Deckscape – Behind the Curtain [Review]

Card magic

Location:  at home

Date Played: February 12, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about ~$15

REA Reaction

Deckscape games are consistently fun and playfully designed.

In recent installments, the games’ creators have put interesting and engaging spins on the gameplay. That was true of the stage magic-themed Behind the Curtain.

The stage magic box art for Deckscape - Behind the Curtain.

Since their first installment, however, Deckscape has always included a couple of gotcha “puzzles” that feel more like a game of “guess what I’m thinking” than a fair, solvable puzzle. I keep getting the impression that Deckscape’s designer feels that a game needs something that lots of people get wrong. While Behind the Curtain would have been more satisfying if every puzzle felt fair, thankfully we pushed through our early moments of frustration to reveal a truly satisfying play-at-home escape game.

From our perspective, Behind the Curtain was one of the strongest games in Deckscape’s respectable stable.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzle play
  • Clever use of simple concepts from magic
  • This is one of Deckscape’s stronger products

Story

We had received an anonymous envelope with free tickets to a magic show performed by the legendary Lance Oldman in New York City… so we went to the show…

The deck of cards and a mysterious envelope.

Setup

Behind the Curtain followed the same structure as all previous Deckscape games. We explained this in detail in our first Deckscape review of their original games Test Time & The Fate of London.

The only key difference in Behind the Curtain was the inclusion of a mysterious envelope.

Gameplay

Deckscape’s Behind the Curtain was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and making connections.

Early puzzle cards introducing the main character, magician Lance Oldman.

Analysis

➕ Deckscape created magically thematic puzzles for Behind the Curtain. They would obscure, change, and misdirect. We appreciated how the gameplay style made sense with the story.

➕ In Behind the Curtain, Deckscape included props that allowed them to do more than they could otherwise have accomplished with only the deck of cards. They employed these in thematically relevant ways to add intrigue and deliver satisfying solves. They stretched these few additional props remarkably far.

➖ We encountered a few puzzles that felt like “gotcha” moments. One early puzzle was so egregiously obnoxious that we thought about quitting. Deckscape always throws in a couple of garbage puzzles and we hate that they do it.

➖ It wasn’t always clear – from the wording or the illustrations – when you needed an object or what you needed to understand about an object in order to solve a puzzle. This led to a couple of choke points where it was difficult to use the hint system to even figure out where to focus our attention.

➖ Although you should be able to solve through multiple stacks of cards at once for the bulk of the game, we broke sequence at one point due to some confusion born from the game’s art.

➕ We enjoyed an artistic late-game solve and the finale.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: just the game

Buy your copy of Deckscape’s Behind the Curtain, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Exit: The Game – The Mysterious Museum [Review]

The Mysterious Time Machine

Location:  at home

Date Played: February 19, 2020

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

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: about $10

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos

REA Reaction

Exit: The Game’s The Mysterious Museum was one of our favorites of the series… and it completely caught us off guard. The name and packaging looked painfully drab and unappealing, so much so that it sat on our shelf collecting dust for about a year. It turned out that this boxed escape game was actually a clever time travel story.

The box art for the Mysterious Museum, depicts the entrance to an exhibit.
The packaging doesn’t reflect the gameplay.

The Mysterious Museum was one of the easiest tabletop escape games that we’ve played, but don’t read that as a criticism. There is an underappreciated joy that comes from playing a beginner-friendly tabletop puzzle game; things just click and flow.

The puzzle style was more about observation and connection than deeper solving. If you are an experienced puzzler, especially one familiar with the Exit: The Game series, your playthrough will likely go by quickly. We may have breezed through this game in under 30 minutes, but we weren’t bothered by that because we found that time so enjoyable.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop puzzlers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • This was one of the smoothest Exit: The Game experiences we’ve played
  • Some clever puzzles that we enjoyed as experienced players, but are straightforward enough for beginners
  • Fantastic low-key Easter eggs for Exit: The Game fans

Story

On a field trip to the Florence Natural History Museum, we had accidentally fiddled with an artifact and found ourselves traveling through time!

Closeup of the initial puzzle's art, depicts a closed museum ticket counter.

Setup

Our first review of Exit: The Game dove deep into their core mechanics. You can visit that review for more structural details.

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Mysterious Museum was a standard play-at-home escape game with an easy level of difficulty.

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

Assorted game components.

Analysis

➕ With The Mysterious Museum, Exit: The Game put an interesting twist on the escape “room” format. We moved through the same room repeatedly, in different time periods. We liked this change in format.

