Exit: The Game – The Polar Station [Review]

Alien on the rocks.

Location: at home

Date Played: May 21, 2018

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $13 to 20 per game

REA Reaction

While we’ve generally enjoyed Exit: The Game’s boxed escape room series, The Polar Station didn’t totally click with us. It had some of the coolest tangible puzzles and it leaned into the destructible nature of the series, but it felt like these puzzles were often missing a bit of clue structure. Because of the gaps in the hint system, we’d have to reach for solutions.

I loved the ideas that Exit: The Game played with in this installment, but I have to recommend their other boxes ahead of this one.

Exit The Game: The Polar Station box held over assorted game components.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • People who are fans of the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • Clever puzzles.
  • Mass component destruction. This Exit: The Game is particularly destructible.
  • Low cost

Story

Our Arctic research lab had gone into lockdown. We had to determine what had triggered the lockdown and escape before our lab became our grave.

Setup

The Polar Station functioned identically to Exit: The Game’s previous installments.

The series is puzzle-focused, with a light touch story, and destructible components.

The components are all paper-based, including decks of cards, printed booklets, and card-stock “strange items.” If you are unfamiliar with the basic operation of this series, check out our review of their first three titles:

Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb [Review]

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Polar Station was a puzzle-driven escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ In Exit: The Game boxed escape rooms, every detail mattered. The Polar Station was no exception.

? We found the puzzles in The Polar Station to be more challenging than in the other installments from Exit: The Game. We struggled to reach a lot of aha moments. Some of these may have been us underperforming. However…

– … Many of the puzzles lacked adequate cluing. We’d be on the right track, but missing a crucial detail that wasn’t really there for us to uncover.

– … This revealed a limitation of Exit: The Game’s 3-tiered hint system. For more complex puzzles, the hints jumped straight from basic observations to the solution. The hints provided all the information we’d already gleaned from the puzzle… and then the solution. Looking back at other games in the series, I think that the more complex puzzles deserve a 4th hint card to help players who have almost solved the puzzle.

– The “strange objects” didn’t really warrant their hype. There wasn’t any reason these components needed to be put on a pedestal.

The Polar Station asked us to think outside the box. Having played the earlier games by Exit: The Game, we saw this coming, but The Polar Station still delivered a satisfying aha moment.

+/- If you’re already a fan of Exit: The Game, then this offered more of the gameplay that we’ve come to expect from the series. If you don’t find the series enjoyable, I don’t think that this new installment will dramatically change your opinion.

Tips for Playing

  • Make sure that you have a pair of scissors handy.
  • More than in other Exit: The Game installments, an X-ACTO knife and cutting surface help a lot. It’s not a requirement, but I highly recommend having them on hand.
  • Do not discard the box or any game materials until after you have finished playing.
  • It isn’t possible to replay this game without going to great lengths to copy and preserve destructible materials. You can do it, but I don’t think it’s worth it, especially for The Polar Station.

Pickup a copy of Exit: The Game’s The Polar Station, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Thames & Kosmos sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy 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.)

PostCurious – The Tale of Ord [Review]

By Odin’s Beard!

Location: at home

Date Played: June 2018

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

Duration: 3-4 hours per package; we recommend splitting each package into multiple sessions

Price: $165 for a total of 4 monthly packages

REA Reaction

PostCurious’ The Tale of Ord wove an epic tale through interconnected narrative and puzzle components, delivered in a series of four parcels. As The Tale of Ord progressed, the density and challenge grew dramatically. We loved the grand vision in this smart, innovative, and tightly-written saga.

While the depth was impressive, PostCurious occasionally struggled to narrow the focus for puzzle play.

We highly recommend The Tale of Ord to puzzlers who welcome a substantial mystery. It’s a worthy commitment. Don’t try to play this one casually or Loki will have a good laugh at your expense.

