I am a gamer, through and through, be it computer, roleplaying or board. I was playing 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81 back when that was considered the Elden Ring of its time; I had Space Crusade and all the expansions (and gave them to someone else when I mistakenly thought I had grown up); I played Traveller and Call of Cthulhu instead of yawnsome D&D during the actual time that Stranger Things is set in. Cut me and you’ll have to roll for initiative first.
There are, however, two types of games that I can’t get my head around though. The first is social deduction games (although I am realising that my real problem is with One Night… games and games where someone quarterbacks the fun out of them – I played Blood on The Clock Tower recently and had a Wailord of a time). The other is legacy games – you want me to do WHAT with the boards, pieces and cards after I’ve spent how much on them? I suggest you reconsider your life decisions up to now…
So when I got an Exit game, you can imagine that, despite the minimal price tag, the things that game made me do to it made my teeth itch. Seriously. The problem is that I like the idea of an out of the box escape room as real-life escape rooms are fun but awkward and expensive (my opinion). An escape room from the comfort of your own home? Sign me up! Tearing up cards? COUNT ME OUT. Incoming review of Unlock 9…
Do Not Fold, Spindle Or Mutilate…
Fortunately, the makers of the Unlock! games are not barbarians – no cards will be harmed in the course of this review (though some paper may be lightly creased…). Instead of GBH (Grievous Boardily Harm), Unlock! games feature a large deck of numbered and lettered clue cards that are played in conjunction with an application that runs on a phone or tablet.
Each Unlock! game contains three ‘escapes’ and each ‘escape’ begins the same way – you read the intro card and that will indicate which cards you reveal from the numbered deck. Each card will have a mix of images, icons and numbers which provide you with clues and allow you to ‘unlock’ the game. Some cards will have blue or red icons on them, which will match/add together and tell you which card to draw next from the deck (for example, a red 2 card could match with the blue 36 card, indicating that you draw card 38) – these cards may not appear at the same time.
Some cards activate mini games or puzzles on your app that, when completed, ask you to draw other cards. Some can be maps. Some can be red herrings or penalties for picking the wrong card. If you get stuck when you’ve picked the wrong card, don’t worry – the app also contains hints and tips to cards (though not all of them).
Despite the types of cards, what you get in every Escape is a combination of a story and a puzzle that can be played in about an hour. And what is best about these games is that, when you’ve done them, you can either play them again or pass them on. Share the love.
What’s In The Unlock 9 Box
It’s difficult to do a review of an escape game because you can’t say too much without doing a massive spoiler on them, so I’ll keep it sketchy to not spoil the fun. The three Escapes included in Unlock 9 are based on Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes and an ‘Action’ Movie (Action movie has a lot of fun twists that I cannot mention because spoilers). They are definitely varied in difficulty and there is also a tutorial game included in the box to prepare you for what is to come.
Each Escape also has its own supporting accessories that are used to help you solve the puzzle – for instance, the Sherlock Holmes Escape has a magnifying glass card that helps you to focus on the clues (though it doesn’t have any actual magnifying powers – sorry). Each game has a time limit, but you can pause it when you get completely stuck or just need to take a break.
Though I can’t say too much about the Escapes in Unlock 9, there is certainly plenty to do considering that the whole thing is run on just cards and an app, and you’re better to get a group together to solve the puzzles than go in solo. I mean, you could if you a) are really good at escapes or b) don’t like people very much, but this is much better as a shared experience. Especially as I get confused easily and need someone to remind me that I’m in my happy place…
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place…
So how does the whole thing compare to real escape rooms or the card-butchering Exit games? I mean, nothing compares to the feeling of tearing apart a games room looking for a clue that does not exist for a puzzle that isn’t there and being asked politely but firmly by the host to leave (I’m a dichotomy – deal with it) but it does have that ‘ohhhh I get it’ element when you do… get it.
There are some utterly spurious solutions (my opinion) and some weird leaps of logic in some of them and you can sometimes stumble on solutions by accident (we had to stop the Sherlock Holmes one as we got to a point where we had no idea how we got there or how to proceed). This makes it more like a cross between a choose your own adventure and an escape room (though you could turn the last page of Fighting Fantasy and get the happy ending – except for Starship Traveller, which didn’t have one. The eighties were very nihilistic, man…).
The adventures are very much one-and-done, not only in Unlock 9 but in all Unlock! games, but you get three adventures in a box which represents better value than the Exit games (my opinion) and passing them on to someone else afterwards is a nice thing to do (everyone’s opinion, I hope). Not all the adventures in this box will be suitable for an all-ages family (Action and Robin Hood are fine, but Sherlock Holmes a) contains adult themes and b) is really, really hard) but there is genuinely something for everyone in here. Even if a dunderheid like me can only just deal with the tutorial.
Oooh, I’ve got out! Again!