➕ We enjoyed the art direction and illustrations in The Mysterious Museum.

➖ Although we enjoyed the uses of destructibles in this escape game, we think the gameplay would have been cleaner if those destructible puzzles were presented in reverse order, with the destruction as the means to the solve first, and as the crux of the solve second.

➖ One puzzle didn’t speak to us clearly enough. It was a little out there.

➕ We enjoyed Exit: The Game’s twist on “mysterious object” for this game.

➕ Exit: The Game has continued to find ways to innovate while relying on the same core game mechanics. While not unexpected, this game’s innovation was an especially bright spot in our playthrough.

➕ At the conclusion of The Mysterious Museum, Exit: The Game included some amusing little keepsakes. We enjoyed the prizes and an Easter egg.

➖ Looking back at the hint cards after we’d finished, the stage 1 hinting seemed a bit heavy-handed.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: scissors

Buy your copy of Exit: The Game’s The Mysterious Museum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Exit: The Game provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Boxed Escape Rooms at NY Toy Fair

We have some great news from New York Toy Fair!

This is a strange event: it’s a massive convention center full of toys… and no children anywhere in sight!

At New York Toy Fair, retailers and distributors promote all their latest products and those soon to be released. This is an industry-only event, held in the New York Javits Center, with booths spanning two floors.

Exit The Game's new 2020 products.

Toy Fair 2020

This year – our fourth year attending New York Toy Fair – we were excited by the variety of offerings coming soon to the play-at-home escape room market. Moreover, in our conversations with the vendors, we were impressed by a dedication to quality products.

ravensburger's new escape puzzles.

We learned what’s new on the market and coming soon in 2020 from many of our favorite tabletop escape room brands:

… and many more.

A life sized Dog Crimes from Thinkfun.

Learn the Details

If you’re interested in what’s coming soon in tabletop escape games, we shared more details with our Patreon backers in our Toy Fair Video Hot Take.

2020 Events

We’re looking forward to the escape room and immersive industry events of 2020. We’ll be sharing our reports, reactions, and analyses of these events – written and video – with our Patreon backers.

HERE

Next up: We’ll be attending HERE Summit & Festival in Pasadena, CA, where we will be moderating a panel of escape room creators.

HERE is a 3-day event bringing together the trades of embodied experience design, weaving together practices and creators working in immersive theater, mixed reality, game design, theme parks, and escape rooms.

When you support us through Patreon at $5 per month or more, you’ll receive a peek at HERE from the Room Escape Artist perspective.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Unlock! Heroic Adventures [Review]

Insert Coin, Sherlock Holmes, & White Rabbit

Location:  at home

Date Played: Q4 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60, 60, & 90 minutes each

Price: about $25

REA Reaction

The Unlock! series has shifted from releasing 3 different one-off games to releasing all 3 games in one bundle. Instead of looking at each game in depth, I am going to explore all 3 at a higher level.

Unlock Heroic Adventures box art.

Insert Coin

This first installment was rooted in classic side-scrolling video gameplay. It did a lot of really clever things with level structure, which were super cool when we got them.

This was an unusual game that derived its charm from merging more traditional Unlock! puzzle play with classic video game tropes.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Unlock!’s take on Sherlock Holmes was a Victorian detective story that felt a lot like Unlock! had adapted Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective into a narrower, card- and art-driven game.

This was essentially gamified detective fiction, not a puzzle game.

If you’re into Sherlock Holmes fiction, there’s plenty to love. If you’re an escape room player who’s fatigued of the famed consulting detective, this is still executed better than most.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

Pursuit of the White Rabbit was Unlock!’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. Like Unlock!’s Adventures in Oz, this was a narrative-driven game that didn’t require knowledge of the original story… but it sure did help a whole lot.

The game focused on exploring Through the Looking Glass logic, which was a fun mindset to settle into. It was plenty puzzley, but the logic was warped by the subject matter.

Overall Impression

I liked the Unlock! Heroic Adventures collection, but I didn’t love it. All of the games played about the same for me, solidly without being amazing. Each had some fantastic moments born out of the subject matter. Each had some intense logic leaps that felt under-clued.

These games kept some of the biggest problems with the Unlock! app under control by keeping the number of cards we had access to a little more limited, but the hint system needed more work. Also, the hidden number system has become so incredibly tired.

