WordLock – All Possible 4 & 5 Letter Words

I recently published an analysis on the Master Lock 4 letter combination locks. They have an unusual letter distribution and I was curious how many English words could be generated with those locks. It turned out that those Master Locks could create a lot more words than I had anticipated.

In light of the popularity of that post I once again worked with Rich Bragg of ClueKeeper to run the same analysis on the popular WordLock PL-004 5-Dial.

This lock seems to have fewer clichéd words, but there are a few that pop up a little too often including:

  • LASER
  • DEATH
  • FELON
  • BOOK(S)

A 5 letter WordLock closed, the word "Books" appearing.

Letter Distribution

This analysis is focused on the most current 5 disk WordLock model, the PL-004. There are 3 older models with somewhat different letter distributions and WordLock has other 4 disk products. 

The fixed-disk WordLock uses the following letter configuration:

Disk 1: L S W B P F M D T A

Disk 2: A P O R I L C E T N

Disk 3: S E R I L A N U T O

Disk 4: E L D A O S K N R T

Disk 5: R L S N T H Y D _ E

There are two particularly interesting things about this letter distribution.

First, the blank spot on the fifth disk (represented above with an underscore) cleverly allows the WordLock to represent 4 or 5 letter words.

Second, the lock has asymmetrical disks that, when all aligned, defaults 7 of the 10 lines of the lock into words:

  • WORDS
  • SPELL
  • LASER
  • BRIAN … if you consider a name to be a word
  • PILOT
  • FLASH
  • ANOTE … while it does have a definition, this more looks like a word than is a word

While the remaining three lines are gibberish, it’s still a nifty and thoughtful feature as the lock looks cool with all of those words on its face.

A 5 letter WordLock closed, the word "Spell" appearing.

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

Here’s the spreadsheet. The left-most column contains 1,652 core English words. These are the best words that the analysis found. The further right you move, the less useful the words generally are (and the farthest right is mostly nonsense).

Analysis Methodology & Column Explanation

Absolutely everything about this analysis and its outputs conforms to the same information presented in the last letter lock analysis, so I won’t rehash it. It’s on the Master Lock post if you’re interested.

Odd Letter Distribution Hypothesis

After publishing the last analysis some members of the room escape community proposed a hypothesis about the odd letter distribution on those Master Locks:

It seemed like Master Lock may have been trying to make it impossible to spell curse words.

This seems like a valid answer for both Master Lock and WordLock’s letter selection. I cannot prove this one way or another, but you cannot generate the most popular American English swear words with these locks… so that’s probably not a coincidence.

Nevertheless, sifting through the wordlist revealed a few “vulgar” or degrading words… and I’m including them because my inner 10 year-old thinks this list is hilarious:

Vulgar Words: Proceed With Caution

ANAL, ANUS, BALLS, BONER, DORK, PANSY, SISSY, and PENAL (That last one isn’t at all vulgar, but it sure feels like it should be.) You can also generate the word MOIST… which apparently is a word that a lot of people hate.

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There are also TONS of innuendo-y words that I didn’t include… because I’m an adult.

WordLock Word List

Lockbox Mysteries – Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade [Review]

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” -Sherlock Holmes

Location: at home (in our case, a hotel) in Salt Lake City, UT

Date Played: January 5, 2018

Team size: 1-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Price: $45 per crate for a 24-hour rental; plus a $50.00 fully refundable deposit (per crate)

REA Reaction

Lockbox Mysteries crammed a ton of gameplay into a crate and briefcase. We’re always a little cautious when approaching a new game format, and Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade made us believers. While we wished that the props felt just a little more of the era, Lockbox Mysteries delivered excellent puzzle content. We loved playing this game from the comfort of our own home hotel room and the price could not be beat.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You can play from the comfort of your own home
  • It’s affordable
  • A lot of puzzling content
  • A smart final puzzle sequence

Story

It was 1910 and Scotland Yard was stumped. With a dead woman and no leads, they hired the greatest detective in history, Sherlock Holmes, to crack the case. Wearing the hat of Mr. Holmes, we explored evidence and interrogated the behavior of a number of suspects, puzzling and deducing our way to a conclusion.

A locked brief case sitting on a large plastic crate in a hotel room.

Setting

We drove out to a Salt Lake City suburb and retrieved a large box and a briefcase and brought them back to our hotel room.

