Deckscape – The Mystery of Eldorado [Review]

Survivalist

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 22, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $17

REA Reaction

The Mystery of Eldorado was the fourth installment in Deckscape’s card-based, story-driven escape game series. We were lost in the Amazon (rain forest… not website) and Deckscape added a survivalist twist to the puzzles.

In The Mystery of Eldorado, we had to make decisions – lots of them. Our choices came with ramifications: some foreseeable, others that came out of nowhere. In puzzle-driven games, if you’re solving well, you usually feel in control. The Mystery of Eldorado, however, always felt a little out of control, which was equal parts thematic and annoying.

The jungle and ruins art of the Deckscape Mystery of Eldorado box.

This was a strong installment, especially for Deckscape fans. The art was good. The story was playful. There were plenty of puzzles to fill a play session; we just wished that there was a little more variety to the puzzle types.

All in all, this was a fun game for the price and a good value for table top escape room players.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Some truly unusual puzzles
  • An interesting story
  • You’re a Deckscape fan
  • It’s cute

Story

While searching for the lost city of Eldorado, our plane had crashed in the jungle. With limited resources, and danger lurking in the leaves, we were committed to finding the legendary city or to die trying.

4 cards with different survival tools.

Setup

The Mystery of Eldorado followed the same structure and core mechanics of Deckscape’s previous games. We explained this in detail in our review of Test Time & The Fate of London, so we won’t rehash it.

As with previous Deckscape games, the print quality was great, as was the art.

Gameplay

Deckscape’s The Mystery of Eldorado was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, puzzling, and reasoning though options.

Analysis

 The Mystery of Eldorado had a fun premise. It didn’t take itself too seriously… but it also worked well. It was a good balance.

➕ The writing was entertaining and the game world was funny. We played in English, which was a translated version. The writing held up.

➕/➖ There were many choices to make within The Mystery of Eldorado. That was cool because they were often consequential. However, many of them were blind choices and the ramifications felt haphazard.

➕ The artwork was great and had a consistent look about it.

➖ There were a few instances of eye-catching red herrings within the cards. Deckscape seems committed to their gotcha moments.

➕ Most of the puzzles were delightful and satisfying. The survivalist twist was well executed. It was surprising to have to attempt to reason through some of the more realistic logic puzzles.

➖ A minority of the puzzles were pretty dubious, which is kind of a thing with Deckscape. That said, there weren’t too many of these.

➖ There wasn’t quite enough puzzle variety for our liking. A few puzzle types were repeated with minor alterations.

➕ Deckscape created diegetic hints. They crafted characters and props within The Mystery of Eldorado that would provide the hints. This was fun.

Tips For Player

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

Buy your copy of Deckscape’s The Mystery of Eldorado, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Deckscape provided a sample for review… and we lost it when we moved. So we bought our own copy to review it.

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 Catacombs of Horror [Review]

Break from tradition

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 9, 2019

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

Duration: 2-4 hours

Price: $24.95

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos

REA Reaction

Lisa and I are fans of Exit: The Game – fans who have really wanted them to break from their patterns and put a new twist or two on their games. We’re also fans who have wanted them to release fewer games of higher quality… and we got our wish.

Exit: The Game Catacombs of Horror box art featuring a skull, and lit candle.

The Catacombs of Horror was an oversized 2-part game with one long narrative. Within it, Exit: The Game embedded many strong story-driving puzzles and a phenomenal final puzzle sequence. Best of all, they broke away from many of their most notorious clichés without breaking from their tried and true game system.

Of note, they dramatically reduced the focus of an in-game journal, making it far easier for a group of 4 people to comfortably enjoy collaboratively puzzling.

There was still room for improvement, particularly when it came to a few puzzles that yanked us out of the game world.

Overall, The Catacombs of Horror represented a massive quality jump for the series.

