Room-in-a-box, Oct 2019
For those who enjoy lining up all their Exit games in a neat little line of matching boxes on the shelf, it will have come as bad news that Catacombs of Horror is a double-size game, packaged in an outsized box that completely fails to match the others. The trials of rampant OCD aside, an extended game caters well to the growing numbers of enthusiasts who are only too happy to spend several hours working through puzzles.
If you prefer your games in smaller chunks, I should point out that Catacombs has a midway pause point, so you can more or less play it as two separate Exit games; although the continuity of story and puzzle items makes it well suited for playing through in a single binge.
That reference to story may be surprising if you’ve played other games in the range, since in Exit games the setting tends to be little more than a paper-thin layer of theming. And story remains lightweight in Catacombs, but it goes further in providing a narrative than does the rest of the series.
Puzzles in Exit games are normally based around a deck of cards and a booklet of illustrations. Catacombs follows the usual template, but extends it with a considerable miscellany of additional bits and pieces that make it clear why they went with a larger box. Puzzle flow is entirely linear, though that may not be immediately obvious, since Exit do their usual thing of giving you some cards and items that aren’t used until a later stage, such that sometimes the hard part is working out which puzzle you’re in a position to solve.
I heartily dislike the need to destroy Exit’s games as I play them, and with varying amounts of effort, frustration and tracing paper I’ve managed to get through pretty much all their games without inflicting the intended destruction. One component in Catacombs however is utterly impossible to solve in a re-usable way. But it is only one component, and solving it doesn’t render the rest of the game unplayable; it just means future players would bypass a small step.
In each of their games Exit include one or two puzzles that break the rules in some way, or make players think outside the box. That’s emphatically the case in Catacombs as well. Your mileage may vary, but I felt here they consistently managed to do that without crossing the line to being unfair – including with the couple of puzzles that completely stumped me until I took a hint. More than that, it seemed like the designers had been saving up several of their favourite puzzle ideas for this bumper sized game, and used the opportunity to do a couple of things that the usual smaller format didn’t allow for.
Exit’s brand of escape games has a very clearly defined style and Catacombs follows it unswervingly; if you don’t like their other games, you’re unlikely to enjoy this one either. However, it’s absolutely the extended, deluxe, premium option in their range. It’s much like other Exit games but writ large – bigger, longer, and, at least towards the end of the game, with more challenging puzzles that involve more moving pieces. The final step in particular is remarkable for the number of different elements you need to bring together to get the solution, and yet manages to be both fair and satisfying. While this game delivers more of the same, it also delivers more of the same; and for that reason I think I’d pick it as my favourite of the series to date.