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.)

Deckscape – Heist in Venice [Review]

Don’t shuffle in this casino.

Location: at home

Date Played: September 15, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $10 per box

REA Reaction

Heist in Venice delivered fast-paced gameplay through aha puzzles. In one moment we were trying to figure out what was going on; in the next moment we’d solved that puzzle and moved on to the next one. That frenetic gameplay mixed with a the casino-heist theme and some unexpected plot twists created a fun at-home escape room.

We found Deckscape’s penalty system frustrating. A few puzzles felt either deliberately obtuse or accidentally underdeveloped… which was also how we felt about the previous two installments from Deckscape.

Over all, we recommend Heist in VeniceWe found it slightly less interesting than Deckscape’s Test Time, and a lot better than The Fate of London. We look forward to Deckscape’s next edition.

The box for Deckscape Heist in Venice.

Who is this for?

  • Families
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Story seekers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Lots of puzzles
  • Some inventive puzzles
  • Low price

Story

A mysterious stranger had blackmailed our retired heist crew into one final job. We had been summoned to Venice, Italy and forced to break into a casino vault to steal a €1,000,000,000 poker chip.

The start of the game deck, and a piece of paper that reads, "The plan of the heist in Venice, open this only when instructed to."

Setup

Heist in Venice followed Deckscape’s card-based and puzzle-centric gameplay, a structure established with their earlier games. We solved cards sequentially until the game instructed us to split the deck into multiple piles where each pile could be solved concurrently.

Playing Deckscape games doesn’t require players to write on or damage any components.

We detailed the structure in our previous Deckscape review:

Deckscape – Test Time & The Fate of London [Product Review]

Gameplay

Deckscape’s Heist in Venice was a puzzle-centric tabletop escape game with a varied level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling and making connections.

Mid-game, assorted cards are revealed on the table.

Analysis

+ The mix of puzzles was fairly varied. Heist in Venice included inventive puzzles.

– Like with the previous Deckscape games, we found a couple of puzzles to be unfair.

+ Deckscape games tell a cohesive story. Heist in Venice followed suit.

+ Heist in Venice delivered playful art, story, and gameplay. The gameplay never felt dire; it didn’t take itself too seriously. Even the challenging puzzles felt approachable.

– As with the previous games, the penalty system felt punitive. It diminished the fun of the experience. There were a few gotcha moments that made us roll our eyes. Had we taken them seriously, they would have pissed us off.

+ There was a structured, self-service hint system with 1 hint for each puzzle. This worked for A Heist in Venice because most of the puzzles were aha puzzles. Normally I’d like to see more granularity in a hint system, but the 1-hint system felt fine for this game.

– Heist in Venice presented us with a blind choice; I wasn’t impressed with the pay off. This choice created a clash between the setup of the game and its conclusion.

Two character cards, one for a mentalist codenamed Houdini, the other a burgler codenamed Passepartout.

+/- The character cards added an interesting twist and an unusual way to handle the problem of outside knowledge. Some of these interactions felt great; some seemed more flimsy.

+ The climax was amusing… and completely unexpected.

+ It’s easy to reset Heist in Venice to share it with other players. Nothing gets destroyed while playing. Resetting only requires stacking the cards in numerical order.

Tips for Playing

  • Make sure that your deck is in sequential order and all cards are present before starting (especially if you’re playing with a secondhand copy).
  • Don’t take the penalty system too seriously; you’ll have a more fun.

Purchase your copy of Deckscape’s Heist in Venice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Exit: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express [Review]

“My name is Achilles Pussot and I am probably the second greatest detective in the world.”

Location: at home

Date Played: September 13, 2018

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

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: $15 per box

REA Reaction

As a fan of the Exit: The Game series, Dead Man on the Orient Express has been one of my favorite installments. I enjoyed the puzzles and the way the difficulty mounted to an especially challenging final puzzle. This game deviated from some of the predictability of the past games.

At the same time, Dead Man on the Orient Express will not change anyone’s opinions on the series… and I’m hoping the creators will break more significantly from their patterns.

If you’re a fan of Exit: The Game, this is a must-buy. It’s one of their stronger installments. If you don’t like the series already, take a pass. If you’ve never played, I’d suggest getting started on one of their earlier games, as this one is tough.

