What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks [Review]

Unleash smell!

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 8, 2019

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

Duration: 10 – 15 minutes

Price: $13.00

Publisher: WowWee

REA Reaction

An ever-so-slightly-used copy of What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks was handed to me by my dear friends Amanda Harris and Drew Nelson in an oversized Ziploc bag. It was in the bag because they were smart. They gave it to me because it’s clear that they harbor some hidden ill will towards me. It was only slightly used because it was not that fun.

We managed a couple of rounds and found a few laughs before we stuffed everything back into the bag… and had more fun and more laughs making a gif.

Animation of David throwing away Whats That Smell.

When I was finished, my nose felt angry, like my smell receptors had just been subjected to an olfactory DDoS attack.

Who is this for?

  • Masochists
  • Sadomasochists
  • Drunk people
  • Children

Why play?

  • A shared and harmless yet mediocre experience among friends can be pretty funny.
  • Bad smells, like poop jokes, are funny.

Gameplay

WowWee’s What’s That Smell? was a scent mystery game where players competed to guess smells.

Core gameplay revolved around scratching, sniffing, guessing, writing funny memories, and questioning your life decisions that led to playing What’s That Smell?.

Whats That Smell's box in the bag.

Setup

The box contained 48 scratch & sniff scent cards. Everyone drew a card, scratched, and sniffed.

The outside of a smell card.

Then everyone proceeded to fill out three questions on a form:

  • Smell category? (chemical, floral, fruity, sweet, etc.)
  • Smell guess?
  • Smell association: Your funniest memory?
An answer sheet with multiple questions.

At the end of the round, points were scored based on getting the answers right/ wrong… and whoever had the funniest memory associated with the scent.

A smell card with instructions where to scratch.

We repeated this until it grew old.

At the end of the game, the person with the lowest score had to pull from 1 of 4 extra terrible punishment smells (old toe cheese, diaper blowout, hot chunky vomit, or smothered in B.O).

Whiff of shame cards featuring "Hot Chunky Vomit," "Extra Old Toe Cheese," "Smothered in B.O.," and "Diaper Blowout."
Living the dream.

Analysis

➕ For better or for worse, What’s That Smell? was easy to set up, learn, and play.

What’s That Smell? included little cardboard pieces for you to scratch the smells. This prevented the scents from getting on and under your fingernails.

➕ The inclusion of a free-form, “What’s the funniest memory you associate with this smell?” added an element of creativity.

➖ A lot of these scents were unpleasant. Most weren’t vile… but as my nose was bombarded with more and more scents, the entire experience soured.

Whats That Smell's box out of the bag.

➖ It was really difficult to tell most of these scents apart. There wasn’t a lot of definition.

➖ After playing for about 10 minutes, my nose became utterly confused.

➖ I cannot see myself opening the box in my home. It reeks.

If you made it this far, here’s a nifty TED Ed video explaining how your sense of smell works (or at least a basic overview of what humans currently understand on the subject).

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Play in a room that you can easily air out and will not be eating in

Buy your copy of WowWee’s What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks, 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.)

“The Escape Room,” a Novel by Megan Goldin [Review]

“This isn’t an escape room.” (page 295)

Author: Megan Goldin

Release Date: July 30, 2019

Page Count: 368

Price: $26.99

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

REA Reaction

The Escape Room 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 gimmick seems like a good opportunity to integrate puzzles into a mystery storyline, but readers intrigued by the title will likely be disappointed that The Escape Room is no more of a brainteaser than the average thriller novel.

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

The bleak setting, clichéd characters, and unrefined puzzles made the reading experience feel almost like being stuck in an elevator right along with these four unpleasant people.

If you’re an avid reader of thrillers with some time on your hands, you may decide it’s worth indulging your curiosity. But don’t be deceived by the title—at its core, The Escape Room isn’t really about an escape room at all. If you’re looking for engaging puzzles or an elegant mystery, don’t think twice about skipping this one.

Who is this for?

  • Voracious readers who can’t get enough thrillers
  • People who like seeing investment bankers suffer

Why Read?

