Ravensburger – Space Observatory Escape Puzzle [Review]

The Death Star

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

Space Observatory offered a slightly more challenging jigsaw than the other Ravensburger Escape Puzzles, but concluded with a softer series of “escape room” puzzles.

If you’re more of a jigsaw puzzler, Space Observatory is the smart place to start. It worked well from beginning to end. Its meta-puzzle was a little easier to grasp than those in the other Escape Puzzles.

Whether you’re new with the series, already a fan of these, Space Observatory put on a strong show for the Ravensburger’s Escape Puzzle series.

Series Overview

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

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

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a beautiful telescope in a warm book-filled study.
Space Observatory

Story

While exploring an observatory, we’d happened upon a letter from a professor warning us of an impending cataclysm. The professor had build a device capable of saving the world, but couldn’t activate it. It was up to us to save the world.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a map of the planets.

Analysis

➕ When it all came together, the jigsaw puzzle’s art was delightful.

❓ While we were assembling the jigsaw puzzle, a whole lot of it felt really similar… especially the many shelved books. Whether this is wonderful or annoying really comes down to personal preference.

➕ One of the “escape room” puzzles featured a really clever twist that was a bit confounding for more experienced puzzlers.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a microscope and a quill pen.

❓ The concluding meta-puzzle was considerably easier than those in the other 3 Escape Puzzles. This would be great if Space Observatory was your first Escape Puzzle… and may be less interesting if it was your fourth.

Buy Now

Buy your copy of Ravensburger’s Space Observatory Escape Puzzle, 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.)

Ravensburger – Escape Puzzle [Overview]

Jigsaw puzzle mixed with a tabletop escape game.

Location:  at home

Team size: We recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25

Publisher: Ravensburger

REA Reaction

We really liked this series of puzzle hybrids: famed jigsaw puzzle producer Ravensburger applied an escape room-esque twist to their core product.

The cover of Ravensburger Escape Puzzle, Witch's Kitchen.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we solved 3 of them while our friend, the wonderfully talented puzzler Tammy McLeod, spent a weekend visiting us.

In the first wave, Ravensburger has released 4 separate Escape Puzzles, each containing 759 puzzle pieces and incorporating 6 or 8 puzzles within the assembled image.

We love jigsaw puzzles. The Escape Puzzle twist was delightful because it added more purpose behind the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle.

An opened jigsaw puzzle box filled with pieces.

Not all of these puzzles were created equal. Some had more interesting art; others had better puzzles. We will discuss each in an individual review.

If this concept sounds like fun, begin with Witch’s Kitchen or Space Observatory for reasons that will become more clear in subsequent reviews.

Series Installments

Presented in order from our favorite to least favorite:

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a kettle over a fire surrounded by magical ingredients and books.
Witch’s Kitchen

Who is this for?

  • Jigsaw puzzlers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • They are good jigsaw puzzles
  • The added twist of an additional system of puzzles
  • The meta-puzzles

Setup & Gameplay

We’re going to publish short reviews of each puzzle in the series. For the sake of simplicity and repetition reduction, we’re covering the basics in this overview.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a beautiful telescope in a warm book-filled study.
Space Observatory

While the individual Ravensburger Escape Puzzles each offered a unique picture and puzzle set, they all followed the same structure:

1. Jigsaw Assembly

We began by assembling the 759-piece jigsaw puzzle. This progressed normally with only two deviations from traditional jigsaw puzzles:

First, we had to remove the extraneous rectangular pieces. These appeared to be a byproduct of Ravensburger’s production process. They were a minor annoyance.

A pile of junk rectangular pieces.
Not part of the puzzle… but included anyway.

Second, the edge of the Escape Puzzles was a bit strange. There were only 3 piece shapes and any of the pieces could interconnect with any other. Edge assembly relied completely upon the pieces’ colors, patterns, and textures.

Mismatched, but connected edge pieces.
All edges connect.

Additionally, many of the edge pieces had 2, 3, or 4 digit numbers printed on them. These became relevant later.

Edge pieces with numbers printed on them.

2. Puzzles Within the Puzzle

After assembling the jigsaw puzzle, we identified and solved the 6 or 8 puzzles within it. Some puzzles were obvious; some were more concealed. They were all embedded within the jigsaw puzzle image.

Each puzzle resolved to a number. Once we derived a correct answer, we’d find the piece with the corresponding number printed on it around the edge of the jigsaw puzzle. Then we removed that piece.

If we got stuck, we could reference a hint website for help. The hints were tiered, but usually only had two tiers.

3. The Meta-Puzzle

Each escape puzzle concluded with a meta-puzzle, or a puzzle made from the solutions of other puzzles.

