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.)

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.)

YULU – Fire Quest [Review]

🔥

Location: at home

Date Played: June 8, 2018

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

Duration: 15 minutes*

Price: $??.??

REA Reaction

Fire Quest torched our expectations. We set this DIY obstacle course up for my 11 year-old cousin at my brother’s 30th birthday party. Within a few minutes, 10 people spanning 3 generations were running around our makeshift challenge course competing for the best time.

Fire Quest can play well for young children or older kids with good motor skills. The players define the course, making it as easy or hard as they desire. With a bit of creativity, it works remarkably well for adults. Additionally, this could make for an epic drinking game.

While there’s room for improved variety in Fire Quest’s built-in components, consider this a strong recommendation for families, children, and adults who haven’t forgotten how to enjoy themselves.

In-game: The torch glowing blue on its cradle and the Fire Quest box.

Sadly Fire Quest was a limited release by YULU. It will not be distributed through their regular channels. This is too bad because it’s a fabulous game. At the end of the review, you’ll find links to a few marketplaces with limited quantities of Fire Quest available for purchase. Buy it now if you want it. This might be your only chance. We hope it gets a wider release some day.

Who is this for?

  • Anyone with a willingness to play
  • People with a bit of mobility
  • Fire Quest was designed for children

Why play?

  • It has appeal for players of all ages
  • The torch balances well but not effortlessly
  • It’s easy to set up, learn, and administer
  • Endlessly adaptable

Story

We entered a temple filled with obstacles and treasure. We had to carry our torch through the challenges in order to earn our prize.

Setup

Fire Quest was fantastically straightforward. We had a torch that cradled a fireball.

To start the game, one player picked up the torch from its base, starting the timer. Upon lifting, the torch randomly started glowing one of five colors. The colors corresponded to a challenge that we had setup around us. Whatever color the torch glowed was the challenge that required completion. That player cycled through all five challenges in the order the torch demanded, returned the torch to its cradle, and checked their time.

In-game: Lisa passing the red torch through a red ring.

Red – Hoop Challenge

We had hung three hoops with big clips on a book shelf. The player had to pass the torch through those hoops.

Yellow – Balance Challenge

Four paper disks each depicted a different task (step on the disk and touch it with your hand, pivot 360 degrees on the disk, etc). The player had to navigate a path of these disks following the instructions while traversing them and acting like the surrounding floor was lava.

In-game: the set of green cards and the green pad.

Green – Action Challenge

The player drew one of five cards. Each card depicted a trick that had to be done with the torch (pass the torch behind your back, between your legs, etc).

Blue – Rope Challenge

The player clipped the torch to a blue rope and had to lead the torch along the rope’s path.

In-game: Lisa placing the purple torch onto the purple pad.

Purple – Obstacle Challenge

This was my personal favorite challenge. Fire Quest asked us to create our own obstacle (climb over/ crawl under a thing, jump over something, etc).

Gameplay

YULU’s Fire Quest was a DIY obstacle course with a customizable level of difficulty.

Core gameplay – as defined by the instructions – revolved around balance, coordination, and dexterity… but you could use this torch to facilitate a wide variety of challenges.

Analysis

+ The torch and fireball were the core of Fire Quest. YULU nailed this. Balancing the fireball isn’t brutally challenging, but if you do something too difficult or stop paying attention, gravity will do its thing. They balanced the… balance. When the fireball dropped the player always knew it was their own fault.

+ The LED lighting of the fireball mixed with the sound effects and timer felt satisfying and drew in new people.

– There was one small problem with the torch: accidentally double-tapping on the slam pads. Less careful players could easily double press the button, effectively bypassing a challenge from the torch’s perspective. This could have been avoided by YULU disabling the button for a few seconds after it has depressed.

+ The baked-in timer made the game really easy to self administer.

+ The hoops fit together snugly but had built in break points. If impacted, they could separate without actually breaking.

– We found ourselves wishing that YULU had done a little more with the paper components like the yellow stepping stones and the green challenge cards. A few more of these items would have added a lot of depth to the challenges at minimal expense.

– The yellow stepping stones would be better laminated or made of a more durable material. They do get stepped on, after all.

Fire Quest brought together three generations for a little while to do something new.

+ By having the timer count up instead of down, it allowed everyone to play at their own pace and ability. It also allowed us to make increasingly lengthy and complex challenges without slamming into a limited timer.

Fire Quest was a game that begged for creativity. I think that YULU did this knowingly. The purple challenge was designed as a “create your own challenge,” which ensured that every player knew that creating challenges was an option. Fire Quest wasn’t rigid. It suggested how to play and then invited customization, silliness, and adaptation… It wanted us to play.

Tips for Playing

  • Batteries not included. Fire Quest requires 3 AAA’s.
  • Some of the torch colors don’t illuminate clearly in sunlight. Yellow was particularly difficult to see in the sun.
  • Use your imagination and feel free to reinvent the challenges as you see fit.
  • If you turn this into a drinking game, please do so responsibly.
  • For playground play or other simplified purposes, Fire Quest could be reduced to the torch and the cradle.