If you’re into tabletop escape rooms, there’s plenty to enjoy about this collection. If you’re an Unlock! fan, then you’re going to love this collection. The gameplay was solid, the stories were diverse, and the challenges reflected the narratives. I just wish that the creators of this series would address some of the shortcomings of their app and boost the cluing when they heavily deviate from the structure that they’ve establish in the instruction manual and tutorial game.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Unlock! fans

Why play?

  • Unlock! pushed different gameplay boundaries with each game in this series
  • The unique art direction of each game was fantastic
  • Each game had strong moments that adapted the core concept of the inspirational subject matter into gameplay

Story

Insert Coin

Sucked into an arcade cabinet, we needed to defeat the final boss before we triggered a game over.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Sherlock Holmes was on another unusual case. While it was child’s play for the master detective, he figured we could learn something by solving it on our own.

Sherlock Holmes suspect map.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

We followed Alice’s adventures through Wonderland, encountering many of the story’s most famous characters and solving the problems they threw in our path.

Setup

All Unlock! games dating back to the originals from 2017 have followed the same card-based gameplay supplemented by a mobile app. I explained this structure in detail in my original Unlock! review.

The key difference in the case of Heroic Adventures is that Space Cowboys decided to sell all three games from this release in a single bundle instead of à la carte.

Unlock Heroic Adventures box opened

Gameplay

Unlock!’s Heroic Adventures was a collection of card-based, play-at-home escape games with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

Insert Coin

➕ Unlock! finally tapped the app’s potential with an augmented reality component, which made us happy that the app was a part of this game.

➖ Early on, we struggled with some gating issues. We weren’t entirely sure what was in play. This improved later in the game, but it made for a bumpy start.

Insert coin initial setup.

➖ We found the font choice to be confusing for solving puzzles.

➕/➖ The structure of gameplay hearkened back to the source material… and stayed true to one classic reveal with an aha that video gamers will embrace. As nifty a reveal as it was, the setup led to some frustration, and will be especially confounding for those not familiar with the callback.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

➕ Unlock! used their card-based structure to send us on an exploratory adventure, in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. We met characters to observe and interrogate, just as the famous consulting detective would. We enjoyed this twist in gameplay.

➖ We lost the thread of gameplay in a few instances by misinterpreting the suspects. It wasn’t always clear what we should know and what we shouldn’t.

Sherlock Holmes deck stacks.

➕ More than any other Unlock! game we’ve played to date, this one asked us to observe keenly. Observation became more interesting when it was extended beyond looking for hidden numbers. It was contextual, which led to satisfying solves.

➖ As with many of the Sherlock-themed games we’ve played, to succeed solving cases like the famous detective, we needed to make connections that felt tenuous, from a gameplay standpoint.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

➕ Unlock! again tapped the app’s potential with an augmented reality component, born of the subject matter, that worked beautifully in this application.

➕ Unlock! used their typical game items more creatively in this scenario. They also introduced additional physical components that gave us more tangible solving opportunities, which we enjoyed.

Alice falling

➕ We enjoyed how Unlock! took classic moments from the source material and shrunk them into puzzles.

➖ With these enhancements, Unlock! broke some of their own rules… and hoped we could follow along. For the most part, we did, but additional cluing would help when they change things up.

➖ In the final scene, we started solving puzzles out of order. Additional cluing would help this segment play more smoothly and make more sense.

Tips For Players

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

Buy your copy of Unlock! Heroic Adventures, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

The Conundrum Box – Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box [Review]

‘Twas the month after Christmas and REA was catching up

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 11, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $89

REA Reaction

We have a stack of games from The Conundrum Box to play, but one of them stood out to us: the oversized one labeled, “Christmas Seasonal Escape Room.” We cut the box open and found an assortment of tiny, hand-wrapped gifts… and then this thing was bumped to the front of the review queue.

The Christmas Seasonal Escape Room delivered exactly what we wanted out of it: approachable puzzles, oodles of adorableness, and a final output that will thaw even the iciest of hearts.

While we think The Conundrum Box could have introduced more creative puzzles and further integrated the puzzling into the overall experience, the setup was undeniably special.

An assortment of bagged and wrapped christmas gifts.
How cute is this?

We aren’t usually people who enjoy small objects that don’t contribute significantly to the puzzling in our tabletop escape games… but the Christmas Seasonal Escape Room proved the exception to the rule.

