We don’t typically announce or promote crowdfunding campaigns without playing and reviewing a nearly finished prototype. However, today we are making an exception. We believe in this group of creators, and want to support this cause. We hope you feel the same way.
Team size: 2-4; we recommend 1-2 kids and at least one adult
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Dig It Up! Crack the Crate– A Dragon’s World was a strong kid-focused tabletop escape game that was unique for its inclusion of three “magic” orbs/ eggs (i.e. diggable clods of clay containing clues). Depending on your perspective, this integration with Mindware’s Dig It Up! product line either enhanced or interrupted the game. Kids throughout my house raved about the orbs and chiseled with an uncharacteristic persistence, eager to earn their prizes. Adults weren’t as enthralled, mostly because the diggable objects awkwardly disrupted progress for sizable chunks of time, sidelining the majority of our team.
Aside from the divisive issue of magic orbs, the puzzling was the star of this game, with nine entertaining puzzles that were remarkably well constructed for young players. These puzzles won’t challenge experienced players, but I still felt genuine admiration for how they combined interesting objects, motivating scenarios, and simple interactions to engage us.
The overarching story was a bit convoluted, stretching to justify some of the orbs. Even so, the themes of magic and dragons persisted throughout every aspect of the game and gave sufficient coherence to the experience.
This would be a lovely game for experienced puzzlers to play with their younger apprentices. Kids will be able to do most of it on their own, and they’ll love the gimmicks. More experienced players will appreciate much of the design and wish things like this existed when they were kids.
At this point, everyone has a long list of things that they missed out on in 2020. As a board game enthusiast, one item on my list was PAX Unplugged. PAX, formerly Penny Arcade Expo (named for the webcomic created by the founders of the event), is a series of conventions focusing on gaming of all types. PAX Unplugged is the version of the event that focuses on analog gaming: board games, tabletop role playing games, and miniature games to name just a few. As an attendee in both 2018 and 2019, I was understandably disappointed when the 2020 version of the con was canceled. Thankfully, PAX was able to bring back Unplugged for 2021 and I made the trip to Philadelphia for it.
What Was There
As might be expected, I spent my three days at PAX with a keen eye towards anything that looked like a tabletop escape game.
Thames & Kosmos, maker of the Exit the Game series of card-based tabletop escape games, had a booth displaying Exit games as well as many of their other products.
There was a lone and seemingly random stack of printed company information sheets for Hunt A Killer. They had no physical presence that I saw, and the stack of papers wasn’t even in the expo hall.
While there was not a major presence from the typical escape-style games that we have been playing and reviewing, there were plenty of other tabletop games to be excited about. With a growing tendency for enthusiasts to look towards playing rooms that tell a good story, I also kept an eye out for board games that did the same thing. Two mechanics stand out as exemplifying a growing desire for story in games: legacy and storytelling.
Legacy games are long format and designed to be played over multiple sessions. Decisions that are made in one round change what will happen in future rounds. Currently 3 of the top 10 spots on the overall rankings on BoardGameGeek.com are tagged as having the legacy mechanic.
The legacy game that hyped me up the most at PAX this year was Isla Nublar. Fans of amazing dinosaur movies will recognize that name as the island on which some of the Jurassic Park films take place. Isla Nublar will let players collaboratively build a park from the ground up, breed dinosaurs, and probably have to find a way to stop the rampaging dinosaurs that you have bred. Plus, you’ll be taking on the roles of actual characters like John Hammond, Dr. Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm.
The Storytelling Mechanic
The storytelling mechanic also places story at the center of the game by making it an essential element that players interact with. The game currently holding the #1 overall spot on BoardGameGeek.com is a massive game that has storytelling as a tagged mechanic. There can be significant overlap between the legacy and storytelling mechanics, but storytelling games always have a heavy focus on the narrative. Some legacy games – like Risk Legacy – are more concerned with shaping the rules of the game as you play.
At PAX, I found myself drawn to Plaid Hat Games’ Familiar Tales. In this game, players take on the role of magical creatures guiding a young princess through her life, helping her develop her skills and personality. Decisions made by the players influence the type of person the princess turns out to be, and change the way the story develops over time.
Unrelated to those mechanics, my big takeaways were Night Cage and Omega Virus. Night Cage is an atmospheric, monochromatic, cooperative game about escaping a labyrinth full of darkness and some monsters. Omega Virus originally released in 1992 and is slated to see a rebirth thanks to the efforts at Restoration Games. I had the original version way back when, and I’m excited to see what the eventual update and re-release has to offer.