Game box for Dead Man on the Orient Express, depicts a spilled wine glass in a fancy train compartment.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Logic puzzlers
  • Players with at least some experience with the Exit: The Game series

Why play?

  • Some of the cleverest puzzles we’ve seen from Exit: The Game
  • A fair difficulty curve
  • A higher level of difficulty

Story

Based not so loosely on the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient ExpressDead Man on the Orient Express cast us in the role of world-famous detective, Achilles Pussot. A man had been killed on the train and there were eight suspects. We needed to identify the killer before the train reached its destination in Constantinople.

The riddle cards, answer cards, and help cards decks.

Setup

Dead Man on the Orient Express was structurally identical to all of the previous Exit: The Game installments that we have reviewed.

This was a paper-based game with a booklet, a few decks of cards, a solution wheel, and a pair of card stock “strange items.”

Exit: The Game installments are destructible. I’m sure it would be possible to preserve the game for replay by other players, but I don’t think it would be worth the effort.

For a more in-depth explanation of the game mechanics of the Exit: The Game series, give our original review a read:

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

Gameplay

Exit: The Game’s Dead Man on the Orient Express was a typical play-at-home escape game with a murder mystery twist.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, detailed observation, deduction, and puzzling.

The notebook of Achilles Pussot, an answer wheel, and three train compartment components.

Analysis

+ The puzzles in Dead Man on the Orient Express were generally satisfying. They had a comfortable difficulty curve and became pretty challenging.

+ This game captured the Agatha Christie murder mystery vibe while keeping the gameplay firmly in puzzle-game territory. We were puzzlers, not detectives.

– Because so much of the game was in a booklet, the gameplay bottlenecked. The cabin cards and puzzle cards helped to distribute the gameplay, but the booklet still boxed players out of the fun. (Teams of 1 or 2 people won’t have this issue.)

? The final logic puzzle was especially challenging. We were impressed with the twist on traditional logic puzzling cluing. This puzzle also required an attention to detail that exceeded the level of commitment that we were mentally prepared for. If you haven’t paid attention throughout the entire gameplay, this will be brutal. In our opinion, this was the most complicated puzzle that we’ve seen from the series. Whether this is great or terrible is up to you.

– The final puzzle hinged on some details that were a little too difficult to perceive with confidence. This was on-theme for the material, but also felt a little unfair.

+ The art and style of Dead Man on the Orient Express was consistent and elegant.

– Speaking as a fan of the Exit: The Game series, I respect that they deviate slightly from their formula in each game. With 9 installments in-market, however, I find myself wishing that they would change things up a lot more.

+ The hint system was useful and predictable. I would like a bit more granularity, but Exit: The Game’s hint system is still the most comprehensive of the multi-installment series released by large game publishers.

Tips for Playing

  • You have to destroy the components to play this game. Embrace it.
  • The train cabin components are double sided. Be aware of that.
  • The final puzzle was, in our opinion, the toughest puzzle in the Exit: The Game series. Take that one seriously.

Pickup your copy of Exit: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express, 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.)

Cypher House Escape – Murder at the Paisley’s [Review]

Dinner & a murder

Location: at home

Date Played: September 15, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $29.99

REA Reaction

Murder at the Paisley’s brought a light-hearted murder dinner puzzle game to our dining room table. While largely paper-based, it incorporated some tangible prop-based interactions and offered more puzzle depth than many other at-home escape rooms.

Visually, Murder at the Paisley’s wasn’t all that purdy, but this was more than made up for in gameplay quality.

If you’re looking for a small-group tabletop escape room, we recommend Murder at the Paisley’s.

Murder at the Paisley's box opened, revealing a party invitation and character envelopes.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Interesting puzzles
  • Tabletop escape game meets mystery dinner structure
  • Approachable and family-friendly

Story

The Paisley family loved entertaining friends and neighbors on their large farm. We were visiting for dinner when one of the Paisleys was found dead. We had to solve the murder mystery.

Character envelopes for Mathew O'Dean, head of the farmer's union, and Julie Nanda crop market salesperson.

Setup

Murder at the Paisley’s arrived in a cardboard box containing a collection of sealed envelopes and some printed materials. We logged into their web interface, where we would receive additional audio context and submit solutions.