If you’re brand new to the series, I still recommend The Sunken Treasure as a strong on-boarding game. If you’re comfortable with Exit: The Game’s system, then The Catacombs of Horror is a must-play.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Occultists
  • Best for players with at least some experience playing the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • This was a noticeably stronger product than previous Exit: The Game installments
  • Many of the puzzles integrated well into the narrative
  • The Catacombs of Horror was a 2-part experience and crammed a ton of value into both halves
  • The final puzzle was 🔥

Story

After a friend had disappeared in the catacombs beneath Paris, we’d ventured into the grim maze to try to find him.

In-game: printed sign reads, "STOP: Do not open this box until you have solved the hourglass riddle."

Setup

The Catacombs of Horror was structurally identical to other Exit: The Game products that we’ve reviewed with one significant exception: scale.

This particular edition was a beefy double-sized game with one cohesive story. There was a midpoint that allowed us to stop. It even justified the break in the narrative.

In-game: An assortment of card decks, paper props, a tea candle, and multicolored skulls.

I did a more through breakdown of how the Exit: The Game system works in my first review from oh so long ago:

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Catacombs of Horror was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: green, white, and red skulls.

Analysis

➕ With The Catacombs of Horror, Exit: The Game broke their patterns in many ways. The most obvious one was the length of the game. The amount of content felt right for a casual evening puzzle game with friends. It even included a narrative-justified break point. The content also matched the price point.

➕ The journal – a mainstay from Exit: The Game – showed up much later. The result was that the journal was less restrictive. The game felt a lot more accessible.

➕ Exit: The Game introduced many novel puzzle concepts. These were unexpected and enjoyable.

➖ A few of the puzzles removed us from the world of the game. Although we enjoyed these puzzles, we didn’t think they made sense in The Catacombs of Horror, because the game went so far out of its way to keep us in the game world.

➖ One puzzle had this weird preschool aesthetic that didn’t match the rest of the game… it was jarringly different.

The Catacombs of Horror was packed with “aha” moments.

➕ With a longer game, there was time to follow the breadcrumbs as we played and piece things together later. These were satisfying solves.

➕ The final puzzle was climactic and about as immersive as we’ve seen from a play-at-home escape room. It was worth chewing on and we felt we earned our win.

➖ Exit: The Game (and really all of the tabletop escape game market) made a big deal out of the game timer. I think that this time system does the game a disservice. We went way over… mostly because we were enjoying the company of our friends as we played. It just didn’t matter. These games can only be played once. Savor the experience over whatever time you and your group want.

➕ There was an interesting non-time-related lose condition in The Catacombs of Horror. This was way more interesting than watching a clock.

Tips For Playing

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, scissors, matches
  • This shouldn’t be your first game from Exit: The Game. Please play one of their shorter episodes first.

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

Disclosure: Thames & Kosmos provided a sample for review. 

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

Escape Room in a Box – Flashback [Review]

Cameo

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 27, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $20.99

Publisher: Mattel

Disclaimer

I’m going to open by being especially up front. We know the creators of Escape Room in a Box very well.

There’s a mutual respect and friendship that we need to be clear about. David has collaborated with the women behind this product on a television pilot… and there’s enough affection in this friendship that Juliana and Ariel named the main character of Flashback Dr. Lisa David.

No one is hiding anything.

We wrote as honest a review as we would for anyone else, but if you’d like to disregard our thoughts on this product, feel free to stop reading now.

REA Reaction

Mainstream, mass-produced tabletop escape games are almost exclusively made from paper; Escape Room in a Box is the exception.

We were big fans of Escape Room in a Box’s The Werewolf Experiment and we’re huge fans of Flashback. Anyone can open this box and just play it. There aren’t laborious rules, quirky apps, or unusual nuances to understand. That’s how escape rooms are supposed to work.

The weakest points in this game were two of the puzzles that felt like they needed a little more work. One lacked precision; the other required lighting conditions that won’t always be present. Neither of these broke the game in a significant way.

From the writing, to the art, to the puzzles, Flashback demonstrated that Escape Room in a Box wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. These are still two of the strongest, most escape room-y tabletop games on the market.

Whether you’re new to the genre or you play them all, we recommend Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid puzzles that are far more tactile than most tabletop escape games
  • A cute story and strong writing

Story

We’d received an urgent letter from Dr. Lisa David warning us that we were in grave danger. One of her friends had descended into madness and was coming after us.

