The game starts off well, with a series of fairly simple but still satisfying puzzles, and we made quick progress through the first half of the game. I'm a sucker for laser-cut wooden puzzles, and there's some nice artefacts to handle and play with here (although the actual mechanic for which they're used is a little bit mundane), as well as another well-presented object. However, while the physical props are nice, the paper-based clues are just printed on value yellow paper, and in a "Comic Sans"-esque font...
The game took a distinct downhill turn at the meta puzzle stage towards the end, which just had too many unclued elements that could be combined in different ways, and just ended up with us spending half an hour or so guessing random combinations, completely destroying any flow that had built up. There was also some very dodgy text that could have done with some proof-checking/editing. There is a provided hint sheet, but it's tediously encoded, which added further frustration because it takes another couple of minutes to decode each hint, often only to tell us something we had already done (much like some real-life escape room games then!).
So, unfortunately, we left with a slightly sour taste and somewhat of a sense of relief that it was over rather than a jubliant celebration, which is a shame because with a bit more tweaking, this could have been really good.
Nuclear Countdown is the oldest of the escape rooms at CluedUp's Norwich location, and we played it having already enjoyed the others. It's fair to say that it's perhaps not as impressive as their other rooms; it takes place in a single, medium-sized room, and the decor is functional, but fairly plain. There is a section of the game that must be navigated by flashlight, but fortunately this does not continue for the whole game. The locks are mostly numeric, alpha, or directional combo locks, and the puzzles are fairly code and cipher-heavy. There's no Hollywood-style flashy moments.
That said, even though it might not have been considered state-of-the-art or stand out "wow!", there is still plenty to commend about this game:
- although there was only limited tech involved, what tech there was all worked flawlessly.
- the puzzles themselves were solid, and in-keeping with the theme: chemical formulas, locations of missile sites, access codes, that sort of thing. There was not a single puzzle that we felt was unfair, misleading, or out-of-place.
- Our GM was attentive and gave just the right level of nudge when needed
- There was some suitable background ambience music track which helped set the mood
- The room, lobby area, and entire building were well-sanitised, there was fresh air and hand sanitiser available throughout, and staff wore masks (as did we in those areas, but we removed them in the room itself)
So, all in all, still a very solid room, but if you only play one room in this location I'd probably recommend trying their Bank Heist or Prison Breakout rooms first.
This game is so unlike any other "escape room" I have ever played, it feels almost impossible to describe: it's somewhere between the T.V. shows "Knightmare" and "Fingermouse", but with songs from a camp rock opera, and puzzles from the Legend of Zelda. With puppets. On Acid.
If you like any of....:
Puppets, Improvised comedy, Computer adventure games, , Musicals, Puzzles, Quirky Edinburgh Festival shows, Model-making, Silly songs, Fingermouse / Doodle Do / Zig and Zag , Bad jokes, Lumino City, The Little Shop of Horrors, Surreal trippy children's TV of the 1970s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Live theatre, just sheer bloody-brilliant-I-can't-believe-some-folks-just-made-this-game-in-their-spare-bedroom-and-now-act-it-out-as-a-90-min-show-four-times-a-day...
...then just stop reading this now and book yourself in.
Among the many different models of "play-at-home" ER game that have emerged in the last year, the Pursuit of Red Beard's Treasure is the only one we've played that is a large-scale physical game delivered to your door (assuming you live in, or near Norfolk).
The hosts arrive at the location you choose (we played it in our garden, but I guess you could book them for any public location), and set up a very large pirate's chest and various other physical items, (all housed under a marquee in case of bad weather). They also stay on-site to act as gamesmasters/hint givers if required as you play, but otherwise stayed out of the way and let you get on with it. We played on a beautiful sunny day with two large families - four adults, six children aged between 8-15yrs old (and a dog!), and it was perfect for that sort of group - everyone could find something to do - and it was a novelty to be able to spread out outdoors while we played. The hosts were lovely, and stayed for a good chat afterwards and let you ask any questions about the game etc.
The puzzles are exactly what you'd expect from a pirate game - treasure maps, skull and crossbones, looking glasses, curses and sea monsters etc. And because this is an at-home game delivered in-person rather than through the post, there's some chunky artifacts and physical props to examine rather than just paper photocopies. It's basically comparable to many escape rooms, but they bring it to your house. There's no electronics, but there's still some satisfying purely mechanical tech as you interact with the chest and the items it contains. There wasn't any single particular item or puzzle that stood out as exceptional, but everything was solid and flowed together well, and all fitted well in the theme and narrative.
There was plenty of content, all of it family-friendly, and I think this would make an absolutely great activity for birthday parties or other family get-togethers where you want some entertainment that's a little bit out-of-the-ordinary, and where you want to accommodate 10+ players in a single game. Recommended.
I'd heard good things about the in-person version of this game but, if that's the case, I can only conclude that sadly it does not transition well to being online, because this was just confusing and frustrating... felt a bit like a point-and-click adventure that had been made during a 12hr game jam - the potential was there, but the user interface was awful, large parts felt unfinished (hotspots didn't work, graphics were low resolution and you could clearly see the camera in reflections in objects in the game etc.) and ultimately it just wasn't fun to play.
