Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Boardgame - "Escape the Room" series - Thinkfun

Rebecca Bleau, Nicholas Cravotta
Erwin Madrid, Victor Pérez Corbella
English, French
# of Players:
10+ (13+ for Dr. Gravely's theme)
120 min (90 for more than 6 players)*

(*) See "House Rules" below

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Picture from the manufacturer's website
  • The core mechanic for this series of games revolves around envelopes. After reading the introductory text and starting your (self-provided) timer, you pick up a number of large square envelopes. These envelopes are meant to represent the different furniture and decor pieces found in the room you're currently trapped into. The outside of each envelope (and whatever clue you might find on them) is immediately accessible, while its content can only be accessed once the envelope (aka the object depicted) has been "unlocked". Envelopes can contain all sorts of things (well, flat things 😄), Scene Cards, and even smaller envelopes.
  • The game also includes a Solution Wheel that the players use to unlock the envelopes. So even though puzzles can vary in their nature, they always end up yielding a series of colored pictograms. To "unlock" an envelope, you refer to its unique icon shown in its corner. Slide the wheel to match those pictograms, and if you have a match, you're now allowed to open that envelope.
  • Scene Cards are clearly marked as such, and tell the story of your ongoing adventure. As soon as a new Scene Card is revealed, players should stop while one of them reads it out loud.
  • If you like your Escape Rooms to have strong themes, you'll appreciate the Scene Cards. As my daughter told me, she often got more involved into these storylines than with most rooms we played.
  • If you're trying to introduce people to Escape Rooms without spending a lot of money, these games can make for a great introduction, given that...
  • ...they're really, really easy. Easier than anything I've seen in real life. It's not necessarily a disadvantage if you're aiming at a younger crowd (hence the above point), but I definitely had to point it out.
  • Both scenarios are extremely linear. In theory, nothing in the game design itself prevents it from having concurrent puzzles - the designers just didn't do it, perhaps to prolong the experience.
  • Although ThinkFun works pretty hard at coming up with varied puzzles, you already know you'll end up finding those same symbols, again & again.
House Rules & Suggestions

Should you play this and want to compare your performance with friends, I suggest you do the following:
  • 5 players max 
    More than that will just get boring, as people will fight over the components.
  • 45 minutes
    That time frame should make each game as challenging as a typical Escape Room.
    • Note (semi-spoiler here) that each game reaches a point where players can decide to "push further" and take an extra challenge. Should your team do that, instead of "resetting the clock to 20 minutes", just add yourself an extra 10 minutes.
  • Everyone pauses while Scene Cards are read
    And that time counter of yours can't be stopped until the entire endgame card has been read. 😎
  • No hints
    That's right, suck it up!
    • Ok, well, if you're playing Dr. Gravely's and getting stuck on the prisoners, it's ok, go ahead and hit Google. 👍

Scenario Results

Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor
Played with: 5 players
Made it? YES - Best ending - Over 12 minutes remaining

Secret of Dr. Gravely's Retreat
Played with: 4 players
Made it? YES - Best ending - Less than 5 minutes remaining - Got help for the prisoners

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