What Wasn’t There
I was hopeful that I would see some escape-adjacent games that were new to me. But many of the games we’ve reviewed come from 3 major areas:
3) Major publishers for whom escape content is a small fraction of their business (ThinkFun and Mattel and the above-mentioned Thames & Kosmos).
With the costs of travel, lodging, and a booth, is it reasonable to expect that small producers will be able to exhibit their wares at an event like PAX Unplugged? I’ve heard enough escape room owners discuss a distinct lack of free time due to running their businesses to understand that it is likely out of the question for them to attend a convention like this. But both the creators of boxed escape games and the more standard board game community at large would benefit from increased crossover. I know as a board gamer I am always interested in playing new styles of games and learning new mechanics. I see no reason why there wouldn’t be a subset of tabletop gamers that would appreciate being exposed to an escape-room style boxed game.
Perhaps there is a space for small publishers to group up and share a booth for the common good? The core concept worked in the indie video game world; the Indie Mega Booth was almost exactly this for small digital producers. They had a booth at 25+ conventions over the last decade, helping to get small developers space on the all-important expo floor. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Indie Mega Booth is currently in a ‘hibernation’ phase pending an end to the pandemic. Even so, could some effort like this be possible for tabletop escape games?
Just Being There
Games and such aside, I can’t overstate just how nice it was to be somewhere that I hadn’t been since before, you know, all this stuff happened. It didn’t feel “normal” with the masks and the reduced footprint and the vaccine-verifying wristband, but it sure felt close to normal. The convention felt populated but not packed, with enough breathing room and elbow space to make me feel comfortable in this new era of being much more conscious of nearby people and all their inhaling and exhaling. I was able to talk with strangers about shared interests. I heard dozens of pitches for games and accessories. I went to seminars and panel discussions. I interacted with strangers!
Maybe most importantly, I met up with friends! PAX Unplugged 2021 was a miniature Room Escape Artist meetup almost entirely accidentally. Of course, we were easily identified in the crowd thanks to us all wearing RECON swag throughout the weekend. I hadn’t seen my friends in the real world in years. Maybe it’s a bit cliché, but seeing these people was a major highlight of the weekend.
I’d like to give a big thanks to PAX for the media credentials, and allowing me to feel like I was a part of the community again. I look forward to the next convention, and then the next convention after that. I hope you do, too. See you in Boston this August?
Price: £30.00 per episode or £168.00 from the 6-episode season
The Detective Society’s The Sudden Silence of Timothy LeeEpisode 1 provided solid observation and deduction-based solving, typical of the tabletop mystery genre. This was enhanced by strong and outlandish humor across all the materials, both printed and web-based.
We enjoyed our introduction to The Detective Society’s second 6-episode season, The Sudden Silence of Timothy Lee, but not enough to order the subsequent 5 boxes. It felt like this is a product that plenty of people will love, but it wasn’t made for us. We really liked what they are doing, but wanted more out of the writing.
Nothing about Episode 1 got us invested in any of these characters or their plights. Thus, we found ourselves satisfied by a light puzzle quest, but not craving a resolution to warrant more episodes. In tabletop games that are a longer commitment, I need to feel that connection; otherwise I buy them and they collect dust.
We recommend The Sudden Silence of Timothy Lee to those who enjoy solving mysteries, especially with humor to lighten the inherent sobriety of the genre.
Who is this for?
Players who like a bit of humor in their puzzling
Any experience level
It’s a light, puzzle-driven serialized detective story
Timothy Lee, a seemingly healthy man, had fallen into a mysterious coma. Suspecting foul play, his doctor had hired us to investigate. We had to retrace his footsteps to learn what had caused his illness.
Duration: 90 minutes (longer with a smaller or less experienced group)
Blackbrim: 1876 was a straightforward tabletop puzzle game with elegant black-and-white print design to compliment its paper-based play.
Puzzling Pursuits put together a well-constructed game, with strong on-boarding, and an easy-to-follow 2-act structure, each act culminating in a meta puzzle.
The weakest part of this game was the story, which was bland rather than bad. It was also concise, which kept it from feeling onerous.
Overall, this is a solid product for newer puzzlers. The puzzles were well constructed and the hint system supported the game well. Puzzling Pursuits executed well on Blackbrim: 1876. It didn’t push any boundaries, but it didn’t have to.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
A solid, approachable collection of puzzles
The two portfolio cases that hold each act were really satisfying to open
It was Victorian England and a criminal mastermind had captured the entire London police force. It fell to us to solve the perpetrator’s clues and find the hostages.