We had to take our collection of numbered edge pieces from the previous step and determine what to do with them. I won’t say anything else about this, but it was our favorite part of these puzzles.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring a shark, and fish swimming around a wreck.
Submarine

Analysis

➕ The “escape room” puzzles at the end were a delightful addition to the traditional jigsaw puzzle. It was exciting to finish the jigsaw and then receive an entirely new challenge to cap things off. This game component was a welcome dynamic.

➕ Ravensburger makes high quality jigsaw puzzles that are printed well and fit snugly. They also have a beautiful blue backing that doesn’t add much from a functional standpoint, but looks more elegant than the traditional grey or brown backings that are common on most cardboard jigsaw puzzles.

➕ 759 pieces was a good piece count. It was serious enough to present a challenge without being so large that we were reluctant to dive in.

➕ Ravensburger cleverly included differences between the box art and the puzzle art. These changes were part of the environment itself and felt logically grounded. They also ensured that we couldn’t solve the puzzles without first solving the jigsaw puzzle.

Portion of an assembled jigsaw puzzle featuring suits of armor, and a burning candle.
Vampire’s Castle

➕ Ravensburger puzzles don’t have a crazy amount of puzzle dust. There’s still dust, but we’ve seen so much worse.

➖ Each Escape Puzzle’s box contained numerous square frame pieces that had nothing to do with the puzzle itself. They were garbage. These appeared to be an artifact of the production process. While it was not a big problem, it was a bit annoying to have to sift these junk pieces out of the box.

➕ Each Escape Puzzle had its own quirky story to set up the “escape.” The story was relevant to the final meta puzzle.

➕/➖ The “escape” puzzles were static print puzzles, akin to the kind of thing that one might find shared on social media or within a puzzle book. For the most part, these were executed well (detailed, non-spoiler analysis to follow in the individual puzzle reviews). While there is a limit to how much a designer can achieve with this format, Ravensburger did more with this structure than we were expecting.

❓ Some of these puzzles got a bit math-y. It never involved anything beyond basic computation, but I know that there are some escape room players who are allergic to mathematics in any form.

➕/➖ The web-based hint system was adequate. It did a great job of highlighting the individual puzzles… and an ok job of providing granular, incremental hints. This system could benefit from the inclusion of more dropdown menus to allow the player to better control the flow of hints.

❓ The edge pieces were unusual in that they all fit into one another. This made the edge considerably more difficult to assemble. It was completely doable, but required a lot more attention to detail and effort. For some, it may be easier to start from the middle.

➖The puzzles within the image all solved to a number that we’d find printed on an edge piece. This meant we could get most of the way to an answer and hack our way to the proper solution based on the available numbers.

❓We spent considerably more time solving the jigsaw puzzles than solving the “escape room” puzzles.

➕ Some of the numbered edge pieces ultimately culminated in a final meta-puzzle… and this mechanic was really cool. Ravensburger used it in clever ways in all instances. It was a delightful way to conclude the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: You’ll need a flat surface. The puzzles all measure 27 x 20 inches (70 x 50 cm).
  • Required Gear: None. We like to assemble our puzzles on a large piece of foam core in case we have to move them.

Buy Them now:

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.)

Escape Room Notebook [Review]

This was my absolute dumbest Amazon purchase.

The cover of the navy blue journal reads, "Escape Room Notebook"

We take a lot of handwritten notes about the games that we play and the posts that we’re thinking up. As a result, we burn through a few notebooks per year. So when I was perusing Amazon at 3AM and happened upon the “Escape Room Notebook” I figured, why not? 

I’m not going to pretend that this deserves a full review.

A blank notebook with horizontal rules.

Quick Review

It’s a 6” x 9” inch notebook with 150 ruled pages. As a child, Lisa would have referred to this as an “empty book.”

The cover is flimsy. It’s filled with printer paper. The rules are laser printed. It has no bookmark. The corners aren’t rounded. It’s adequate as a notebook if it never leaves your desk.

The binding of the navy blue journal reads "Escape Room."

We made it our own, with our stickers for decoration, as we do with most of our notebooks. Its inaugural trip was our escape room marathon weekend in Austin and San Antonio. We took a lot a notes!

As we packed up for the journey home, however, we noticed it was already showing a lot of wear. It’s too easy to damage. This will likely be the first notebook that we retire before filling its pages. 

I have no idea why this product exists… but I’m still kind of amused by it. 

If for some reason you’ve read this far and actually want to be the confounded owner of this mediocre notebook, then by all means, get yourself one for $7 on Amazon.

(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.)

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.