With a vibrant look, Submarine stood out aesthetically among the first wave of Ravensburger Escape Puzzles.
From a puzzle solving standpoint, this installment pretty much nailed it… except for one noteworthy issue: a puzzle that didn’t quite resolve correctly. While this didn’t break the game, if this were your first attempt at an Escape Puzzle, it would be a harsh and confounding ending.
If you’ve already enjoyed an Escape Puzzles or 2, Submarine would be fantastic. Just watch out for a bit of confusion near the conclusion and you’ll have a good time.
This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.
While wandering the harbor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we’d happened upon an old man and his submarine. He’d previously used the boat to explore wrecks, but he’d grown too old for sea adventures and had offered the sub to us. We’d accepted and he explained its inner workings to us… but we’d been bored by this.
As soon as we’d pulled away from the dock, something broke and we sank to the bottom of the sea. We had to figure out what to do to survive.
➕ The jigsaw puzzle was vibrant. It featured great art.
➕ It was a moderately challenging, but fair assembly. There was a lot of blue, but there were also lots of fish and details to help pull everything together.
❓ We found most of the “escape room” puzzles to be a touch easier than those in the other Escape Puzzles released in Ravensburger’s first wave.
➖ The story in the instructions featured a choppy English translation.
➖ One of the puzzle solutions was at best lacking a significant clue… but it was probably just an incorrect inversion of the numbers. This was disappointing, but it wasn’t game-breaking… especially if you’ve played other Escape Puzzles and have a sense of how they work.
The actually correct answer to the above fish puzzle is 846.
For unclear reasons, the game reports the correct solution as 462. We stared at this thing with a few really experienced puzzlers (including 2009 US Sudoku National Champion, Tammy McLeod) and we couldn’t imagine a way to get 462. I have to believe that this was a typo.
➕ The concluding meta-puzzle was another clever solution. Ravensburger pushed this game mechanic considerably farther than we’d expected.
While wandering through the woods, we’d decided to sample some of the local mushrooms, as one does. The wild mushrooms had had unexpected effects, as they often do, and we’d felt faint and stumbled into a hollow.
As we came to our senses, we’d realized that we were in the home of a witch… and if we were ever going to get out, we’d need to find the antidote for the poison shrooms.
➕ As a jigsaw puzzle, the image was entertaining with a lot of details to enjoy.
➖ The image was pretty brown. It felt like the box art was more vibrant than the puzzle itself.
➕ The variation between the box art and the jigsaw puzzle was fantastic. We found the differences in this puzzle more playful than in the other escape puzzles in the series.
➕ The “escape room” puzzles were clear and solved cleanly.
Space Observatory offered a slightly more challenging jigsaw than the other Ravensburger Escape Puzzles, but concluded with a softer series of “escape room” puzzles.
If you’re more of a jigsaw puzzler, Space Observatory is the smart place to start. It worked well from beginning to end. Its meta-puzzle was a little easier to grasp than those in the other Escape Puzzles.
Whether you’re new with the series, already a fan of these, Space Observatory put on a strong show for the Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzle series.
This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.
While exploring an observatory, we’d happened upon a letter from a professor warning us of an impending cataclysm. The professor had build a device capable of saving the world, but couldn’t activate it. It was up to us to save the world.
➕ When it all came together, the jigsaw puzzle’s art was delightful.
❓ While we were assembling the jigsaw puzzle, a whole lot of it felt really similar… especially the many shelved books. Whether this is wonderful or annoying really comes down to personal preference.
➕ One of the “escape room” puzzles featured a really clever twist that was a bit confounding for more experienced puzzlers.
❓ The concluding meta-puzzle was considerably easier than those in the other 3 Escape Puzzles. This would be great if Space Observatory was your first Escape Puzzle… and may be less interesting if it was your fourth.
The added twist of an additional system of puzzles
Setup & Gameplay
We’re going to publish short reviews of each puzzle in the series. For the sake of simplicity and repetition reduction, we’re covering the basics in this overview.
While the individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzles each offered a unique picture and puzzle set, they all followed the same structure:
1. Jigsaw Assembly
We began by assembling the 759-piece jigsaw puzzle. This progressed normally with only two deviations from traditional jigsaw puzzles:
First, we had to remove the extraneous rectangular pieces. These appeared to be a byproduct of Ravensburger’s production process. They were a minor annoyance.
Second, the edge of the Escape Puzzles was a bit strange. There were only 3 piece shapes and any of the pieces could interconnect with any other. Edge assembly relied completely upon the pieces’ colors, patterns, and textures.
Additionally, many of the edge pieces had 2, 3, or 4 digit numbers printed on them. These became relevant later.
