grand Hotel wanted us to play it.
➕ The solution mechanism was fantastic. The idea that the puzzle solutions alluded to the next area of the game was a smart twist on the tabletop escape game format. This approach allowed Professor Puzzle to strip out artificial answer checking mechanisms and keep things in-world.
➖ We encountered some taxonomy inconsistencies within the in-game instructions. The way that it referred to things sometimes shifted. This got confusing.
➕ Professor Puzzle designed a beautiful product with high-quality printed materials. From the box to the game components it looked and felt great. We especially enjoyed the illustrations of the rooms in the hotel. We really loved the box.
➖ Although the artwork was beautiful, it included a visual variance that factored into the gameplay. Cluing needed to match the artwork, or vice versa.
➕ Escape from the Grand Hotel included a variety of puzzles of different types and difficulties.
➖ In some instances, the puzzles needed additional cluing.
➖ In one instance, ambiguous wording turned the final stages of a complex puzzle into trial and error. This got old quickly.
➕ Professor Puzzle provided duplicate copies of one of the more tedious puzzles so that more players could participate.
➖ The hint for each puzzle was concealed in a pocket in each “room” we entered. Although we liked this presentation of hints, Professor Puzzle included only one hint per puzzle, which was insufficient. The hint system needed far more granularity. In some instances, the hints themselves were puzzles and they didn’t have hints for themselves.
➕ The story was hokey, but it came together well enough in the end. It worked for the game and made us smile in the end.
➕ Professor Puzzle encourages players to make an evening of Escape from the Grand Hotel. They included invitations to mail to guests, who can come in character and in costume. This would be a fun way to make a play-at-home puzzle game into a bigger event.
➖ While character roles were fun, they were not relevant to the gameplay.
➖ It wasn’t clear that those character invitations were even an option until we had started the game.
➖ Although the game can be played without destroying any of the components, it didn’t provide reset instructions. We were able to pack it up correctly by referencing the solutions guide, but without instructions, we had to repack one puzzle in the solved state.
➕ Escape from the Grand Hotel required only the materials in the box. It did not require an app download or internet connection.
Tips For Player
Space Requirements: a small table
Required Gear: pen and paper
To make a larger event around this game, mail out the enclosed invitations and have your guests arrive in character and in costume. Note, the character roles are entirely for fun and are not relevant to the gameplay.
Buy your copy of Professor Puzzle’s Escape from the Grand Hotel, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
The Mystery of Eldorado was the fourth installment in Deckscape’s card-based, story-driven escape game series. We were lost in the Amazon (rain forest… not website) and Deckscape added a survivalist twist to the puzzles.
In The Mystery of Eldorado, we had to make decisions – lots of them. Our choices came with ramifications: some foreseeable, others that came out of nowhere. In puzzle-driven games, if you’re solving well, you usually feel in control. The Mystery of Eldorado, however, always felt a little out of control, which was equal parts thematic and annoying.
This was a strong installment, especially for Deckscape fans. The art was good. The story was playful. There were plenty of puzzles to fill a play session; we just wished that there was a little more variety to the puzzle types.
All in all, this was a fun game for the price and a good value for table top escape room players.
Who is this for?
Players with at least some experience
Some truly unusual puzzles
An interesting story
You’re a Deckscape fan
While searching for the lost city of Eldorado, our plane had crashed in the jungle. With limited resources, and danger lurking in the leaves, we were committed to finding the legendary city or to die trying.
We’re big fans of Enigma Emporium’s postcard-based puzzles… so we were eager to dig into their larger, more elaborate, and beautiful deck of puzzle cards.
We ciphered through the cards in two extended sessions and found the experience mixed.
We loved the concept, the art, and a lot of the early puzzles… but as the mystery pressed on, it got repetitive. Then it got really repetitive.
Overall, Enigma Emporium absolutely delivered when it came to production value. From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to love and we’re happy that we played through it. At the same time, it’s hard to keep ourselves from imagining other things that could have been done with such a gorgeous deck of puzzle cards.
If you’re into cipher-play and have the patience to buckle up for a 6 – 12 hour mystery, then Carte Rouge is worth exploring.
Who is this for?
