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.)

The Gray Matter Sodality [Review]

Piece of mind.

Location: at home

Date Played: August 7, 2018

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

Duration:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25 for each monthly installment with a month-to-month subscription, $63 for a 3-month subscription, $114 for a 6-month subscription, $204 for an annual subscription

REA Reaction

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly subscription puzzle game. Each monthly package had us solving a single layered puzzle in search of a segment of Albert Einstein’s brain (not kidding).

The story was as humorous as it was clever. The narrow puzzling was kind of refreshing… when it worked well. Unfortunately, The Gray Matter Sodality was hamstrung by issues with puzzle ambiguity, requirements for unusual gear, and an aggressively high price tag.

In-game: A pencil, plastic brain, GMS notebook, map, and a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players seeking a limited and focused puzzle experience
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fantastic setup
  • Narrow, focused puzzling

Story

When Albert Einstein passed away in 1955, pathologist Thomas Harvey extracted the brain of history’s most famous physicist without permission. Harvey ultimately persuaded Einstein’s son Hans Albert to allow him to keep the brain, under the condition that it would be used for scientific research. After decades of keeping the brain in a jar, Harvey dissected Einstein’s brain into 240 blocks and 1,000 microscopic slides, distributing them to researchers around the world. (This is a true story, by the way.)

We were recruited by an international organization dedicated to reclaiming and reassembling the scattered pieces of Einstein’s deconstructed gray matter.

In-game: A deck of playing cards and a pair of dice on top of a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Setup

The Gray Matter Sodality sent us monthly envelopes with a letter and some clues to find the location of a piece of Al’s brain. (This review is based on a sample of 3 installments.)

Each envelope contained a few pieces of paper and a key prop like a deck of cards or a cassette.

We also frequently needed to find or acquire other items to solve some of these puzzles.

When we solved the episode’s puzzle, we submitted the solution (the location of the brain fragment) to a website to confirm and complete the challenge.

Gameplay

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly mailing with one layered puzzle per envelope. The level of difficulty and time commitment to solve varied broadly across episodes.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and finding the right tools to solve a challenge.

Analysis

+ Turning the real life story of the dissection and dissemination of Albert Einstein’s brain into the basis for an episodic puzzle game was &%^*ing inspired. It’s one of those ideas where I am confident that there will be many other creators wishing that they had come up with it.

+ We really appreciated the focused nature of The Gray Matter Sodality. After playing some massive multi-month subscription games with multi-hour playtimes, backtracking, and lots of information to parse, it was relaxing to open up a small package, find a few items, and know that they all tied to a single puzzle.

The Gray Matter Sodality‘s puzzles had a few layers, so while each installment may have been one puzzle, there was some depth.

– The need for some unusual gear ranged from annoying to infuriating. We were able to get around some of this via free iPhone apps, but one required the real thing…

Spoiler - The infuriating gear...

I’ve gotta vent…

It wasn’t just the gear, but how it was presented.

We needed a cassette player. In 2018. A cassette player. A cassette player.

In-game: a cassette take labeled

Setting aside that we needed a piece of technology that was far more than two decades past being useful for most people, the presentation of this cassette was ill conceived.

When we flipped the cassette we found a label with shortened URL that sent us to a Spotify playlist. When we found that playlist we thought, “Brilliant! It’s a cassette, but the contents are on Spotify. What a clever workaround.”

Then we realized that the playlist was far longer than the capacity of a cassette and so we reached out to the hint system… which confirmed that we needed to listen to the cassette. These were two different threads of the same puzzle, not an inspired workaround.

So I set out to find a cassette player; it was not particularly easy.

David's Facebook post with a poop emoji background asking,

Unsurprisingly, most of our friends and family didn’t have a cassette player. Eventually we got one from Lisa’s aunt who works in radio.

[collapse]

– Some of the cluing felt incomplete. After we solved the main challenge of one puzzle, we spent 15 minutes guessing because there was a shocking amount of ambiguity in deriving the actual solution.

+ The month 7 cards & dice puzzle was really clever.

? The production value was fine. Nothing terrible, but nothing special or visually impactful.

– The variability of commitment was too broad. We solved one of these episodes in less than 10 minutes, another in about 25 minutes… but a lot of it was filling in a cluing gap, and the last one took about an hour. The expectation setting wasn’t great.

+/- There wasn’t a self-service hint system. Despite this drawback, we received prompt email responses to any hint requests (even when we used a friend’s email address.) We don’t know how well this will work for people in diverse time zones.