The materials of the game were clearly handmade, mostly out of paper, with a creative use of cotton balls, and some farm-related toys thrown in for more tangible interactions.

The coversheet for part 2, features an image of a farm.

Gameplay

Cypher House Escape’s Murder at the Paisley’s was a tabletop escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Each player received a character envelope with some special items, secret information, and character traits for groups that want to roleplay throughout the game. (We didn’t roleplay.)

Murder at the Paisley’s played out in two parts: a warm-up dinner party puzzle followed by a more in-depth puzzle investigation. There was a scheduled intermission between the two stages should the organizer want to actually serve dinner.

The puzzles were largely paper-based, but included the occasional more tangible components.

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

Puzzle components including tiles with animal feed, little plastic farm animals, and farm maps.

Analysis

+ We enjoyed the structure: We played a warmup puzzle to get to know the mechanics and the characters. We had the option to break for dinner. Then the real mystery unraveled.

Murder at the Paisley’s offered a lot of puzzle content.

+ The puzzles took standard concepts, but offered unique twists. The clue structure was clear and the puzzles solved cleanly.

+ The puzzles were thematically appropriate.

– At times, the puzzle components didn’t fit together as neatly as they should. Cypher House Escape could use tighter tolerances when designing interrelated components.

+ The tchotchkes mattered. They were part of the puzzles.

– The puzzles were not narrative-driven. They didn’t really make sense in the context of solving the murder.

– While the gameplay was high quality, aesthetically Murder at the Paisley’s felt homemade and unrefined when compared with many of their competitors.

+ All instructional and background content was available to read or listen to. We could choose or do both.

+ Cypher House Escape merged tabletop escape game with murder mystery dinner, giving us each a role in the staging and additional knowledge that would come into play later as clue structure.

– Although we liked the character concept, it could use refinement. The secret information felt a bit hokey. If you play with more than 4 players, you’ll find the characters to be unbalanced. A couple of them seemed like filler content.

+ This was an adorable, family-friendly murder mystery.

Tips for Playing

  • Keep track of your solutions on the sheet provided.
  • It was easier to use a computer than a phone for the website interactions, but Murder at the Paisley’s could be played with either.
  • There is a built-in pause for dinner, should you choose to make an evening of the game.

Purchase your copy of Cypher House Escape’s Murder at the Paisley’s, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cypher House Escape sent us a complimentary reviewer’s copy of this game.

Enigma Emporium – Wish You Were Here [Review]

A good thing in a small package.

Location: at home

Date Played: September 6, 2018

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

Duration: 2-3 hours

Price: $12 for Kickstarter backers in the US, $15 for international backers

REA Reaction

Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here took us by surprise. Although the small package of five postcards initially seemed unimpressive, as we began to solve it, we realized how much love and care went into cramming these cards with quality puzzle content. It felt like there was always another thing to solve on the cards.

While some of the puzzles turned a little too process-focused in order to have us extract more narrative, most of this game revolved around ah-ha moments.

If you’re into puzzles, we wholeheartedly recommend backing Enigma Emporium on Kickstarter. We eagerly await their next product.

The Enigma Emporium envelope and a UN postcard.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level (experienced puzzlers will have a significant advantage)

Why play?

  • Puzzle quality
  • Puzzle density
  • Low price

Story

We received five encoded postcards from a fugitive accused of stealing a valuable piece of art. We had to peel back the layers of obfuscation from his messages to solve the mystery of his crimes.

The assortment of Enigma Emporium cards and the envelope.

Setting

The entire mystery was presented on five 6 x 4 inch postcards. Each card had a distinctive theme and contained a slew of puzzles.

The cards looked like postcards that you’d expect to find in any tourist trap… with some puzzley additions.

There were some additional discoverable materials and a structured hint system, all available via a web browser.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here played like a mini puzzle hunt. It had a high level of difficulty relative to most tabletop escape games… but a low degree of difficulty relative to puzzle hunts.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ I’m still shocked by how much puzzle play Enigma Emporium crammed into 5 standard postcards. They made just about everything matter.

+ The puzzle quality was generally stellar. We liked some more than others, but overall, the consistency was impressive.

+ Each card had a consistent theme and vibe.

+ The US Presidents postcard contained a brilliant cipher.