Played this game for my Dr Who-obsessed youngest son's birthday, and the only good thing I can say is that at least he had a good time. And, if you like Daleks, you *might* too. But not if you like escape rooms.
Almost all the puzzles are fundamentally broken - in one puzzle, the GM had to repeatedly ask *us* over the monitor system whether *we* had inserted the tubes in the correct order - as if they were asking us for a hint whether to press the button to activate the next section of the game or not. There are objects with designs that match other elements in the room, but apparently are only for "decorative effect". There are other elements of puzzles that apparently are only relevant if you play with a certain number of players, but they don't deactivate them if your team is of a different size, so there's no way to know whether they're used or not. Another puzzle has you "interacting" with an A.I. by literally asking it a series of about 20 arbitrary yes/no questions (waiting for about 5 seconds after each one to get a response). What a waste of an hour.
The Quest Pyramid is a laser-cut puzzlebox, resembling a great Egyptian pyramid. Despite only being slightly physically larger than a Cluebox, it is significantly heavier and somehow feels more imposing - more like a small tabletop game than a handheld game.
Completing the pyramid requires a sequential series of steps to be performed based on puzzles contained on all sides of the pyramid. No language or previous knowledge is required - and puzzles require mere observation, association, and mechanical interaction. I liked the thematic interpretation, but I failed to be gripped by the puzzles themselves - they were a little bit too simplistic, and unfortunately there simply wasn't enough content to make this stand as a full game in its own right - it's more of an intriguing tabletop curiosity.
The second Cluebox from IDventure is similar in form and style to the original, but with a new set of challenges that not only take place on the visible, exterior sides of the cube, but on its interior after disassembly as well.
As before, this is a charming item to hold and interact with, and retains a lot of character despite its mass-produced lasercut material. There's a range of language-free puzzles to solve, and satisfying simple mechanical interactions. My one criticism is in the bastardisation of a well-known cipher - which is both anachronistic to the story of a 18th century pirate, and also reassigns meaning to each of the symbols, which is unnecessarily confusing.
Still, there are relatively few other puzzleboxes in this price bracket, and it remains an excellent and novel choice for an at-home game.
Cluebox is the first of the current generation of mass-produced lasercut puzzleboxes, and it sets the standards by which all future games of this style should be judged. It's affordable, charming, satisying to hold and interact with, and not difficult (it's language-free, and almost exclusively depends only on observation and pattern-matching, with gentle manipulation of the various sliders contained on each side of the box). It doesn't last long, but it's worth every penny.
Not quite as good as Witchery Spell, but this still goes down as one of the top-5 standalone boxed puzzle games we've played. Great mix of puzzles, including some lovely "magic" set pieces, wrapped in a (surprisingly edgy, considering recent world events) engaging narrative. Only slight let-downs were a few minor QA issues (typos etc.), and a tiny bit of confusion in the gameflow towards the end, where we seemed to get lost as to what the active chain of puzzles should have been. Nonetheless, very, very good, and plenty to keep a group of adults entertained for a couple of hours.
Another really enjoyable, solid game from CluedUp. No fancy tech, no surprises, and no absolute "Wow!" moments, but just a really solid set of well-structured, satisfying puzzles.
GM was very attentive, and there was a nice bit of in-character scene-setting as the prison guard before we began our stay in HMP Norfolk. From there, the gameflow to achieve our escape was pretty flawless - and everything just *worked the way it should*.... I know that seems like an obvious thing to say, but I'm sure we've all had experiences that have been slightly soured by things that shouldn't have happened, and there was none of that here at all: No broken tech, no sticky directional locks, no need to arbitrarily spin the final digit of a lock, no faded UV ink, no "Well how the heck were we meant to work that out?!" moments. Just a satisfying continuous flow, and the padlocks fell to the floor with reassuring regaularity - we never felt lost, or stuck, or "cheated" by the game.
There was a slight anticlimax at the end, as we hadn't realised we'd solved the final puzzle (there were two puzzles still remaining in the room, but it turns out these were optional), but overally definitely recommended.
I admit it's hard to write an objective review right now, because it's hard to know how much enjoyment is due to just being able to play a real-life escape room for the first time in over a year, but this was just an absolute joy to play.
Well-structured, lots to do, and with a nice scoring system that meant that you don't just "escape" or "not" - rather you decide how much risk you're going to take by stealing as many valuables as you can from the bank vault, right up to the last minute before making your escape (we *just* got out with seconds to spare, but with a perfect score :) ). We played as a family with two adults and three kids (8yrs, 10yrs, and 13yrs), and there was something for everyone to do.
Attentive gamesmaster was on-hand to deliver hints if necessary, but doing so incurs him taking a cut of your earnings and therefore affecting your post-game score, which is a nice risk-reward mechanic. The theming for a "bank" scenario is not particularly tricky, but it was done nicely and utilised a range of suitable props and knowledge that you might expect to find.
The whole experience felt well-managed, very Covid-safe (hand sanitiser inside and outside the room, masks worn (although that actually helped with the "bank robber" theme...), some props placed in additional plastic wrapping), and was just an hour of thrilling puzzle-solving fun.