A notebook reads, "The key in learning is from your mistakes" beside an assortment of items from the box.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Brilliant, challenging puzzles
  • A well-designed hint and answer verification system
  • Efficient narrative storytelling woven into the components
  • A ton of content

Story

Two professors from the Emerens Institute had gone missing. We’d been hired as private investigators to track them down through their research, writing, and study of Norse mythology. Along the way, we found a deeper, supernatural mystery.

Setup

We had received four monthly packages, filled with letters, documents, and mysterious items.

The vast majority of the components were paper-based and carefully designed. The packages also included a variety of unusual components, which culminated in a remarkably clever puzzle box.

In-game: A keychain, a collection of pills, and an engraved wooden medallion.

Gameplay

PostCurious’ The Tale of Ord was a puzzle-focused, narrative-driven at-home puzzle game with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around making connections and puzzling. Completing The Tale of Ord was an accomplishment.

In-game: A card with a complex knot pattern, on top of an unusual paper maze of some sort.Analysis

+ #$%^ Tale of Ord was tightly written. Seriously. When we reread everything after finishing the game, all was revealed. The level of clarity that we had in our second reading was nuts.

+ PostCurious created a broad array of puzzles with shocking precision. There were more than a few instances where we paused to reflect on how well a puzzle design came together.

+ The clue and game instructions were naturally embedded throughout the various letters and readings provided by PostCurious. This technique inspired our approach to the puzzle that we hid in the Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans Tour.

+Tale of Ord balanced puzzles and story. Pure lore flowed seamlessly into puzzles.

+ The props, whether they were made of paper or something more elaborate, were thoughtfully designed. They felt like they belonged.

? We knew we’d need a computer with an internet connection to play. We hadn’t realized the extent to which a computer would be necessary.

Tale of Ord was framed up as 4 chapters, but it felt more like 8. It would have benefitted from additional natural break points. After we found ourselves burning out from solving each chapter in one sitting, we started creating our own breakpoints. The content was great, but the chunks were too big.

+ The hint system was structured and easy to use. The hints asked us questions before bluntly delivering answers, which we appreciated. This allowed us to earn most of a solve, even when we needed a nudge.

+ PostCurious included an answer verification tool with the hint system. This let us know when we were close or had a correct answer. This was a massive improvement over most of the other mail-delivered games that we’ve played, where we’ve frequently found ourselves unsure of our solutions with no easy method of finding clarity. This was so well done; it should be an industry standard.

– We occasionally struggled with expectations. Initially it seemed like each box was self-contained… until it wasn’t. PostCurious generally did a good job of making it clear when we needed to reference back to past materials, but some of them had us tied up in knots.

– Most chapters had a spot or two where the clue structure felt tenuous and weak. Sometimes the puzzles were especially tough to start; others felt like a stretch to extract a solution. These became particularly frustrating, especially when we were at the tail end of a long session and trying to close out a chapter.

+ Box two cautioned us to “solve it during the daytime.” That instruction was worth heeding. The hint system had a bypass for those who cannot play during the day, but you should know that if you bypass that puzzle, you’re doing Tale of Ord wrong.

+ The list of characters was pretty short. After having played other games that were constantly introducing new characters, this narrative simplicity was a gift from the gods.

+ At its best (which was often), Tale of Ord had beautifully layered puzzles providing elaborate challenges that exceeded what we have come to expect from both escape rooms and subscription puzzle games. Solving these puzzles felt so good.

In-game: a beautiful, intricate laser engraved/ laser cut wooden puzzle box.

+ The final puzzle and its components were beautiful. What a way to close the loop on an epic tale.

Tips for Playing

  • Chapter 2 must be played during the daytime. Curious, right?
  • Keep track of all your work and solutions. You will need to visit some of them again.
  • You’ll need a computer; a smart phone just doesn’t cut it.
  • The Tale of Ord was a serious commitment. Don’t approach it haphazardly.

Order your copy of PostCurious’ The Tale of Ord, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PostCurious sent us a complimentary reviewer’s copy of this game.