The plastic crate open revealing an assortment of lock boxes, an envelope labeled "confidential" and a binder that says, "Read First."

When we opened the box we were greeted by a binder that explained the game in careful detail. This included everything from what an escape game is, to the hint system, to basic lock functionality.

Inside of the binder, a hint booklet, timer, and an envelope of extra parts.

We started the included timer and investigated the initially available evidence. From there on it was all puzzles and locks.

Gameplay

Our Lockbox Mysteries experience essentially played like a low-tech escape room without the set. There were lots of locks sealing all sorts of boxes and bags shut. There were even more puzzles.

A pile of locked boxes, and a locked purse.
There was plenty more where this came from.

We needed to deduce the particulars of the murder case before us and rule out suspects. Each suspect had their own branch of puzzles that provided a piece of the overall picture.

Photos and names of 7 suspects and the victim.

All of this culminated in a final deduction puzzle that emphatically punctuated the game with a challenging, creative, and elegant conclusion.

Standouts

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade played like an escape room. It was less immersive than (most) on-site escape rooms, but more physically interactive than (most) at-home escape rooms that come in the mail. It straddled these subgenres. More importantly, it played well.

Lockbox Mysteries surprised us. With each open, we uncovered substantial game pieces… and more puzzles.

Play money fanned out, a passport, and makeup.

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade had a lot of puzzle content and the puzzles flowed well. They also broke into parallel plot threads. There was a lot of game and it branched such that it could keep a large group entertained.

The hint system worked. It didn’t give away too much, unless we wanted to get to the solution. Then we could see the solution.

We understood the characters, story, and mystery without working at it. We took it in by way of solving the puzzles. Consequently, the puzzles felt purposeful and the sleuthing felt natural.

The mystery wanted to be solved. It didn’t resolve to some crazy unforeseeable twist. We could play along like detectives, making hypotheses and working towards a conclusion.

Everything was self-contained. We didn’t need an internet-connected device to facilitate the game.

Shortcomings

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade leaned heavily on decipherments. A few of these overstayed their welcome. Long after the aha moment, we were still deciphering the information.

While we appreciated the many tangible locks in this play-at-home escape room, we would have liked more varied digit structure. At times we’d derive a code that could have unlocked any one of a number of locked items.

Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade was aesthetically uneven. Some props felt of the era, while others felt far too modern or geographically incorrect.

Tips for Playing

  • You do not need a computer, phone, internet connection, or any outside tools for this play-at-home escape room.
  • You will need to pick up the game near Salt Lake City, and return it the next day. Mass transit will not be an option for the travel.
  • If you can, cook up a meal and really make an evening of the game.

Book your rental with Lockbox Mysteries’ Sherlock Holmes and the Great Charade, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Lockbox Mysteries provided a media discounted rate for this game.

 

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures [Review]

The Sherlock Holmes game we deserve.

Location: at home

Date Played: 2017 / 2018

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $40 for 10 cases

REA Reaction

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures was the finest tabletop mystery game we’ve played to date. It was easy to get into, but an intellectual commitment to complete. It was seriously challenging, but still lighthearted and humorous. We wished the scoring system felt more sensible, but it didn’t really matter as we could judge our own improvement. If you’re seeking a difficult tabletop mystery series, this is the game to play.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Couch detectives
  • People who enjoy reading
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fantastic writing
  • Interactive storytelling
  • Clever mysteries
  • Easy to learn
  • Easy to setup
  • Challenging yet fair

Story

Each chapter cast us as members of the Baker Street Irregulars, child informants working for and learning from Sherlock Holmes. We would team up with a familiar character from Holmes’ canon like Wiggins (the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars) or Dr. Watson.

Each episode presented us with a case. We followed the leads wherever they took us in order to solve the case… and any other mysteries that arose along the way.

Beautiful Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective box art featuring a pipe, and a magnifying glass over a letter that reads, "From Hell."

Setup

The game components were impressively simple and streamlined. They included:

Rulebook / Informant Information

The rulebook was especially lean and the game easy to learn. Once we knew how to play, there wasn’t any reason to return to the rules. The rules weren’t nuanced.

The back of the rulebook listed recurring informants whom we could visit during gameplay for records, investigative details, rumors, and the like. These characters were important for solving cases and added continuity to the world.

The game's map, a case book, a newspaper, the informants list, and the London Directory laid out on the table.
Full game setup.

