Room-in-a-box, Mar 2017
See the review of Exit’s Abandoned Cabin game for more information on the base game mechanism. Pharaoh’s Tomb is the third and last (for now) game available in the series, and follows closely the same template as the other two.
The code wheel for this game uses Egyptian hieroglyphics. There is of course a look-up between hieroglyphics and numbers provided early on, so puzzles resolve sometimes to a set of three numbers and sometimes to a set of three symbols. That’s still a little less variety than their Secret Lab game, which used colour, shape and number.
As with their other games, clues are provided via a slim notebook plus a deck of cards, with the notebook available from the outset and the cards becoming available a few at a time as the players solve the puzzles. And once again the story is little more than a flimsy excuse for a themed collection of puzzles.
At the risk of repeating comments from the other Exit reviews, this game has a couple of ideas that are disappointingly derivative, differing from a puzzle magazine mainly in that you receive the necessary clues piecemeal, but also some that are remarkably inventive and which really push the format further than you’d ever expect. Several are nonsensical in the context of the backstory, but never mind, if you’ve read the other reviews you’ll be aware that the Exit games are about the puzzles not the plot.
This game can be played without destroying components, but if anything that’s even trickier here than it was with the others. If you plan to try this, arm yourselves with plenty of notepaper and tracing paper beforehand, and expect to incur a time penalty. On the other hand, if you play it as intended and scribble on cards and journal pages as you go, beware: if you misunderstand how to solve a puzzle, you could deface it in the wrong way such that it’s subsequently difficult to complete correctly.
None of the Exit games are easy, and this is perhaps the toughest of the three. That’s partly from the most inventive sections of this game, where players need a moment of inspiration to progress. But it’s also partly because the game frequently supplies information for a puzzle in stages, such that at any given moment the team has a choice of puzzles to tackle, without a clear indication of which can actually be solved yet. Those who enjoy figuring that out will have a great time playing Pharaoh’s Tomb; we found it added unnecessary friction and at times threatened to turn the game into a bit of a slog. But if you find the same thing, the first level of hint for each puzzle tells you whether you have the materials needed to tackle it, so you have the option of taking more guidance there.
The game expands through multiple locations, illustrated attractively and well. It’s well-designed and at times ingenious, and is tough enough to provide at least an hour of solid entertainment, and quite possibly more.