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.)

Unlock! – The Tonipal’s Treasure [Review]

H-arrrrr-d pass matey. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 11, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $14

Publisher: Asmodee

REA Reaction

Well… this is awkward. We made 2 different attempts to play Unlock!’s The Tonipal’s Treasure. In both cases we broke the game’s sequencing… and it was messy. 

As experienced Unlock! players, we understand how the series functions, but even when we tried our best, we broke the game and found ourselves utterly lost. In the end, we flipped all of the cards over, deduced the correct solve path, and finished the game. 

UNLOCK Tonipal's Treasure box, depicts a pirate ship with treasure.

There were a few cool puzzles… but they were buried under the frustration of some obtuse interactions and a flawed hint system. 

As charming as some of this game was, it was too broken to recommend in its current state. Fortunately for Unlock!, it could probably be fixed with a software update. 

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • People who understand that this game is easily broken and are willing to adjust accordingly. 
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Some interesting mechanics
  • Charming moments
  • To learn from the mistakes made in this game

Story

Many sought Captain Smith’s buried treasure. We were in a race to find it and dig it up before our rivals did. 

In-game: The initial setup of Tonipal's Treasure

Setup

Unlock! is an entirely card-based series that uses a mobile app to handle hints, timer, and a few puzzle solution inputs. The Tonipal’s Treasure followed the same structure.

I have explained the core mechanics in more detail in a past review: 

In-game: The Prison cell layout.

Gameplay

Asmodee’s The Tonipal’s Treasure was a play-at-home escape game with a high level of difficulty.

Most of the challenge came from identifying the puzzles. It proved difficult to determine which puzzles were active at any given point in the game.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, puzzling, and card management.

In-game: The Prison cell layout, all cards revealed.

Analysis

The Tonipal’s Treasure’s narrative and characters were entertaining.

➖ In an effort to convey story, we gained access to too many cards at a time. We were constantly struggling to determine which puzzle we were supposed to work on. 

➖ Entirely too many puzzles required a logic leap.

The Tonipal’s Treasure’s put a heavy emphasis on hidden numbers.

➖ The Unlock! hint system was insufficient. It did a poor job of guiding us to the active puzzle components. The hints were either painfully obvious and useless, or gave us the solution without any explanation as to why. This meant that we could get the solution to a puzzle that wasn’t fully in play and accidentally jump out of sequence. 

➕ I think there actually could be a lot of good puzzles in this game… but only if the hint system were fixed.

➖ There were audio clues that were far too difficult to understand. 

➕ The Tonipal’s Treasure did something really interesting with the card design. 

‼️ The entire Unlock! series could benefit from a major hint system overhaul. If anyone from Asmodee is listening, section 3 of our 11 Principles of Tabletop Escape Game Design explains how to fix this.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table 
  • Required Gear: a smartphone with the Unlock! app

In its current state, I cannot recommend The Tonipal’s Treasure. Consider Squeek & Sausage or Adventures of Oz instead. 

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a sample for review. 

Master Lock 1590D – All Possible 3 Letter Words

The Master Lock 1590D isn’t an overwhelmingly common escape room lock. (That’s probably a good thing for reasons that I discuss below). That said, it is a strange and interesting device that does show up from time to time.

Blue alphanumeric locker-style padlock.

Since it is commercially available and does show up, I decided to run an analysis against it. In doing so, I learned some nifty things.

The results of the analysis are here. I encourage you, however, to continue reading, as this analysis turned out a bit different from previous ones (this one and this one.)

Letter Distribution

Unlike the previous letter locks that we’ve analyzed, the Master Lock 1590D does not have multiple disks with individual letter distributions. Instead, the 1590D functions like a traditional locker lock. All of its letters are available at once.

The distribution is:

A D E H J L N R S T and the numbers 0 through 10.

There is one interesting thing to note about this lock before reviewing the word permutations.

Letters may be repeated:

There was nothing in the lock’s documentation, nor did I find anything online… but when I attempted to input repeat letters into the lock, it accepted them. “AAA” was a valid combination.