– The literature postcard dragged relative to the rest of the game.

+/- We pulled a fair amount of cohesive story from these puzzles. That said, if you’re the type of player who seeks narrative, this story won’t surprise anyone.

Earth Shaking Story Spoiler

He’s not really a bad guy. I know… it’s shocking.

[collapse]

– After an aha moment, some of these puzzles turned into hefty process puzzles to facilitate the extraction of story.

+ The structured hint system was easy to use and generally helpful.

– One puzzle didn’t seem like a puzzle… it just seemed faded and broken. We ended up circumventing it, and only realized the right way to solve it after we finished the game and dug into the hint system.

? Outside of the hint system, the game didn’t really provide a means of verifying answers and checking progression as we went. We always knew when we had a puzzle solved because it resolved cleanly… but we didn’t know if we had found everything that there was to solve on a card. Ultimately everything came together all at once at the end.

+ The solution submission process was a neat concept, even if it was a little cumbersome.

+ At $13, Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here is more than affordable.

Tips for Playing

  • You will need an internet-connected device. We recommend a computer, but a mobile device will work fine.
  • Keep yourself organized while solving this game. Details matter. You will have a lot of puzzle paths open at once and as you solve them, you’ll need to hang on to the solutions.

Back Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Update: The Kickstarter funded. Buy Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a copy for review.

iDventure – Unfinished Case of Holmes [Review]

Holmes could have solved this one.

Location: at home

Date Played: January, 2018

Team size: up to 5 people; we recommend 2

Duration: 90-120 minutes

Price: $20

REA Reaction

Unfinished Case of Holmes was a paper-based play-at-home puzzle game with a companion app that facilitated story, hint, and player progression.

While the app wasn’t fully translated into English and the hint system left something to be desired, this affordable game offered a variety of puzzles and some fun twists on more common puzzle types.

Unfinished Case of Holmes wasn’t a must-play, but if you’re into puzzle games, it would absolutely be worth a play through . Give this one a shot on a rainy day.

The Unfinished Case of HOLMES's components fanned out.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s affordable
  • Some interesting puzzles

Story

Sherlock Holmes had left this case unsolved. We stepped in to investigate a mysterious death.

In-game: A colorful Aboriginal mask over a text about the myth of the Rainbow Serpent.

Setup

Unfinished Case of Holmes included a collection of paper-based puzzles and an app interface.

In-game: An assortment of unusual items paper.

Gameplay

Unfinished Case of Holmes solved linearly, guided by an app.

For each puzzle, the app delivered narrative context and informed us which puzzle components to rely on. We could also take hints through the app. The puzzles came together through the printed components we’d received in the mail.

In-game: A folder with a piece of paper with a matrix of clock faces, and an envelope labeled, "Level 3."

Analysis

+ iDventure printed on quality paper stock.

+ Each individual component was deliberately designed.

+ There was a good variety of interesting and challenging puzzles. Although primarily paper based, iDventure created interactive pieces. Unfinished Case of Holmes didn’t feel like homework worksheets.

+ The puzzles offered more depth than we’ve come to expect from paper-based play-at-home games. We appreciated the layered challenges that we could sink our teeth into, but still solve, as a series, in one play through.

– Although the puzzles were complex, if we got far enough, the solutions were brute-forceable. We could narrow down possible solutions and guess a few times until we found the right answer. (The app punished hints, but not incorrect guesses.)

– The punitive hint system wasn’t adaptive enough. At one point, we needed to take three hints before we received any helpful information. (The first two only gave us information we’d already deduced.) The app deducted time for each of these three hints, which felt unnecessarily punitive, especially since we’d figured so much out on our own.

– Some of the app’s interface had not been translated into English (which isn’t an issue if you read German).

Unfinished Case of Holmes was an affordable, worthy opponent.

Tips for Playing

  • For the Amazon version, iDventure sells two modes for Unfinished Case of Holmes: Expert and Standard. According to their website, “expert mode is with less tips and suitable for people with more experience with Escape Room games.”
  • iDventure also offers a downloadable version that requires more set up time.
  • We played the Amazon version in Expert mode.
  • For any version, you will need to download the app (available for IOS and Android) and have an internet connection.

Purchase iDventure’s Unfinished Case of Holmes, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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