AllPlay – Aliens are Attacking [Review]

Welcome to Earth

Location:  at your own venue

Date Played: June 14, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

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

Publisher: Immersive Tech

REA Reaction

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

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

Various items laid out and our team puzzling.

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

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

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

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Corporate groups

Why play?

  • Fun puzzles
  • Nifty computer interface

Story

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

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

The Security Specialist's Documents printed in orange.

Setup

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

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

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

A coordinate entry screen.

Gameplay

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

It had a moderate level of difficulty.

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

All 3 role documents.

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be deceived by the title. This is a novel that uses the escape room setting as a hook for a corporate thriller about corruption in the financial industry.

The escape room is not so much an escape room and you can’t really solve along… but we see potential in escape rooms playing a role in stories.

Puzzle Snacks [Book Review]

Incredibly great (9)

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Price: $10

Publisher: Tiller Press

REA Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

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

Setup

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

The grid for one of the Spiral puzzles.

Gameplay

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Player

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

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

Disclosure: Tiller Press provided a sample for review. 

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

Pringles Mystery Flavor [Review]

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

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 26, 2019

Team size: Do you want to share?

REA Reaction

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

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

The Pringles logo on the Mystery Flavor Pringles tube.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is this for?

  • Pringles fans
  • Mystery food junkies
  • Lawyers

Why play?

  • The food’s pretty good.

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis

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

Spoiler: What did it taste like?

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

[collapse]

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

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

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

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

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

The Pringle Tasting Hot Take

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

Tips For Playing

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

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

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

Innuendo Sauce

Location:  at home

Date Read: June 2019

Team size: 1; we recommend 1

Page Count: 139 pages

Price: $4.99 paperback; $1.99 kindle

Author: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: HarperCollins

REA Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why Read?

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

Story

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

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

Core “gameplay” revolved around reading.

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Reader

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

Buy your copy of Can’t Escape Love, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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

Simulacra Games – The Wilson Wolfe Affair [Review]

Animated

Location:  at home

Date Played: Spring 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-4

Duration: variable, there is a lot of game

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

REA Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Deep puzzling
  • Some nifty interactions

Story

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

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

Simulacra Games/ Jinks Studios box.

Setup

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

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Player

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

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

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

A Puzzler’s Guide to Amazon Prime Day Deals

We scoured Amazon’s Prime Day deals (which are continuing today) for the kinds of things that we think escape room players might enjoy.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Exit: The Game – The Sunken Treasure

Sunken Treasure's box art features a sunken tall ship.

Most of the Exit series is on sale for Prime Day. The Sunken Treasure is one of my favorites (full review) that they offer. It also happens to be one of their easiest games, so it’s great for first-timers to the series.

Mysterium

Mysterium box art.

This is one of the most frequently played tabletop games in our collection. It’s collaborative, easy to learn, challenging to master, and incredibly replayable.

6 Key Puzzle Lock

A large and sturdy brass padlock beside 6 strange brass keys.

I love puzzle locks and this is a good one. We recommend it as a puzzle itself. Please do not put a puzzle lock in an escape room.

3D Crystal Panda Puzzle

A 3 dimensional panda bear holding bamboo.

I have a 3D Crystal Rubber Duck puzzle that I truly enjoy. It has some interesting mechanics. The panda variant is pretty adorable.

Dog Treat Puzzle Ball

2 balls containing dog food

Good doggos should get to puzzle too.

(Note: I love dogs, but I’m allergic to them. I have no idea if this is a good product, but I do like the concept.)

A beautiful shiba on a train platform at night.
This photo of Nick Moran’s dog Elinor was stolen and published without permission.

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

Ravensburger – Vampire’s Castle Escape Puzzle [Review]

That last bite sucks…

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

We really wanted to love this puzzle. From a jigsaw puzzle standpoint, this was comfortably our favorite of the 4 Ravensburger Escape Puzzles.

Unfortunately, once we’d assembled the jigsaw puzzle, the “escape room” puzzles were a mess. There were multiple broken or ambiguous puzzles. While it all came together well enough in the end, the mistakes were too numerous and inexcusable for us to recommend this product.

A portion of the puzzle including a few suites of armor.

Pretty much all of the issues could be fixed in a future printing, if Ravensburger gets around to it. I hope that they do.

In the mean time, I’d recommend passing on this one unless you’re keen on doing the jigsaw or you’ve played Space Observatory, Witch’s Kitchen, and Submarine and want to complete the set.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzle.

For a detailed explanation of the concept, mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Ravensburger Escape Puzzle Overview.

Closeup of Dracula emerging from his coffin.

Story

While vacationing in Romania, we’d decided to take a hike. Along the way we’d found an old castle; we couldn’t turn down the adventure. As we entered the castle, the door had locked behind us. We slowly realized that we weren’t alone. What could we do to survive?

A portion of the puzzle including vampire bats.

Analysis

➕ From a purely jigsaw puzzle standpoint, Vampire’s Castle was our favorite of Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzles. The image was vibrant, with a lot of color and texture variation. The design kept our momentum going from start to finish.