  • To find out who made it out alive

Story

Four shady investment bankers from Stanhope and Sons were summoned to play an escape room as a team-building exercise. They got more than they bargained for when they were locked in an elevator together and forced to solve the mystery of why they were really there and what happened to their former colleague Sara Hall.

The title of "The Escape Book" bleeding through from the next page beside a Sun Tzu quote, "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

Gameplay

The puzzles are not a particular selling point for The Escape Room. It’s marketed as a thriller, with no particular emphasis on a game component except as part of the plot.

The story includes a handful of simple riddles and word puzzles, some of which must be solved with knowledge only the characters have. There is no interactivity or game structure to the puzzles—you can’t really solve along as you read.

Analysis

➕ The concept of describing two timelines at once in alternating chapters made the reading experience more interesting. Guessing where the storylines converged was one of the more enjoyable things about the book.

➖ The writing style felt repetitive and clichéd. There were extravagant details about suits, ties, makeup, jewelry, gourmet food, and other accoutrements of wealth. All this description seemed like overkill, especially for a book that also emphasized the dangers of greed.

➖ The escape room itself wasn’t much like an actual escape room at all. The handful of puzzles had no structure or progression, so there was no game to play along with. Also, the escape room took place entirely in an elevator. This limitation put the immersion factor much lower than the recent Escape Room movie, for example. But the game aspect of The Escape Room also fell short of some of the incredible real-life escape rooms we’ve seen set in small spaces, such as The Basement’s Elevator Shaft, which made an elevator setting far more interesting and dramatic. Since a novel can have unlimited special effects, it would have been exciting to see a more innovative use of the escape room setting.

➖ Spending hundreds of pages stuck in an elevator with such despicable main characters made The Escape Room less fun than it could have been. The four investment bankers embodied variations on the standard greedy villain, with backstories that didn’t do much to give them emotional depth. If their characterization had provided more insight into how they felt rather than just what they wanted, the plot would have felt more like a robust narrative than a chess game.

➕/➖ Near the beginning, the characters’ interactions in the elevator scenes were amusingly reminiscent of bumbling escape room first-timers. But in later chapters, they easily made logic leaps that would be challenging for real-life players.

➖ The mystery structure felt haphazard and lacked the element of surprise. The pacing dragged, and the plot played out quite predictably. (The cover text even hints at the endgame.) The story could have benefited from some crafty red herrings, an aha moment where everything falls into place, or some form of redemption for any of the greedy, selfish characters.

The Escape Room is a book about how money and status corrupts, but it simultaneously implies that money can buy happiness. There is no middle ground, and both ends of the spectrum are portrayed as unenviable, with no way out. It was a bleak point of view.

➖ One character in The Escape Room was an autistic math genius who was repeatedly described as having “poor social skills” and dehumanized with descriptors like “robotic” and “otherworldly.” Beyond these harmful stereotypes, she was also treated badly by other characters, and her story was told largely through other people’s speculation about her motives. It was disappointing to see her treated like a plot device rather than a fleshed-out character with her own agency.

➕ The opening of The Escape Room teased a thrilling story of an escape game gone wrong. The excitement of that prologue made it clear that the escape room scenario could provide an intriguing hook for plenty more thriller novels in the future.

Tips For Reading

  • The Escape Room is a quick, easy read that won’t provide too much of a challenge on a long flight or a lazy weekend.
  • Be aware that the plot includes detailed descriptions of sexual assault and violent death.
  • If you can’t figure out a puzzle, don’t beat yourself up. It’s probably just because you’re not a high-powered investment banker at Stanhope.

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

Disclosure: St. Martin’s Press provided advance readers’ copies for review. Some details may change before publication.

(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.)

Zen Puzzles – Great Horned Owl [Review]

A jigsaw puzzle with a strange puzzley twist.

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 8, 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Piece Count: 297 pieces

Price: $95 (prices vary based on size)

Publisher: Zen Art & Design

REA Reaction

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.

The assembled puzzle with a fierce looking owl face.

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

Why play?