If I had to be critical, I'd say that the gameflow was fairly linear, so if you *did* get stuck on a puzzle, you might find it hard to proceed - but then, that's what the hint system is for.
The Balthazar Stone is nearly a great game, but unfortunately it gets lets down by a series of minor niggles in nearly every aspect so it's hard not to leave feeling frustrated, both as a player and on behalf of the creators that they didn't deliver the potential that the game clearly has.
Let's start with the good: the game centres around a physical box. Even though it's laser-cut plywood, it's a good size and weight and and it's beautifully-decorated. It feels interesting and satisfying to interact with. As you play through the game, you'll find various smaller artefacts - all above average quality, that would make nice souvenir pieces if you're the sort of person to display trophies of your game conquests, say. The puzzles are relatively solid, and there's an online hint system if you get stuck. The game is totally non-destructive, and there's also an excellently-clear guide as to how to reset the game and pass it on to someone else.
- There's a lack of clear signposting at one point near the start, which led us to spend 10 minutes trying to solve a puzzle without yet having been given all the materials required to do so. We then eventually decided to give up and consult the hints site, only to discover that the first online "clue" you can reveal is actually required to proceed in the game!
- One of the puzzles is either broken, or contains red herrings - it's a bit hard to say. But it certainly made us waste time solving things that turned out to have no relevance to the game.
- A part of the game requires internet access, but it's very thin webpage content, and does not make nearly as good use of the medium compared to similar games from Society of Curiosities or The Detective Society. The simplistic presentation of the online components also does not match the quality of the physical presentation of the box itself.
- Even though the story and puzzles were generally well-executed, there was nothing we hadn't seen before, and everything very much sticks to the standards expected of a "haunted pirate box"-esque game. That's not a huge problem, but don't expect any surprises.
- But the biggest problem: the final puzzle has a catastrophic mechanical failure, which led to us reaching the end of the game after only solving about half of the puzzles. Frustratingly, it seems that this was known about and has been reported by several reviewers who received early copies of the game (who were then sent replacement fixed boxes), but KS orders were still sent out using the defective boxes, and despite contacting the company I've not been offered a replacement.
It's such a shame, as this could have been one of the top at-home games, but instead we left with a sour taste. I'm awaiting delivery of the next two in the series, and am hopeful the designers will learn from their mistakes... fingers crossed!
Virtual X-Caper is a silly, joyous, family-friendly spy-themed romp of an escape room that's hard not to love.
The set is somewhat basic (it is, after all, being delivered during lockdown in, what I assume, might be the GM's own flat), the puzzles are solid but relatively standard, and the storyline is your typical fare....
...but where it absolutely shines is the delivery: our host/avatar was a superb performer - both in their physical performance (such as when we instructed them to touch an "electrified" circuit...) and their witty dialogue and responses, which were clearly off-the-cuff and pitched perfectly for our group of players. The game also features plenty of nice "Easter Eggs", such as the unlockable achievements to find, lots of in-jokes, and it just made us smile for a full hour.
This is a well-produced digital escape room, of the point-n-click variety, with some accompanying PDF printout materials. The tech worked well - we played witha remote team over Zoom - although the multiplayer experience is not completely seamless: one connection is assigned as the "lead player", and while additional players can join as "companions" to the same game session (which means they share the same game state, and can mostly view the same puzzles), there are certain interactions and puzzles that can only be solved by the lead player. As a result, we ended up screen-sharing the lead player's view anyway, so that everyone felt more equal members of a team.
The puzzles themselves use a nice variety of common escape room mechanics and some light papercraft, and they mostly flow well, although there were a handful of occassions when we solved puzzles apparently out-of-order (since we later discovered items related to those puzzles which we didn't make use of) . But they provided a good hour or so of entertainment, for a very reasonable price. Sections of the game are narrated, and the voice-acting is good.
My biggest complaint is that, while the storyline and puzzles were solid enough, the game itself didn't feel like it had much character.... we didn't ever really feel engaged, or experience strong emotion as we had with other games - it wasn't scary, nor funny - it was just... fine. And for only $10, that's still not bad.
Episode 5 continues the high quality of The Detective Society series, and I was relieved to find that it disn't contain quite the same degree of slightly tortuous arithmetic puzzles from the last episode! Instead, there's some nice audio/spatial puzzles, the usual website searching, logical deduction, and a virtual treasure hunt runaround finale.
Really enjoyable, lovely flow throughout - though there was one puzzle that could require a little outside research if you're not familiar with the basics of genetic inheritance. We completed it in a shorter time than average - I don't know if this was because we're becoming more attuned to the creator's style of puzzle, or whether there was actually slightly less content in this episode but, either way, it didn't affect our enjoyment - I'd much rather a well-rounded experience that lasted just over an hour than one that is filled with extra fluff just to pad it out, and we didn't find any fluff in this game.
This is a sweet, Christmas family game - a story told through a series of narrated comic art panels, interspersed with occasional puzzles.
The general presentation, and especially the delivery and quality of audio is excellent - which is good because, compared to some other at-home games, it's relatively light on interaction - you'll find yourself sitting back and watching (and listening to) significant portions of the story unfold withouth much involvement. I'd consider the experience to be somewhat more like watching a Christmas pantomime or play rather than a highly-involved puzzle game.... and, when you do come across a puzzle, there's nothing that will ever cause you to break out much of a mental sweat.