This was a relief because I was pretty certain that I was going to break the lock when I tried it.

Blue alphanumeric locker-style padlock open with a reset key sitting beside it.
Once opened, the lock may be reset by inserting this plastic key into the shackle hole.

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

We ran two separate analyses.

Analysis 1: Letters Only (Tab 1)

This analysis only used the actual letters on the lock: A D E H J L N R S T

The results generated 59 high-value words.

Analysis 2: Letters & Number Substitutions (Tab 2)

This analysis used the actual letters , plus O, I, Z, G, B (as represented by the letters 0, 1, 2, 6, 8).

The results generated 207 high value words.

Blue alphanumeric locker-style padlock open with a reset key inserted.
It can be reset to a 3-digit permutation.

Analysis Methodology

Once again, Rich Bragg (of Guinness Record, Enthusiast Choice Awards, & ClueKeeper fame) helped conduct this analysis. The mechanics of the analysis were explained in the original lock analysis post… so I’m not going to rehash them here. 

There was one significant differences from the first analysis:

I asked Rich to run the analysis twice, once using only the actual letters, and a second time substituting letters that look like numbers. These tabs are running across the bottom of the spreadsheet.

5 Observations

1. The fact that the 1590D accepts repeated letters really surprised me. This greatly opened up opportunities for making words.

2. Word options at 3 letters are minimal. This isn’t really a surprise.

3. The addition of a few extra numbers as letter substitutions expanded the word pool dramatically.

4. If you look in the right two columns, you’ll find a ton of 3-letter abbreviations. Government agencies (DOJ), stock symbols (JNJ), nicknames (J Lo), and fictional organizations (JLA) seemed interesting and potentially useful. The right most column is far more useful for this lock than for some of the larger locks that we’ve previously analyzed.

5. Master Lock’s commitment to including the letter “J” in their word locks continues to bewilder me as it is not useful for making words. The only reason that I can think of is for making people’s initials, as “J” is a common first letter in names.

Caution

I have found that players are generally confused about how to operate this lock.

In my opinion, locker-style locks are a less-than-stellar option for escape rooms. I think they should be avoided most of the time. The same goes for the 1590D.

My opinions notwithstanding, I know that this lock will get used in escape rooms and in classroom games, so I offer this analysis.

LOL Surprise – Mystery Flavor Candy Cane [Review]

A Christmas miracle!

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 23, 2018

Price: $6

REA Reaction

Surprise! I finally found a mystery flavor candy that was more than vaguely edible.

I can’t see myself buying it again because it’s not really my type of candy (too corn syrupy), but it was legitimately enjoyable.

(Lisa disagrees that it was at all enjoyable, but that’s not really the product’s fault. For more on this difference of opinions, see the spoiler box below.)

If you like candy canes and sucking candy, this is a good option. It comes also with totes adorb stickers, if that’s your sort of thing.

If I’m going to be honest, however, these mystery products are more fun when they are terrible.

LOL Surprise Mystery Candy packaging depicting the candy cane and cute stickers.

Who is this for?

  • People with a sweet tooth
  • Kawaii aficionados

Why eat?

It actually tasted good.

Story

I haven’t the slightest clue what the story is behind this product.

Apparently the characters are from L.O.L. Surprise. I don’t really know what that is and I wasn’t moved to do further research.

LOL Surprise Mystery Candy candy cane and cute stickers.

Setup

The oversized pink and blue candy cane measured 7 inches in length and 2/3 of an inch in diameter.

The product came packaged within pink and blue packaging with a cute, big-eyed cartoon girl on its face. Within were 4 stickers of similar L.O.L. Surprise characters.

Gameplay

It’s a candy cane; you suck on it… or bite it, if you have no patience.

Then you guess the flavor.

Analysis

➕ This actually tasted like candy… and not punishment. By default it was the best mystery flavor product that we’ve consumed to date.

Flavor Guess (Spoiler)

🍌 I think its supposed to be banana. That said, the corn syrup is strong with this one. Lisa hates all banana-flavored candies. She confirmed that the flavor was absolutely banana… which, for her, rendered this product absolutely inedible. Thus the difference of opinion in this review. 