  • Challenging
  • Cruel but clever twist

Story

This laser cut wooden puzzle featured a great horned owl. It included whimsy pieces in the shape of owls and critters that owls eat.

Closeup of an owl whimsy piece set within the assembled puzzle.

Gameplay

At first glance, Zen Puzzles’ Great Horned Owl seemed like a fairly typical jigsaw puzzle. It quickly revealed a couple of layers of complexity.

Analysis

➕ 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

Closeup of an image showing the presence of internal edge and corner pieces.
This thing has multiple internal edge and corner pieces.
[collapse]

➖ There wasn’t enough shape variation among the pieces. Entirely too many bits with similar patterns fit snugly together.

Closeup of of a piece that fits but is incorrect.

➕ 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.

Thank you Amanda Harris & Drew Nelson for loaning us this puzzle.

Nervous System – Radial Puzzle [Review]

A snowflake.

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 24, 2018

Team size: we recommend 1-3

Piece Count: ~80

Price: $65

Publisher: Nervous System

REA Reaction

Nervous System’s Radial Puzzle was a fairly quick solve at 80 pieces. The unusual piece shape, however, made for an interesting puzzle.

The colorful, circular, assembled 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

Why play?

  • It’s beautiful
  • It’s strange
  • It’s a quick yet satisfying solve

Story

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.

The entire puzzle inverted showing the unusual cut pattern.

Gameplay

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.

An assortment of pieces, with two whimsy pieces flipped. One is signed by the artist, the other is marked with the Nervous System brand.

Analysis

➕ 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.

Thank you to Amanda Harris & Drew Nelson for loaning this puzzle to us.

I Expect You To Die [Review]

Do you expect me to talk?

Location:  at home

Dates Played: November – December, 2018

Platform: Playstation VR, Rift & Vive on PC

Duration: about 5 hours, 7 hours for secrets and commentary

Price: $24.99 on PSVR and Steam

Publisher: Schell Games

REA Reaction

I Expect You to Die was a series of five lovingly designed VR escape rooms in a 007-esque world. It embraced the storytelling advantages of having me in a VR environment while mitigating the challenges of having me escape these rooms while swiveling in a chair.

The attention to detail and love for both the spy genre and escape rooms continued through to the last mission. This was the way to do VR escape rooms at home.

Who is this for?

  • Escape room players of every stripe
  • Quick thinkers who are cool under pressure
  • James Bond fans with a sense of humor

Why play?

  • Solid, well-clued puzzles
  • Excellent graphics, VR physics, and immersion
  • Surprises galore 

Story

I began I Expect You to Die in my spy office. My unnamed boss, speaking through the intercom, walked me through the basics of being a modern spy.

My mission changed from level to level, but they all involved foiling the nefarious plans of the evil Dr. Zor of the Zoraxis Corporation. In my first mission I started off captured by Dr. Zor. To escape, I simply had to drive a malfunctioning car out of an airplane that was filled with poison gas at altitude.

My boss was with me the whole way, providing a bit of guidance in my ear when I tried to do something I wasn’t supposed to do and scolding me when I “wasted time” doing something silly like shoot a doughnut with a gun.

I Expect You to Die followed the escape room industry trend of giving me a mission rather than asking me to actually escape a room. One level had me neutralizing a bio-weapon while posing as a window washer. Another had me in a one-man submarine at the bottom of the ocean. Each was creative and became thrilling as the events unfolded.

Setting

The environments were realistically constructed with a dash of cartoonishness. It was real enough for me that at one point I attempted to put my real-life controller down on a solidly virtual desk.

The five levels were also unique to one another. Perhaps most importantly, the various situations would be at home in any James Bond movie but didn’t feel ripped off from any existing installment of that franchise.

Gameplay

The game was built to be played while seated in one spot (although some swiveling was necessary). I wasn’t limited to items within my reach, however, because the spy agency had fit me with telekinetic implants. I could point at something I wanted in the distance and bring it right to my hands. I could also freeze items in midair for easy access in the heat of the action.

