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. 

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.)

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.)

Unlock! – The Adventures of Oz [Review]

There’s no place like home.

Location: at home

Date Played: May 26, 2018

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

Duration: 90 minutes*

Price: $14.99 per ticket

REA Reaction

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

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

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

Story

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

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

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

Setup

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

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

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

Character Cards

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

The Dorothy and Toto character card.

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

World Map

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

Magic Mirror

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

Story Focus

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

Gameplay

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

+ The Magic Mirror was an inspired and versatile prop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Playing

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

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

Disclosure: Full disclosure: Asmodee sent us a complementary reviewer’s copy of this game.

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