This box is sold out. The Conundrum Box hasn’t announced plans for next year’s Christmas game, but based on my conversation with them, they will likely iterate on this concept next Christmas. If this sounds like your kind of a good time, keep your eye on their website for this and other seasonal games.

Who is this for?

  • The Christmas cheerful
  • Puzzle lovers
  • People who love physical objects in their tabletop puzzles
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Utterly lovable presentation
  • Straightforward, well-constructed puzzling
  • What you’re left with at the end
  • Holiday cheer

Story

A collection of beautifully wrapped, mysterious Christmas gifts arrived at our door.

The game's shipping box labeled, "Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box"
The shipping box.

Setup

We cracked open the box and removed an assortment of wrapped gifts. Following the instructions we opened up a website that verified solutions and provided hints… and then we were off.

We puzzled through each gift sequentially. Getting started was straightforward.

An assortment of bagged and wrapped christmas gifts.
Seriously… isn’t this adorable?

Gameplay

The Conundrum Box’s Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box was a standard play-at-home escape game with a lower level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling and embracing the adorableness of this experience.

Analysis

➕ The Conundrum Box sent us a box full of wrapped gifts!

➕ It was easy to get started. Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box opened with a straightforward puzzle that taught us how the gameplay worked – how to interact with the gifts and the website interface.

➖ The puzzles were functionally solid, but none of them were memorable. They felt pretty random. Although the props were Christmas-y, the puzzles themselves weren’t particularly thematic.

➖ The inconsistency in solution styles was bizarre. It made the puzzles feel like they didn’t belong to the same game.

➕ The Conundrum Box turned a collection of tchotchkes into a complete experience. This was an effective and meaningful way to make the items into far more than the sum of their parts.

➕ With each puzzle presented as a gift, the gating was especially fun. We could unwrap each new challenge in turn.

➕ The puzzle types were varied. We especially enjoyed the final puzzle, which was implemented such that it pulled all the components of the game together, and facilitated group participation.

End Game Spoiler

A tiny christmas tree with gifts gathered around it on a small table.
Surrender to the cuteness.

➕ We assembled a tiny Christmas tree!

[collapse]

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, and an internet-connected device
  • While not necessary, access to a wall outlet is recommended for optimal play conditions

Buy your copy of The Conundrum Box’s Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a sample for review.

Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook [Review]

Its father’s son.

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 24, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $15

REA Reaction

I’m going to give you a decision tree to answer the question, “Should I buy Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook?”

The purple box for Son of Esker.
  • Did you play the original Doctor Esker’s Notebook?
  • Did you enjoy Doctor Esker’s Notebook?
    • If yes, continue on. If no, you can probably leave.
  • Do you want a 9-puzzle expansion pack for Doctor Esker’s Notebook?
    • If yes, buy now. If no, 👋

These are structurally the same game with different puzzles. For me, single biggest difference between Doctor Esker’s Notebook and Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook was that I greatly preferred the final puzzle in the original. Beyond that, these games played identically and felt just as satisfying.

I enjoyed another dip into this particular pool, but my hope is that future installments will expand or change the gameplay and mechanics.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • You liked the first Esker
  • Strong puzzles
  • The Esker solution input mechanism is still great

Story

As with the original Doctor Esker’s Notebook, Son of Esker didn’t have a noticeable plot line; it was a collection of puzzles.

10 stacks of cards with photographs and art on the back.
Each stack of cards contained the components for an individual puzzle.

Setup

Son of Esker was functionally identical to the original. There were 9 different puzzles presented as stacks of cards.

There was a 10th stack of cards used to assemble solutions. The solution to one puzzle pointed us to the next puzzle in the sequence.

If we needed hints, they were available via a website.

Closeup of a stack of cards that reads "Start"
What could this mysterious message mean?

Gameplay

Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook was a challenging, puzzle-centric play-at-home escape game contained within a deck of cards.

An assortment of cards with a hand drawn map on the.
A glimpse of the first puzzle.

Analysis

See our original review. Our structural critiques apply to the sequel as well. The primary difference was that we didn’t encounter any learning curve problems the second time around, but that had more to do with us than it did the game.

➕ We truly enjoyed most of the puzzles.

❓ The leap in difficulty from the first to the second puzzle was substantial. While it was jarring, it wasn’t necessarily bad in the context of a sequel.

➖ One puzzle hit a sour note for us. Another graphic-heavy puzzle was bizarrely designed and had us wondering if we really were seeing what we saw.