We played with our youngest kids (both aged under 9), and they engaged with the puzzles and the story, but I think an adults-only group might find it a little simplistic.
Also, the creators deserve recognition for the game's positive representation of minority groups and characters with disabilities, which is excellent.
As an inclusive, acccessible family Christmas puzzle experience, The Charm of Christmas Past has a lot to commend it:
- It is beautifully presented, printed on thick linen card, and contains a variety of interesting trinkets and possessions.
- It tells a gentle sentimental story which would appeal equally to playing with young children as with your nan.
- The flow of the game is well-designed, being subdivided into several chapters that provide convenient stopping points and, within each chapter, there are multiple puzzles that can be solved simultaneously.
However, judging it strictly as a premium at-home puzzle experience, we often felt that the mechanics of the puzzles didn't quite live up to the shine of their presentation.... there were some ambiguities in interpretation of correct answers, a couple of occassions where the solutions weren't quite as elegant as they could have been, a few mistakes (one of which was puzzle-breaking), and an online answer-checker that was too rigid in terms of the exact format in which it required answers to be entered etc. - all individually fairly minor shortcomings, but it meant that ultimately the experience was not as memorable or satisfying as it could have been. And, while the underlying puzzles were solid enough, there wasn't really anything truly memorably or original that a keen puzzle player would not have encountered before.
So, a good family experience, but if you just want puzzles, I'd say there are better, cheaper alternatives available.
We felt this was a little bit of a dip compared to the previous two games (which were really excellent) - this episode depended rather too heavily on having to perform quite a lot of maths calculations (think fractions and percentages of sets of data). Any ER where you decide halfway through to set up an Excel spreadsheet has to give a little cause for concern....! that said, the tasks were at least completely in-context for the story, and the excellent design and tongue-in-cheek humour in all the content was still very much in force.
The third book from the author of Journal 29 brings more of what we've come to expect from any recent puzzle book:- a somewhat vague storyline that gives an excuse to present backwards writing, a few mazes, spot-the-difference, shape and logic puzzles, reading numbers as text.... each of which resolves to a single word solution. Type that solution into a website and you get another word back, which might be used as the basis for a later puzzle. So, if you like that sort of thing, great. The puzzles are mostly fine, but for me I have to admit they're getting a bit tired now, and I never felt wowed by any of the content (and there was at least one puzzle that, despite having got the answer correct, I cannot see how it was meant to be clued). If you've played J29/J29R/Trip1907/Codex Engimatum you will have definitely encountered many of these puzzles before.
To give The Cypher Files credit, it does have a decent attempt at providing a narrative to tie the puzzles together. *But* the vast majority of the exposition takes place on the website in which you enter the answers rather than in the book itself.
And that brings me onto my biggest gripe: which is that you cannot enjoy this as a standalone book. You *need* to have constant internet connection to be able to verify answers and progress in the story. Indeed, many of the puzzles themselves require you to access an internet resource (such as a 360' photo) to find an answer word. So I can't enjoy reading it in the bath, on holiday in a remote cottage, or just when you want to do some puzzles that don't require screen time, say. Yet, at the same time, it feels like many of the puzzles have been limited to try to fit into the paperback medium, which is why they are often restricted to fairly generic paper-and-pen puzzle mechanics.
I feel that if the author wanted to make a puzzle *book*, they should exploit the benefits of the book format - make it standalone, portable, and use paper-and-pen puzzles (though you can still make use of the fact that the player can scribble notes, tear pages, see through from one page to the facing page, whatever).
Or, if they wanted to make an online puzzle game, go nuts and exploit the full range of puzzle types that opens up, in the way that some recent ARGs like Society or Curiosities or The Detective Society have.
But this feels like a compromise that fails to deliver the benefits of its paper medium, nor the opportunities of it being inextricably dependent on the internet.
Played this game with the family as a Halloween treat to make up for the fact that we couldn't go trick-or-treating, and we all really enjoyed it (despite the slightly spooky-sounding title, the game is really no more scary than a Scooby Doo episode, and uses similar tropes surrounding circuses).
It was good value, fun, purely online, not too long or difficult, and used a variety of different digital sleuthing techniques.
However, what really elevates this from merely a "good" game to an "outstanding" game is the conversational interaction you have with an in-game character. I don't know exactly what tech Society of Curiosities use to facilitate this - whether it's a mixture of automated chatbot and real, manually-entered human responses - but it's seamless, responsive, and completely natural. The character serves as your in-game guide, narrator, hint system but also provides memorable, laugh-out-loud funny responses. For UK players, this was handled through a WhatsApp-style web interface (which also simulated voice-calling), and it worked completely flawlessly and totally made the game for us.
With this third game in the series, it seems that The Detective Society is settling into its own distinctive style: engaging storylines, some very British humour, excellent design and *lots* of detailed content scattered across digital and physical components, offering plenty of Easter Eggs for those more curious to explore. As in the previous episode, the "puzzles" are completely in-keeping with the storyline, and never feel like they've been shoe-horned in to pad a game - they feel like problems that need to be solved - and are satisfying when done. The tech worked flawlesssly once again, making this one of the best subscription box games I've played to date.