We had to delve into her past in order to determine what was wrong and remedy the situation.

Setup

Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback was a natural successor to The Werewolf Experiment. The game was loaded with tangible components and played like a real life escape room. We opened the box and the progression of play was self-evident.

There were minimal rules and no software to futz with.

Flashback was structured in three 30-minute segments (blue, red, and purple). They could be solved in any order or in parallel; each stood on its own as a unique path. For reference, we completed all 3 paths in about 45 minutes.

Gameplay

Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The folks at Escape Room in Box write their games in a playful, entertaining voice. They leaned into this with Flashback, delivering an adorable story through fun and relatable banter.

➕ Flashback relied heavily on tangible props, more so than the majority of boxed escape rooms. One of these interactions will likely stop some players cold (rest assured, it was well clued). In this way, Flashback felt more like an escape room than many of the play-at-home games in this style.

➕ The colored puzzle tracks were clear. We could play them sequentially or simultaneously, and we never felt lost. We enjoyed how the tracks were themed by puzzle type, which was grounded in the narrative. The gameplay worked well.

➕ The game looked and felt polished. We appreciated the quality paper materials. The art looked great, especially in the purple track.

➖ While some of the artwork was adorable, it didn’t carry throughout all of the puzzle tracks. More memorable art throughout the game would have further supported the narrative.

➖ A few of the puzzles lacked precision. In one instance, the prop didn’t match its cluing quite closely enough. In another instance, we didn’t have the environment that the puzzle demanded or enough direction as to how to create it. These puzzles felt unrefined.

➕ With Flashback, Escape Room in a Box integrated the narrative and puzzles more closely than in their original game, which was a delight.

➕ The hint system was easy to use, self-service, and comprehensive.

Flashback was easier than many of the play-at-home escape rooms on the market. This will be a quick playthrough for experienced puzzlers, though no less fun because of it. If you’re looking for meaty puzzles, however, look elsewhere. Flashback would be a great choice for beginners and families.

➕ At $20, the value of this game is insane relative to other similar products made entirely of paper.

😏 Objectively speaking, Doctor Lisa David was a most excellent character name.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, access to a kitchen
  • I would recommend playing the puzzle tracks sequentially. There’s no real reason to rush though this game. Savor it.

Buy your copy of Escape Room in a Box’s Flashback, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mattel 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.)

Yoda Games – Pharaoh’s Revenge [Review]

“Do… or do not.”

Location:  at home

Date Played:  July 30, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Price: $24.99

Publisher: Yoda Games

REA Reaction

Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge was fairly standard tabletop escape game written in both English and German.

The puzzles played cleanly and offered a bit of challenge. That said, the hint system was annoying to use and there weren’t any truly special or memorable puzzles that stuck with us after playing the game.

The German & English cover for "Pharoah's Revenge an Escape Room @ Home"

The bottom-line on this: I’d be surprised to encounter many players who think it’s their favorite tabletop puzzle game, but I’d be equally surprised to find an experienced tabletop puzzler who thinks it’s abysmal.

If you’re a fan of tabletop escape games, Pharaoh’s Revenge is a solid choice.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • You like puzzling
  • An interesting answer verification mechanism

Story

We’d discovered a new ancient tomb in Egypt. Along with the burial site and treasure… we’d also found a brand new curse! We had to solve the Pharaoh’s puzzle in order to spare our lives from his trap.

Setup

We began by cutting out 5 colored strips of card stock, each a different length; these were used to input and verify solutions.

In-game: an introductory letter on a sealed envelope, a piece of acetate, a dry erase marker, and a small piece of cardboard with 5 different size/color bars on it.

The materials within Pharaoh’s Revenge were double-sided with English and German language components.

The game was a fairly typical tabletop escape game consisting of mostly paper components sealed within envelopes filled largely with paper components.

The most unusual component was a sheet of acetate and a dry erase marker that was critical to some of the puzzle solves.

