Liverpool, Sep 2018
Breakout’s Wanted game is highly unusual in that it’s actually two entirely different games set in the same physical space. There is some separation, and our gamemaster instructed us that everything beyond a particular barrier was irrelevant. To avoid confusion, all locks in the Indian game are black and all locks in the Cowboys game are red. In practice this worked fine, with zero confusion about whether something was part of our game or not – although we did cast a few wistful glances towards the interesting-looking items in the Cowboys-only section of the room. Perhaps that’s the curse of an enthusiast, that it’s painful to see a puzzle and be denied the chance to attempt it.
The cheerfully clichéd Wild West setting has all the trappings you’d expect, plus a few you might not – there are plenty of anachronisms, including plastic slabs used instead of paper clues. The latter are common since several of Wanted’s puzzles rely on clues presented as messages from a previous escapee (or a contact from your tribe on the outside? I wasn’t sure). For the most part those worked well enough, though the game’s stronger moments are those where it’s more a matter of working out how you can physically manipulate your environment.
Since most puzzles resolve to a padlock code, you might expect that you’d end up trying each code in a number of locks. In fact they’ve managed to avoid this, by using a wide variety of different padlock types and sequencing them so that you’re never faced with more than two of a particular type at once. However, it instead suffers from a subtler pitfall, at least for any teams prone to overthinking: with a sizeable quantity of written material, it’s easy to get sucked into looking for anything that might be a four digit number or a prominent five letter word, and wasting time trying everything speculatively in padlocks.
You could argue that that’s a problem with players overthinking not with the game, except that a couple of the actual codes are found in more or less exactly that way, so I think the game could draw a clearer line between useful codes and flavour text. And while most of the puzzles resolved clearly enough, one that we needed a hint for turned out to be something we might have tried in desperation, but not with confidence.
I also disliked the game’s climactic puzzle, which combines multiple pieces of information in such a way that a careless team could end up spending a lot of time checking and re-checking, or giving up on the correct approach due to a simple calculation error. Balanced against that is a pleasing use of physical space, and the way you can measure your progress by how many of a particular set of locks still remain to be open.
Breakout’s games tend to be on the easy side for experienced teams, but this version of Wanted is rated as the venue’s most challenging. A little too much of that challenge comes from weaknesses on the puzzle design, but even so, it’s a bit more substantial than some of their other games and so is not a bad choice if you’re choosing a game here.