The Crystal Maze was a staple of my TV diet when I was younger. The threat of contestants being 'locked in' to puzzle rooms. I couldn't believe when my mum and dad took us to a Crystal Maze centre where using bad computer graphics, sweaty trackballs and non-responsive touchscreens we acted out versions of the games from the show. Since then, Escape Rooms have become huge. Building on the success of puzzle apps these rooms actually lock you in. Board games soon followed with a variety of innovative ways of recreating the escape room. I had a chance to look at Exit The Game Series One from Kosmos.
This includes The Secret Lab, The Abandoned Cabin, and The Pharaoh's Tomb. Whereas Unlock uses an app to make the game replayable, Exit is a destructive game where you will draw on, tear and cut elements to escape. Unlike other escape room games, Exit is just a deck of cards, a 'note' book and a few punch out pieces. Does it stack up as an escape experience?
Exit The Game
I decided to use the Exit games as an experiment with my non-gaming partner. We played all three of them and compared our thoughts. It's quite hard to review them without giving too much away but I will try!
Each game comes with a decoder disk shown on the back of the box, this is where you will input codes you find in the cards and book. When you input the code the disk gives you a number and you find that number card in the 'answers' deck and it will tell you if you are right or wrong. Being right gives you more clue cards and directions.
There aren't many rules as they are all given to you through the system. You can download the Kosmos app if you prefer, which will give you the basic instructions and a timer. You set-up the answer, riddle and help decks and away you go.
The help deck is sometimes necessary but eases you in. For each puzzle you have three levels of solution - the first tells you all the riddle cards and pages you need to solve the riddle. This is important as you often receive part of a puzzle before you can solve it fully. The second level gives extra guidance and the third is the answer.
Exits are Located...
We found that with two players, who aren't as clever as they think they, that each Exit took 80-120 minutes to solve. It got faster as we got used to the system, with The Pharaoh's Tomb taking the least time. Our starting point was The Secret Lab and that was our favourite. Despite a steep learning curve, the puzzles worked within their internal logic and even when we needed help cards the answers made sense. In all the games you are required to permanently change components in some way. That doesn't make the first time you do it any easier though.
The Abandoned Cabin was the most disappointing for us. We felt there was less internal logic to the puzzles and yet they were equally some of the most memorable moments too! We used most help cards in The Cabin, and it really affected our frustration levels. When we got some of the answers we were still scratching our heads as to how we were ever meant to have got there. Definitely the low point in the series.
The Pharaoh's Tomb won us back over. More consistency, like The Lab, with a few standout moments like The Cabin. It never dipped as low as The Cabin, but never reached the heights of The Lab.
Exit The Game Series One is very clever. Despite the frustrations of The Abandoned Cabin, it was forgiven for some genuinely awesome moments. Strictly speaking, this is just a collection of puzzles loosely hung together with a weak story. However, around 80% of the puzzles either make you well up with pride for solving them, or they make you slap your head at your own stupidity for missing the obvious! I can live with that.
My partner was initially a bit put off by the one and done nature of these games. This is offset by a low price and the fact that everything bar the wrappings is recyclable. She enjoyed the experience enough to continue, and while I don't think she will rush out and buy the next three, she would play them with me.
The Exit Games are not without flaws though, as hinted above. Sometimes the internal logic can go a bit wonky, meaning puzzles don't make sense within the game. These are also not friendly to higher counts. The most puzzles we have had on the go at once was three but two of these weren't solvable at that time. This means at higher counts most people will have very little to do. These aren't big components that are easy for everyone to look at either. If one person wants a closer look then pretty much everyone else has nothing to do.
We'd recommend two or three players sitting near each other at a table so everyone gets a good view. If you have more players consider buying multiple copies and splitting into teams for a race!
Lastly, not everyone will enjoy destroying and changing components permanently. Practically there is no way around this. I think the experience is better for this, but others may disagree.
After my plays, I would recommend you start with The Abandoned Cabin, followed by The Pharaoh's Tomb and finishing with The Secret Lab. If you only want to play one, then for me The Secret Lab is the one to go for.
A satisfying hour or two for less than the price of cinema tickets? Yes please! Just don't expect many storytelling elements - you are set off, and get a nice paragraph at the end. You'll probably be so full of your own smug cleverness you won't notice though.
Nick can also be found at Board, Deck & Dice