Gameplay

Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge was a play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The game could be played in either English or German. We played in English; it played cleanly. All written puzzles were double-sided, German on one side, English on the other. This worked well.

➕ The answer verification system was simple, nifty, and unique.

➕ The puzzles were solid and offered enough challenge.

➖ There weren’t any really special, memorable interactions.

➖ The hint system was less than stellar. Yoda Games built their hint system into a website and required us to navigate to specific URLs in the instruction booklet for each individual hint. The hint website had no navigation whatsoever.

➕/➖ Pharaoh’s Revenge could be repackaged for another playthough by a different group, but we couldn’t find instructions for said repackaging. We would have had to keep track of that information from the beginning, but we didn’t know to do that up front.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: scissor, pencil, and paper

Buy your copy of Yoda Games’ Pharaoh’s Revenge, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Yoda Games provided a sample for review. 

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

Doctor Esker’s Notebook [Review]

Surprising Results

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 11, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $15

REA Reaction

Doctor Esker’s Notebook was a low-price, high-quality tabletop puzzle game.

Structured as a deck of cards, it was not overtly fancy or inherently impressive at first glance (and the photos below will prove that.) However, Doctor Esker’s Notebook had it where it counted: it was a brilliant puzzle game with a clever answer mechanism.

The most glaring issues with Doctor Esker’s Notebook was in the onboarding. Given how unusual the solution system was, it needed a better on-ramp to teach us how to play. Once we pushed past the initial confusion, however, we truly enjoyed this game.

If you’re the kind of person who’s on the lookout for smart, well-designed, innovative puzzle games, do yourself a favor and pick up Doctor Esker’s Notebook.

The small card deck sized box for Doctor Esker's Notebook.
The entire game was the size of a deck of playing cards.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle game
  • Inventive mechanics, solutions, and answer verification

Story

Doctor Esker had vanished, leaving behind only his lab notes. We had to piece his work back together and determine his fate.

10 stacks of cards each with different art.

Setup

Doctor Esker’s Notebook had a strange structure. The card backs allowed us to sort the game into 10 piles:

  • 9 stacks of puzzle cards
  • 1 stack of solution cards

We began with the “Start” stack of puzzle cards. Once we had the correct answer, we needed to assemble the solution cards. The assembly of the solution would key us into the next puzzle stack. Repeat until finished.

A QR code labeled "Hints."

It all culminated in a phenomenal final puzzle.

Gameplay

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

It had a higher level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The no frills aesthetic of Doctor Esker’s Notebook was functional. It wasn’t fancy at all and it felt like a scrapbook. It was hand drawn. It felt like we were puzzling through someone’s mind… in a good way.

➕ Although the puzzles were drawn in the same style, they were enormously varied.

➕ The puzzles were playful and clever. They had funny aha moments. We laughed aloud.

➖ We love wordplay, but we found some of the wordplay in Doctor Esker’s Notebook to be a stretch.

➕ The answer verification system worked really well.

➕ / ➖ If we needed assistance, there was a hint website available. It got the job done. It wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t really lacking either.

➖ When we first opened the deck of cards, it was hard to get moving. The instructions weren’t clear enough. We were pretty confused on how the answer verification system was meant to work. Doctor Esker’s Notebook needed refinement in the onboarding process.

➖ We played more than half the game wondering about extraneous information. We eventually realized that we were solving for additional information about assembling a puzzle’s solution. We’d been assembling solutions the hard way. More clear instructions would have eliminated this confusion.

➕ There was no ambiguity as to what to solve when. We always knew we had all the components for the next puzzle. It was always clear when we’d finished a puzzle and how to move on to the next one.

➕ There was no internet connection or app integration needed for this pocket-sized game. We found that freeing.

Tips For Player

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

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

Disclosure: Doctor Esker’s Notebook 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.)

Exit: The Game – The Sinister Mansion [Review]

7th Guest?

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 11, 2018

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

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: $12

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos

REA Reaction

The Sinister Mansion was an imaginative installment in the Exit: The Game series.

As a fan of the series, I liked this game and absolutely recommend it to other fans of the series.