The Gray Matter Sodality was too expensive. There wasn’t a lot to it. It was mostly printer paper, toner, and postage. Personally, I find it difficult to justify $25 for a 10-minute puzzle. The production value and puzzle quality didn’t do anything to help justify the price tag. Even the $17 per package (if you subscribe for a year) seems a bit steep based on the three episodes that we played.

+ After speaking to someone who has subscribed to more episodes from The Gray Matter Sodality, I’ve heard that there is at least one better puzzle in another mailing that we didn’t receive. I’m glad to hear that there’s a bit more depth.

Tips for Playing

  • The mailings are not fully self-contained. You will need to buy or find additional equipment to solve some of these puzzles.
  • Because the installments are focused, The Gray Matter Sodality is really only a 1-2 person activity.

Order your subscription to The Gray Matter Sodality, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gray Matter Sodality provided a complementary reviewer’s sample of three mailings.

Unlock! – Tombstone Express [Review]

Off the rails.

Location: at home

Date Played: August 4, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $14.99

REA Reaction

Unlock! is branching out and experimenting with the tabletop escape game format. In their most recent batch, this has had mixed results ranging from the fantastic Adventures of Oz to the interesting yet confounding Noside StoryTombstone Express took even more risks and pushed the boundaries of what Unlock! can offer… and it went off the rails.

The puzzling was weak and infrequent. We had access to so many cards at once that it was tough to have any idea of what was going on, let alone what was important.

The creators of Unlock! were playing with a lot of interesting ideas, but they didn’t come together cohesively. Play Tombstone Express because it’s experimental and unusual. If that doesn’t interest you, then you can comfortably skip this episode in the series.

Unlock! Tombstone Express's box, with a beautiful locomotive in an old west scene.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • People who are open to experimental narrative tabletop gaming
  • Players who really love the Unlock! series
  • Best for players with at least some experience with the Unlock! series

Why play?

  • Narrative-driven gameplay
  • It’s different and unique

Story

The year was 1890 and we had to protect a US marshal bearing a precious gem that could seal a peace treaty with the Apache nation. Our train was an hour away from our destination in Tombstone, Arizona.

In-game: An intro card explaiing the story, two decks of cards, 6 card stock bullets, and 5 bits of gray card stock.

Setup

The basic game mechanics of Tombstone Express were functionally identical to the earlier Unlock! games that we reviewed. Those mechanics are described in detail in our earlier review:

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

The key difference in Tombstone Express was that it focused heavily on narrative, with the app time-releasing events, and the core game mechanics being used more to facilitate narrative than puzzle play.

Gameplay

Unlock!’s Tombstone Express was an unusual tabletop escape room with a high level of difficulty. Much of the challenge stemmed from wrangling all of the Unlock! rules along with the massive number of active cards.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, managing cards, and puzzling.

Analysis

+ The folks behind Unlock! have made an interesting decision to morph the series away from pure escape room style play and use the series to tell stories.

Tombstone Express put an interesting spin on the red card + blue card game mechanic.

– Tombstone Express rapidly descended into madness. We quickly reached a point where we had more than 20 cards in play, which was paralyzing. There was too much going on.

– With so many cards in play, the Unlock! hint system, which wasn’t amazing under the best of conditions, became almost useless. It turned into a guessing game as to which cards were even relevant to take a hint on.

– As Unlock! introduces more features, I wish that they would do a better job of setting expectations and explaining new ideas in the intro or tutorial. Their old tutorial doesn’t cut it for the newer, more narrative-driven games.

– Unlock!’s penalty system continued to feel random and punitive.

+ Using the app to time-release events was a creative twist that made the software feel relevant and important.

A desperado card with a card stock base knocked over by a card stock bullet.
We had to stand these desperado cards up with a little base and throw paper bullets at them to knock them over.

– Some of these time released events were annoying time wasters… and the bullet game mechanic was pretty lame.

– There weren’t many puzzles; the puzzles that were present were weak.

+ Case-solving was a nifty endgame.

– Deriving the correct solution wasn’t necessarily a given. We only got one guess. If we screwed up, we automatically failed, ending the game immediately. There was no way to see the correct solution or the proper case deduction without replaying the entire game. It was a pretty sour ending.

+ Tombstone Express had beautiful card art.

Tips for Visiting

  • 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 Tombstone Express, 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.)

Cryptogram Puzzle Post [Review]

That art!