Puzzles were a mix of linear and non-linear. Most solutions relied on my ability to observe, make connections, and improvise when a bad situation got worse. There were few traditional puzzles. At times, the solution was straightforward: use this item with that item. Other times it was necessary to understand the presented concepts on a deeper level for me to be successful. It was an extra challenge when I had to do something urgently or with good accuracy in an attempt to quickly save my skin from Dr. Zor’s devious traps.

However, like the best Sierra & Lucasarts adventure games, part of the fun was dying in hilarious ways. Because this was a video game, each mistake taught me what not to do and I got faster as I tried it again. In fact, each level had a “speed run” time. I often dove back in to see if I could do a level in 45 seconds, one which had originally taken 45 minutes to beat the first time through.

Analysis

➕ One worry I often have with VR simulations is whether the items will behave as I expect them to. In I Expect You to Die, physics were not a problem. Flammable things burned when lit, plastic cups bounced while ceramic ones did not, and lasers shined in a straight line.

➕ Attention to detail was fantastic and took full advantage of the VR environment. When I was posing as a window washer, I was able to look over my shoulder at the city below me, even though there were no puzzle elements there. In the train level, I looked out off the bridge and saw flocks of birds flying by.

➕ I knew I was in good hands from the opening credits. I was drifting through a two-tone 3D animation that riffed on every famous Bond opening title sequence. Bullets flew by my head and missiles launched from below as an excellent Shirley Bassey-style ballad soared through the theme song to “I Expect You to Die”.

➕ I was rewarded for messing around. Eat a moldy sandwich! Put a hat on a bear! Light your cigar with a burning log! When I finished a level, the game presented me with extra goals called “souvenirs” that hinted at other fun things I could have done. This added greatly to the replayability.

➕ The telekinetic ability to summon objects from afar was a clever narrative and mechanic workaround. Most VR goes the route of allowing the player to teleport around the environment; telekinesis felt considerably more grounded in this scenario (even if it was fantastical).

➖ My telekinetic implants allowed me to freeze items in mid-air. While this was useful for hovering code-breaking sheets where I could see them, it was just plain weird and oddly reality-breaking. It bothered me more than opening a cabinet from 20 feet away. I expect this mechanic was invented for players using traditional controllers, but it would be nice to disable it for VR controller users.

➕ What I Expect You to Die did best was surprises. Moments of victory were followed by unexpected moments of peril. Then having survived it, an even greater feeling of accomplishment.

➖ Some levels contained items like bundles of money that had no purpose. While not strictly red herrings, they occasionally got in the way of items I actually did need.

❓ In some worlds, it was possible to lose items I actually needed. While throwing stuff over my shoulder was immensely satisfying, I learned to think twice about whether I may need the thing in the future.

➕ After I had completed the main story, I had the option of turning on commentary! This was something I had never expected. There was lots of it and it was full of interesting insight into the design decisions of making the game.

Tips For PLAYING

  • While this game can be played with a traditional controller, it’s more immersive to play with two VR controllers.
  • Try everything. Sometimes there are multiple ways to solve a level, and lots of fun things to discover!

Purchase your copy of I Expect You to Die on PSVR or on Steam for Vive & Rift.

Exit: The Game – The Sinister Mansion [Review]

7th Guest?

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 11, 2018

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: $12

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos

REA Reaction

The Sinister Mansion was an imaginative installment in the Exit: The Game series.

As a fan of the series, I liked this game and absolutely recommend it to other fans of the series.

The Sinister Mansion box, depicts a grandfather clock and stairway of a large mansion.

At the same time, I feel that it is emblematic of two problems with Exit: The Game at large:

  • The structure is too predictable.
  • It isn’t refined and playtested enough.

Although the creators of Exit: The Game have done a lot within their structure in The Sinister Mansion, it still feels a little too much like past games. All too often, we found ourselves wishing that the game flowed a little better.

I like this series a lot and I enjoyed The Sinister Mansion. Nevertheless, I wish that they’d slow down a little, put out fewer games, and make sure that each one is refined and unique.

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the Exit: The Game system
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  •  Some good interactions and puzzles
  • This installment of Exit: The Game added some interesting twists within the format
  • The price

Story

We were invited as guests to a mansion, but upon our arrival, we realized that our host had locked us in and we had to puzzle our way out.