10 Case Books

(4 Books for the Jack the Ripper campaign and 6 Individual Cases)

Each case book provided:

  • Introduction
  • Narratives for all relevant locations in London (tied to location codes)
  • End-game questions
  • End-game answers
  • Pompous Sherlock Holmes monologue explaining the case

The 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign had a unique game map, special informants, and a connected narrative.

Every other episode stood alone.

A Newspaper from September 19, 1898.

10 Newspapers

Each case had a corresponding newspaper filled with assorted information including obviously relevant tidbits, well-hidden details, and plenty of color.

Map 

The map of London was divided into districts with each building and block numbered. The map allowed us to understand the proximity of places. It also occasionally allowed us to make deductions regarding leads as well.

The London Directory, Informants list, and London map.

London Directory

The directory was the interface. It listed every citizen and legal business in London with corresponding codes to look them up in the case books.

Gameplay

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was a prose-based mystery adventure. With the exception of the map, all components were written… and well written at that.

One player would read the introduction, while another would take notes on people, places, and evidence.

The Hotels directory.

From there, we took turns deciding where we’d visit next. We’d look the location up on the map and in the directory, find the corresponding passage in the case book, and read what happened upon our arrival, taking notes all along the way.

We repeated this process until we either felt confident in what happened with the case or the trail went cold and we decided to see how much of the mystery we had solved.

After answering the questions at the back of the book, we’d read the Holmes’ monologue to determine what had happened and how he solved the case.

Standouts

The stories were interesting and unexpected. They twisted in odd directions, but the twists felt grounded.

The cases didn’t feel like a mediocre version of Sherlock Holmes, or a kids’ edition, or dumbed down deduction. The mysteries were smart, challenging, and well written.

By casting us as the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective spared us one of the common storytelling problems in many Holmes-themed escape rooms: who the hell are we supposed to be? Are we collectively Holmes, or Watson, or some random friend? This character choice allowed us to be us and not some hive-mind Watson.

We were allowed to use any information in the game or in our own heads to solve puzzles. Our knowledge of the world was relevant. My favorite example of this was in the Seventh Case, A Question of Identity. At the start of the game, Lisa was reading the newspaper and mentioned to me that there was a column of personals. Without having seen that newspaper I asked, “Is one of them enciphered?” She looked up at me surprised and asked, “How did you know?” It was a little fact that I had picked up about communication in the 1890s from having read The Code Book.

The 5WC location description from a case book: "The cabs don't have anything useful information today. We're almost angry with ourselves for believing they might."

The more we played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and inhabited that London, the more the world felt natural and real. We got a handle on who the informants were and when we should go to them.

The materials felt great. The paper stock was varied and of high quality.

The game was easy to learn and quick to setup. When we decided that we want to play a case of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, setting up the game took one of us roughly the same amount of time that the other needed to pour a couple of glasses of port.

While the individual cases were not replayable, the box contained 10 different cases and absolutely no reason to write on or otherwise destroy any of the materials. You’re free to share them with friends.

There’s a massive 4-part Jack the Ripper campaign.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was challenging but fair. This game pushed us harder intellectually than any escape game (real life or tabletop). When we nailed the facts of a case we felt incredibly accomplished. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective had no gimmes.

Shortcomings

The cases weren’t of equal quality. Some of them left us feeling unfulfilled, like they weren’t quite complete.

The scoring system was kind of a joke. We mostly ignored it. We acquired points for correctly answering questions about the case. We lost points for each additional lead we followed beyond the laughably low number that Holmes needed. We disliked this scoring system because it discouraged exploring the world and thoroughly investigating the crimes… which just felt wrong.

We found the limited amount of information Holmes ultimately worked with dubious at best. This contributed to our dislike of the scoring system. I worked for a prosecutor’s office for a couple of years and I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking Holmes’ lack of evidence to court. I know he’s essentially a superhero, but when we read Holmes’ deduction process at the conclusion of each case, it felt like a weak and silly conclusion that’s best acknowledged, but not taken to heart.

Tips for Playing

  • Reserve a couple of hours for gameplay.
  • Be ready to tackle a lot of reading, and out-loud reading if you’re playing as a group.
  • Have snacks, drinks, and whatever else that will add to the vibe of the mystery.
  • Play for yourself, not for the scoring system.
  • Take good notes and revisit them.
  • This is the third edition of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective; other versions offer different cases.

