Room-in-a-box, Sep 2017
Of the various well-known ranges of home escape games out there, Escape Room The Game tends to win fewest fans. That’s partly because it’s relatively expensive, but also because of some dubious puzzles. So I can’t say I was anticipating their two expansion scenarios with unbridled enthusiasm. However, the first of them, Welcome to Funland, turned out to be better than any of the games in the base set.
Funland is not a stand-alone game – you need the ‘Chrono Decoder’ gadget from the base set. You also need an item from the Nuclear Countdown scenario, which I suppose is fair enough, though it smacks a little bit of penny-pinching that they ask players to use that instead of providing a new one, since it’s certainly not an expensive item.
The game format will be very familiar to anyone who’s played the original games. By solving an initial envelope of puzzles you identify the correct set of plastic keys to insert into the Chrono Decoder; if that confirms your solution is correct, you may open the second envelope. After three envelopes and three correct solutions you’ve won the game. Each incorrect solution attempted incurs a one minute penalty. Each envelope provides a grab-bag of disparate clues, mainly consisting of printed paper items which may need to be popped out of a printed sheet. Funland also repeats the idea of a play area, a large illustration of the location you’re trapped in which must be studied closely to discover clues.
The most glaring problem with the original four scenarios was a tendency for some of the puzzles to be tenuous and/or ambiguous. Additionally, each scenario only had three puzzles. Typically these broke down into multiple smaller puzzles that built up to the overall solution… but not always, and sometimes these turned out to be unsatisfyingly short.
Funland avoids both these problems. It still only has three puzzles, but all three of them involve multiple sub-steps. And the quality of pretty much all those sub-steps matches the best of the puzzles from previous scenarios. We needed to resort to the hint system for a couple of those, but in both cases instead of thinking it was an arbitrary leap we’d never have stumbled across, we liked the solution and kicked ourselves for not spotting it. The ambiguity problems did crop up at one point, but with a puzzle that was sufficiently original that it was easy to forgive.
The absence of the problems allowed me to appreciate the format’s strengths better. With each puzzle the challenge is first to work out what you’re supposed to do with the collection of apparently unrelated items, and how they might combine into a code for the decoder gadget, and when done well I find that a much more interesting style of game than one where the puzzles are signposted. And there are some impressively creative puzzle ideas used here too.
If you hated the original four scenarios then this one has enough similarities that you should probably skip it, and I couldn’t recommend buying the base game purely so as to play this. But if you already have the base game then this expansion is well worth trying even if the originals didn’t do a lot for you – this is what the first four games should have been.