 

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 6 [Review]

Return of the Jigsaw

Location: at home

Date Played: April 29, 2018

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

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On the Run Box 6 was exciting because it started to wrap up the plot threads from previous boxes in the series. Although we were incredibly frustrated by inconsistencies in website forms, we were eager to see resolution start to take shape.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 6 with a jigsaw puzzle, a scroll, and assorted papers from the box.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • The series starts to conclude

Story

The next stop in On The Run’s globetrotting puzzle conspiracy was Greece. On this leg of the journey we tied off a variety of loose ends, drawing ever closer to a complete understanding of the murder mystery that we’d been exploring for half a year.

Setup

In keeping with tradition, On the Run Box 6 contained an assortment of documents and evidence, with two unusual props: a small scroll and a jigsaw puzzle.

A blue and white jigsaw puzzle.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 6 once again deviated from the previous boxes. This episode began with a few traditional puzzles and then shifted its focus to exploring the evidence, deducing, and unraveling the conspiracies that were the impetus for the series.

Analysis

+ The puzzles were clear and well clued.

– I love jigsaw puzzles, but I’m kind of torn on the presence of one in this series. Regardless of whether it belonged, I wish that the jigsaw puzzle was more exciting and aesthetically pleasing as it was a drab puzzle with a lot of visual noise likely to ramp up its difficulty.

– One otherwise fine puzzle suffered from imprecise printing where the font and ink/ paper selection combined to create a situation where it was incredibly difficult to tell + and ÷ symbols apart.

+ I liked the deduction portion of this box. It followed in the footsteps of the closing interactions of the previous box and it finally felt like we were doing detective work.

+ It was fantastic to finally close out some of the storylines and begin to get some closure.

– We had been meeting up with a friend in a convenient Manhattan Panera to work on the previous Dispatch boxes. As of this box, we had too much content to carry around and our friend had to trek over to our home. The On The Run boxes were mostly self-contained, but not entirely, so we felt that we had to have all of the boxes on hand in order to puzzle. This also meant that we were constantly worried that we had missed or forgotten a detail that could have been hidden somewhere among all of the previous content.

– We lost a shocking amount of time because we didn’t include a middle name in a website’s form field. This wasn’t the first time that we’d had the correct answer, but didn’t format it exactly as the website demanded. This had been annoying in the past, but in this instance it was game-shattering. Breakout, please, sort out your naming problems. Upper/ lower case shouldn’t matter. Middle names shouldn’t matter. Or if they do, establish that early and keep things consistent. 

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 6.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complimentary subscription.

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

Exit: The Game – The Forgotten Island [Review]

WILSON!

Location: at home

Date Played: May 26, 2018

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $13 to 20 per game

REA Reaction

The Forgotten Island was a standard Exit: The Game installment. If you’ve played any of the originals, you’ll be familiar with the structure, vibe, and tricks. This particular installment had a number of especially clever puzzles mixed throughout it and a few that felt like they could benefit from additional clue structure and maybe a bit of editing.

If that puts a smile on your face, you should buy it. If you don’t like the series, this one will not change your mind.

The tropical island cover of Exit: The Game's The Forgotten Island.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • People who are fans of the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • Clever puzzles
  • Affordable tabletop gameplay

Story

While we were out sailing, the weather had taken a sudden turn and we’d capsized. We’d washed ashore on a deserted island. As we looked around we realized that everything on this island was locked up… even a boat.

The answer card deck, riddle card deck, a stack of help cards, a strange item, the decoder wheel, and the Forgotten Island journal.

Setup

The Forgotten Island played exactly as did the original three Exit: The Game episodes. I discussed the mechanics of this destructible game in an earlier review. If you’re curious about how this series works, give that one a read:

Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb [Review]

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Forgotten Island was a puzzle-driven at-home escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ There were a lot of excellent puzzles in The Forgotten Island. They played with perspective and space especially well.

+ There was an especially entertaining group sequence. This puzzle on its own would be a good argument for having four players present.

– Being a nautical-themed escape game, there were a lot of map-based puzzles, and we had access to too many similar components at the same time.

– One of the most interesting puzzles suffered from a lack of clue structure.