Buy your copy of Asmodee’s Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures.

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a free reviewer copy of this game.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Master Lock: All Possible 4 Letter Words

Master Lock has many different word combination locks and cable bike locks on the market that have fixed disks. (You cannot swap the order of the disks.)

In the escape room community, the three best known fixed-disk locks are:

Master Lock Model No. 1535DWD

Master Lock letter lock 1235DWD with the word "BOOK" appearing as the combination.

Master Lock Model No. 643DWD

Master Lock letter lock 643DWD with the word "MOCK" appearing as the combination.

Master Lock Model No. 175DWD

Master Lock letter lock 175DWD with the word "TEAR" appearing as the combination.

All of these fixed-disk letter locks have the exact same letter distribution, which made me wonder:

How many 4-letter words can these Master Locks create?

I hope to see more variation in solutions used on these locks in escape rooms. The same half-dozen words show up a whole lot. (I’m looking at you BURY, STAR, & SAND).

Three Master Lock letter locks with the combinations entered as sand, star, and bury.

Letter Distribution

Each fixed-disk letter Master Lock uses the following configuration:

Disk 1: L N B D M J P R S T

Disk 2: O U Y R T L H A E I

Disk 3: C D E O R S T L N A

Disk 4: K Y R S T L N E D H

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

I asked Rich Bragg of ClueKeeper how he’d determine all the words these locks could generate. A few minutes later he sent me back a spreadsheet filled with words.

Column Explanation

There is no way to generate a single answer to the question “how many English words can this lock create?” English is a constantly evolving language. Words are created, usage shifts, and words fall into disuse.

Column A is the common English word list. This is by far the most useful column. It has 695 words.

Column B is the “ENABLE” word list. These are still words, but they are obscure or old English.

The next three columns are decreasing useful, with the fifth column being words from Wikipedia (which includes acronyms, initialisms and the like).

Each list omits the words found in the previous lists.

I’ve included all of the columns in the spreadsheet because even the less useful columns have some interesting entries… They are just few and far between.

Analysis Methodology

Bragg used TEA Crossword Helper, which is anagramming software on steroids. This is the kind of software that you use if you’re really serious about winning a major puzzle hunt.

From the TEA website:

“TEA comes with a database of over 6 million words and phrases including the title index for the English version of Wikipedia. These answers are classified by their familiarity, so you always see the most likely ones first. You can look up the meanings in the integrated dictionary/thesaurus or on the Internet. TEA is faster and more convenient than word lists in book form such as crossword completers, crossword dictionaries and crossword keys.”

Is There A Better Distribution?

The letters on each disk are pretty curious, especially when you notice oddities like the “J” in the first disk or the “Y” in the second disk.

From a letter frequency standpoint, these are not great letters to drop in those positions.

I reached out to Master Lock to ask how they chose this letter distribution, but they could not be reached for comment.

I suspect that there are more effective letter distributions possible that would generate even more words, but after a quick attempt at doing better, I fell a bit short. If you find one, I’d be curious to see it.

However, whether or not there is a better distribution, this is the one we have on these locks. It’s a lot of options. Feel free to use this list as a tool.

Master Lock Letter Lock Word List

Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment – The Mattel Edition

This is the third edition of this game to arrive in the mail.

We wrote about the first one in February 2016. It was a prototype, sent to us in the hopes that we would promote the Kickstarter. Spoiler: we did.

We wrote about the second one in October 2017. We’d backed the Kickstarter and now we could play the game that Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin had created.

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment's black, white, and yellow box.

Now Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment has arrived yet again. This time, it’s manufactured by Mattel and available on Amazon for $29.99.

What’s the difference?

Price

At $30, the new Mattel edition is $15 – $30 less expensive.

In-game: The initial opening of the box, a number of components are obscured by a piece of paper that reads, "Keep out."

Components

The Mattel edition has a new aesthetic. It’s still playful, but its color pallet shift leans a little more brown.

In-game: a green biohazard box locked with a plastic 3 digit lock, a gold plastic warded lock, and art depciting a female werewolf.

Most noticeably, from my vantage point, the locks – combination and key – were made from plastic. Typing this, it sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t. The locks work well. They don’t need to be durable; they aren’t security devices.

Mattel swapped out a few props for new items. This was for ease of manufacturing and to eliminate the destructible element.