An assortment of game components, an answer disk, a booklet, a map, and 3 decks of cards.

Setup

Exit: The Game is a cardstock and paper-based tabletop escape room series that is only playable once. The act of finishing the game destroys some of the components.

All current editions of Exit: The Game operate in the same structure that we explained in detail back in our first review of the series. Instead of rehashing it, you can click through if you’re unfamiliar with the series:

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Sinister Mansion was a standard, destructible play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ There were quite a few interesting, creative, and tangible interactions in The Sinister Mansion. In general, this was a good puzzle game.

➕/➖ The Sinister Mansion contained one of my favorite puzzles of the Exit: The Game series. Unfortunately, I also felt like this puzzle needed a bit more clue structure folded into it.  

➖ In general, I found myself wanting a little more clue structure in The Sinister Mansion. There were a few times where our team was confused as to which components went together.

➕ The hint cards were well defined and productive.

➖ Aesthetically, The Sinister Mansion was disjointed. While most of the components and art seemed to strive for a regal, old-money aesthetic, some of the components looked like they came from a game set in a preschool.

➖ The Sinister Mansion looked and felt like too many of the series’ previous games. Shortly after playing it, I was mixing it up with other installments in the series.

➕ At $12 for an hour’s entertainment for 2 or 3 people, there’s good value here.

➕ The creators of Exit: The Game continue to find ways to put new twists on their game, without substantially changing the structure or components. While I think that the series is due for a little bit of a shakeup, I truly respect how much they squeeze out of the components that they have.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, scissors

Buy your copy of EXIT: The Game’s The Sinister Mansion, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Thames & Kosmos 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.)

Enigma Emporium – Blowback [Review]

Puzzle across Europe. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 29, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $12 on Kickstarter (plus $3 for international shipping) / $15 when it becomes available in their store

Publisher: Enigma Emporium

REA Reaction

Enigma Emporium is back with another postcard puzzle game. Our hidden hero from Wish You Were Here has mailed us 5 more postcards, each jam-packed with puzzle content. 

Blowback played well, with clean and entertaining solves. If you enjoyed Wish You Were Here, this is more of the same… and should be an easy impulse buy. 

If you didn’t play Wish You Were Here, you should start there. It’s available at a reduced price as part of the current Kickstarter (and if that has expired, it’s available on the Enigma Emporium website). 

If you weren’t fond of Wish You Were Here, or you’d like to play a game that does something dramatically different, then you’ll want to take a pass on Blowback

We had a lovely time puzzling our way through Blowback. The game took our minds off of an otherwise abysmal day… and that’s saying something. 

The "Blowback: Wish You Were Here Part II" envelope depicts a black hoodied hacker in front of many computer monitors.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level (experienced puzzlers will have a significant advantage)

Why play?

  • Puzzle quality
  • Puzzle density
  • Low price

Story

Enigma Emporium’s second chapter Blowback picked up where Wish You Were Here had left off. We had previously helped save the family of our main character and now he needed more help from us. 

He had sent us 5 additional postcards, each with hidden and enciphered messages explaining the details that he had uncovered about a nefarious organization. 

5 different post cards. The top one is England.

Setup

Structurally, Blowback functioned similarly to Wish You Were Here.

We received 5 post cards, each packed with puzzle content. We had to use our wits and a computer to crack the codes and help the unseen hero. 

The back of the England postcard, has parts of coordinates, stamps and a message about the danger that Ouroboros poses.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Blowback felt like a light puzzle hunt. It was challenging relative to escape rooms, but fairly easy relative to puzzle hunts. 

Core gameplay revolved around observation, deciphering, puzzling, and a bit of internet research. 

Analysis

➕ As with Wish You Were Here, we were impressed with the puzzle density of each postcard. Enigma Emporium did a whole lot with a compact format.

➕ For the amount of content, the price is quite fair.

➕ There are quite a few brilliant puzzles in Blowback. Most of them involved multiple layers of meaning.

➕ This go-around, Enigma Emporium did a really interesting thing to internationalize their game. 

