Room-in-a-box, Aug 2018
Each year brings a new crop of titles from the EXIT line of boxed escape games, a reliably polished product that faithfully follows their established format while managing to feel fresh and free from recycled puzzle ideas. The latest batch of boxes includes a couple that are rated at 2/5 difficulty, lower than any of their previous games, perhaps as an attempt to broaden their appeal to less hard-core puzzle enthusiasts. Sunken Treasure is one of those two, and is indeed noticeably easier than their others – except when it’s not.
The major innovation in Sunken Treasure is that it’s much more explicitly linear. As with previous releases, you have a booklet of clues plus a set of puzzle cards giving additional information and instructions, and you may look at puzzle cards only when instructed to. In their other games you can look through all pages of the booklet from the outset, and you often receive puzzle cards that are for later stages. As a result, working out whether you had enough information to solve a puzzle or not added significantly to the game’s difficulty. Here, you’re instructed to only look at a couple of the booklet pages at a time. For most of the game, you have exactly one puzzle at a time to work on, and you can be confident you have all the information you need to solve it. Once you’ve solved that one, you then proceed to the next pages and receive the puzzle cards relevant to that one.
This is a welcome change, particularly for a game that’s sold as an easier option, and makes me much more likely to recommend it to people who haven’t tried play-at-home escape games before. And most of Sunken Treasure’s puzzles are indeed beginner level, which makes it less interesting for players who like a challenge, but a great introductory product.
However, that’s seriously undermined by a small number of significantly harder steps. The most egregious is one that, if it were less of a sudden difficulty spike, would be the game’s coolest moment, and I suspect the designers found it too irresistible an idea to leave out. But it’s such a jump from the very simple puzzles that precede it, made worse by a hint that seemed to encourage close examination of the illustrations instead of the lateral thinking that was actually needed.
A couple of other points also gave us difficulty, although in one case that was mainly due to us trying to play without destroying the components. The other was probably fine for anyone who manages to avoid overthinking it or jumping to the conclusion that it involves outside knowledge.
I ended up with a harsher impression of it than the game deserves – it’s mostly a very nice entry-level addition to the series, and two steps in particular made imaginative and charming use of the sea theme. It remains difficult to know exactly what audience it would work for – most experienced players will find 80% of it too simple, and beginners may be put off by the much harder 20%. But if it doesn’t cause too much frustration to have to resort to the game’s hint cards to get past the trickier spots, then this is a decent introduction to the EXIT games.