Players with at least some experience
Beautiful card art and high production value
An interesting story hidden behind ciphered messages
You enjoy progressive discovery
A mysterious and strange deck of cards had arrived in the mail. A note was included asking us to investigate its origins and purpose.
Carte Rouge was an actual deck of 52 cards plus a pair of jokers. Embedded in the card art (particularly the face cards) we found hidden messages and puzzles.
They were printed on quality card stock. If one wished to purchase this deck and use it exclusively to play card games, that would be a viable option.
The art itself looked fantastic. Enigma Emporium managed to maintain that classic card art, while hiding loads of messages.
Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge was a play-at-home escape game with a high level of difficulty relative to most tabletop escape games.
Core gameplay revolved around observing, deciphering, making connections, and keeping organized.
➕ We were captivated by the puzzle-in-playing-cards concept. This setup also facilitated collaborative gameplay. We could spread the cards out among players and work through the puzzles as a team.
➕ The cards were beautiful and intricate. They looked and felt like the real deal. The artwork was exquisite.
❓ The puzzling in Carte Rouge was almost entirely deciphering. If you enjoy ciphers, this is your tabletop game; it’s great. If you don’t want to solve ciphers and translate passages, this will not be for you.
➕ Our favorite ciphers were clued brilliantly by other patterns. For us, these ciphers were the pinnacle of the gameplay in Carte Rouge. Most of them appeared earlier in the experience.
➖ Much of the ciphering resolved to narrative embellishments, but didn’t advance the plot of the game. We translated brutally long passages, working through them long after the aha moment. In the end, a lot of it was flavor. This got repetitive.
➖ Multiple puzzles used the same cipher. Once we’d worked out that particular system, we had to work through a number of different instances. This was repetitive and seemed like a missed opportunity.
➖ While sometimes the ciphers were subtly clued in the artwork, other times they weren’t clued it all (as far as we could tell). As we played, we found that there were limited encipherment options. We’d just hack at different possibilities until a passage resolved to something meaningful.
➕ Enigma Emporium crammed a lot of game into only a little space. This was impressive. They fit an incredible amount of information into a card.
➖ The deck of cards itself felt like a missed opportunity. We were anticipating mechanics involving magic, placement, math, poker hands… really anything that one does with a deck of cards. Yet, it didn’t matter how these cards were held or arranged. In fact, there was little interaction between the cards at all. Additionally, most of the cards were barely used. The gameplay revolved around only a small portion of the deck and we didn’t need to do much beyond regard and rotate.
➖ The hint system lacked sufficient granularity. We’d be hinted at the same thing repeatedly and then be provided the answer. Furthermore, the hints for some key puzzles were buried in the sequence of hints for the final puzzles. In an effort not to spoil later puzzles for ourselves, we didn’t find them until well after we needed them.
➖ All these ciphers begged for an interesting extraction, hidden within the cards. Instead, the game resolved with a narrative quiz of sorts. This felt out of character with the rest of the experience.
Tips For Player
Required supplies: a small table, an internet-connected device, paper and pencil
While you don’t need a laptop, we found keeping track of solutions in a spreadsheet to be helpful.
If your reading vision isn’t great, you’re going to want a good magnifying glass.
Buy your copy of Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
“In 1934, The Observer’s crossword writer, Edward Powys Mathers, wrote a unique novel Cain’s Jawbone. The title, referring to the first recorded murder weapon, was written under his pen name Torquemada. The story was not only a murder mystery but one of the hardest and most beguiling word puzzles ever published.”
Cain’s Jawbone was a 100 page novel/ puzzle presented in loose-leaf. The book had no binding, the pages were simply stacked. The goal was to deduce the proper order of the pages… and there were 32,000,000 possible permutations of the pages.
Back when it was originally released, only 2 people were confirmed to have solved the puzzle. The solution, however, was never made public.
Along with 826 other people, I backed it. It took a few years, but it exists now.
Solving Cain’s Jawbone
I’ve spent a bit of time rummaging through Cain’s Jawbone without any serious solving intent. It’s a whole lot of puzzle. It would require a level of time commitment and intensity that I simply do not have. I knew this when I backed it… My contribution was because I liked the idea of this puzzle existing.