2. Puzzles Within the Puzzle
After assembling the jigsaw puzzle, we identified and solved the 6 or 8 puzzles within it. Some puzzles were obvious; some were more concealed. They were all embedded within the jigsaw puzzle image.
Each puzzle resolved to a number. Once we derived a correct answer, we’d find the piece with the corresponding number printed on it around the edge of the jigsaw puzzle. Then we removed that piece.
If we got stuck, we could reference a hint website for help. The hints were tiered, but usually only had two tiers.
3. The Meta-Puzzle
Each escape puzzle concluded with a meta-puzzle, or a puzzle made from the solutions of other puzzles.
We had to take our collection of numbered edge pieces from the previous step and determine what to do with them. I won’t say anything else about this, but it was our favorite part of these puzzles.
➕ The “escape room” puzzles at the end were a delightful addition to the traditional jigsaw puzzle. It was exciting to finish the jigsaw and then receive an entirely new challenge to cap things off. This game component was a welcome dynamic.
➕ Ravensburger makes high quality jigsaw puzzles that are printed well and fit snugly. They also have a beautiful blue backing that doesn’t add much from a functional standpoint, but looks more elegant than the traditional grey or brown backings that are common on most cardboard jigsaw puzzles.
➕ 759 pieces was a good piece count. It was serious enough to present a challenge without being so large that we were reluctant to dive in.
➕ Ravensburger cleverly included differences between the box art and the puzzle art. These changes were part of the environment itself and felt logically grounded. They also ensured that we couldn’t solve the puzzles without first solving the jigsaw puzzle.
➕ Ravensburger puzzles don’t have a crazy amount of puzzle dust. There’s still dust, but we’ve seen so much worse.
➖ Each Escape Puzzle’s box contained numerous square frame pieces that had nothing to do with the puzzle itself. They were garbage. These appeared to be an artifact of the production process. While it was not a big problem, it was a bit annoying to have to sift these junk pieces out of the box.
➕ Each Escape Puzzle had its own quirky story to set up the “escape.” The story was relevant to the final meta puzzle.
➕/➖ The “escape” puzzles were static print puzzles, akin to the kind of thing that one might find shared on social media or within a puzzle book. For the most part, these were executed well (detailed, non-spoiler analysis to follow in the individual puzzle reviews). While there is a limit to how much a designer can achieve with this format, Ravensburger did more with this structure than we were expecting.
❓ Some of these puzzles got a bit math-y. It never involved anything beyond basic computation, but I know that there are some escape room players who are allergic to mathematics in any form.
➕/➖ The web-based hint system was adequate. It did a great job of highlighting the individual puzzles… and an ok job of providing granular, incremental hints. This system could benefit from the inclusion of more dropdown menus to allow the player to better control the flow of hints.
❓ The edge pieces were unusual in that they all fit into one another. This made the edge considerably more difficult to assemble. It was completely doable, but required a lot more attention to detail and effort. For some, it may be easier to start from the middle.
➖The puzzles within the image all solved to a number that we’d find printed on an edge piece. This meant we could get most of the way to an answer and hack our way to the proper solution based on the available numbers.
❓We spent considerably more time solving the jigsaw puzzles than solving the “escape room” puzzles.
➕ Some of the numbered edge pieces ultimately culminated in a final meta-puzzle… and this mechanic was really cool. Ravensburger used it in clever ways in all instances. It was a delightful way to conclude the experience.
Tips For Player
Space Requirements: You’ll need a flat surface. The puzzles all measure 27 x 20 inches (70 x 50 cm).
Required Gear: None. We like to assemble our puzzles on a large piece of foam core in case we have to move them.
Zen Puzzles’ Great Horned Owl was a beast of a ~300 piece puzzle. With an almost monochromatic aesthetic, a clever but cruel puzzle within the puzzle, and many similar looking pieces that fit together, but didn’t go together… this was far more challenging than I was prepared for when I opened the box on a whim.
I’m glad that I gave it a shot. It offered something unique. Once I realized what the puzzle was and adjusted my mindset, I came to enjoy the experience.
This is a pricey puzzle that would make for a great gift for the serious jigsaw puzzler in your life. It was small, but it put up a fight.
Who is this for?
Jigsaw puzzlers who want to see something strange
Cruel but clever twist
This laser cut wooden puzzle featured a great horned owl. It included whimsy pieces in the shape of owls and critters that owls eat.
At first glance, Zen Puzzles’ Great Horned Owl seemed like a fairly typical jigsaw puzzle. It quickly revealed a couple of layers of complexity.
➕ Zen Puzzles added a crazy dynamic to the Great Horned Owl puzzle that I’ve never seen before. I was a bit bewildered for a few minutes while solving this puzzle. That’s a feeling that I cannot recall a jigsaw puzzle inspiring in me before.