In-game: a pad of paper and a pencil.

Puzzle Variation

A few of the puzzles in the new edition are different from the original. Some changes are minor improvements; some are a minor downgrade. Either way, nothing has changed enough that it’s worth buying a new one if you’ve already played the old one (unless you want some plastic locks).

A close up of many components, "Start your timer now!" scarwled

Should I Buy Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment?

Three editions in, we stand by both our previous reviews of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment. If you’ve already played the Kickstarter version, you’ve seen what this game has to offer. We still think that it’s the best that the play-at-home escape room market has to date.

If you haven’t played Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, it’s now available at a fraction of the price and with 2-day delivery.

Learn More About The Making of this Product

We interviewed the duo behind this game in late 2017. The creators of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Juliana and Ariel, gave a ton of interesting insights into the marathon that was bringing this game to market.

(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.)

The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book on Kickstarter

Roy Leban’s The Librarian’s Almanaq is a puzzle book that many trusted puzzler friends highly recommend. We haven’t played through it yet, but it is literally sitting on our table waiting for us to dive in. We’ll get to it soon and a review will follow.

Based on its reputation, we’re also backing The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book.

The Conjurer's Almanaq: Escape This Book cover.

The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book

Leban’s latest Kickstarter has a few days remaining. It has already raised three times its funding goal and activated half a dozen stretch goals.

This sequel is another imaginative puzzle book designed for 1-3 players.

While there will also be a scaled back black & white print edition available, the Kickstarter one will use higher quality materials and contain extra puzzle content. If that sounds enticing to you, consider backing them… or wait for our review and the black & white edition when that comes to market.

Back the Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book on Kickstarter while you still can.

(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.)

Deckscape – Test Time & The Fate of London [Product Review]

Flip this card.

Location: at home

Date Played: December 2017

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 – 90 minutes

Price: $16 per game

REA Reaction

The two Deckscape games were fun, portable, and repackable. Plus, it’s tough to argue with the price. The two games were also too similar and shouldn’t be played in close proximity to one another. If you’re only going to play one, make it Test Time, if only because it has a more interesting and engaging final puzzle.

Who is this for?

  • Families
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Lots of puzzles
  • Multiple paths for parallel puzzling
  • Test Time’s incredibly inventive final puzzle
  • Low price

Story

Deckscape is currently available in two flavors:

Deckscape Test Time & The Fate of London boxes.

Test Time

In Test Time we assisted a delightfully mad scientist in regaining control of a time machine.

The Fate of London 

In The Fate of London we tracked down bombs that had been planted in the Palace of Westminster in London.

Setup

Deckscape’s structure was straightforward. We opened the box, found a deck of slightly oversized cards, and puzzled through them sequentially until the game instructed us to split the deck into multiple piles.

4 colored curtains each representing a parallel track for puzzling.

Once the decks split, we could parallel puzzle through the different decks, as long as we maintained the card sequence within each individual pile.

Gameplay

Deckscape delivered puzzles. Given the presentation through cards, they were heavily visual.

Deckscape Caution! introduction card explaining that cards should not be flipped unless they say so, and they should not be reorded.

Some cards were puzzles; others were puzzle components to set aside and use in conjunction with other cards.

A color mixture introduction puzzle.
Relax, this is the super simple demo puzzle.

To solve a puzzle card, we’d announce our answer and flip over the card. We kept a tally of incorrect answers. At the end of the game, incorrect answers factored into a score that dictated which ending we received. (There were a few endings for each game.)

The Deckscape score sheet with time remaining and penalties.

The hint system consisted of two cards with hints printed backwards on them. Each puzzle and component card was numbered. We could simply look up the puzzle number and then read the backwards hint.

The backside of the clue cards for Deckscape.

Standouts

The low price.

It was easy to pick up the game and start playing. The first few cards in the deck walked through the basic rules and got us puzzling. Deckscape didn’t involve any prep work or software.

Deckscape The Test Time Laboratory card, and an introduction from the Doctor.

The card art was cohesive and fun. The oversizing of the cards added some heft… They just felt good.

The hint system was simple and straightforward.

Many of the puzzles were engaging and entertaining.

While the gameplay felt linear, Deckscape split the puzzles into multiple paths. This was easy to follow and kept everyone engaged.

While it was not replayable, the game could be easily reset for other people to enjoy.