The Sinister Mansion box, depicts a grandfather clock and stairway of a large mansion.

At the same time, I feel that it is emblematic of two problems with Exit: The Game at large:

  • The structure is too predictable.
  • It isn’t refined and playtested enough.

Although the creators of Exit: The Game have done a lot within their structure in The Sinister Mansion, it still feels a little too much like past games. All too often, we found ourselves wishing that the game flowed a little better.

I like this series a lot and I enjoyed The Sinister Mansion. Nevertheless, I wish that they’d slow down a little, put out fewer games, and make sure that each one is refined and unique.

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the Exit: The Game system
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  •  Some good interactions and puzzles
  • This installment of Exit: The Game added some interesting twists within the format
  • The price

Story

We were invited as guests to a mansion, but upon our arrival, we realized that our host had locked us in and we had to puzzle our way out.

An assortment of game components, an answer disk, a booklet, a map, and 3 decks of cards.

Setup

Exit: The Game is a cardstock and paper-based tabletop escape room series that is only playable once. The act of finishing the game destroys some of the components.

All current editions of Exit: The Game operate in the same structure that we explained in detail back in our first review of the series. Instead of rehashing it, you can click through if you’re unfamiliar with the series:

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s The Sinister Mansion was a standard, destructible play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ There were quite a few interesting, creative, and tangible interactions in The Sinister Mansion. In general, this was a good puzzle game.

➕/➖ The Sinister Mansion contained one of my favorite puzzles of the Exit: The Game series. Unfortunately, I also felt like this puzzle needed a bit more clue structure folded into it.  

➖ In general, I found myself wanting a little more clue structure in The Sinister Mansion. There were a few times where our team was confused as to which components went together.

➕ The hint cards were well defined and productive.

➖ Aesthetically, The Sinister Mansion was disjointed. While most of the components and art seemed to strive for a regal, old-money aesthetic, some of the components looked like they came from a game set in a preschool.

➖ The Sinister Mansion looked and felt like too many of the series’ previous games. Shortly after playing it, I was mixing it up with other installments in the series.

➕ At $12 for an hour’s entertainment for 2 or 3 people, there’s good value here.

➕ The creators of Exit: The Game continue to find ways to put new twists on their game, without substantially changing the structure or components. While I think that the series is due for a little bit of a shakeup, I truly respect how much they squeeze out of the components that they have.

Tips For Player

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: pencil, paper, scissors

Buy your copy of EXIT: The Game’s The Sinister Mansion, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Thames & Kosmos provided a sample for review. 

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

Unlock! – The Tonipal’s Treasure [Review]

H-arrrrr-d pass matey. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 11, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $14

Publisher: Asmodee

REA Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

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

Story

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

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

Setup

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

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

In-game: The Prison cell layout.

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

Analysis

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

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

➖ Entirely too many puzzles required a logic leap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Player

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

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

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a sample for review. 

Deadbolt Mystery Society – The Cabin [Review]

Murder on a film set of a murder. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 11, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $22.50 per month

REA Reaction

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

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  •  Solid puzzles
  • Regular publication

Story

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

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

The box of The Cabin.

Setup

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

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

In-game: an assortment of puzzle papers.

Gameplay

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

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

Analysis

➕ The Cabin contained a lot of great puzzle content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Player

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

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

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

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

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

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game [Review]

Arguably the finest mullet that the 80s had to offer.

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 2018

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

Duration: five 60-minute chapters

Price: $30

Publisher: Pressman

REA Reaction

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game was created by the folks behind the ThinkFun games Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor and Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat. As fans of those games (particularly Stargazer’s), we were psyched to see a 5-part, licensed MacGyver escape game from the same creative team. MacGyver was a natural and an exciting character to adapt into an escape room game.

In MacGyver: The Escape Room Game, we found an uneven jumble of great ideas and missed opportunities. In this puzzle-focused game,  we uncovered some wonderful puzzles and other obtuse ones that relied on unusual quirks. 

MacGyver The Escape Room Game box, featuring a photo of MacGyver.

