Room-in-a-box, Dec 2017
In the ancient long-gone days of six months ago, back when an ‘escape room book’ was an entirely new concept to me, I tried the first Paper Escapes book and was unimpressed. It was therefore a good sign that its sequel has had a ground-up redesign. It has three times as many pages, but more importantly uses a completely different format which aims to be more of an ‘escape room’ experience, where its predecessor was essentially just a series of puzzles.
This time there’s a story. It’s pretty perfunctory: there was a tornado, you took shelter and now you’re trapped in a cellar. It’s not clear why the cellar is full of puzzles, but let’s not get stuck on minor details.
The first Paper Escapes book consisted of a series of puzzles which you could do in any order, with a final puzzle for verification. This one instead uses different pages to represent locations, puzzles and objects. You start with an initial range of four pages that you’re allowed to look at, each page showing one of the four walls of your location. Where the location includes an item or a puzzle, the text tells you which page to look at for those.
When you ‘find’ an object, the book directs you to a page with a picture of that object and instructs you to cut it out. Personally I dislike destroying games as I play them, but if that doesn’t bother you then this gives a nice sense of gathering an inventory of useful things as you go.
Puzzle pages prompt for a code, which you may be able to solve with the information on that page or which may need items and clues from other pages you’ve seen. Most puzzles provide the number which is the mathematical product of the code’s digits, as a simple verification mechanism. You might want to have a calculator to hand to do the sums involved in checking your answers, or conversely if you’re superhumanly good at factorising three-digit numbers in your head I suppose you might find this system gives too much away. (A few puzzles take a different approach and result in text instructions for what to do next, adding some variety.)
The puzzles are both more ‘escape room-y’ in style than in the first book and also refreshingly free of ambiguities and other such flaws. Those improvements come at the cost of reduced originality though, partly because several of the puzzles use ideas familiar from physical escape rooms. Playing solo I rattled through the book in under 30 mins, if you exclude time spent tracing and cutting out objects, and anyone who’s played a decent number of escape games should expect to find this pretty easy.
I like the new format a lot more than that of the previous book. It has downsides though: the need to use scissors and maybe a calculator detracts from the convenience and portability that are the big advantages of the other book-based games I’ve seen.
While it’s a definite improvement on its predecessor, I still found it a slightly disappointing product, and the main reason for that is that in many aspects it does an adequate job but nothing more. The puzzles are okay but a bit familiar and not particularly exciting or surprising; the narrative is the bare minimum; the ‘objects’ you find are mostly scraps of paper. Okay, obviously they’re going to be scraps of paper since they’re cut out from the pages of a black and white book, but they’re not scraps of paper illustrating pieces of equipment and other interesting items, they’re mostly just abstract shapes. Even given the limitations of the format, it’d be possible to go much further here with nice artwork, more interesting items to find, and a more engaging story.
The format it uses could be used for a considerably more impressive game. Perhaps Paper Escapes 3 will manage to be that; the current book is not, but still, it’s cheap and was decent fun to zoom through.