[collapse]

➕ The stickers looked cute.

➖ The backing on the stickers was pretty mediocre.

Buy your copy of L.O.L. Surprise’s Mystery Flavor Candy Cane, 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.)

Lockpicker’s Starter Kit

I haven’t been shy about my lockpicking habit. It’s a hobby that I love and a skill that occasionally comes in handy. 

Over the past couple of years an ever-increasing number of readers have written in asking how to get started with lockpicking. What kit should a beginner purchase? I’m going to make this really simple for you. 

The Basics

I had addressed a lot of this in a previous post, but since then, my thoughts on equipment for newbies have shifted.

So, if you’re:

  • unfamiliar with the mechanics of lockpicking
  • think it’s an evil practice
  • need to familiarize yourself with the basic ethical principles
  • would like some resources for learning
  • are looking for locks to learn on

… then you should read my original post Exploring the Lockpicking Rabbit Hole. Then disregard the lockpicking tools and lock recommendations. They are fine. I think these are better.

Beginner’s Lockpicking Tools

There isn’t a single kit that I’ve encountered that really nails what a beginner needs. Most kits either have entirely too many tools – and that’s a burden for a newbie – or two few and the kit is incomplete. 

I am going to give you a list of what to buy to goldilocks this problem.

Case

First of all, since I’m not recommending a kit, you’ll want to get a good case. You don’t need anything big or fancy, just something that stores the picks and presents them in a reasonable way. 

Sparrows black Tuxedo Case
It isn’t fancy, but it gets the job done.

Tuxedo Case – $7.95

Rakes

Raking is one of the most important techniques for a lockpicker to learn. It’s an relatively easy way to open a lot of common locks. This also happens to be the most basic approach that newbies learn. 

Three different rake profiles.
From top to bottom: Triple Peak, Worm Rake, City Rake

I think these 3 rakes are essential:

Please pay the extra dollar per rake to add the rubber handles. You’ll thank me later.

Triple Peak – $4.75

Worm Rake – $4.75

City Rake – $4.75

Hooks & Diamonds

Single pin picking is what people think of when they imagine someone picking a lock. This requires a lot more precision and patience than raking. It’s also where the real meat of lockpicking lives. 

There are tons of different pick profiles, but choice either comes down to personal preference or case-specific tools. To get started, I recommend keeping the pick selection to a minimum. 

From top to bottom: Short Hook, Offset Hybrid

Once again, please pay the extra dollar per pick to add the rubber handles.

Short Hook – $4.75

Offset Hybrid – $4.75

Tensions

Arguably the most important skill that a lockpicker learns is proper tensioning. It is impossible to pick a lock without a tension tool. These are essential, even if they seem mundane. 

Three different bottom of the keyway tensioners.
Each tensioner is a different thickness. It’s tough to see, but extremely important.

Level One Tension Set – $6.50

Start With This Kit

The above is all that you need to build the basic lockpicking skills. This comes to approximately $38 + shipping. 

You do not need more than this. I started with a lot less because when I started picking locks, good tools were kind of difficult to come by.

Now you need to pick some locks to learn on. 

Starter Locks

Master Lock is the way to go if you’re learning. I’ll give you fair warning: you’ll be shocked when you start picking these common locks open. Then the horror will set in as you realize just how prevalent they are in the United States. 

“Trainer” Locks

I absolutely recommend getting an acrylic lock (transparent “trainer” lock) to play with. This will allow you to see how the innards of a lock function. It also lets you see exactly what your picks are doing. 

A transparent lock displaying all of its inner mechanisms.

While these are often referred to as trainer locks, they aren’t. I don’t recommend spending a lot of time picking on them. While they are useful for learning mechanics, they are worthless for truly practicing. Real locks are opaque. 

Transparent Lock – $11.00

Master Lock No. 3

This iconic laminated steel padlock has a reasonably tough outer body and a gooey core that is perfect to learn picking on. Learning on these things is a rite of passage. 

A laminated steel masterlock no 3.