➖ We didn’t love the final puzzle. It played with many of the same ideas as the final puzzle in the original, but the sequel’s conclusion wasn’t as friendly for group solves. It was a considerably more complicated logic puzzle and we found that it was better for a single solver to work on it in focused silence… which led to a quiet, solitary conclusion.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table or the floor
  • Required Gear: pen and paper

Buy your copy of Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Unlock! – The Night of The Boogeymen [Review]

A great bad dream

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 11, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $15

REA Reaction

The Night of The Boogeymen is as good as Unlock! and table top escape games have gotten for me so far. I loved playing this game… and we’re not going to give away our copy (like we normally do) because one day I’m going to forget the puzzles and I’ll replay it.

Unlock's The Night of the Bogeymen box art depicts a cartoonish child hiding under the covers from a monster with red glowing eyes under the bed.

The Night of The Boogeymen had a simple, relatable premise: to help a child suffering from bad dreams. Artistically, the cards struck a beautiful balance of creepiness and childishness that felt perfect for this setup. The gameplay knocked it out of the proverbial park by adding abstract dream like constraints that were regularly changing the feel and play style of the game.

All of this was underpinned by a more (but not entirely) linear narrative that kept the number of cards on the table from getting out of hand or feeling too restrictive (both of which regularly wreck Unlock! games for us).

I highly recommend Unlock! The Night of The Boogeymen. Space Cowboys took their standard formula and added the best kind of spin to it.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A brilliant and engaging bad dream like mechanic
  • Story-driven gameplay
  • Adorable art

Story

Young William was haunted by monsters that went bump in the night. Four boogeymen stalked the dreams of the child. As the boy slept we had to banish these beasts from his mind.

A stack of player cards on the left, the card backs are covered with glowing red eyes beside a story card explaining that a child is being hauned by monsters at night.

Setup

Unlock! games all follow the same structure of card-based gameplay supplemented by a mobile app. I explained it in detail in our first Unlock! review back in 2017.

A card depicts a book holding a door closed.

Gameplay

Unlock! The Night of The Boogeymen was a story-driven, play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, puzzling, and a little dexterity.

The first two chapter cards explain the nature of the Boogeymen

Analysis

➕ The story was simple, effective, and relatable.

➕ The art was great. It captured the look of childish imagined horrors. When we were finished, I found myself looking though the cards to make sure that I picked up on all of the details.

➕ I found the puzzling delightful. Plenty of challenges were simple and straightforward, but there were enough chewy, satisfying solves to keep it from feeling like all we were doing was plugging related objects together.

➖ One puzzle was conceptually brilliant, but we felt that it was a bit too tangled up in precision. It was far too easy to get it wrong, even after having figured out exactly what we needed to do.

➖ Another puzzle was poorly gated. It seemed like we had all of the necessary information to solve it… but after incurring a few time penalties we eventually realized that we needed a little more information.

➖/➕ I still have no love for the hidden number scavenger hunt in Unlock! games. It’s a weak mechanism. That said, I do appreciate that the app points these out, but still, we occasionally aren’t sure if we’ve found the particular hidden number referenced by the app.

➕ The monsters that we had to battle were fantastic – both as villains and as game mechanics. The constraints that came with facing these monsters transformed this from a game to an experience.

Tips For Player

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

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

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Talking Tables – Host Your Own Escape Room [Review]

“With Interactive Ending” 🤔

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 11, 2020

Team size: 2+; we recommend 2

Duration: 60 minutes (in theory)

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was not designed for us. If you’re a regular reader of Room Escape Artist, we can pretty much guarantee that it wasn’t made for you either. This game feels like light entertainment for adults who don’t play or puzzle much.

A lantern, instruction booklet, and welcome information.

Host Your Own Escape Room looked good, but it didn’t have much of anything going on beyond its elegant production.

Including setup time, we finished Host Your Own Escape Room in 20 minutes. There was a light searching component and approximately 3 puzzles (depending upon your definition of puzzle), all of which were incredibly common and basic puzzle types.

That isn’t to say that they were bad (except for the one that demanded a bit of outside knowledge). The puzzles were cleanly executed. However, there simply wasn’t much to it.

Creators in the escape room world are making so many delightful and creative games. Host Your Own Escape Room simply wasn’t representative of where this medium is moving.

Who is this for?

People who want to enjoy the faintest whiff of an escape room from the comfort of their own home.

Why play?

  • The 3 puzzles all solve cleanly
  • High production value

Story

We were trapped inside of a cinema in Tokyo.

Assorted large cardboard Japanese items.

