Room-in-a-box, Jan 2017
Stargazer’s Manor is the second ThinkFun boxed escape room we played, but is the first one they released, since in a fit of anarchic rebellion we decided to play them in reverse order.
Many of the comments on their other game apply here too, of course. It’s inevitably lower energy and less of a buzz than a real escape room, since it involves less movement and no searching. While the game text is well written, it’s up to you to create the atmosphere, and it’s well worth choosing suitable music, dimming the lights a little, and reading the flavour text with as much gusto as possible.
Lingering dramatically over the text and dimming the lights will slow you down of course. But any experienced escapers will power through this game with little danger of hitting the time limit. As with their other game, the instructions suggest 2 hours for smaller groups or 1.5 hours for larger groups, and having reached an initial ending you’re told to reset the timer to 30 minutes for an optional extension puzzle. We played as a group of three, and completed everything in just over half an hour.
Two players would be fine; more than four would definitely be too crowded, since the puzzle sequence is fairly linear and the components on the small side. The puzzles are very well designed, though – varied, creative and in keeping with the theme. The game’s solution wheel mechanism for verifying answers means that all puzzles must resolve to a set of four symbols, each associated with a different colour, and despite that restriction each puzzle is distinctive. The strongest moment for me was one section that involves physical construction, which I’d have loved to see them go further with. Against that, one important puzzle does suffer from the flaw that each of the four parts of its solution is discovered independently, meaning it’d be easy to brute-force the last part of you were stuck.
The physical puzzles of ThinkFun’s other game are absent here, which is one factor in why we found this one significantly easier. The other factor is I think a familiarity effect. Having played one ThinkFun game, it’s faster to solve a second one that uses the same format. For that reason, for anyone intending to play both games, I’d recommend following publication order and starting with Stargazer’s Manor, since Dr. Gravely is slightly trickier and introduces novel mechanisms.
Personally I found the storyline for Stargazer’s Manor less engaging than the darker plot of Dr. Gravely. Between that and the easy difficulty level, it ended up feeling like quite a slight experience. What was there was very good, but I was surprised and a little disappointed that it ended as quickly as it did.
It still represents very good value for money, particularly since it can be repacked and passed on to other players, but as an experience it’s better for beginners, or perhaps as a warm-up for a group before a normal game.