– The final puzzle was interesting, but too laborious. The ending of The Forgotten Island fizzled while two players plodded through it.

+/- Once again, if you like Exit: The Game, this is a quintessential Exit box. If you love the style, you’ll likely enjoy the puzzles in The Forgotten Island. If you dislike Exit: The Game or you find yourself getting tired of it, this will feel like more of the same gameplay.

Tips for Playing

  • Make sure that you have a pair of scissors handy.
  • Do not discard the box or any game materials until after you have finished playing.
  • It isn’t possible to replay this game without going to great lengths to copy and preserve destructible materials. You can do it, but I don’t think it’s worth it.
  • Play in good lighting. If you need reading glasses, have them available.

Pickup a copy of Exit: The Game’s The Forgotten Island, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Thames & Kosmos sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy 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.)

Unlock! – The Adventures of Oz [Review]

There’s no place like home.

Location: at home

Date Played: May 26, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 90 minutes*

Price: $14.99 per ticket

REA Reaction

Space Cowboys really outdid themselves in The Adventures of Oz, one of the Unlock! series’ latest installments. As implied by the name, this episode took us on the adventures of Dorothy and Toto. It told the story and presented puzzles.

The Adventures of Oz was easily our favorite game in the Unlock! lineup thus far.

This, however, should not be your first Unlock! game. Newbies should learn the ropes in a less complex chapter.

Unlock! The Adventures of Oz box art features Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow waling the Yellow Brick Road.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience with the Unlock! series

Why play?

  • Fantastic storytelling through gameplay
  • Beautiful card art
  • Fun puzzles inspired by and integrated with the story

Story

We weren’t in Kansas anymore. The Adventures of Oz followed the familiar story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; we puzzled our way down the Yellow Brick Road.

Unlock! used the original L. Frank Baum tale as the inspiration for this game, as the original is in the public domain… so expect silver slippers.

The folded map, the first card, and the magic mirror.

Setup

Functionally, the core game mechanics of The Adventures of Oz were identical to the previous Unlock! games that we’ve reviewed. If you want a more thorough description, check out our review of the first three games:

Unlock! Escape Adventure – The Formula, The Island of Doctor Goorse, and Squeek & Sausage [Review]

That being said, The Adventures of Oz added a few twists.

Character Cards

There were four character cards in The Adventures of Oz, each with its own quest or side-quest.

The Dorothy and Toto character card.

These were persistent cards that lasted all – or most – of the game and should be assigned to different players. (Double- or triple-up character cards if you have fewer players).

World Map

Upon opening the box, we immediately noticed a folded map of Oz. There came a point early in gameplay when we were instructed to unfold it.

Magic Mirror

There was a thick cardboard magic mirror with 4 bits of cardboard that need to be poked out. As with the map and character cards, the game instructed us when to reach for the mirror.

Story Focus

The Adventures of Oz put a heavy focus on narrative gameplay. It told a story rather than recreated the feel of a traditional escape room.

Gameplay

Unlock!’s The Adventures of Oz was an at-home escape room with a high level of difficulty. The puzzle difficulty varied. Added challenge stemmed from managing the Unlock! game mechanics.

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

Analysis

The Adventures of Oz told a well-known story legitimately well.

+ The card art was beautiful. I found myself looking at cards not as a puzzler, but simply for enjoyment.

+ The character cards were a great addition. They had a variety of functions that added new dynamics to Unlock!’s gameplay.

+ The Magic Mirror was an inspired and versatile prop.

– One puzzle had us wandering through the woods to a dubious solution.

+ There were a few puzzles that put an emphasis on teamwork. These were among the highlights for us.

-/+ *While the game box noted that The Adventures of Oz would be a 60-minute game, the timer on the app was for 90 minutes. 90 minutes was a more realistic playtime, which was great since there was a lot of game… but this typo set incorrect expectations. 30 minutes can be a big deal when planning a game night.

The Adventures of Oz would have been brutally challenging to play without having at least one player at the table who was already comfortable with the idiosyncrasies of the Unlock! series.