This is a promotional mini-game to accompany the Enola Holmes film recently released on Netflix. However, whereas the film was an enjoyable romp that successfully brought fresh ideas to the traditional "Holmes-ian" Victorian detective genre, this game sadly fails to bring the same innovation to its puzzles.
It comes as 16 sides of well-presented, full-colour A4 PDF, but the puzzles are simplistic (mirror-writing, dot-to-dot pictures, basic maths riddles) and the thematic tie-ins are predictable (a map of London, an old newspaper, a set of books...) - the result feels more like a children's activity book than an escape room. But, it's free, so it's good to pass the time during a lunch break, or maybe occupy the kids for a while on a rainy day, but doesn't particularly inspire me to try Escape Hunt's other play-at-home games.
I say "puzzles", although perhaps "activities" or "tasks" might be a better description, since they are completely diegetic and embedded into the context of a detective investigation:- there's no crosswords, arbitrary lining up transparent overlays to reveal a 4-digit code, or brainteasers set by a puzzle-crazed madman (because, why?). Instead you'll be required to employ "real" sleuthing skills - hacking phone records, checking out CCTV, tweets, and websites, and communicating with various in-game characters via SMS/email/WhatsApp to glean information that will help develop the narrative. It's fairly tech-dependent, but all the resources worked perfectly.
As this is part of an ongoing narrative, I was a little worried that I would have to remember details of the previous installment, but this isn't really a problem - there's a short recap of the relevant facts included in the briefing letter, and beyond that the game is largely self-contained.
There's no artificial "Only open this envelope when instructed" gating either - all the physical components you need to play the game fall out of the box in one big bundle, and it's your job to sort through and make sense of them. Fortunately, the signposting is excellent - there's just enough indicators to guide you into making the correct associations between the components, and the flow was absolutely smooth - every time we thought "I wonder if we have to...?" we were rewarded with success, which felt natural and rewarding, creating a completely engaging experience.
Even though the majority of content is paper- or web- based, we weren't ever bored by having to do too much reading... the text is pretty much all relevant to the case, the writing is high quality, and includes some genuinely funny moments. There's also a handful of photographs, brochures, a few physical items - all very well-designed. Note that you will need access to a *PC* (not just a mobile or tablet) and internet connection to play the game. There is also an expectation that you will have access to certain well-known PC software, but it's fairly easy to find a suitable free web-based alternative online.
We played as a couple with a bottle of wine, which I found is the optimum setup for many of these games, but I'd say that a group of up to 4 people (and 2 bottles of wine) could work on this together. It's not too hard and would be a perfectly good after-dinner game for a group, even for relatively newbies to puzzle games. Strongly recommended, and I'm really hoping that Episode 3 continues the upwards trajectory!
We have greatly enjoyed the previous two "Oldervik" play-at-home games, and this third entry in the series continues to impress. As before, the game combines a handful of print-at-home paper elements (around 6 A4 sheets) with digital online elements accessed via QR code or weblinks. We played in a team of 4 over Zoom, with each of us having printed our own copies of the paper sheets, and also screen-sharing as appropriate.
On Course for Kantawe is the most ambitious of the series yet, and extends the existing mechanics from the previous games in almost every way - in terms of the sheer scale (yes, it really does take nearly 6 hours to complete!), the gameplay mechanics (including the concept of "keyphrases" which you'll have to discover in order to tease information out of conversations with various NPCs), the clever puzzles making use of novel elements of the print and digital media, including papercraft activities and clever web interactions, and just the overall polish and finishing touches (e.g. the sound effects and voiceovers of key characters). The story is engaging and there's enough background of the characters to be interesting, while not so much to bore you.
One puzzle was a bit tedious, but the hint system is elegant and effective - and you always have the option to jump straight to the answer if you want to skip any puzzles. If I had to criticise it, I'd say that it could perhaps have been thinned out a little, or perhaps split into two chapters - we were mentally exhausted at the end of it! (There are natural stopping points where you're prompted if you'd like to take a break) But, otherwise, in terms of a quality game at very good value for money, this is pretty hard to fault.
This is a fun, family-friendly tabletop escape room game that feels like "Unlock!++": it contains card-based puzzles that will be familiar to anyone who has played Unlock! or Deckscape, but combines them with a game board, new gameplay mechanics, and a narrative that is told from the point of view of the various members of the Mystery Inc. team as they uncover the secrets behind a haunted manor. The different rooms of the house must be revealed and explored as gameplay progresses, and special abilities of team members which are added (or removed) over time provide a greater range of possible player actions than in some other titles. The puzzles themselves are not difficult, but combined with these extra gameplay elements make this an enjoyable, rounded tabletop game.
The scenario is entirely appropriate for the Scooby Doo theme, but you don't need to be a fan or have any previous Scooby Doo knowledge to enjoy the game: we played with my 7yr old daughter who really enjoyed it.
