Room-in-a-box, Dec 2017
Second in the Mystery Adventures set of Unlock games, The Nautilus’ Traps is a beautifully illustrated game with an evocative theme, creative puzzle ideas and some clever ideas that mix up the format somewhat; and despite all that it’s a contender for my least favourite of the series.
This scenario is set underwater, with you hiding in a mysterious wreck from a tentacled sea monster. There’s a shock waiting as soon as you begin: instead of the expected 60 minutes, you begin with a much smaller amount of time ticking away. This is the game’s main innovation and perhaps its cleverest idea: you start short of time and can find oxygen canisters during the game that add time to the clock. As well as matching the theme, this ups the urgency with great effect, and plunges you into a suitable sense of peril from the outset.
Where other Unlock games make heavy use of the series’s system for combining items, in Nautilus that’s almost absent. Instead it is built around a series of puzzles that use the game cards in interesting ways. With fewer objects to combine objects in incorrect ways, that ought to also mean a refreshing absence of the series’ most glaring weak point, the arbitrary time penalties. But apparently not wanting to be left out, Nautilus springs some mean-spirited gotchas on players that seem to be there purely to justify the use of the word ‘Traps’ in the title.
That’s a minor annoyance though. My big gripe with the game is the quantity of cards it provides before they can be used, and the way that puts strain on the Unlock format. The game dumps a mass of clues and information onto the players precisely at a point where it’s not clear where to focus, and this reveals a significant weakness in Unlock’s design. The graded hint system works beautifully, but only as long as you know which card number to get a hint for. If you have a dozen cards and no idea which needs to be solved next, your only recourse is to guess which hint to take, potentially getting a spoiler for a puzzle that comes later in the sequence.
You might home in on the right cards right away, in which case you’ll likely find this a strong game. We didn’t, and flailed around taking one useless hint after another until we finally found one that was relevant, by which point we’d had a number of unwanted small spoilers and a certain amount of pleasure had been taken out of the game.
In other respects it’s a clever game with lovely artwork that’s well worth playing. If Unlock were to add another hint option that let players ask which card to look at next, this would instantly be a much better game. As it is, whether you enjoy it will primarily depend on whether you spot the right path or whether the game leaves you floundering.