➕ The structure of Enigma Emporium’s hint system is great. It’s easy to use and intuitive. We used it only minimally. The puzzles came together cleanly and we rarely found ourselves reaching for a hint. 

➖ The hints would benefit from a greater degree of granularity. Although we didn’t use it much, we encountered moments where the hints jumped from “vague” to “there’s nothing left to figure out” in a single step. 

➖ Although Enigma Emporium has proven that they can deliver a ton of content in a few postcards, this second chapter felt like it was missing something new and special. I’d happily solve my way through one more of these games in this structure because the puzzles and game were well crafted, but without something to shake up the format, this concept will feel predictable and turn stale. 

❓ There’s a lot of deciphering. I believe it’s less then in Wish You Were Here… but if translation grates on you, some of the puzzles will overstay their welcome.

➕/ ➖ We played a media copy of Blowback in advance of its Kickstarter launch. We encountered a few puzzles that lacked adequate cluing and felt less than intuitive, or became overly tedious. Enigma Emporium was interested in feedback and continues to iterate. We commend them for this. We anticipate that you will have a smoother experience than we did at a few junctures.

Tips For Player

  • You will need an internet-connected device. We recommend a computer. We don’t think a mobile device would be adequate.
  • Keep yourself organized while solving this game. Details matter. You will have a lot of puzzle paths open at once and as you solve them, you’ll need to hang on to the solutions.
  • While not necessary, you ought to play the first chapter before beginning the second chapter. 

Back Enigma Emporium’s Blowback on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review. 

Spy Code – Hackathon [Review]

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Jr.

Location:  at home

Date Played:  December 20, 2018

Team size: 2-9; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 5 – 20 minutes per round

Price: $12

Publisher: YULU

REA Reaction

Hackathon, YULU’s kid-friendly take on the classic communication game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, was tangible and easy to learn.

The device activated, lights glowing, there is 14:41 on a timer.

Physical interactions that are both unusual and satisfying have been a hallmark of YULU’s game design. They delivered that again with Hackathon, although to a lesser extent than in some of their previous games. This served Hackathon well. It didn’t feel like it hinged on a gimmick.

The emphasis of Hackathon was on puzzles and communication. The devices and other components were there to facilitate.

Hackathon would be a great game for younger puzzlers and gamers. It was enjoyable as an adult, but more in an “I’m content playing this with a kid” kind of way… which in my experience is far more entertaining than most kid-focused games.

Who is this for?

  • Younger puzzlers
  • Younger tabletop gamers
  • Families

Why play?

  • Great interactions
  • Solid children’s puzzles
  • Amusing team collaborations

Story

Your spy team’s identities have been stolen by a group of villains. You have gained access to the super-advanced Console that holds your information. Time to steal it back.

The catch was that only one of you could access the Console, while the rest of the team was elsewhere deciphering the Console’s operating instructions.

The activated device, the USB, an allen key, and a stack of cards.

Setup

The team split into two. One person went with the Console; the rest stayed with the instruction cards.

Once the player with the Console had activated the device, they needed to communicate what they saw to the people with the instruction cards. Those with the instruction cards deciphered the instructions, solved a puzzle, and told the Console operator what steps to take.

This loop repeated a total of 8 times, each with a different challenge, or until the Console operator ran out of time or made a critical error and failed.

An assortment of 8 puzzle cards.

Gameplay

Spy Code’s Hackathon was a child-friendly play-at-home puzzle and communication game with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around communicating and puzzling.

Closeup of an allen key attached to the corner of the device.

Analysis

➕ This was a lovely, kid-friendly take on Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

➕ Hackathon was easy to setup and quick to learn.

➕/➖ Most of the challenges in Hackathon were entertaining for all parties involved. That said, a few of the interactions feel like throwaways.

➕ There was a switch on the Console that would kick it into different modes, 1 through 4. These modes didn’t really change the difficulty, but they opened up different solution paths to keep the game interesting.

➖ It would be nice if there were more room for puzzle variation or even a purchasable expansion pack that could add more variety to the solutions. If you play Hackathon a lot and have a good memory, it would be entirely possible to memorize the solutions.