The final puzzle of Test Time was fantastic and innovative.

Shortcomings

Deckscape relied too heavy on a few types of puzzles. This repetition – both within a game and between the two – grew old quickly. We played the two games in the same week and this repetition really wore on us during the second game.

Each game contained a few puzzles that were seriously obtuse. Even when we solved them, we found ourselves rolling our eyes. It almost seemed as if the game designers knew that these puzzles were cheap because they accounted for it with a late-game mechanic. If you want to know more, read the spoiler section.

Minor Game Scoring Spoiler

At the end of each Deckscape game, we tallied up the number of incorrect answers submitted, which factored into a final score that determined which ending we’d receive. In both games, the score calculation process allowed us to disregard a certain number of incorrect answers, effectively cancelling them from the score. The allowed cancellation numbers were different between the two games. In our opinion, the number that we canceled directly correlated to the number of cheap puzzles contained within each box. These puzzles should have been improved, rather than negated in a late-game twist.

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The final puzzle in The Fate of London fizzled hard. Only one person could work on it at a time. This design was both frustrating and anticlimactic.

The Deckscape tagline oversells the game: “In a Deck of cards, all of the thrills of a real Escape Room!” We found it fun, especially for the price, but temper your expectations to increase your enjoyment.

Tips for Visiting

  • If you only buy one Deckscape, make it Test Time.
  • If you buy both, I’d recommend letting some time pass before playing the second one. I think this is good advice for any of the boxed escape room series.
  • You can easily repack these games and share them with friends.

Buy your copies of Deckscape’s Test Time & The Fate of London.

(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.)

 

Cycloptic Media – The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland [Review]

“Let’s keep opening packages until it makes sense.”

Location: at home

Date Played: December 19, 2017

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Duration: at least a few hours and up to several weeks

Price: $56.50 for the full version; $47.50 the abridged version

REA Reaction

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland delivered interactive fiction to our home. It would be great for anyone looking to sink their teeth into a mystery, in episodic installments over a period of time. If you’re looking for more focused puzzling and gameplay, this won’t be for you.

Who is this for?

  • Crime drama fans
  • Mystery readers
  • The interactive fiction curious
  • People who want to sink their teeth into a story
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s more than just reading/watching a story unfold.
  • The puzzles have context and purpose.
  • The ending.

Story

A mysterious stranger had contacted us about the disappearance of Julie Harrison, a high school student in Moore County, Vermont. We needed to uncover the circumstances and truth behind this event.

In-game: An assortment of newspaper clippings, cards, pamphlets, and photos from the game.

Setting

There were two options for The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland:

  • The full experience included 18 to 20 letters and packages received by mail over two months.
  • The abridged version included 18 letters and packages mailed in one box.

We received the abridged version.

An assortment of Decoder Ring packages. There are all types of packages all individually numbered.

The letters and packages contained mostly paper and a few more tangible objects. Some contents directed us to various websites as well. The printed materials were cleanly designed and more polished than many play-at-home experiences. That said, the design choices didn’t help convey story.

Gameplay

We opened each sealed envelope/package one at a time, in numerical order. We thoroughly investigated the contents of each one before opening another. Sometimes the packages contained puzzles or parts of puzzles. Sometimes they directed us to other interactive content. Other times they filled in more of the story.

Generally the puzzles built over multiple packages.

Standouts

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland was interactive fiction. It presented a mystery for us to solve. It was both a story and a puzzle… but it gave a lot more story than it did puzzles.

The tangible elements were most fun to explore. We especially enjoyed solving one item based on the knowledge we’d accrued about the character it had belonged to. It was a satisfying puzzle sequence.

We loved the opening puzzle. It was by far the most puzzle-y moment of the experience.

We enjoyed solving puzzles that unlocked bits of the story. These gave us feedback, so we knew we’d completed a gameplay/narrative thread.

The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland told a cohesive story. The tidbits we received piecemeal all came together in the end.

The conclusion of the narrative was amusing.

Shortcomings

While the puzzles resolved to closure, the individual packages did not. Sometimes we’d explore a new package thoroughly and learn bits of story, but not take any actions. In those instances we never knew whether we should move ahead. Had we found all there was to find?

The episodic reveals could also be frustrating in terms of gating. Sometimes we’d be waiting on a particular item that we knew was coming so that we could solve a puzzle that had already been set up. It was anticlimactic to receive an item that we knew we needed 10 packages after we’d figured out that we needed it.

