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.)