There were fixable bugs in the software that prevented us from playing as we had intended. (Out of the gate, this diminished our trust in the game.) 

There was a lot to enjoy, but a little more polish and a greater emphasis on the MacGyvering over purely puzzling would have made this into a must-buy.

In its current state, it’s worth playing for tabletop escape game fans, but I can’t recommend that MacGyver fans pick this up as their first exposure to escape games (tabletop or real life). I really wanted to love this one. 

The chapter 2 Airplane's case, features a cockpit and a depressurizing plane with panicking passengers.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Value – There are 5 hour-long games in this box
  • Some really creative and fun puzzles

Story

Each chapter took MacGyver, the secret agent who is opposed to violence, on a unique mission. We had to use our problem-solving skills to hack our way through the following places:

  1. Underground Lab
  2. The Airplane
  3. The Factory 
  4. Missile Silo
  5. The Grand Finale

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game  featured the original 1985 Richard Dean Anderson version of MacGyver. 

All 5 chapter envelopes along with the utility bag.

Setup

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game’s 5 chapters were standalone missions that required us to play them in sequential order. In each game we acquired items to store in our “utility bag” until we needed them for a future mission.

Each chapter followed a similar structure: 

The assorted contents of the chapter 1, Underground Lab includes: 4 smaller colored envelopes, a mirror, and a sticker sealed mission.
  • We went to the [URL] and started the chapter. 
  • We received a mission file sealed with red and green stickers along with multiple sealed envelopes. 
  • We read the materials presented to us, solved the puzzle, and entered the solution into the website (or used the website to take a hint before solving).
  • The website told tell us which sticker or envelope to unseal next. 
  • Repeated until finished.
  • At the end of the chapter, we stored whatever item the game suggested we might need in the future in our utility bag. 
In-game: MacGyver's utility bag.

Gameplay

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game was a typical tabletop escape room with a variable level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling, interpreting the intention behind the puzzle, and figuring out how to input the solution into the website. 

Chapter 2, The Airplane's assorted contents.

Analysis

➕ MacGyver was a great hook. The box art was direct and eye-catching. The concept of a MacGyver escape game was natural and rational. This is the kind of intellectual property that should be adapted into escape games; it serves all involved.

➕/➖ The materials and print quality were solid. The product generally looked good… except for some hokey imagery. 

In-game: Close-up image of MacGyver looking at a computer.

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game was gated fantastically. At each stage of the game, we focused our attention on a limited number of elements. Even if we couldn’t solve the puzzle, we were always confident that we were looking in the correct place.

➕/➖ The puzzles were a mixed bag. A lot of them felt great to solve and advanced the game’s narrative. Some felt too opaque, as if some of the clues that should have been discoverable in the puzzles themselves were tucked away within the hint system.

➖ As we played through all 5 missions, we encountered a lot of puzzle constructions that mirrored each other.

➖ Too often, MacGyver: The Escape Room Game opened without a proper on-ramp. Many chapters’ initial puzzles frustrated us and prevented us from building momentum and confidence in the game’s systems before cranking up the difficulty. More often than not, we struggled to get started, but had an easier time beyond that point.

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game took many typographic liberties that made it difficult to get the answer, even when we had the correct solution. Our feelings on this varied – by player, typographical choice, and puzzle.

➕Each chapter presented one more involved layered or logic puzzle. This helped balance the missions.

➖ We encountered many bugs in the digital hint system. The hints that were taller than one monitor length would not scroll on our Macs (it worked fine on iOS). This was an unacceptable bug… but it is solvable. 

The chapter one envelope has a green fluid and erlenmeyer flask.

➖ Our least favorite installment was the second chapter. We almost quit after this one because of the demoralizing confluence of an early aggressive aha puzzle, janky mechanics, and software bugs. I am glad that we didn’t quit because later missions improved greatly.

➕ We enjoyed the fifth and final mission most. Some of this may have been because it put a greater emphasis on the puzzles and because by then we had a strong sense of how this game wanted to be played. That said, even the final mission had one late-game quirk that frustrated us. It ultimately justified itself (but only after I looked up a MacGyver character).