This felt more like a choose-your-own-adventure than an escape room. Which, in some ways, provided a refreshing change - there were parts at which you could make decisions about e.g. which items to take, or the order in which you proceeded to investigate different areas of the game. Ultimately though, these choices ended up really only being surface-deep and immaterial to the outcome of the game, and the puzzles you encounter along the way are very much like the simple puzzles in a Professor Layton game - involving only basic observation, routefinding through mazes etc.
This first part in an episodic subscription game starts off with some "training missions" which left us a bit apprehensive - they're maths-heavy and seem to bear little relevance to the main story - they felt like they were perhaps added as an afterthought just to pad out the content slightly. Fortunately, once they're out the way, the main body of the game is much more entertaining - you'll be identifying persons of interest, sending and receiving emails, and checking out things like maps, phone calls and credit card transaction history to investigate the case of a missing person. The components - both physical and digital - are all above-average quality, and are enjoyable to examine. None of the puzzles are particularly hard, but they flow well, and there's a nice narrative progression that ends with a satisfying cliffhanger to be continued in the rest of the series. It was good enough for me to decide to subscribe to the whole season, so I just hope the puzzles step up in difficulty slightly!
A series of "light" puzzlehunt-esque puzzles contained in a regular-sized pack of cards, with a novel answer-checking mechanism that works well to confirm guesses and guide you onto the next puzzle. Unfortunately, a few Americanisms meant that we had to rely on the hints/Google in a few places which is a shame, but otherwise a pretty neat, compact puzzling experience.
Among the booming trend of "Escape Room-in-a-Box" games, The Wilson Wolfe Affair sets itself apart as more of a "Puzzlehunt-in-a-Box": this is not a game for the faint of heart! There are no familiar introductory puzzles giving a 4-digit code to settle you in... there is not a helpful hints guide... you will not solve it in one hour... in fact, you'll be lucky if you've even worked out where to *start* in the first hour - you'll still be sifting through the overwhelming range of documents and artefacts contained in the box. Most of these are paper-based, but they are all beautifully-designed and with loving attention to thematic detail - alongside a handful of physical items and online resources which together tell an interesting and unusual narrative: a refreshing change from the "find the killer" standard fare.
My main complaint is that it is exhausting to play - and a few of the puzzles are a bit hit or miss. Perhaps if the scope had been reduced slightly, the quality could have been made a bit more consistent and this would be an absolute gold standard of at-home puzzle experiences. As it is, it's definitely a game for the hardcore puzzler and, if you have the determination to make it through, you'll find enough content here to keep you busy throughout lockdown and far beyond. However, I suspect many will be turned away before making it that far.
Considering it arrives in only a regular-sized envelope, there's a lot of content crammed into this pirate-themed adventure. In addition to the selection of printed matter and an attractive physical component, the game also employs some excellent technical integration which provides seamless and engaging interactions with various virtual characters in the game. The use of SMS, email, and various websites enrich the paper components provided and elevate the game to much more of a story/experience, rather than a simple set of themed puzzles.
My main criticism would be somewhat of an over-use of piratical tropes (e.g. "The Pirate's Secret Code" or "X marks the spot"), which makes the solution to a handful of the puzzles somewhat predictable. But overall, these are minor niggles, and they are at least completely thematically appropriate!
Deckscape is good for what it is: a cheap, portable, totally self-contained card-based series of puzzles. Don't expect much in the way of narrative, novel mechanics, or complex A-has! but, at the same time, it doesn't do a bad job of trying to emulate some common escape room puzzles in a paper format, and is perfect for, say, taking on holiday.
Advantages it hs over similar titles are that it is non-destructive, doesn't require an app or any internet connection, and every puzzle has a well-explained solution.
The main gimmick of Escape Room: The Game is the "Chrono Decoder" - a piece of plastic-y electronic tat that's meant to detect and validate your solutions to the puzzles. It doesn't work, and instead seems to randomly respond to your input with either a "congratulations" beep or a (slightly different) "you failed" beep, based entirely on its own whim. This renders the entire game a frustrating, unplayable mess.
This is the first episode of a 12-part series; each episode is delivered in a single standard-sized envelope. This format has the great advantage that the game is very reasonably-priced, and doesn't attract hefty P&P or import duty charges when delivered from its native Canada. It also means that the components are relatively small, and largely paper-based. But the production quality is good, and there is variety in the styles of printed matter - a map, a cut-out compass and coins, some letters etc.
Both the theme ("long forgotten pirate treasure inheritance") and the puzzles themselves were relatively predictable and a bit cipher-heavy for more liking - largely relying on process over any significant "A-ha!" moments. However, it provided around 2 hours entertainment for under £10, which was very good value for money, and I look forward to playing the next instalments in the series.
Gameplay is guided by SMS text message conversation with a character "Pip", who requests your assistance in the matter of locating a mysterious treasure map. You receive texts with information and hyperlinks to various online resources, and having solved a puzzle, or selected a course of action you reply with a text message response, prompting the next instruction. The chat is (mostly) natural and we had no problem with getting the chatbot to understand our messages and give an appropriate reply. The requirements to use SMS on a mobile phone as the primary game communication is a little bit odd, since a lot of the time the response contains a hyperlink that we then had to re-type into a browser on our PC, but it does add a touch of humanity to the interaction.