➕ The wrenches necessary for some of the puzzles were fun to use and connected elegantly to the Console.

Closeup of the USB key in its slot.
It just doesn’t stay clipped into this slot. Good thing it’s just for storage.

➖ There was a clip on the underside of the Console meant to store the “Flash Drive.” It didn’t grip properly and the drive always fell out. It was just a storage mechanism and didn’t impact gameplay, but it wasn’t on par with what we’ve come to expect of YULU’s design and build quality.

➕ Yanking the drive out to complete the game was a great, physical way to stop the clock. I never would have thought to design it that way, but it felt so much more satisfying than pushing a button.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor. Players will need to be split so that they can hear one another, but cannot see each other’s materials.
  • Required Gear: 3 AAA batteries and a small phillips screw driver to install the batteries.

Buy your copy of Spy Code’s Hackathon, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: YULU 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.)

Calliope Games – Double Double Dominoes [Review]

Dominoes with a puzzley twist.

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 8, 2019

Team size: 2-4 (6 with an expansion); we recommend 3-4

Duration: 30-60 minutes

Price: $29

Publisher: Calliope Games

REA Reaction

We’ve been on a kick to find tabletop games that are easy to learn, quick to play, and feel puzzley. Double Double Dominoes is the first one that we’re writing about.

A full board at the end of the game.

Double Double Dominoes was a Dominoes/ Scrabble hybrid that we found more interesting than traditional Dominoes and a whole lot more approachable than Scrabble.

We were playing Dominoes against one another, but scoring points based on the placement of our tiles on the board. It started off straightforward, but as we placed more pieces, the variables and opportunities to score grew into an elaborate conundrum. When coupled with a mechanic that meant that any player could score on anyone’s turn, Double Double Dominoes turned out to be a thoroughly engaging game.

If you’re looking for a classic style board game that’s easy to pick up, friendly for players of all ages, and comfortably plays 3 or 4 people, Double Double Dominoes would be a great choice. It’s staying in our game collection.

Closeup of the board, featuring three point indicators in close proximity to one another.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers who don’t require fancy components or elaborate rules
  • Competitive puzzlers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You can learn the rules in under 5 minutes
  • Straightforward gameplay with a reasonable amount of strategic depth
  • Piece placement feels like a puzzle, especially in the mid and late game

Setup

We played Double Double Dominoes by chaining dominoes together like we were playing a more classic game of dominoes… but we were doing it on a scrabble-like board with score tiles.

There were a few other rules. This video does a good job of explaining everything… even if it’s a bit cheesy.

Gameplay

Calliope Games’ Double Double Dominoes was a classic-style board game with a gentle learning curve.

Core gameplay revolved around pattern recognition, strategic thinking, and bit of luck.

The center of a fresh Double Double Dominoes board.

Analysis

➕ The first few rounds of Double Double Dominoes were gentle, with few options. This created a lovely on-ramp for the game and allowed everyone to get comfortable with the rules and mechanics.

➕ Double Double Dominoes was simple to learn and teach. We pretty much just opened the box and started playing. There were a few nuances, but nothing crazy.

➕ Every player could score on every play. This kept everyone engaged. It meant that the nature of gameplay shifted constantly. It drove the pace of play.

➖ The score markers were fairly transparent, but we regularly found it difficult to tell which number our pieces were resting on.

Closeup of two point indicators, one on a 4, the other on a 5.
It’s easier to see the difference in values in this photo than it was in real life.

➕/➖ Double Double Dominoes was much more interesting with 3 or 4 players than it was with 2 players.

➖ This was a small nitpick, but it would have been nice if the tips of the starbursts for point tiles were colored to match the tiles’ value.

Closeup showing how the dominoes cover the color of a point tile.
If those diamonds maintained the color of the center, it would help newer or forgetful players with scoring.

➕ After playing quite a few games, most of the time, the person who played the best won. There were a couple of games where it felt like luck was the prevailing factor. This happens in any game that involves chance. The balance seemed fine.

The board mid-game.

