Showing posts with label boardgame. Show all posts
Showing posts with label boardgame. Show all posts

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Boardgame - 50 Clues - Norsker Games

Slightly disturbing (in more than one way)


  



Publisher:
Norsker Games
Designers:
Jeppe Norsker
Artist:
Jeppe Norsker
Languages:
Danish, English, German, French
# of Players:
1-5
Age:
16+ (due to the dark themes - I recommend player discretion)
Duration:
90 min

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Some official "selling points" from the print-and-play game

Players: "Wow! Unlock is the best ER table game ever!"
Jeppe Norsker: "Hold min øl..."
  • This tongue-in-cheek observation is a lot more accurate than you might expect. It seems to me everything in 50 Clues is reminiscent of the now-omnipresent games from Space Cowboys, but with a "Here's how I would do it!" twist to it. So let's review the differences - and similarities - between them.
  • Instead of a dedicated app, the game uses a web page. You pick your scenario, enter your serial number (more on that later), and you're good to go. The game state is saved locally, so as long as you don't clear your browser cache, you can leave the game and come back to it later.
  • Like with Unlock, every scenario use a dedicated deck of numbered cards, which you gradually reveal (and discard) as the story progresses.
  • The cards will bear a number of codes over them. There are 3 types of codes:
    • White-framed digits indicate a card that can immediately be revealed. Those digits are typically more subtle that the others, to emulate the feeling of searching around, but the rectangular frame removes any possible ambiguity.
    • Red-framed 3-digit codes indicate something that can be interacted with - typically an inventory object. Using the web app, you can try combining any red code with another.
    • Black-framed codes need to be entered directly inside the web app, triggering an effect of some sort, or launching an interactive component in the app.
    Yep - Nothing but wholesome fun here...
  • There is no enforced time limit. The web app will gauge your performance based on your number of wrong attempts, not on the amount of real time elapsed. You need a break? Just stop playing.
  • Like I said earlier, every 50 Clues deck sold comes with a unique serial number. You need to enter that number on the website in order to start playing. The same number can be used up to 30 times.
Pros
  • Puzzle-wise, this series shows at least as much promise as the first "Unlock!".
  • No "wasted cards", since every game mechanic is handled by the app.
  • The darker, greyscale art helps sets the tone.
  • The age restriction for a number of theme that simply wouldn't work in family-friendly games.
Cons
  • There's no way around it. From my point of view, the "activation limit" is a huge turn-off. 😞 I contacted the author, who pointed out that he is concerned with the increasing amount of counterfeiting in the boardgame market, and told me that "30 times should be more than enough for private use". Those are reasonable arguments, and as a boardgame fan, I'm quite familiar with the state of things. And yet...
    With the price of said boardgames steeply increasing in recent years, I simply can't endorse a setup where a fully-replayable game has been - arbitrarily! - turned into a limited-play, throw-away box. Gaming pub owners, will you be able to keep track of the number of remaining game sessions in each box? Second-hand buyers, can you really trust that unknown seller who tells you the game "has only been played twice"? 😨
    In fact, I would have much preferred a system where new game sessions can be purchased for a low price (2 or 3 bucks), with brand-new decks coming with a couple "free" activations out of box. Heck, one could even offer every scenario as print-and-play, selling the "professionally printed deck with 3 included activations" just as a convenience. (Most people would go for that anyway.)
  • Despite the publisher / designer's claim that having a web app is "better" than a phone/tablet app, the fact is that you can currently play Unlock! while traveling on a plane, camping in the great outdoors, or even during a power outage. 50 Clues, not quite.
  • The game's theme and appearance might just not be your cup of tea.

Played Scenarios

The Home Temple (Free Print-and-play - find it here)
Played with: 4 players

Leopold Part 1: The Pendulum of the Dead
Played with: 4 players

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Boardgame - Mystery House: Adventures in a Box - Cranio Creations

"You took the box! Let's see what's in the box."



Publisher:
Cranio Creations
Designer:
Antonio Tinto, Alex Ortolani
Artists:
Daniela Giubellini, Alessandro Paviolo
Languages:
Italian, English
# of Players:
1-5 on the box (I personally recommend 3 or 4)
Age:
14+ (I'd say 10+ unless theme because an issue)
Duration:
60 min