– Pixel hunting for hidden numbers is an Unlock! standard… and it had a significant presence in The Adventures of Oz.

– It was challenging to keep track of discarded cards. In The Adventures of Oz, the discard icons were smaller than in Unlock!’s previous games (and they weren’t large to begin with), so this was even more challenging. This visual deprioritization made a bad problem worse.

A tutorial card compared with an Oz card. The "discard" icon is noticeably smaller.
The size difference from the tutorial to the actual game is striking and continues to be one of my biggest struggles when playing Unlock!.

– I absolutely hate that the Unlock! hint system offered no explanation of the solutions. Space Cowboys, could y’all see fit to issue an update to your app that fixes this?

+ All in all, this was hands down our favorite Unlock! game and one of our favorite tabletop escape games in general.

Tips for Playing

  • Inspect everything for hidden numbers.
  • Be sure to keep a close eye on which cards are in play and which cards should be discarded. A single lapse in this can wreak some havoc.

Pickup a copy of Unlock!’s The Adventures of Oz, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Asmodee sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy 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.)

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 5 [Review]

The Encipher Strikes Back.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 20, 2018

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

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

On The Run Box suffered from its position in the middle of the series. The puzzles drew on ciphers from the previous box more often than they offered new challenges. It also didn’t provide anything new in terms of story. This box was a lull in the middle.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 5 assorted papers from the box and a post card that reads, "I believe there is a on the front written in masonic cipher."

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • To get to the Box 6

Story

On The Run Box 5 took us to Tanzania on our quest to save our BFF from a tangled conspiracy. This chapter marked a shift in the narrative as the number of new questions slowed and we started to uncover answers.

Setup

On The Run Box 5 included an assortment of paper articles and documents, and as well as the website-based content that we’d come to expect from the Dispatch series. In keeping with the format, this box’s main event was a Mancala puzzle complete with a bag of glass beads.

The Mancala board with glass beads and a burlap bag to hold them.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 5 felt like Groundhog Day as we looped through an assortment of common ciphers as well as a greatest hits list of the ciphers from Box 4.

This was a grueling middle chapter if I’ve ever seen one.

Analysis

– The cipher that had overstayed its welcome in the previous box returned with vengeance. Revisiting it did not reignite dormant affinity.

– The cipher that had suffered from an ambiguity problem in the previous box also returned with 4x the content. What had started as a great, if slightly fuzzy, concept turned into a grind in the purest sense of the word.

+/- The Mancala puzzle was an awesome concept and a fun prop. The puzzle itself needed a stronger clue structure.

+ The concluding sequence of interactions and content was strong and a saving grace for this box.

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 5.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

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

Argyx Games – Apocalypse: Prelude Review & Kickstarter Announcement

🤘

Location: at home

Date Played: May 20, 2018

Notes: The Prelude to Apocalypse was a mini puzzle game available for preview in advance of the Kickstarter launch.

REA Reaction

Argyx Games Prelude to Apocalypse Episode 1: Sign of the Cross was a fun and challenging lead-up to their larger Kickstarter release.

This was first and foremost a puzzle game. We didn’t need to be superhuman puzzlers to play through it, but we did need to pay close attention and really think things through.

Aesthetically, the game’s story, iconography, and overall vibe had a heavy metal feel that is under explored in escape games.

This well-designed teaser has filled us with hope for their larger game. We have already backed their Kickstarter, which went live earlier this week.

The Argyx Prelude gaming components including a matchbox, a bloody tape measure, a nail file labeled Youtube, and bible scripture.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • English or French speakers (the game is available in either language)
  • People who will not be bothered by demonic references
  • Players with at least some puzzle solving experience

Why play?

  • Clever and compact puzzle design
  • Well-designed game flow
  • Well-thought out hint system

Story

We had received a package from a fanatical serial killer who went by the name Abaddon, the Angel of Death from the Book of Revelation. Abaddon’s package included a collection of puzzles encouraging us to find his fifth victim before he did.