Location: at home

Date Played: Spring-Summer 2018

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

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ minutes

Price: £7.50 per single issue, £20.00 per seasonal (three issues) subscription, £70.00 per annual (twelve issues) subscription. International shipping is available.

REA Reaction

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was an art-and-puzzle hybrid that delivered a story in monthly installments. While it was made of only paper and ink, it never lacked for narrative, aesthetic, or puzzle depth.

Due to its linear nature and lack of self-service hint system, when it stalled, there was no graceful way to make any forward progress. The puzzle content was uneven, but when it was on, it was magical.

We give away or throw away all of the play-at-home games that come our way. I am absolutely keeping everything we’ve received from Cryptogram Puzzle Post. It’s so beautiful that I may frame it all.

The back of one of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post envelopes. Sealed and with the illustration of a letter emerging from an envelope.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Art connoisseurs
  • Occultists
  • Players with at least some puzzle experience

Why play?

  • The illustrations are bonkers
  • Some of the puzzles are fantastic
  • The presentation

Story

This monthly subscription followed the cryptic and epic journey of the mysterious protagonist Anna on her journey thorough witchcraft, alchemy, and the arcane.

Three incredibly intricate and beautifully illustrated Cryptogram Puzzle Post envelopes.

Setup

Each monthly installment told Anna’s tale through:

  • magnificent illustrations
  • a poem to set the tone
  • a musical playlist to establish the mood
  • a bit of prose to present the story
  • puzzles to take us on the journey

Each mailing came in a beautifully illustrated envelope (which was not part of the puzzle) and 8 sheets of paper. The first sheet contained the poem, playlist, and a bit of explanation, none of which played into the puzzle.

From there, we tackled each of the 7 puzzle pages sequentially. The answer from one page fed into the puzzle on the following page until we reached the conclusion of the installment.

The first page of a Cryptogram Puzzle Post laying on an open envelope with a beautiful illustration.

Gameplay

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was an at-home puzzle game with a variable level of difficulty from mailing to mailing and puzzle to puzzle. The challenges ranged from straightforward to complicated.

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

The first puzzle page for one month of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post.

Analysis

+ I’m going to keep raving about the illustrations on the envelopes because they are so damn beautiful.

+ When the puzzles flowed, they flowed really well.

– When the puzzles didn’t flow, Cryptogram Puzzle Post ground to a halt.

– There seemed to be no rhyme, reason, or indicator for the difficulty. We would have appreciated a more deliberate difficulty curve.

– While we could request a hint PDF and an answers PDF, Cryptogram Puzzle Post really needed a structured, self-service hint system. When we got really stuck, I had to stop puzzling, look at the PDFs and then essentially gamemaster the experience for Lisa and our friends.

– One month was printed in yellow ink… and it basically made the content invisible. We found ourselves shining a blacklight on the pages to better reveal the content.

Cryptogram Puzzle Post was really creative with the puzzles, especially considering that everything was purely paper and fairly limited in size.

+ I am not much of a poetry person (humorous haiku notwithstanding), but I enjoyed the tone set by the poems at the start of each package. Similarly, the playlists were an unnecessary, but welcome addition.

+ While the components were all paper, we felt good about the price and value of these mailings because they were so beautifully created.

Tips for Playing

  • The paper is thin. Be careful erasing.

Subscribe to Cryptogram Puzzle Post, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Cryptogram Puzzle Post sent us a complimentary season of this game.

Dispatch by Breakout – On the Run, Box 7 [Review]

Sweet victory

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 7 wrapped up the On the Run series. It had some solid puzzles and a satisfying conclusion. Yet again, we were thwarted by a website form inconsistency that soured our experience. Given a bit of distance, we’re pleased with the variety in the series and the story we unraveled through the boxes.

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 conclusion of the saga
  • Chocolate

Story

Dispatch by Breakout concluded in Box 7 with a visit to the land of chocolate and dubious banking: Switzerland. This final chapter closed out the On The Run story arc and resolved all of the major storylines that we had explored over the past seven months.

While this was the end of the line for On The Run, it was not the conclusion of Dispatch by Breakout. A new standalone two-box story follows it.

Chocolate resting atop an envelope from the Bailey Detective Company.

Setup

Our Swiss conclusion to On The Run was loaded similarly to the previous boxes, with a collection of documents and one unusual item: a bar of chocolate.

Gameplay

Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run Box 7 played similarly to the previous box, opening with a run of puzzles that gave way to a series of game-concluding deductions.