Buy your copy of YULU’s Fire Quest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Fire Quest is available in limited quantities from Ebay, Christianbook.com, and Walmart.

Disclosure: YULU gave us a complementary reviewer’s copy of this game.

Spy Code – Safe Breaker [Review]

Ocean’s 6 & up.

Location: at home game for ages 6 and up

Price: $24.99 + 3 AA batteries

How it works

Safe Breaker was one of three Spy Code games on the market targeted at ages 6 and up. Inspired by a combination of escape room games and safecracking, this game allowed up to 4 players to compete in a number deduction game.

The safe with the stethoscope attached. Coin, jewel, and alarm tokens are laid in front of it beside numbers cards.

In Safe Breaker, we loaded an electronic safe with gold, diamond, and penalty tokens. We each took turns guessing a number between 1 and 18 while holding a stethoscope tube to our ears and listening for a clue. Hearing a low tone through the stethoscope meant the number was below the current guess; a high tone meant it was above. There were also null penalty tones thrown in that provided no feedback whatsoever.

The safe popped open, a few coins are laying at its base.

When I landed on the correct number, the safe popped open and distributed between 1 and 3 tokens of varying value. The first person to gain enough loot won.

Puzzles

Safe Breaker was a game of light competitive deduction. We took turns guessing and trying to zero in on the right answer before anyone else did. It was a puzzle, but a lot less involved than the other Spy Code games, Break FreeOperation: Escape Room.

Standouts

The sound and feel of the safe popping open was shockingly satisfying. I don’t know what neurotransmitter was released in my brain when it opened, but it felt great.

Safe Breaker would be easy to play for absolutely anyone who is old enough to count to 18, grasp the concept of numeric order, and not choke on the pieces. It was also durable.

There was a little assembly involved. It was easy to set up, but it took me about 2 minutes once I had AA batteries and a Phillips screwdriver in my hand.

Shortcomings

While other players input their guess, I could hear the tones that other players were supposed to hear in private. This defeated the purpose of the stethoscope.

The gameplay felt incredibly shallow. The strategy to Safe Breaker was straightforward and didn’t leave room for creative play. It was entirely built around smart guesswork, light deduction, and luck.

Even as an adult, the luck component to this game didn’t feel all that fair. Sometimes the device chose to give no feedback as a penalty without cause. Once per game, one poor player opened the safe to be rewarded with a penalty token that robbed them of everything without cause. You can always choose to leave this token out and I would. It killed the game for whomever drew it.

Should I buy Spy Code Safe Breaker?

Safe Breaker was a competitive deduction game… which is a fancy way of saying it’s an electronic version of “I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 18.” There was a puzzle here but it was a lot more shallow than what Spy Code demonstrated in Break FreeOperation: Escape Room.

The safe feels great to open, which is a testament to the commitment of Yuzu, the game’s creatior’s, to engineering great physical interactions in the Spy Code games… and that’s Safe Breaker’s one trick… so the good news is that this trick is a good one.

You have to judge what level of gameplay your children are ready for. Safe Breaker was a lot more involved than a game like Candy Land, but not as involved as Spy Code’s other offerings. If your child loves the other two installments, then I would absolutely consider Safe Breaker, but I probably wouldn’t pick this one up unless the other games were already a hit in your household.

Order your copy of Spy Code Safe Breaker today.

Full disclosure: YULU sent us a free sample of this game.

(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.)

Spy Code – Operation Escape Room [Review]

Mission Reasonably Challenging if you’re like 7.

Location: at home game for ages 6 and up

Price: $29.99 + 2 AAA batteries

How it works

Operation Escape Room was one of three Spy Code games on the market targeted at ages 6 and up. While the other two Spy Code games take inspiration from lockpicking and safe cracking, Operation: Escape Room was purely designed as a kids play-at-home escape game for up to 4 players.

Operation: Escape Room was also a more substantial game than the other Spy Code installments. It was broken up into 4 main components that could be spread around a room:

The bomb-like timer strap down device.

Timer Strap – This bomb-esque device functioned as the game clock ticking down until either we won or time expired.

A grated cage with a spinner arrow on top, a key inside, and a pair of sticks beside it.

Key Cage – This was a dexterity challenge. We flicked a spinner to determine a difficulty setting and then used a pair of sticks to extract the key through a hole in the cage.

Quiz Master: A red tube with input for a 3 digit number and a letter answer. A key is protruding from its side. An array of corresponding puzzle cards are fanned in front of it.

Quiz Master – We drew puzzle cards of varying difficulty and then input the answers into a nifty analogue answer checker. 3 consecutive correct answers earned another key. Get one wrong and the key dramatically retracted back into the device, requiring us to start over.