A web-based interaction was delayed. We received a response more than a week after submitting answers. At that point, we were no longer engaged with that part of the story. For the abridged version, this was particularly problematic because we could choose to move ahead to other content.

The materials were middle-of-the-road, in terms of production value. They could have been more detailed. Generally speaking, the physical materials added little to the narrative or feel of the experience.

While the story came together in the end, we had to work hard to follow it through the different packages. There were too many characters to keep track of, especially since they all developed at different times, in different ways. Even when we solved plot threads, we never felt we had a handle on the overarching story. This was especially strange in light of the ending reveal.

Tips for Purchasing

  • There are two versions: The Full Experience and The Abridged Version. The Full Experience includes an extra unlockable mailing that is delivered digitally in the Abridged version. In the Full Experience, one mailing is timed based on when a certain plot thread is solved. Additionally, the Full Experience includes some personalization that the Abridged Version lacks. When deciding which version to purchase, consider these differences as well as whether you’d rather receive the content over time or in one fell swoop.
  • If you play by the rules, you will not be able to solve this game in one night.

Purchase Cycloptic Media’s The Decoder Ring Organization Season One: Roland, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cycloptic Media comped our tickets for this game.

 

Gorogoa [Review]

Mind-bending beauty.

Platforms: iOS, Windows, Nintendo Swtich

Publisher: Annapurna

Date played: Mid December, 2017

Duration: Approximately 1.5 – 3 hours

Price: $5 on iOS, $15 on Windows & Nintendo Switch

Story & setup

Gorogoa was a video game that followed a boy on his quest to… do something with… an Asian dragon-y divine beast. To achieve these ends I had to help the protagonist attain 5 colored orbs. I’m not exactly sure what I was accomplishing by completing the quest within Gorogoa, but it was nonviolent and I sure had a great time doing it.

In-game: A panel showing a young boy and an old man kneeling and holding a bow with 5 colored orbs eblow a large multicolored dragon.

Gameplay

Gorogoa played through a unique interface that I can best describe as a 4-panel comic book. At any given point during the game, between 1 and 4 of those panels were filled with beautiful hand-drawn art. The gameplay was in creating interactions between the various panels.

In-game: a 4 paneled layout with two active panels. One on a rooftop, the other in a livingroom.

Panels could be split by dragging one layer off of a panel, creating an entirely new panel. Panels could be aligned against one another. Panels could also be overlaid on top of each other. In taking these actions, the world within the game would change, allowing the boy to take action.

Interestingly, in Gorogoa I did not play as the protagonist. I also never took any action within the game’s world. Instead, I changed the world and the boy within it reacted to the changes. Therein lay the puzzle. How could I change the game world so that the boy within it could accomplish his objective?

Standouts

It’s exceptionally rare to encounter a puzzle game that comes up with a completely new type of puzzle. When I started playing this, its innovation caught me off guard. It was different from anything else that I had played before.

Quite a few of the lengthy puzzle sequences were so much fun. I enjoyed figuring them out and seeing them through, as well as witnessing the effects that they had on the world.

The art was gorgeous. Every aspect of Gorogoa was hand drawn and colored in Photoshop. There weren’t many repeating patterns.

Gorogoa didn’t instill a sense of narrative or even adventure. Instead it left me feeling awed.

I don’t recall having to read a single word in Gorogoa. The game was entirely visual.

There were no hints or tutorials. Touchable portions of the game world would pulse if I let the game sit for too long. These pulses gently guided or highlighted actions I could take… not necessarily what I ought to do. This kept Gorogoa from becoming too cumbersome while also not dragging me through it.

At its best, the puzzles felt deeply intuitive. I eventually internalized the strange rules of Gorogoa and that knowledge became an extension of myself. I could look at a set of panels and feel my way through the puzzles.

Shortcomings

At times I had no idea what was going on and found myself pawing at the screen hoping that something productive might happen. These were the low moments.

Due to the 4-panel layout, animation and story advancement could occur in multiple places at once. The parallel animation had a really cool effect, but made it impossible to tell where I should be looking. When these gang animation moments happened, I felt like I missed out, which was damaging in a game this intimate.

Gorogoa was short. I think my playtime was around one hour and forty minutes. (I suspect that I played it faster than the average player.) I would have loved to spend more time in this strange world.