This initial package was the Prelude to Apocalypse Episode 1: Sign of the Cross. The full story will unfold in Argyx Games’ Kickstarter with an intended release of Christmas 2018.

Setup

We had received a collection of items, a few dramatic religious passages, and a letter heralding the death of Abaddon’s next victim.

The collection was clearly homemade, but felt deliberately designed. The items were all in a black, white, and red color palette. The printed materials were on different paper stock, each with a carefully chosen font to match its purpose and origin.

Gameplay

Argyx Games’ Prelude to Apocalypse was a puzzle-focused play-at-home escape game with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, connection building, and puzzling.

Gameplay required an internet-connected device.

Analysis

+ The puzzles were clever and offered a little more challenge than we had been expecting. I’d put the difficulty somewhere between your average tabletop escape game and an easier puzzle hunt.

+ The paper materials each had a unique feel and purpose.

Prelude to Apocalypse had a fairly homemade construction. This doesn’t bother me all that much in single-use play-at-home experiences, but I can easily see this being a sticking point for some.

– We struggled with one of the typesetting decisions.

+ I liked the aesthetic of Prelude to Apocalypse. It’s rare to see a hand made puzzle game that has deliberate art direction.

– We hit a snag inputting a solution that we were confident in. When we switched from inputing by phone to inputing by laptop, we had no more trouble.

+ The self-service hint system was structured and segmented such that when we did get stuck, we were able to find a hint that nudged us in the right direction.

? Based on the Prelude, I don’t really have a sense of how strong the narrative will be. The puzzles were good, but felt puzzley. If you’re seeking something akin to interactive fiction, I’m not really sure what to tell you. It feels like there is an intention to tell a story through this game.

+ Based on what we’ve seen from Prelude, we feel confident that Argyx Games will be able to live up to their stated plans and ambitions. Kickstarter is always a gamble, but Argyx Games’ product seems grounded in reality.

+ Given that this was a brief teaser into a much larger game, we’re excited to see what else Argyx Games has in store for us.

Tips for Playing

  • I recommend having a laptop on hand with an internet connection while playing this game.

For more about Apocalypse Episode 1: Sign of the Cross, visit their Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Argyx Games sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy of this preview game.

Exit: The Game – The Forbidden Castle [Review]

“It’s just a flesh wound!”

Location: at home

Date Played: May 24, 2018

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

Duration: 60-120 minutes

Price: $13 to 20 per game

REA Reaction

The Forbidden Castle followed the format we’ve come to expect from Exit: The Game, with some added twists. It offered more challenge than the original releases from Exit: The Game and these were generally fair and fun. It built toward a silly conclusion, but also a culmination that felt bigger than the sum of its card-stock parts.

If you’re a fan of Exit: The Game, this one is absolutely worth playing.

If you’ve never played Exit: The Game, I’d strongly encourage you to start with one or two of their earlier installments.

If you aren’t a fan of Exit: The Game, I wouldn’t expect this one to suddenly convert you.

Exit The Game: The Forbidden Castle box being held over assorted game components.

Who is this for?

  • Tabletop gamers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • People who are fans of the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • This is our new favorite from the Exit: The Game series
  • Clever puzzles
  • A silly, but fun final puzzle
  • Low cost

Story

The Forbidden Castle was structured as a direct sequel to The Abandoned Cabin. While on vacation, our imprisonment-prone family entered an old castle and suddenly realized that we were locked in by an unseen villain who had left a series of clues and puzzles that could lead us to our freedom, if we were cunning enough.

Exit The Game: The Forbidden Castle's booklet and decoder wheel.

Setup

The Forbidden Castle functioned identically to Exit: The Game’s previous installments.

The series is puzzle focused, with a light touch story, and destructible components.

The components were all paper-based, including decks of cards, printed booklets, and card-stock “strange items.” If you are unfamiliar with the basic operation of this series, check out our review of their first three titles:

Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin, The Secret Lab, & The Pharaoh’s Tomb [Review]

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Forbidden Castle was a puzzle-driven escape room with a higher level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Exit The Game: The Forbidden Castle's knight being held over assorted game components.