➕ I liked the continuity of the Utility Bag. It allowed the game to build on itself a little, without forcing us to backtrack through a ton of materials. 

In-game: Image of MacGyver looking at a a candy vending machine.

❓ I’ve seen a few episodes of MacGyver, but I’m not well versed on the show. We played a few missions with true fans and they all had the same impression: with rare exceptions, it didn’t feel like we were MacGyvering our way through the game. It felt like we were puzzling through a tabletop escape game. This is fine if you’re looking for a tabletop escape game. I’m not certain that it will scratch the itch that MacGyver fans are looking for. 

Tips For Visiting

  • Space Requirements: a small table or floor space
  • Required Gear: An internet-connected device, preferably a phone or tablet. We ran into bugs on our laptop. 

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

Disclosure: Pressman 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.)

Exit The Game – The Sunken Treasure [Review]

SCUBA puzzle adventure!

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 11, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $10

Publisher: KOSMOS

REA Reaction

One small change can greatly impact how a game feels. The Sunken Treasure had entirely linear gameplay. This departure from Exit The Game’s semi-linear approach to tabletop escape game design created a smooth and calm puzzling experience. I found it pleasurable. 

We never wondered whether we were working on the right puzzle, or one where we had all of the components. We knocked out the challenges as The Sunken Treasure served them up. This enabled us to focus on the story and play with confidence.

While linearity worked well here, this isn’t an endorsement of linear play-at-home gameplay across the board. As with most design decisions, it’s situational.

The Sunken Treasure is one of the easiest Exit The Game installments that we’ve encountered. This didn’t bother us at all; we rather enjoyed the calmer seas. 

If you’re a fan of Exit The Game, this is one of the must-play chapters. If you’ve never played before, this should be your first. 

Sunken Treasure's box art features a sunken tall ship.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Smooth linear gameplay
  • Tangible puzzles
  • An approachable difficulty curve

Story

We set off in search of the legendary treasure of the Santa Maria. You’ll be shocked to learn that we did, in fact, find it .

The sunken treasure journal, decoder wheel, and an assortment of small components.

Setup

The Sunken Treasure followed the same destructible paper-puzzle structure that I explained in our first batch of Exit The Game reviews, but with one significant difference. For the sake of brevity, you can read about the structure in our original review: 

Unlike in the others, however, the gameplay in The Sunken Treasure was entirely linear. It presented the puzzles one at a time. Solving each one advanced the story and provided us another complete puzzle. This small change significantly – and in my opinion, positively – impacted the play. 

An old gold coin and 6 gems of different colors.

Gameplay

Exit The Game’s The Sunken Treasure was a linear play-at-home escape game with an approachable level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Stacks of riddle, answer, and help cards.

Analysis

➕ The linear gameplay removed ambiguity. This was the first Exit The Game that we’ve played where we never found ourselves attempting to solve a puzzle before we had all its components. We never once missed that added challenge. 

➕ As the story progressed, the puzzles ramped up along a comfortable difficulty curve. 

➕ With one exception the puzzles felt fair and solved cleanly. 

➖ One puzzle had us in the weeds trying to figure out what we were supposed to see. In the end we got the correct answer for the wrong reason. We never would have even noticed if I didn’t make a habit of checking the hint cards at the end of each puzzle to verify that we had approached it properly. 

An assortment of help cards.

➖ While we didn’t really need it, the hinting wasn’t granular enough. Should you need a hint on one of the more complex puzzles, you’re likely going to get more of a push than you’ll want or need. Exit the Game could smooth this over by adding a few extra hint cards to the more complex puzzles. 

➕ We adored the tangible interactions in The Sunken Treasure. They exceeded my expectations, based on my experience with previous Exit The Game tangible puzzles. 👍

❓ This felt like the easiest Exit The Game that we’ve played to date. I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I liked it. Your feelings may differ on this subject. 

Tips For Playing

  • Space Requirements: minimal, a small table or floorspace will suffice
  • Required Gear: paper, pencil, and scissors.

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

Disclosure: KOSMOS provided a sample for review. 

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