Analysis

+ The puzzles played well.

+ The deductions felt justified, even if some of them seemed like they came crashing back into the story from the setup seven months ago.

– Like the first box, there was yet another Instagram account that felt phoned in.

+ The story of On the Run resolved cleanly.

– I hit yet another snag inputting a name into a web form. This false negative left me spinning for an hour and reevaluating my read on the case, until I gave up and asked a friend who had already finished the box. He pointed out that I had it right all along. The frustration and lost momentum that this caused was unnecessary and killed the otherwise positive mood.

+ The chocolate was a lovely prize for having completed the On The Run gauntlet. The escape room community often debates about what makes for a good prize for winning teams. While I don’t think that a prize is necessary in escape rooms… I wouldn’t mind an industry standard based around chocolate.

A final thought: Overall, On The Run has been a shaky, but generally improving, series of boxes. I’m looking forward to seeing where Breakout takes this series. I hope that they clean up their digital inputs and add a structured self-service hint system. Slack just isn’t cutting it. If they can continue to tell a compelling story and figure out how to make sure that their games don’t needlessly dead-end, then I will keep coming back for more.

Tips for Playing

  • Items from the previous boxes were required for solving On the Run, Box 7.

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.)

Unlock! – A Noside Story [Review]

Clown around.

Location: at home

Date Played: June 8, 2018

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $14.99

REA Reaction

A Noside Story was funny, playful, and chaotic. In this installment of Unlock!, anything could happen. This made the story interesting, but the gameplay confounding. While anything seemed plausible, each puzzle ultimately resolved to a specific, if outlandish, solution. There was a lot to love in this game, but it was entirely too frustrating.

If you love Unlock!, give it a shot. Everyone else can comfortably take a pass on this episode.

Unlock - A Noside Story box features the evil clown holding a ray gun.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Detailed and amusing card art
  • A silly and creative story
  • A handful of good puzzles

Story

A Noside Story was a direct sequel to one of the first Unlock! games, the superhero story Squeek & Sausage. A smoke had covered the town, emanating from notorious Noside’s lair. It was up to us to once again put a stop to this villainous clown’s evil plans.

In-game: The top card of the game deck says "Do not flip over without permission! A Noside Story. Press Start to Start."

Setup

A Noside Story was functionally identical to the first batch of Unlock! games. For a detailed breakdown of the series’ core mechanics, give my review of the original three games a read through:

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

Gameplay

Unlock!’s A Noside Story was an at-home escape room with a high level of difficulty. Much of the difficulty stemmed from the silliness of the story and in-game interactions. Added challenge came from managing the Unlock! game mechanics.

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

In-game: Noside Lair card surrounded by the 6 cards for items found around the lair.

Analysis

+ Unlock! consistently nails illustration. Each game has a distinctive and beautiful look. A Noside Story was no exception.

+ I respect the fantastical elements of A Noside Story. Paper-based tabletop games don’t need to be constrained by physical reality. I appreciate seeing a game explore that idea.

In-game: Three cards one featuring a dog, another Noside's front door, and the last is a cow modified with a funny glass brain helmet.

+/- A Noside Story was funny and playful. It made us do unusual and silly things. While this was entertaining, the silliness produced a lot of logic leaps and scenarios where any solution seemed plausible.

– The hidden penalty cards punished us for being incorrect. This seemed particularly unfair in a game where many correct solutions seemed just as possible as the incorrect ones we’d guessed.

+ There were a handful of great puzzles. One puzzle mixed card play with the app to produce something especially sweet.

A Noside Story was rated a 1 of 3 in difficulty. I’m struggling to tell why it was less difficult than Adventures in Oz. It followed a more typical Unlock! structure, but the logic of this installment was far more challenging.

– One of the hallmarks of the Unlock! series has been the fact that players do not destroy anything in the process of play. In A Noside Story, however, we had to destroy one of the cards to solve a puzzle. It would be possible to solve this puzzle non-destructively, but that wasn’t the intent. Destructable elements can be a lot of fun, but this interaction was a boring and unnecessary deviation from what we’ve come to expect from Unlock!

– The hidden numbers in Unlock! continue to be the bane of this entire play system. It was even worse in A Noside Story because there was a number on a card that was part of a puzzle… but corresponded to another card in the deck. We were not supposed to take the card.

Tips for Playing

  • While the Unlock! series is generally replayable, this particular episode had a destructible component.
  • 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 A Noside Story, 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.)

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.)