❓ The rules called for players to draw a new tile at the start of their turns. We opted to introduce a house rule where players drew at the end of their turns. This allowed everyone to familiarize themselves with their tiles and evaluate all of their options on other players’ turns. We found that this sped up the pace of the game.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor

Buy your copy of Calliope Games’ Double Double Dominoes, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Calliope 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.)

YULU – Cut the Wire [Review]

Snip. Snip. Boom!

Location:  at home

Date Played:  December 20, 2018

Team size: 1-10; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 5 -15 minutes per round

Price: $33

Publisher: YULU

REA Reaction

Cut the Wire was a bomb defusal game, rooted in turn-based deduction and chance. Our goal was to use clues and a bit of luck to cut the right wire.

Cut the Wire's packaging.

As far as straightforward, kid-friendly games go, this was about as enjoyable a game as I’ve seen. The interactions felt great. There was a solid mix of luck and skill, and a round of play never lasted more than a few minutes. This is one of YULU’s strongest offerings (although their essentially unreleased Fire Quest is still our favorite #Justice4FireQuest).

Additionally, I think it’s the kind of toy that could break out of board game play and be used for imaginative play (provided that you don’t have a problem with the subject matter).

If that sounds like it will fit into your family’s game night… then give it a clip.

Who is this for?

  • Deductive puzzlers
  • Kids
  • Families

Why play?

  • Cutting the wires was bafflingly satisfying
  • Fast-paced

Objective

 Cut the right wire and disarm the bomb.

The bomb, dice, and wirecutter.

Setup

We plugged in all of the wires and turned the game on. We then rolled the die and did as the die commanded.

Everyone took a turn, rolling the die and doing as it said. We repeated until someone cut the defuse wire and won… or cut the detonate wire and lost.

A wire being cut.

Wires

There were nine wires: 3 green, 3 blue, and 3 red.

Each wire was also labeled with a shape: circle, square, or triangle.

Closeup of a cut wire.

Dice

A turn consisted of rolling the die, then doing what the die commanded.

The die could tell you to:

  • Get a Clue (1/6 chance) – Push a button and receive a random hint as to which wire was either the defuse or the detonate wire.
  • Cut a Wire (2/6 chance) – Cut a wire blindly, without getting any clues that round.
  • Clue + Cut (2/6 chance) – Take a clue, then cut a wire in a single turn.
  • Clue + Force Cut (1/6 chance)– Take a clue, then force another player to cut a wire of your own choosing.

Game End

The game concluded when someone cut the defuse wire and won or cut the detonate wire and lost.

“Timed Mode” added 1 additional hurdle of a 15-second clock to complete an action. Failure to take an action within the allotted time would detonate the device.

Gameplay

Spy Code’s Cut the Wire was a play-at-home game of deduction and chance with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around deduction, memorization, and chance.

The hint screen.

Analysis

➕ The device was designed as a caricature of a bomb. It looked fun and non-threatening.

➕ The physical act of cutting wires in Cut the Wire was especially pleasing. The wire cutters had a good feel to them. The sound, sight, and feel of clipping was delightful.

➖ I found a little too much variation in cut tension. Most of the wires felt great. One was too hard to cut. One felt just a touch too loose.

➕ I cut the loosest wire about 40 times to see if it would break. It did not. Similarly, the stiffest wire didn’t loosen. This speaks well to Cut the Wire’s durability.

➕ The clue system was great. The display was recessed deep into the device such that it was easy for the active player to see it and difficult for other players to sneak a glance.

The wirecutters attached to the back of the bomb.

➕ There was a clip on the back of the device that perfectly held the wire cutters and die (all of the things you need to play). This made me inordinately happy.

The dice attached to the back of the bomb.

➖ We found it a bit difficult to visually distinguish the shapes printed on the wires. If I were planning to play regularly, I’d modify the game by taking a Sharpie marker to the shapes to make them easier to see.

➕ Cut the Wire was easy to set up, quick to learn, and approachable for most ages. It was simple, but there was an actual game to play.

Tips For Player

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

Disclosure: YULU 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.)