Setup

A host is supposed to open the box, read the rules, and hide a few items in a room within their home.

Once the guests are in the room, said host reads a brief introduction to the setting and so begins the game.

The host can play with the group, provided they didn’t solve the puzzles in advance. They just have to hold back on searching (and maybe provide searching hints if they hid items too well or their friends are lazy searchers.)

If the team requires hints or solutions to any of the puzzles, the instruction booklet contains them in the last few pages.

The red maze box art for Host Your Own Escape Room.

Gameplay

Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was a standard play-at-home escape game with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

A welcome letter, part of a sudoku, a folder for clues, a collapsed lantern, and part of a script.

Analysis

➕ For $20, the production value of Host Your Own Escape Room was impressive. All of the materials looked great. They had an elegant red, black, and white aesthetic that demonstrated that someone really cared about the presentation of this game.

➕ The option and instructions for adding a search component into the game were well executed.

➖ The story was only thematically relevant.

➕ The puzzles within this game all solved cleanly, and pulled from Japanese culture and puzzle design.

➖ The puzzles were all common puzzle types without much of a twist.

➖ A large volume of the objects within this game had no purpose other than to look thematic. It’s a shame that these components weren’t worked into the gameplay at all.

➖ One puzzle required outside knowledge.

➖ The phrase, “with interactive ending” literally meant that we needed to use a web browser in the most basic way possible.

Host Your Own Escape Room came with a beefy notepad. It was hilariously large for this game. We’ve kept it and will be using it for some time.

A large notepad that says "Notes" at the top.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a room with a door and a small table
  • Required Gear: an internet-connected device, paper and pencil (or pen if you like to live dangerously)

Buy your copy of Talking Tables’s Host Your Own Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Talking Tables provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

So You Wanna Save the World – Episode 0 [Review]

Who wants to save the %#(@ world?

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 2019

Team size: Unlimited; we recommend 1-2

Duration: Variable; probably 2-3 hours

Price: Free

REA Reaction

So You Wanna Save the World is envisioned as a monthly puzzle subscription service intended to replicate the feel of playing an escape room. The monthly package hasn’t launched yet, but this free prequel episode offers a taste of what the creators have in mind.

Considering the online setting, Episode 0 felt a lot like a puzzle hunt, but with more of a story focus. The secret agency backstory provided a clever meta-explanation for the physical mailer format. Using websites, videos, and phone calls upped the fun factor.

The gameplay itself felt uneven at times, as some moments of insight came significantly more easily than others. Trial and error played a role as we determined which components fit together. The puzzles ranged from delightfully challenging to frustratingly opaque.

Logo with text reading "So You Wanna Save the World: An Online Escape Room Experience."

The tone of So You Wanna Save the World was edgy bordering on aggressive. Players who prefer a more welcoming, supportive atmosphere should probably look elsewhere.

So You Wanna Save the World made big promises of being cinematic and game-changing. Episode 0 delivered a slick and entertaining game, but with some rough edges. Producing fun, balanced content every month isn’t easy, but with lots of playtesting, future installments could live up to those promises.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The puzzles
  • The edgy, roguish vibe
  • To banter with a smart-mouthed AI

Story

We had been recruited by the Mail Marshals, a secret government agency embedded inside the post office. Two Mail Marshals agents, along with an experimental AI, provided evidence and secret messages for us to decipher in order to prove our worth and catch the bad guy.

Two agents sit at a desk labeled "Mail Marshals" in front of a giant screen showing a close-up of a globe.

Setup

So You Wanna Save the World used websites, phone numbers, and videos to present a series of puzzles enmeshed in a secret agent story. An online account saved our progress in a Case Notes section, complete with writeups of our progress so far. We could confer with other players via the Recruit Network (a Facebook group) if we needed help.

In future installments of So You Wanna Save the World, each episode will start with a physical mailing sent to players’ home addresses. This introductory episode began with a digital version of one of these mailers.

A mailer for Anderson and Sons Plumbing, with additional marketing text and a man in a jumpsuit giving a thumbs-up.

Gameplay

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 was an online puzzle game with a high level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation and cracking codes.

The puzzles varied in difficulty and usually involved aha moments. This meant some puzzles took just a few moments to figure out and others took far longer.

The puzzles were presented in tandem with a story about the case we were working on. The tasks mostly emerged authentically from the story and the puzzle’s medium (video, audio, or graphic).