The puzzles are relatively unchallenging, but still satisfying and they flow very nicely - there's some logical deduction, maps, a few ciphers, and situational puzzles, and a very nice moment of interaction with a custom website. The graphic design and writing is high quality, and there has been lots of thought into little details like making the puzzles accessible (a transcript is provided of the writing on all visual clues, for example). I played with my family, and my kids aged 7, 8, and 13yrs old were all interested able to get involved.
Considering the game is free, this is a very enjoyable way to spend half an hour or so, and a very promising teaser of the full game from Society of Curiosities hopefully available here soon.
Journal 29 was one of the first widely-known escape room books, and established several conventions that have been widely copied since - its double-page answer/key format, enigmatic style of puzzle, and use of a website to validate solutions have been adopted by all of the Trip1907/Trip1908/Codex Enigmatum/Escapages books, for example.
"Paper Labyrinth" offers somewhat of a refreshing change by deviating from this approach in several respects:
- Firstly, the vast majority of puzzles in the book occupy only a single-side, meaning that there is twice as much puzzle content in the book as in many other titles (where the left-hand side is usually a QR code linking to the answer verification)
- Hints and solutions for all the puzzles are contained within the book itself - there is no internet connection required to validate an answer or receive a key, which makes it much more useful as, well, a book, that can be taken on holiday, on the beach, or when travelling.
- There is a meta puzzle requiring various individual puzzles to be combined
These are all changes which I think make for a much better offering than some of its competitors. Unfortunately, the puzzles themselves - the core reason for anyone buying the book - are not great. Firstly, they are incredibly easy - I don't think I encountered any more than a couple that I couldn't immediately see the solution to. And although there is variety, there's nothing novel here - the puzzles are mostly riddles, anagrams, some trivial ciphers and wordplay. While there's nothing actually *wrong* with them, It's the kind of thing I might expect to find in a kids' book, and there's nothing here to challenge or surprise any keen puzzlers. Which is a shame, because in other respects, this book did a lot of things right - so maybe if you just want something to relax for an hour or so (although, in all honesty, I'd just recommend you download a puzzle set from the Puzzled Pint archive).
Witchery Spell is probably the best example of "mixed media" I've seen in any at-home escape room game so far. The box bursts open with content - yes, there's the obligatory welcome letter, newspaper cuttings, and journal entries (printed on appropriately different sorts of paper stock), but there's also a wide variety of interesting witchery components - glass vials containing mysterious powders and magic liquids, cloth bags of mystical stones, metal tools, various fabrics, photographs, tarot cards.... And they're not just souvenir trinkets - every single item is beautfully integrated into both the story and the puzzles. Alongside this array of physical artefacts, there are also various online resources that you'll need to visit throughout the course of the game, and you'll find yourself going back and forth between the physical and digital witchcraft worlds throughout. So there is a lot of content, and it's all really high-quality.
A lot of other at-home games we've played have prevented access to certain materials in order to artificially control progression of the game (e.g. "DON'T OPEN THIS ENVELOPE UNLESS INSTRUCTED") - however, in Witchery Spell you have access to everything in the box right from the start. This might seem overwhelming, and there are many components that you simply won't initially understand or know how to use. However, as the game progresses, you gradually gain the knowledge required to make use of these arcane items. Coupled with some superbly-executed "magic tricks" the game provides along the way, you really can convince yourself that you are developing enchanted powers of witchcraft too. This is a masterclass in interactive storytelling from DarkPark.
The puzzles themselves are all on-theme and well-integrated - you won't find any arbitrary 4-digit codes, ciphers or Morse code messages here - and although you'll want to have a paper and pen handy, many of them have surprisingly physical elements that make good use of that array of components.
We only experienced one problematic puzzle, which was caused by an environmental factor that the designers could not have controlled. Unfortunately, getting stuck at this point did lead us to discover perhaps the only disappointing part of this game - the hint system. There are no in-game hints at all - instead, players are invited to join a Facebook group to request hints. When we joined the group, we noticed all the existing posts and replies were in Dutch. This made searching the group to find whether a hint had already been given to our puzzle impossible, and we ended up accidentally translating some posts that related to sections of the game we hadn't got to yet.
Given the high production values throughout the rest of the game, the lack of a self-service hint system seems like a massive oversight. Fortunately, we were able to overcome our problem by ourselves but, had we not been able to, we would have been completely stuck at this point. I really hope that DarkPark consider adding a hint system in future games because, as it stands, Witchery Spell is a sublime experience from start to end, *so long as* you play through exactly as the designers intended. If you get tripped up at any point along the way, you might be on your own though.
Twinwoods is an adventure activity centre offering high-adrenaline pursuits such as skydiving, archery, and indoor surfing, and the defining feature of their real-life "Morse Code" escape room is (normally) its set-piece ending as players leap from a 125ft tower attached to a cord. Given the very physical nature of the game design, how then does Morse Code adapt to a remote play over Zoom? Well, it's obviously not the same experience, but its actually still remarkably fun when enjoyed through the eyes of a remote avatar.
