Room-in-a-box, Jul 2017
Paper Escapes (vol 1) is something I discovered through the magic of Amazon’s recommendation engine. It looked like a book, but also has ‘ESCAPE ROOM Experience at Home’ emblazoned on the cover, so obviously I had to give it a go. It wasn’t clear how a book could possibly provide any kind of escape game experience, but before I played Unlock! I wouldn’t have believed that a deck of cards could manage it either.
The book turns out to consist of ten puzzles. Each is presented as a page, with a facing page providing space to scribble notes, and the subsequent pair of pages giving a printed hint plus a QR code and URL to look up the solution on the internet. What that doesn’t give you is a way to verify each answer as you go, which while solving it I thought was a design flaw – but the final puzzle provides a mechanism to verify your earlier answers, so in fact that’s reasonable. The hints, if you choose to look at them along the way, also act as a verification mechanism for most of the puzzles, by providing reassurance that you were thinking along the right lines.
While working through the book my impression of the puzzles was that some of them were, to varying degrees, ambiguous or contained misleading elements. Having solved them and looking back, I’m now more or less satisfied that that’s not the case. I’m writing this review while another couple of my usual escape room teammates attempt the book, and can see them largely following the same dead-end ideas that I tried, so the puzzles are certainly open to a variety of interpretations. But in each case, the correct solution fits neatly and robustly, and all alternative solutions fail to work. With both of the two puzzles where we had two possible answers written down, the more obvious one turned out to be correct; and in any case the final puzzle would have flagged up any previous wrong answers.
Once all puzzles are solved, there’s a final QR code which takes you to a website to enter the answer to the final puzzle for verification. Since solving the final puzzle requires all the previous answers, that also verifies the rest of the book at the same time.
The big let-down here is that this is a long way from anything I’d call an escape game. It’s a set of ten puzzles which you can attempt on your own or as a pair (the book states that it’s for 1-2 people, and any more than that would be a stretch), with a suggested 60 minute time limit that seems included purely to increase the resemblance to an escape room. Each of the puzzles is something that could conceivably be found in an escape room, but collected together they do not add up to anything that feels like a proper game. Oh, and a minority of the puzzles are also destructive, such that the book can only be used once unless you take pains to avoid marking it.
If the idea of a book of puzzles appeals to you, go buy Journal29 instead: it uses a similar but more sophisticated format, six times as many puzzles, and a vastly higher standard of variety and creativity. There’s no review for that on this site since it makes no claim to be an escape game; and I’d say this book has no business claiming to be one either.
This is a nice little intro to casual puzzling. It’s nothing to write home about, nor is it awful. Writing “Escape Room” on the front was a bit of a strategic error. There’s no theming, no story and no escape – just some okay puzzles to play against the clock. This is a puzzle book… unless… maybe… just perhaps the story really gets going in Volume 2? I guess we’ll never know.