Analysis

So You Wanna Save the World integrated websites, phone calls, and physical mailings. The puzzles felt natural in all of these habitats.

➕/➖ The website, videos, and other materials went a long way towards making the experience immersive. The production value was slick and professional, but the characters lacked a sense of urgency. We found ourselves wishing the videos had expressed the intensity that saving the world would ostensibly require.

➖ Our interactions with Tachyon, our AI helper, were persnickety. We sometimes had to experiment to find the specific wording that would get her to react. When she didn’t understand, she berated us with insults that quickly became repetitive.

A chat window with a robot avatar saying "Oh look, it's Recruit Willson here to waste my time."

❓ Speaking of Tachyon…So You Wanna Save the World was explicitly not for children. The cursing was gratuitous and unabashed, and the story included descriptions of violence. This may limit the potential audience somewhat, particularly for families interested in puzzling together.

➕/➖ So You Wanna Save the World presented bonus evidence and Easter eggs concurrently with the main storyline. We enjoyed searching for the extra hidden content. At times the bonus puzzles stood out more than the ones on the main branch of gameplay, so we accidentally forked away without realizing. Further playtesting might help even out the difficulty of the branches.

➕/➖ Solving puzzles and determining which components to combine often required trial and error. Many of the stand-alone puzzles provided satisfying moments of insight. When we needed to choose which clues fit together to make progress, the lack of structure made things more challenging, and occasionally frustrating.

➖ Because we didn’t know what style or caliber of puzzle to expect, we had trouble getting our bearings at first. We spent almost an hour on the first puzzle before the insight necessary to solve it dawned on us. An easier start or some form of onboarding would give players a better idea of what sort of challenge awaited.

➕ The Case Notes section of the website recorded our progress and included recaps of previous puzzles. This helped us keep our findings straight and reorient ourselves after stepping away from the game. The Case Notes also helped show how a puzzle was solved when we weren’t quite sure how we’d done it.

➖ The first-person format of the Case Notes became jarring when the notes expressed attitudes opposed to my own. Late in the game, Recruit Willson praised a character whose actions I would never support in real life. Seeing my actual name on this entry was unsettling. A more neutral stance in the notes would preserve immersion.

➕/➖ The Facebook group was a creative in-game way to get hints. It was tricky to describe where we were stuck, since the puzzles weren’t linear or explicitly named. The other recruits’ posts were helpful, though we had to dodge spoilers for puzzles we hadn’t reached yet. Also, the group could become more or less useful in the future as the community grows or shrinks.

➕ The Mail Marshals backstory explained the purpose of the physical mailer components cleverly. Episode 0 started online instead of via snail mail, but searching through actual junk mail for secret messages in future episodes sounds like fun.

Tips for Playing

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 requires an internet connection and a US phone number. A pencil and paper will come in handy, but otherwise you don’t need any special equipment.

Playing alone or with one companion seems ideal, since the puzzles aren’t particularly collaborative. If you typically like approaching puzzle hunts and similar games solo, try this one by yourself.

And ignore Tachyon when she tells you you’re a useless $*@%. You’ll show her.

The Escape Game – Escape from Iron Gate [Review]

Playing by prison rules.

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 26, 2019

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 45-60 minutes

Price: about $44

REA Reaction

Escape from Iron Gate was quite the surprise and a breath of fresh air in a tabletop escape room scene that’s always riffing on the same “real-life escape room on your table” structure.

Escape Iron Gate's box featuring a prison and labeled, "The prison break party game."

The Escape Game’s take on the tabletop escape room was 100% competitive, not collaborative. It had a board-gamey feel to it. We moved our meeples through different areas of a prison, rolled dice, collected sets of item cards, and earned those cards through solving puzzles – and playing charades or Pictionary.

This was an approachable game. Whereas I find myself playing tabletop escape games mostly with puzzle people, I could play Escape from Iron Gate with almost anyone.

Moreover, as we played harder, we started to find more strategic depth than we’d expected.

The board set up, there are meeple in the cell block and a massive stack of puzzle cards.
There was no shortage of puzzle cards.

The main drawback to Escape from Iron Gate was that some (not all) of the puzzle types got stale. For example, if you’re an escape room veteran going in, substitution and pigpen ciphers aren’t going to throw you for a loop for even a second. We found ourselves disregarding these and drawing something else, which was fine.

I really enjoyed this game, and absolutely recommend it for families and friend groups. It was light-hearted, easy to learn, and varied. I truly liked that we weren’t just solving puzzles, or just playing Pictionary or charades. The constant flux of game modes kept things playful.