Analysis

+ The first few puzzles had a good difficulty curve.

+ Overall we loved the collection of puzzles that we encountered in The Forbidden Castle.

– One puzzle was too ambiguous and hinged on an unusual combination of observation and trust. Conceptually, this puzzle was brilliant. In practice, the execution was too opaque.

The Forbidden Castle’s components were physically small, but a few of the puzzles felt much bigger.

– One of the puzzles was answerable without actually solving the puzzle.

The Forbidden Castle used the same decoder disk answer system as all of the other Exit: The Game installments. However, in this one, they added a good twist.

+ The final puzzle was a lot of fun and a touch silly, which added to its charm.

– One of the “strange objects” was a sword. We needed to trim this sword to make the puzzle work properly. Admittedly, this was a minor issue in a game where we were regularly taking scissors to the components.

The Forbidden Castle's sword with a sliver of card stock cut off beside a pair of scissors.

– There was a decision point in The Forbidden Castle. The team essentially had to choose blindly between two different puzzles. Solving one puzzle destroyed the other, which was a bummer. We backtracked post-game and sort of figured out the other one, but we didn’t love trashing a puzzle, especially without any context guiding the decision.

+/- If you’re already a fan of Exit: The Game, then this offered more of the gameplay that we’ve come to expect from the series. If you don’t find the series enjoyable, I don’t think that this new installment will dramatically change your opinion.

Tips for Playing

  • You’ll need a pair of scissors.
  • Do not discard the box or any game materials until after you have finished playing.
  • It isn’t possible to replay this game without going to great lengths to copy and preserve destructible materials. You can do it, but I don’t think it’s worth it.

Pickup a copy of Exit: The Game’s The Forbidden Castle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Thames & Kosmos sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy 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.)

 

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 4 [Review]

A New Hope

Location: at home

Date Played: March 20, 2018

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

Duration: as long as it takes to solve the puzzles

Price: $24.99 per month for a monthly subscription

REA Reaction

In On the Run, Box 4, we worked through quality puzzles. Although it was cipher-heavy, we mostly enjoyed solving these. What Box 4 lost in story clarity it made up for in puzzling.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 4 with a strange deck of cards and assorted papers from the box.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Armchair detectives
  • Players who have completed the previous On The Run boxes

Why play?

  • You can play at home
  • Because you’re already invested in the story
  • The series got more puzzley in Box 4

Story

In Box 4, On The Run visited Australia. In this episode we encountered a significant plot twist that introduced a potential new ally.

Setup

Based purely on its components, The Australia box was fairly bland. Everything was paper- or website-based. The main prop was a deck of cards.

From a puzzle standpoint, however… things were more exciting…

Gameplay

On the Run Box 4 had a lot more puzzle content than the previous boxes, with a wide variety of things to solve.

This box also introduced a blacklight. More on that in a moment.

Analysis

+ I really enjoyed puzzling through Box 4. Up until this point, my commitment to On The Run had been predicated on a curiosity about this story. The trajectory of the series, however, had been leaning considerably more puzzley with each box, and this one had a lot to chew on.

– One of the ciphers was fun, but overstayed its welcome.

– Another nifty cipher had a little bit of an ambiguity problem.

– At this point in the story, there were so many open plot threads that I’m not really sure that I was even following all of them.

+ The arrival of a blacklight made me cringe because I didn’t want to have to blacklight every sheet of paper that had come in all the previous boxes or would come in the future boxes. My gut reaction was unnecessary because Breakout included a persistent game mechanic that subtly indicated when and where to use the blacklight.

+/- However, there was no way for me to be completely sure that I could trust this blacklight indication mechanic… so I blacklit everything to be certain. To Breakout’s credit, my extra effort was unnecessary.

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 4.

Subscribe to Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Dispatch by Breakout provided a complementary subscription.

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

Escape from the Room – The Curse of Old Maid Milly [Review]

Crazy cat lady puzzle book.