Spoiler - The Surprise Twist
➖ There wasn’t enough shape variation among the pieces. Entirely too many bits with similar patterns fit snugly together.
➕ The whimsy pieces were funny and helpful. If they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have enjoyed solving this puzzle.
➖ Great Horned Owl wasn’t a visually exciting puzzle, even though the image itself was quite nice when complete.
Tips For Player
Space requirements: a small table
Be careful when assembling pieces; many incorrect pieces kind of fit together
This puzzle was deceptively challenging and will likely take longer than most ~300 piece puzzles.
Buy your copy of Zen Art & Design’s Great Horned Owl, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle was a fairly quick solve at 80 pieces. The unusual piece shape, however, made for an interesting puzzle.
Each Nervous System puzzle is programmatically generated and laser cut, meaning that each is unique.
It’s a lovely gift for a jigsaw puzzler, but at $65 for less than an hour of puzzling, it’s probably not an everyday purchase.
Who is this for?
Jigsaw puzzlers looking for something a little different
Laser cutter fans
It’s a quick yet satisfying solve
The Radial Puzzle was a generatively created jigsaw puzzle “based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys.”
Additionally, this colorful puzzle featured whimsy pieces that were inspired by microscopic lifeforms.
Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle was a small but unusual jigsaw puzzle with a higher degree of difficulty when compared to other similarly sized puzzles.
➕ Radial Puzzle, like everything we’ve seen from Nervous System, was a work of art.
➕ The strange, organic-looking pieces required a mindset shift when it came to puzzling approach. I enjoyed working with pieces that had so many little variables.
➖ The many tendrils of each individual piece were fragile and required more care than most puzzles.
❓ I enjoyed a quick an interesting solve… and part of me even preferred a quick challenge. If you’re looking at value specifically as a function of time / money, however, then you’ll likely find the Radial Puzzle wanting.
Tips For Player
Space Requirements: A small table
Be gentle with the pieces; the tendrils can be fragile
It’s not a difficult puzzle, but it will require far more effort than your average 80-piece puzzle
Buy your copy of Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Geode Puzzles by Nervous System are beautiful, intricate, and remarkably challenging for compact, approximately 180-piece jigsaw puzzles.
If you love jigsaw puzzles and don’t balk at the price, I highly recommend putting one of these on your table.
Who is this for?
Experienced jigsaw puzzlers
People who like beautiful, well-created things
Beautiful and challenging design
Incredibly intricate laser cut wooden pieces
Impressively challenging for its size
Nervous System’s Geode Puzzles are programmatically generated, laser cut wooden jigsaw puzzles made with quarter-inch birch plywood.
Nearly all of the pieces have thin, asymmetrical tendrils that interlock in wildly unpredictable patterns.
Nervous System offers 23 different styles, each with a different color pattern and shape. They all have irregular edges.
Because these puzzles are programmatically generated, there is no definitive piece count, so they are all “about 180 pieces.” The pieces came together in a compact 8.5 inch puzzle.
+ I love odd jigsaw puzzles with unusual pieces. These thin tendril-like pieces were incredible. They dramatically amplified the difficulty.
+ The unusual shape of the puzzle added a good challenge.
– While none of my pieces broke, I am confident that it would be easy to accidentally snap limbs off of the puzzle pieces. I wouldn’t give this to brutes or children.
? Nervous System’s website offers an ever-changing selection of variants on the Geode puzzle. I have no idea if the fact that they are computer generated and unique offers any tangible benefit to the puzzler.
– While each one is unique. A palette swap or minor shape variation won’t be enough to bring me back to this particular product line.
+ While solving this Geode Puzzle felt like a worthy challenge, it wasn’t a massive commitment. It required less than 2 hours of my time. There weren’t thousands of pieces for me to flip, collate, and manage.
Tips for Playing
Be gentle with the pieces. If they don’t fit, wiggle things gently. If that doesn’t work, try a different piece.
You don’t need a lot of space or time, but Geode Puzzles are more difficult than you’d expect, given the size of the puzzles.
I loved the idea of having to puzzle through an almost entirely black and white jigsaw puzzle.
Should I buy the New York Puzzle Company’s Coffee Break?
Niemann’s Coffee Break illustration is incredibly intricate. Jigsaw puzzling through this image was both a beautiful and challenging experience.
Piecing this image together required me to visually interrogate every little intricacy of the illustration. By the time I was finished, I had gotten to know every reference and joke in the image.
It was challenging and occasionally frustrating because it’s essentially a black and white puzzle loaded with false leads and rapidly changing patterns. As soon as I had a handle on one section of the puzzle, it was finished… and suddenly there was a new section to learn. As a result, this took me about double the time that a 500-piece puzzle usually requires.
In the end, Coffee Break was a fun, yet fair challenge. It’s a wonderful illustration to spend some time exploring.