Room-in-a-box, Jun 2019
Second in Unlock!’s Exotic Adventures set, Scheherazade’s Last Tale dives into the mythology of Arabian nights, with the premise that Scheherazade has run out of inspiration on her final night, and needs you to save her. It’s a romantic and distinctive setting that’s reflected well in the artwork and audio, as well as in a great many nods to the most famous of the tales; so it’s a shame that it’s hard to enjoy the story amid the flurry of dead ends and logic leaps the game throws in your path.
Pretty much right at the start you can expect an apparent dead end, and perhaps a gratuitous time penalty; and that sets the tone for the rest of the game to follow. A large part of the problem is that it makes quite a number of cards available to the players early on, and throughout play, meaning at any point there’s a wide choice of items and clues to focus on, and any inventive group of players is likely to follow a considerable number of plausible but false trails.
The more obscure the puzzle mechanism, the more tightly the game needs to keep the players focused in the right area. Unlock!’s Oz game did this extremely well, with the result that it felt challenging and surprising, but always fair. Scheherazade has a similar level of creativity, but is much less disciplined about how it uses it. It’s not that any given step is unreasonably tenuous, though some are quite a stretch. But it starts to feel less like puzzle solving and more about frantically trying to guess what convoluted mechanism the designer has chosen to use for the next step. And of course there’s the usual Unlock! penalty system, bopping you over the nose like a naughty puppy each time you do something wrong and punishing you for trying ideas whenever they don’t coincide with the designer’s intentions.
At the same time, exasperating though I found many of the steps, I greatly liked many of the clever ideas underpinning them, which were inventive and sometimes even witty. As with many of the series’s games, the illustrations not only give a good sense of physical location; a section that uses multiple cards to build up a single larger illustration worked particularly well.
I’m increasingly of the view that Unlock!’s games are better played with the timer switched off (which is now an option in the app), so as to defuse the annoyance of receiving time penalties for something that seems no less reasonable than some of the correct answers. I also find myself liking much about this game but not actually having enjoyed it very much, and without much faith that other groups will enjoy it more. This is a game for players who like lateral thinking and aren’t easily frustrated; others should probably go for one of the other titles instead.