Moreover, this is a fully replayable game. We have replayed it and we will continue to do so. We’d love it if The Escape Game created an expansion with more challenging actions, puzzles, and a set of blank “create your own” action and puzzle cards. Personalization would add even more replay value to Escape from Iron Gate.

If you enjoy tabletop games, party games, and puzzles, you’ll enjoy their combination in Escape from Iron Gate.

Who is this for?

  • This is general audience tabletop game.
  • Avid puzzlers, talented drawers, and skilled pantomime actors will have some advantages.

Why play?

  • Humor
  • Flexible play
  • Some amusing puzzles
  • It had a lot more depth than initially appeared

Story

We had all been wrongfully accused of crimes and locked up in Iron Gate prison. Naturally, the only path to freedom was a puzzle prison break.

Close-up of The Yard with two meeple and a pair of large custom dice.

Setup

Escape from Iron Gate was a competitive tabletop game the blended a few genres into a unique experience with a party game vibe.

We aimed to collect sets of item cards that would allow us to bust out of different areas of the prison. We had to proceed from the cell block, to the yard, to the cafeteria, and finally to the warden’s office before achieving freedom (and winning the game.) Each area required each player to collect a unique set of items.

We earned item cards by solving puzzles, playing dexterity mini-games, and playing Pictionary or charades. Dice rolls and luck of the draw determined which games we’d play when.

The details are explained in this video:

Special Rules

If there was a gap in the rules or the group wanted to tweak the way things worked, we were encouraged to create our own prison rules. We quickly added our own rules and adapted the game to our play group.

The REA Rule: Whenever a player used a card set to break out of an area, that player had to tell the group a story about how they used each item to do the deed.

4 stages of gate cards.
Each player gets their own set of unique gate cards.

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Escape from Iron Gate was a party board game with a puzzle-solving component and a moderate level of difficulty.

Unlike escape rooms, Escape from Iron Gate was a competitive (not collaborative) game.

The puzzles were drawn from a massive stack of cards and included a mix of spatial puzzles, logic puzzles, riddles, ciphers, and reasoning challenges. They were all contained on individual cards, so they were static.

Core gameplay revolved around rolling dice, playing charades, playing Pictionary, accomplishing mini dexterity challenges, searching, solving puzzles, negotiating, and planning ahead.

A gate card and its matching card set.
Accomplishing a gate card collection allows a player to advance to the next area.

Analysis

➕ The artwork looked great. We liked the matte aesthetic and the color scheme. Everything felt polished.

Escape from Iron Gate was easy to learn. The engaging rules video presented the game clearly. The rulebook included a full-page diagram of the sequence for a turn, which we found to be especially helpful while we got the hang of the gameplay.

Puzzle card examples including some wordplay puzzles, a cipher, and a reasoning challenge.
A few examples of puzzle types.

➕ The structure of actions, puzzles, and trading kept everyone continually engaged, even on other players’ turns.

Escape from Iron Gate was reasonably well balanced. For a puzzle game, it included quite a bit of chance, but that kept it interesting. Even with the chance, it felt fair.

➖ Some of the puzzles quickly became tasks (especially the ciphers). We could only have the aha moment the first time we encountered some of these puzzle types.

➕ Gameplay was funny. The whole concept was ridiculous. Escape from Iron Gate didn’t take itself too seriously… which encouraged us to laugh along with it.

Action card examples, including a pictionary card and a charades card.

❓/➕ Acting and drawing really didn’t fit the prison escape theme all that well. We debated whether the actions in the game were thematically relevant, but in the end it didn’t really matter to us because they were entertaining.

➕ The red filter hint/answer system was simple and effective. Additionally, hints mattered less in this game than most tabletop escape games because failure to solve a puzzle didn’t break the game.

➕ We appreciated how Escape from Iron Gate drew from escape room mythology, but stood alone as its own game. It was set in The Escape Game’s Prison Break. We enjoyed the nods to that game. In no way, however, did it feel like playing a rehash of that escape room (or any other tabletop game).

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: each player needs scratch paper and a pen
  • The Escape Game encourages players to make their own house rules. We embraced this whole heartedly. REA house rules included telling a story of how you used your items to pass each gate.
  • This would work well as a family game or a drinking game. We can see lots of great opportunities for adding drinking game rules.

Buy your copy of The Escape Game’s Escape from Iron Gate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.