➕ The puzzle was filled with all sorts of cute oddities and amusing details.

The Vampires Castle Escape puzzle box.

➖ Too many of the puzzles within the puzzle were problematic. A third of the puzzles worked well. A third of the puzzles were too ambiguous for my liking… and a third of them were a total mess.

➖ There was a counting puzzle that was far too fuzzy.

➖ The puzzles that didn’t work properly were baffling, I’m really confused as to how they went to print.

➕ The final puzzle was satisfying.

BUY IT NOW

Buy your copy of Ravensburger’s Vampire’s Castle Escape Puzzles, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ravensburger provided a sample for review.

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

Sleuth Kings – Case 020: Blood P.I. [Review]

Bloody actors

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 26, 2019

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 1-3 hours

Price: $29.95 per month ($83.85 for 3 months, $159.60 for 6 months)

REA Reaction

Sleuth Kings has come a long way since we played Case 001: The Guilty a year and a half ago.

19 cases later, it’s still a fun and solid puzzle game. The gameplay flowed well and the solves were satisfying.

Sleuth Kings has cleaned up the response time issues and minimized the emailing by adding an alternative hint system.

In-game: a Sleuth Kings file folder filled with clues.

Sleuth Kings’ cases are more challenging than escape rooms, but still quite approachable. If you’re looking to expand your puzzle solving skills outside of escape rooms, this is a good choice. Its consistent puzzle content delivered to you in a well-organized format with as much hand-holding as you want. For more experienced puzzlers, it won’t offer anything novel, but it will give you a monthly puzzle fix.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Any experience level
  • Players who want a monthly subscription

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles
  • Interactive gameplay
  • There’s a new one every month!

Story

In Case 020: Blood P.I., we had to identify who’d been stalking Rosalyn Neal, the actress who played Rebecca Blood, the lead character in a popular vampire detective show. She’d just been shot, and while she would recover, we were under the impression that this stalker was behind the incident.

The illustrated game box, a charcoal image of a woman in a detective's office.

SETUP

Sleuth Kings sent a slick cardboard box containing a case file with various printed materials. These included an investigation report and various clues to the case. Everything was clearly labeled for orderly solving.

We emailed Detective Sullivan King to begin our investigation.

In-game: Sleuth Kings Case 020 envelope.

Gameplay

Sleuth Kings’ Case 020: Blood P.I. was a play-at-home detective game with a moderate level of difficulty.

The puzzles were more challenging than typical escape room puzzles, but quite approachable. They were substantially easier than you’d find in a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, decoding, puzzling, and emailing the detective.

In-game: An assortment of photos of eyes, one natural blue, one an unnatural red.

Analysis

➕ Case 020: Blood P.I. delivered varied and interesting puzzles. Some resolved with aha moments. Others took a bit more process to complete. Overall, it was a satisfying collection of solves.

➖ Although the puzzles were solid, they weren’t revolutionary or particularly memorable.

➕ The story made sense. It was a bit hokey, ridiculous even, but I don’t think it needed to be believable. The gameplay worked within the story.

➖ There was a lot of reading involved in solving this case. The story was told through text rather than through the puzzles themselves. Additionally, in a couple of instances, the font choice was a tad arduous.

➕/➖ Case 020: Blood P.I. contained generally high quality printed materials. That said, it still felt a bit homemade, some pieces more than others.

➕ The mailing was well organized and clearly labeled. It was easy to get started. While there were a lot of materials, they never felt overwhelming. The gameplay flowed smoothly.

➕ There was a nuanced hint system. A Clue Analysis was included with the Investigation Report in the mailing. Players who need a nudge can take a peek. The detective’s assistant, Celest, had a website where we could find additional hints. We could always email the detective. He replied pretty quickly, but if there was lag time, we had this other tool at our disposal.

❓ Although I liked the organization, and always knowing where to focus my attention, this may come across as too much hand-holding for some, especially when coupled with some of the additional hint-y materials available in the package.

➕ While there was still lag time in the detective’s responses, it was no longer momentum-killing, as it was when we first played. Sleuth Kings has minimized the emailing; we had a quarter as many email threads this time around. In this playthrough, the emails made the game more interactive, in a positive way.

➕ Sleuth Kings has managed to churn out one case a month. Although we haven’t played the others, we hear the puzzle quality is consistent and the meta mystery through the series is interesting.

Tips For Player

  • Required Gear: You need an internet-connected device (we recommend a computer), and pen and paper for taking notes.

Subscribe to Sleuth Kings, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Thank you to Darren and Melissa for sharing their copy of this game with us.

Note that your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game. Case 020: Blood P.I. as other past cases can be purchased here.

NEScape! on the Nintendo Entertainment System [Review]

Going Retro

Location:  Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Date Played: June 9, 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Duration: 60 minute time loops

Price: $10 (ROM), $60 (cartridge & ROM)

Publisher: KHAN Games

REA Reaction

NEScape! is a new escape room video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or downloadable ROM).