The storyline is that of a British operative behind enemy lines during WWII - a very familiar setup, but one that at least lends itself to lots of instantly recognisable objects and thematic game interactions - intercepted mission plans, radio frequencies, wartime planes, gas masks, and suchlike. The puzzles themselves are also somewhat predictable - if you find a bomber jacket, you can be pretty certain of finding something in the pocket, and finding out a birthdate is likely to be the combination for a combo padlock. So, don't expect this to be a game that will shatter your preconceptions about escape room design.
However, while these common tropes may not challenge the boundaries of what is possible from a real-life escape room, when used in a remote avatar room this familiarity actually adds a benefit to the experience. The (literal) remoteness of players in video-mediated avatar-led rooms, and their inevitable sensory deprivation and disorientation means it's arguably not the correct place for designers to experiment with unusual and unexpected input or feedback systems - rather, everything in Morse Code behaved exactly as we expected it to - whenever we found a code or item we knew immediately how and where to ask our avatar to use it, and the game flowed seamlessly from start to end. Our team of 4 experienced players completed both objectives and the bonus 3rd objective in 42 minutes, and we had the opportunity to chat with our GM and avatar afterwards, who were both lovely.
The game took place over Zoom, and the video and audio quality were excellent. An inventory of any objects found in the game were added to a live webpage to enable them to be examined in more detail (there was a 360° view of the room, although we didn't end up using that), and all the tech worked flawlessly.
It wasn't particularly challenging, but it was fun, and we enjoyed making our avatar giggle by using our dodgy wartime accents. So, for an hour or so of casual puzzling escapism, I'd definitely still recommend it.
The Cyphstress is a collaboration between Deadlocked escape rooms and the Siren craft brewery, with a plot that revolves around a globetrotting adventurer who is hired to find a legendary beer recipe. If I'm totally honest, the details of the storyline became a little hazy during our playthrough. This can be somewhat explained because we accidentally ended up creating our own escape room/beer collaboration while playing, creating the rules of a escape room puzzle-based drinking game...
...you see, you are predominantly guided through the game through interaction with a character via Facebook messenger (a Facebook account is absolutely required to play the game). You send answers, and receive new information, links, and images via the messenger chat. The responses from the chatbot are well-written and natural, which allowed us to easily personify the character that we were having a conversation with. The interaction here also paces the game, and provides the opportunity to place some subliminal promotions for the brewery partner ("Hmm, I'll need to think about this one for a while.... why not take a drink and I'll get back to you soon?"). We took those instructions very literally, with our team soon resorting to chanting "DRINK!" after every new message received. After an hour or so of play, we weren't quite sure what we were doing, or how we'd got there, but we were enjoying the moment and we were pretty sure the chatbot was our new best friend.
The game is entirely digital- there's no physical or printed elements, yet it still manages to utilise a variety of content delivery mechanisms - there's some use of social media, external websites, audio, images and PDF files, and a custom web interface. You're provided with a single login to this interface which can be shared among your team but, as with similar games, we found it played better if just one player logged in and shared their screen with any remote players. The downside of using a variety of content is that the game requires a little bit of juggling of various applications and tabs - Facebook, the game's website, Zoom/Hangouts/WhatsApp chat etc. a PDF viewer, etc. - so you'll want to play it on a laptop/PC or preferably have several devices available and be familiar with switching between them.
The puzzles themselves feature a good mix of styles - traditional ciphers and codes, logic and spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, and a few audio puzzles. There is an inbuilt hint system, which we had to use once since we didn't understand the interface to a puzzle, but otherwise the game flowed well for us - the puzzles presented enough of a challenge to be interesting, but never so hard as for us to ever get stuck. The game starts fairly linearly, but opens up later so that there are multiple puzzles available which different players can work on simultaneously. And it all wraps up with a co-operative/co-ordination challenge, followed by a cheesy, humorous end sequence.
We played as an experienced, drunken, team of 4 players in 2 locations, and it took us around 2hrs 30mins to complete the game. There were opportunities along the way where we could have taken a break, but it felt perfectly natural to play in one sitting if you allocate time to do so.
There's a lot of quality content, very little filler, and for just £10 for the game alone represents very good value for money. Or, order it together with a mixed case of 12 ales from the brewery for £35 and you've got a fantastic boozy night in, and you're supporting two small businesses at the same time. Definitely recommended.
It is also a somewhat unusual experience in absolutely requiring a team of 4 players to participate (each on separate devices, even if they are co-located in the same room). While this may present somewhat of a constraint to team formation, it means that Edith can make use of puzzles explicitly designed for 4 people in which every team member has a crucial role to play. This further aids the humanity and co-operative warmth of the game - you simply cannot win unless every player contributes their part. The puzzles span a wide variety of styles:- there's some digital versions of classic escape room assembly and combination puzzles, ARG-esque use of external websites, social media, and email, interaction with a live actor, and a chaotic multiplayer co-ordination task along the lines of "Spaceteam" or "Keep talking and nobdy explodes". They're silly, well-made, and lots of fun.
We experienced one brief technical glitch (no fault of the company - one of players lost their Zoom connection at their end), and our attentive gamesmaster immediately paused the clock, waited until they reconnected successfully, and then allowed us to resume the game. And we had a lovely opportunity to chat to her afterwards - to meet the "real" Edith, and ask any questions - all from the other side of the world. Highly recommended.