Should I play Gorogoa?

Gorogoa offered no instructions, no tutorial, and no explanation. It presented an odd interface with gorgeous art. It never held my hand or dragged me along. I had to solve each and every puzzle for myself.

In-game: a beautiful multicolored series of circular repeating patterns surrounding an eye.

There were moments when I got stuck. After I’d looked at everything I had access to, I’d close the app. However, I’d mentally keep running through it. Solutions would pop into my mind and I’d rush to open the game again. Those were beautiful moments.

Gorogoa wasn’t serene like Monument Valley, which has always put me into a sort of zen state of calm puzzling. Learning to play Gorogoa felt like I had encountered aliens and was deciphering their language. This constant decoding mixed with the art and combined with watching the world unfold instead of acting within it left me perpetually in a state of awe.

By the final act of the game, I felt like I had learned the language of Gorogoa. And I wanted so much more. I understand the short length, given that this hand-drawn indie game involved creating and developing an entirely new style of play over the course of years, but that knowledge hasn’t kept me from wishing that Gorogoa was a little bit longer.

Gorogoa costs $5 on iOS and $15 on Windows and Nintendo Switch. I played it on iOS using my iPhone 5SE because of the lower price. I think that it would have been more enjoyable on the larger screen of my Switch, but I don’t think it would have been triple-the-price better, even for a game as innovative and beautiful as Gorogoa.

Download Gorogoa today.

iOS / Steam / Nintendo Switch

 

Cypher House Escape – Escape the Arcade [Review]

Insert 25¢ to continue.

Location: at home

Date played: October 27, 2017

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $29.99 per box, plus $6.74 shipping for standard USPS First Class within the United States. (International shipping is also available at a higher cost, which varies by international destination.)

Story & setup

We woke up mysteriously locked in an arcade. After unlocking our wallet, we puzzled through the different games to earn our escape.

Escape the Arcade arrived in a cardboard box. It consisted of various sealed envelopes and 5 little boxes, representing arcade cabinets. We needed to open each little box on our path to escape.

In-game: An assortment of puzzles, a collection of little cardboard boxes representing arcade games behind them.

Escape the Arcade required an internet connection to listen to audio clips and enter answers for verification.

Puzzles

The puzzling was word-centric. We also used logic, observation, and dexterity.

The puzzles were primarily paper-based with a few more creative interactions and constructions.

Standouts

Escape the Arcade was adorable. Cypher House Escape recreated an arcade out of paper and cardboard. Each puzzle was a nod to a different classic video game. Cypher House Escape even poked fun at that all too common “out of order” game. It made us smile.

We loved one unexpected interaction that we never would have thought we’d encounter in a cardboard box.

We appreciated the hint system. While the hints were prefabricated, as they have to be with at-home games, we could take hints at our own pace, and even choose to see the solution, if we felt so inclined.

Shortcomings

One puzzle just wasn’t clear enough. We knew what we needed to do, but near as we could tell, it did not work. We eventually hacked a solution.

Sometimes we spent more time working through the instructions for how to solve something than actually solving the puzzle. We felt like the challenge wasn’t always in the right place.

Answers were easily hackable. We didn’t mind back solving to our guesses, but to avoid players jumping ahead, we recommend Cypher House Escape make the solutions less guessable.

Should I play Cypher House Escape’s Escape the Arcade?

Escape the Arcade was a fun escape room-style play-at-home game.

It was not too hard, but the puzzles were fun and satisfying.

Cypher House Escape used paper creatively in a manner that recalled the arcade games of our youth. We really got a kick out of these.

Escape the Arcade was not as polished as some of the games we’ve seen from larger producers with bigger budgets and the execution had some flaws. It had a homemade feel… because it was so very homemade. Still, it was well made.

If you’re new to at-home escape room play, this would be a gentle entry: It was affordable. It was not a long time commitment. The hinting worked well.

If you’ve played a few of these types of at-home escape rooms and you’re looking for another, Cypher House Escape offers a lot of value with Escape the Arcade.

Buy your box of Cypher House Escape’s Escape the Arcade and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that we reviewed the Etsy version of Escape the Arcade. It is now also available directly from the Cypher House website. It sounds like the website version has made the hint system less clunky on mobile devices and decreased buffer time.

Full disclosure: Cypher House Escape provided a complimentary reviewer’s copy of this game.