A wide, doored spinning device. 3 doors are flipped open two have arrows pointing left, the furthest left door has a key within it.

Lucky Spinner – We spun the device and then chose windows to flip open. Most windows provided clues to help deduce which window held the key.

Puzzles

Each puzzle offered a different challenge:

The Key Cage required some spatial reasoning and a whole lot of dexterity.

The Quiz Master’s puzzle deck had a mix of multiple choice challenges including:

  • Basic counting
  • Which of these does not belong
  • Path following mazes
  • Basic mathematical reasoning

The Lucky Spinner was essentially a game of luck and deduction (in that order).

Standouts

The Quiz Master device was amazing. This completely analogue tech was incredible to operate. As the key pushed out with each answer it made me want to get another one right. If I got one wrong, the key safely yet loudly snapped back into the device. The interaction was fantastic.

The Key Cage was an honestly difficult challenge, especially when I had to remove it from the two harder slots. This was by far the most challenging puzzle in all of the Spy Code games.

The Timer Strap worked well as a game clock, and its ultimate release felt satisfying.

Operation: Escape Room is effortlessly replayable.

There was about 5 minutes worth of assembly and rule reading. It was straightforward. Assembly required a Phillips screwdriver and 2 AAA batteries.

Shortcomings

The Lucky Spinner felt a little too rooted in chance for my taste. There was a bit of deduction, but it was basically puzzle roulette.

Spy Code Operation: Escape Room box features cartoon kids solving puzzles, and one kid in a chair sweating with the

It’s your call if this is a shortcoming, but I feel like I need to call it out: The countdown timer looked like a bomb… with a strap… that was meant to be worn by a player. The documentation for Operation: Escape Room never called it a bomb, but it also required no imagination to make the leap. This doesn’t bother me, but some of the parents that I showed the game to side-eyed this component.

Should I buy Spy Code Operation: Escape Room?

Operation: Escape Room was a lightweight, inexpensive (when compared with real life escape rooms) way to introduce kids to adventure puzzling. It established the spy theme, and ran with it in an entertaining 15-minute game.

It is also possible to take this game and augment it with your own puzzles. You can tweak the challenge, add more time to the clock, and toss in more content if you want to refresh it. Personally, I hope that Yuzu, the maker of Spy Code, finds success with this game and issues expansions or sequels. There’s a lot of opportunity in the game structure.

If your kids are too young for escape rooms, but they keep feeling left out when you go to play, Operation: Escape Room could be just what you need to bridge the gap and open them up to a puzzle world that is broader than the jigsaw variety.

Order your copy of Spy Code Operation: Escape Room today.

Full disclosure: Yuzu sent us a free sample of this game.

(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.)

Spy Code – Break Free [Review]

Chain up the kids for a few minutes.

Location: at home game for ages 6 and up

Price: $19.99

How it works

Break Free was one of three Spy Code games on the market targeted at ages 6 and up. Inspired by a combination of escape rooms and lockpicking, this game allowed up to 4 players to compete in navigating blind maze puzzles.

4 Break Free handcuffs chained together with their picks beside them.

Each player secured a cartoonish plastic puzzle handcuff around their wrist, loaded it with 1 of 12 different puzzle inserts, and then used the “pick” tool to blindly feel their way through the maze. The first player to reach the bottom of their maze, hit the actuator, and pop open their handcuff received maximum points.

Break Free handcuff beside a pick, all of the maze disk inserts, and the corresponding point tokens.

The maze inserts came in easy (green), intermediate (yellow), and advanced (red) difficulty levels.

Puzzles

Break Free was a competitive puzzle game through and through.

It felt like a competitive, kid-friendly version of other blind maze games like Inside Cubes or the expensive but fantastic Revomaze line of puzzles.

Standouts

Each of the 12 puzzles was entertaining to play on its own, especially the 4 advanced mazes. They weren’t too difficult, as they were designed for quick solving by children.

It was easy to swap the puzzles.

While Break Free taught absolutely no practical lockpicking skills, the concept of feeling around in a lock for feedback did translate.

When I opened a lock, it popped with a satisfying noise.

Shortcomings

If your kid becomes obsessed with Break Free, it would be pretty easy to memorize the limited number of patterns on the 12 different mazes.

Should I buy Spy Code Break Free?

Break Free was surprisingly fun to tinker with as an adult. It was not hard at all, but it still poked at that part of my brain that likes dexterity challenges and building mastery. I ran through all of the mazes in a couple of minutes.

I could easily imagine my younger self loving this game. I’m pretty certain that I would have played it as a tabletop game a few times, then tossed the instructions, merged it with my spy kit, and found new ways to incorporate it into whatever espionage silliness I was imagining at 8 years old. (It probably would have involved dinosaurs too.)

Break Free was easy to set up and simple to play. It built dexterity. If all of that seems appropriate for your child, order your copy of Spy Code Break Free today.

Full disclosure: Yuzu sent us a free sample of this game.

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