Maybe one day in retirement I’ll find the time to solve something this deep; I mean that without a hint of hyperbole.
Since I cannot review this product, I am going to share a few observations to help you decide if you want to buy this puzzle.
It’s from the early 1930s and that comes with a two big implications:
There are a lot of antiquated references that I suspect you’ll have to research if you want to solve the puzzle.
It uses phrases that are generally deemed offensive today.
Solving Cain’s Jawbone is going to require a hefty mix of obsession, time, and organization. I love that it exists, it’s fun to peruse, and I like having it on my shelf staring at me and me thinking, “maybe one day…” but that I’ll likely never solve it.
Lisa and I are fans of Exit: The Game – fans who have really wanted them to break from their patterns and put a new twist or two on their games. We’re also fans who have wanted them to release fewer games of higher quality… and we got our wish.
The Catacombs of Horror was an oversized 2-part game with one long narrative. Within it, Exit: The Game embedded many strong story-driving puzzles and a phenomenal final puzzle sequence. Best of all, they broke away from many of their most notorious clichés without breaking from their tried and true game system.
Of note, they dramatically reduced the focus of an in-game journal, making it far easier for a group of 4 people to comfortably enjoy collaboratively puzzling.
There was still room for improvement, particularly when it came to a few puzzles that yanked us out of the game world.
Overall, The Catacombs of Horror represented a massive quality jump for the series.
If you’re brand new to the series, I still recommend The Sunken Treasure as a strong on-boarding game. If you’re comfortable with Exit: The Game’s system, then The Catacombs of Horror is a must-play.
Who is this for?
Best for players with at least some experience playing the Exit: The Game series
This was a noticeably stronger product than previous Exit: The Game installments
Many of the puzzles integrated well into the narrative
The Catacombs of Horror was a 2-part experience and crammed a ton of value into both halves
The final puzzle was 🔥
After a friend had disappeared in the catacombs beneath Paris, we’d ventured into the grim maze to try to find him.
The Catacombs of Horror was structurally identical to other Exit: The Game products that we’ve reviewed with one significant exception: scale.
This particular edition was a beefy double-sized game with one cohesive story. There was a midpoint that allowed us to stop. It even justified the break in the narrative.
I did a more through breakdown of how the Exit: The Game system works in my first review from oh so long ago:
Exit: The Game’s The Catacombsof Horror was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.
➕ With The Catacombsof Horror, Exit: The Game broke their patterns in many ways. The most obvious one was the length of the game. The amount of content felt right for a casual evening puzzle game with friends. It even included a narrative-justified break point. The content also matched the price point.
➕ The journal – a mainstay from Exit: The Game – showed up much later. The result was that the journal was less restrictive. The game felt a lot more accessible.
➕ Exit: The Game introduced many novel puzzle concepts. These were unexpected and enjoyable.
➖ A few of the puzzles removed us from the world of the game. Although we enjoyed these puzzles, we didn’t think they made sense in The Catacombsof Horror, because the game went so far out of its way to keep us in the game world.
➖ One puzzle had this weird preschool aesthetic that didn’t match the rest of the game… it was jarringly different.
➕ The Catacombsof Horror was packed with “aha” moments.
➕ With a longer game, there was time to follow the breadcrumbs as we played and piece things together later. These were satisfying solves.
➕ The final puzzle was climactic and about as immersive as we’ve seen from a play-at-home escape room. It was worth chewing on and we felt we earned our win.
➖ Exit: The Game (and really all of the tabletop escape game market) made a big deal out of the game timer. I think that this time system does the game a disservice. We went way over… mostly because we were enjoying the company of our friends as we played. It just didn’t matter. These games can only be played once. Savor the experience over whatever time you and your group want.
➕ There was an interesting non-time-related lose condition in The Catacombsof Horror. This was way more interesting than watching a clock.
Tips For Playing
Space Requirements: a small table
Required Gear: pencil, paper, scissors, matches
This shouldn’t be your first game from Exit: The Game. Please play one of their shorter episodes first.
Buy your copy of Exit: The Game’s The Catacombsof Horror, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.