Room-in-a-box, Feb 2018
There are a few other games available on a print and play basis, but Escape Team take that approach to perhaps its purest form. Where other printable games are best printed on card in colour, these are intended for printing in black and white on normal printer paper. These are also bite-size games, with each of the five missions having a time limit of between fifteen and thirty minutes.
The back-to-basics paper puzzles are supported by a simple but slick app. This provides a timer, a hint system and a verification mechanism, plus background audio and the story. All five missions, plus an initial training mission, form a linked narrative: there’s a lunatic who likes setting both bombs and puzzles, and if you can’t solve the latter he’ll detonate the former.
The puzzle structure is very consistent as well. Each mission has five stages. The answer to each stage is a five digit code. The actual puzzles are stand-alone with no link to each other or the story, but entering a correct code rewards you with a snippet of audio advancing the story. Entering a wrong code incurs a time penalty.
The print-out for a mission consists of four to six pages of clues. Most of these are clearly labelled to show which of the five phases the clue is for; sometimes a phase has clues scattered across multiple pages. We immediately took a divide-and-conquer approach that worked very well, since each phase can be tackled independently of the others. In fact, that approach worked almost too well, since each of us ended up seeing only half the game, with the rest having been completed before we got to it.
I saw little evidence that the phases are ordered for increasing difficulty, and in some missions we found the first phase to be the hardest. That was fine, but meant that by the time we were ready to input the first code we had all the others lined up and ready, and that meant we got the five story snippets in quick succession at the end instead of throughout the game. You might find the missions more dramatic if you restrict yourselves to working on the puzzles in order, without looking at the subsequent ones until you’ve completed the ones before it – though it’s harder to stick to that when a puzzle has its clues scattered across all pages.
Experienced escapers will recognise many of the puzzle ideas used. The weakest of these use classic puzzle types that you’d see in a puzzle magazine. Others make much more imaginative use of the format, and often involve cutting or folding the paper. Expect to spend plenty of time cutting out clues, perhaps more time than you spend actually solving the puzzles; at times it felt like we were in a slightly demented arts and crafts class, as paper fragments flew and we fought over the scissors.
I found it quite simple, both in its design and its difficulty, and let down in some small ways by its structure. Nonetheless, I had a great time playing it and eagerly continued on from one mission to the next until we’d done them all. Part of that was the novelty of destroying the components without care – where I find it painful to mark and tear and cut high quality game cards, I have no such reservations when the game consists of simple home-printed paper. Another part of the enjoyment was that the puzzles are not difficult, and it’s always satisfying to feel you’re blasting through a game way ahead of the benchmark.
Above all though the series is fantastic value for money. Each mission may be short, but if you like your escape games to be more substantial, you can play them back to back as a single game; and at £0.79 per episode it’s the price of a cup of coffee for the whole lot. At that price it’s a no-brainer.