This game captured old-school escape room gameplay on old-school video game hardware… and did a generally good job.

Translucent blue NEScape! cartridge.

There are 4 days left to back this Kickstarter and it is fully funded. The decision to back should be simple:

  • Do you like the idea of old-school, puzzle-forward gameplay?
  • Does playing an escape game on NES hardware sound fun?
  • Do you have access to a NES?

If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then give them your money.

Lisa's hands on an NES controller.

NEScape! isn’t flawless. There are more than a few things that I think could improve it.

NEScape! isn’t revolutionary. It can’t be. It runs on 8-bit hardware in 2019.

For me, that was fine. Now that I’ve completed playing it, just looking at the cartridge makes me smile.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Retro gamers
  • Point & click fans
  • People who really just want to own the game cartridge
  • Players with at least some puzzle experience

Why play?

  • Classic escape room puzzle play on the NES
  • It’s different

Story

We were in an escape room and needed to puzzle our way out. Like I said, old school.

Setup

We received NEScape! in cartridge form. That meant that the first puzzle was finding a working Nintendo Entertainment System or a high quality NES clone like the RetroUSB AVS. The Retron5 and RetroDuo (which I love) unfortunately didn’t do the job.

So… we went out to a local retro video game arcade called Yestercades to play with their toys.

NEScape! in a NES.

Puzzle two was mounting the cartridge so that it, ya know, worked. It was as tough as I remembered. A friendly reminder: Blowing on Nintendo cartridges doesn’t help and can cause corrosion.

Once we were up and running, NEScape! was a point & click puzzle game on an 8-bit platform. The controls were simple. We had to find objects and use them to solve the puzzles that lined the game world’s 4 walls.

Gameplay

KHAN Game’s NEScape! was a point & click escape game with puzzles of varying levels of difficulty and a non-negotiable 60-minute game clock that terminated the run at 0.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game animation: a cursor selecting books with zodiac symbols on them.
Via KHAN Games

Analysis

➕ Opening the mail and finding a translucent blue NES cartridge was utterly delightful.

➕ The colors were vibrant and made good use of the limited graphics capacity of the NES.

➕ The controls were easy. Lisa was never a console gamer and had no problems picking them up quickly. There wasn’t any action, so my decades of muscle memory weren’t particularly useful.

➕ The opening sequence was an unusual intro that taught the basics, provided a puzzle and allowed us to bypass it.

➕ There was solid point & click escape game-style play that captured the feeling of escape room puzzles from 4-5 years ago.

➕ There was a structured, self-service online hint system, should you get stuck (or, like us, be playing in a loud space, which inhibited us from solving auditory puzzles).

❓ There were a number of auditory puzzles that we had to bypass with hints. The clanging of pinball, the beeping of arcade cabinets, and the crashing of Skee-Ball at Yestercades meant that we couldn’t hear audio puzzles. It seemed like NEScape! was doing some interesting things with sound, but I genuinely have no idea how anything sounded. When I eventually replay in a quiet location, I’ll update this.

➖ At the start of each chapter, we began with the “lights off” and had to find the switch. This was hard the first time and easy, but annoying, in subsequent chapters.

❓/➕ We aren’t good at slide puzzles. We’d like to get better at them when we have a little time. We ended up sinking a little more than half of our time in our first play loop into a slide puzzle. In our second hour, we just used the hint system to power through the slide pattern. (We so appreciated that the hints included the solution pattern.)

➖ There were times where puzzle solves had no visual indication of completion. There may have been auditory feedback, but we don’t know. It made certain aspects of the game feel clunky. Sure we were playing under sub-optimal circumstances, but visual feedback of success would have been a significant improvement, even if it was just for accessibility purposes.

➖ The ball maze puzzle was visually jittery and difficult to look at.

In-game animation: A ball navigating through a maze.
Via KHAN Games

➕ There were some really great destructible puzzles… the kind that you wouldn’t typically see in a real life escape room.

NEScape! would have benefited from more puzzles that could only work in a digital environment. There were a few too many puzzles that were straight translations from the real world.

❓ We felt pretty conflicted on the rigid timer that terminated the game at 0 forcing us to start over:

  • On one hand, it was annoying. It felt like there was an opportunity to do something more creative at 0 or offer more outcome options.
  • On the other hand, unforgiving fail-states is pretty much tradition on the NES. It wasn’t a big deal because we were able to navigate through the game pretty quickly on our second playthrough to pick up where we’d left off.

➕ It’s a Kickstarter… but the full product exists. For those of us who have been burned before, knowing that a crowdfunding project is more than notional ain’t nothing.

Tips For Playing

  • Time Requirements: I would plan on playing at least 2 or 3 hours (unless you’re good at slide puzzles or plan to bypass it with the hint system).
  • Required Gear: You’ll need a Nintendo Entertainment System or a high-quality clone. We also used pen and paper to track our solutions. This was especially helpful on our second play-though.

Back KHAN Game’s NEScape! on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

There are only 4 days left to back this.

Disclosure: KHAN Games provided a sample for review. 

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