Room-in-a-box, Mar 2017
The Exit range of boxed escape games by KOSMOS were previously only available in German, and have finally been released for English audiences.
Like the ThinkFun games, the game uses a code-wheel mechanism. Each puzzle in the game is marked with a symbol, and on the code-wheel you can align a three-digit or three-colour code and thereby check if you have the correct answer. With ThinkFun that was used as a verification check, with success granting you permission to open the next package, here it gives you a number. You then find the appropriate card in a deck of Answer Cards. That card gives you a picture of the ten locks in the game, and selecting the right one refers you to a second Answer Card, which – if you’ve got the answer right – rewards you with the next set of clues.
That might sound unnecessarily complicated, but in practice this two-step process is easy enough and pretty ingenious. Any code you try leads through to an answer card – but incorrect codes inevitably resolve to a dead-end card with a big red ‘X’. And since the second step references a visual of the lock, you need to know what you’re trying to open. That matters, and means you can believe you’ve worked out a code without having the right lock to input it into.
Clues are provided via a journal of hints, available from the beginning, and a deck of Riddle Cards which become available a few at a time as you progress. A few provide illustrations of the cabin in which you’re trapped or of objects within it, allowing puzzles and clues based on the game environment.
That adds a nice bit of immersion into the story. Unfortunately, there’s very little else that helps build the plot. The game background is that you’ve been locked in a cabin in the woods by a maniac who has set a series of locks and riddles for you, and while that provides a convenient explanation for otherwise incongruous puzzles, it’s a thin excuse for a mostly unrelated collection of problems. Two of the puzzles in fact involve deliberate breaking of the fourth wall; of those two, we found one annoying and the other to be the highlight of the game. Of the rest, although it’s an unfair comparison I thought some parts felt a little too close to sitting down with a puzzle book bought from the local newsagent.
There are certainly several sections that are more physical and hands-on. Most of these are destructive of the game components. Naturally, any escape room can only be played once. But most other room-in-a-box games can be repackaged and passed on to other players. The Exit range cannot, because the players are expected to mark, cut and destroy elements as they play. If you’re comfortable with that, this could even be an advantage – it’s the main way the game becomes more hands-on and physical. We decided to take the opposite approach and play without damaging any of the components. That is possible and means the game can be passed on to another team afterwards, but it makes the game somewhat harder and possibly a little less destructively entertaining.
The game difficulty ramps up smoothly as you play. Our experience was that we comfortably romped through the first half of the game, then started having more difficulty later, in particular when we faced clues for three separate puzzles, for some of which we were lacking critical clues – but without any clear indication (or, arguably, with misleading indications) as to which of the three was solvable on the information we had. However, the game comes with a deck of Help Cards that provide three-tier clues to each of the game puzzles, allowing control of how much help to receive should you get stuck. The instructions then include a scoring system based on time taken and number of hints used.
The components are high quality and the mechanism works well. It’s difficult enough and has enough content to provide a decent challenge. The story is a fig-leaf, but it provides a solid sixty(ish) minutes of puzzle solving, with some original ideas. As with other boxed escape games, I recommend no more than two or three players, and to play interruption-free and with atmospheric music to make it more of an experience. How much value for money you feel it is will depend on whether you prefer to pass games on after you play, and whether you avoid damaging the game while playing it so as to do so.