Location: at home

Date Played: March 2018

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

Price: $16 per copy

REA Reaction

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly was a charming and generally straightforward reimagining of a real-life escape room as a puzzle book. While it wasn’t a challenging game, it captured the quick-hit escape room puzzle style quite well.

If you’re looking for a puzzle book to push the boundaries of your puzzling ability, there are more challenging options out there. If you’re looking for a puzzle book that captures the feel of an escape room, this a great choice. We loved carrying it with us on our travels.

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly being held up beside an airport window.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Travelers
  • Crazy cat people

Why play?

  • It’s cool to see an actual real life escape room adapted into a book.
  • The puzzles play well.
  • It’s inexpensive and fun.

Story

This real life escape room-turned-puzzle book casts the reader as Dr. Alan Harris, a professor of paranormal activity. Dr. Harris was investigating a room where a mysterious reclusive cat lady named Milly had died when he was suddenly locked in.

Could Dr. Harris uncover the secrets that have kept Milly’s soul trapped in her home and escape?

Setup

The Curse of Old Maid Milly began its life as an actual escape room in the United Kingdom (review by Ken Ferguson at The Logic Escapes Me). After closing the real life escape room, the creator converted it into a book-based escape game. According to Ken, roughly 50% of the puzzles were changed in the shift to print.

Each 2-page spread of the book presented either puzzle and story or a black and white sketch of the game environment.

Puzzle and story pages would deliver most of the content as prose. Light gray text was explicitly for story and could be ignored by the more puzzle-minded. Black text was necessary for the completion of a puzzle.

Gameplay

Maps

Map pages depicted a larger area. The map would be labeled with corresponding pages that contained illustrations of what we would see if we looked in that direction.

Location Illustrations

The black and white sketches filled us in on the aesthetics of the room and contained observable clues for solving puzzles.

Puzzles

Puzzle pages contained a page number (more on that in a moment), light gray story text, and black puzzle text. Some puzzles also contained additional graphics.

The answer converter the allows players to translate directions and letters into numbers.

Inputting Answers

Puzzle solutions came in the form of page numbers. To verify an answer, we had to flip to that page and see if we should be heading there. If we were correct, the page we flipped to had the next segment of story and a puzzle.

Not all of the puzzles initially resolved to a number. There was a consistent translation mechanism that enabled us to convert directions and words into numbers.

Satchel

Occasionally the book would inform us that Dr. Harris had decided to save an object in his satchel. This news was always delivered in black puzzle text and satchel was bolded for extra effect. Whenever this happened, we needed to log the item, as we would eventually need to recall it in order to solve certain challenges.

Analysis

+ This was a good beginner puzzle book. The puzzles resolved cleanly. Few offered serious challenge. When we were stumped, it was usually because we had failed to notice a detail.

+ The page jumping mechanic was an interesting approach to answer checking.

– Because we were constantly jumping from the back of the book, to the middle, to the front, and back again, at any given point in time, we had little concept of how deep into the game we were.

– We did not enjoy the satchel game mechanic. It made a good effort at recreating the feel of using found objects to solve puzzles, but it wasn’t exciting. These “puzzles” felt more like throwaway moments. It was more effort to track satchel items than it was worth.

+/- The story was good, but entirely too wordy. There were times where if felt as if the story text may have been added simply to fill white space on the page.

+ The light gray vs black text to separate story from puzzle worked well.

+/- Old Maid Milly had a cute print-based take on escape room search puzzles. We didn’t love these puzzles, but they absolutely captured the right vibe.

+ The hint system was structured and easy to use.

+ This book was fun to carry around on a trip. We would make a little progress here and there. It was easy to put down and pick up again.

Tips for Playing

  • You will want some sort of bookmark.
  • You need to log all of the satchel items. Failure to do so will result in annoyance and backtracking later on. We might be speaking from experience on this.
  • It is possible to play this game without writing in the book, but requires extra effort.

Book your hour with Escape from the Room’s The Curse of Old Maid Milly, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape from the Room provided a complementary copy of this book.