I strongly recommend getting 3 to 5 of them and randomly pulling one out of a bag so that you don’t memorize how to pick them. (Make sure that they aren’t “keyed alike.” If they are, then they will all have the same bitting, which defeats the purpose of buying multiples.)

Master Lock No. 3 – $10.45

Where to go from here…?

I will write a follow-up post where I explain what comes next. If you’re a beginner looking to take picking more seriously, you’ll want a few more tools. There are also many more locks to expand skill and confidence. 

Lockpicking is a skill that requires patience and time. If you don’t pick for a while your knowledge will remain, but your touch will diminish. Keep at it. 

Also remember to only ever pick on a lock that you both own and do not rely upon. 

Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Cabin [Review]

Murder on a film set of a murder. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 11, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $22.50 per month

REA Reaction

From the installment that we’ve played from Deadbolt Mystery Society, it seems they are delivering on the subscription model better than most. It’s tough to crank out subscription puzzle games. It takes a lot of thought and effort to pull together gameplay, narrative, and production on a rapid and constantly looping deadline. 

That doesn’t mean that The Cabin was refined. The Cabin had a sprawling story with a ton of forgettable characters and no gating. It was a bit of a free-for-all at the onset. After we got over the initial surprise, we settled in and honestly enjoyed the puzzles.

I can’t speak to Deadbolt Mystery Society’s larger subscription program at this point, but this was a solid episode from a subscription. If you’re a puzzle-focused player who wants regular tabletop puzzle play, this one might be worth a try. 

In-game: The open box, an assortment of puzzle documents and a pin.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  •  Solid puzzles
  • Regular publication

Story

Decades ago a series of gruesome murders had been committed at Camp Echo. Now a horror movie was being shot at the site of the killings. During filming, the murders started happening again. 

Had the murderer returned? Or was this a copycat? We needed to examine the evidence and solve the mystery before more people died.

The box of The Cabin.

Setup

We cracked open the box that we had received in the mail and found a great many documents pertaining to the past and more recent murders at Camp Echo. We needed to parse through all of the papers, match up the items that belonged together, and then puzzle through their meanings. 

There wasn’t any gating within this game. We started with access to everything that we would have at the conclusion of the game. 

In-game: an assortment of puzzle papers.

Gameplay

Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was an atypical subscription-based play-at-home escape game with a higher level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The Cabin contained a lot of great puzzle content.

➖ The puzzles were buried within tons of papers, all of which were immediately accessible. Without gating, The Cabin felt initially overwhelming with no clear starting place or direction. We played The Cabin on a pretty large table, but constantly left like we were drowning in papers.

➕ Once we got past the initial volume of content, Deadbolt Mystery Society clued which in-play elements needed to go together. This worked well and gave us a way to approach the mystery.

➖ There was a lot of reading material. It felt like a chore rather than a way to connect with the characters and their stories. With so many characters, it was hard to keep them straight and impossible to be invested in their situation. We wanted to solve the mystery because it was a puzzle, but we didn’t care who lived or died.

➕/➖  Deadbolt Mystery Society had an excellent concept. Although The Cabin needed gating and focus, with a bit more direction, it could definitely have created meaningful character/ mystery connections for the players.

❓ The price is a value judgment. The product isn’t refined or fancy. You’re paying for the rapid production and fulfillment. I can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing; it’s individual choice. 

❓ Subscription games are tough to fulfill. We commend Deadbolt Mystery Society for delivering a monthly subscription with quality puzzles and interesting concepts. Because of the pace of production, subscription games easily devolve into mounds of paper and Deadbolt Mystery Society had a bit of that going on too. From what we’ve seen thus far, it’s the nature of the beast.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: We recommend a larger table or floor space.
  • Required Gear: Fixion pens, Boogie Boards, or more generic writing supplies.

Subscribe to Deadbolt Mystery Society, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Note that Deadbolt Mystery Society’s The Cabin was a previous month’s episode and it is now sold out. Your purchased subscription will start with the current month’s game.

Full disclosure: Deadbolt Mystery Society provided us a free reviewer’s copy of The Cabin.

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