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Game Components
  • While most "escape room in a box" games are just referring to packaging, "Mystery House" is genuinely played inside its box. There's an outer packaging that contains another box (open, with a plastic base), inside of which you can stow the rest of game material, but that inner box itself is one of the main game components.
  • The game is scenario-based, with two such scenarios included in the game box. Additional scenarios should be sold separately in the future.
  • Aside from the box' contents, the game also requires a free app (available on iOS and Android).
  • A scenario is basically two sets of cards. Object cards are numbered cards that are revealed to the group whenever the app says so - a fairly standard system.
  • (source: boardgamegeek.com)
  • Location cards are a lot more interesting. They're double-sided, fully-illustrated pictures that constitute the gist of the game. During the initial setup, the entire deck must be inserted in the card slits at the top of the box, based on coordinates found on each card side. The "blue" side of any given card is the "less spoily" one, but ideally players should look at the Location cards as little as they can.
  • Once the game begins, players are allowed to look into all the tiny "windows" around the game box, to peek at its contains. It is suggested to keep the box at eye level, by piling it on top of other game boxes. The copy I played had a set of "official" penlights, but any light source can be used.
  • (source: boardgamegeek.com)
  • The app can be used to gather info about whatever you manage to see inside the box. You select the right coordinates in the app, then you'll get a list of items that may or may not be present on the location card. If you select one that is, you'll get a bit of additional info. You might also be asked to draw one of the Object cards. Note that you could possibly be told that the thing you want to look at "cannot properly be reached yet".
  • (from the game manual)
  • The app works in a similar manner for entering codes (you pick coordinates, select "Enter Code", and if a code/password needs to be provided here, you'll be able to input it) and using items (you pick coordinates, select "Use Item" and get a list of the cards you already have). Note that whenever you make a mistake (enter the wrong code, try to look at something that isn't there, etc.), 20 seconds are removed from your remaining time.
  • As you make progress in the game (enter the right code, use the right item, and so on), you'll be asked to remove Location cards from the box, making it easier to view some sections and allowing you to "reach" more things when using the app.
Pros
  • I think the "peek through windows" system does a wonderful job at replacing the "search" mechanic you find in escape rooms.
  • Likewise, the "removing location cards" mechanic feels quite satisfactory.
  • The two included scenarios are pretty solid - I can't wait to play more!
  • The game doesn't scrap any components, so it can be shared, and borrowed.
Cons
  • The outer packaging (the "box containing the box", if you will) is very flimsy. Granted, that part's not needed when playing the game, but as storage goes, it's closer to "toy packaging" than to modern boardgame boxes.
  • There were glaring English mistakes in the app text. (Though we can hope those will eventually get fixed.)
House Rules & Suggestions

To get the best gameplay experience, I suggest you do the following:
  • Decide on a gameplay pattern first
    Before you start that timer, have a chat with your teammate, and try to figure how best to tackle the box. Do you feel compelled to see everything there is? From a game flow perspective, it might be a good thing to avoid rotating the box too often - players can split the sides among themselves, and rotate the box only when they're stuck. Likewise, if one player is comfortable using the app (and reading all the flavor text) and doesn't mind not looking inside the box, then you could choose to ignore the app's requests to switch player, and leave it always with the same person. (In fact that's what the rulebook recommends with 5 players.)
  • Get plenty of lighting
    It might be tempting to say "oh, you're supposed to play with flashlights, so let's dim the surroundings light". Don't. Lack of proper lighting is a common pet peeve with Escape Rooms, and it's just as true here.
  • Always Be Exploring
    A perfectly natural reflex would be to go "Oooh! I can see some numbers scratched on that wall. There's a one, and hrm, maybe a four?" The first thing you should do here is to hit the Explore button and see whether the room as a "Numbers" options listed (or "Scratches", "Markings", "Graffiti", and so on). You might end up drawing a card with a much better view of those hard-to-see markings.

Scenario Results

The Lord of the Labyrinth
Official difficulty: ?
Played with: 4 players
Made it? NO

Family Portrait
Official difficulty: ?
Played with: 5 players
Made it? YES

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Boardgame - Cryptogram Puzzle Post

Beauty and the Braaaaaaains...


 


Publisher:
None (Self-published)
Author:
Jack Fallows
# of Players:
1 (perhaps a couple more)

Game Design & Mechanics
 
  • The Cryptogram Puzzle Post is an ongoing subscription project that's been running since 2017. Through the author's Patreon page, people can subscribe to a monthly puzzle envelope.
    Note that even though I marked it as a "board game", each envelope could better be viewed as a small, unbound puzzle book. The format of this review reflects that.
  • Each game envelope is magnificently illustrated. Said cover illustration is not typically part of any puzzle. (But then again, you never know, I guess.)
  • The envelope contains a set of eight A5 sheets. The first sheet always show the same stuff: a short paragraph explaining what the CPP is, a poem 😮, and a suggested playlist of indie music to accompany your puzzle-solving 🤯.
  • The following seven sheets tell an ongoing story, and hint at a series of puzzles. The initial puzzle is stand-alone, but its solution will be needed to tackle the second puzzle, and so on. Sometimes the solution will be inserted directly in that puzzle, sometimes it will provide a vague clue as to what now needs to be done.
  • The final puzzle will always yield a textual answer (a single word, or a few). You can then email Mr Fallows directly, and ask for confirmation that you've solved that particular month.
  • Some puzzles will expect you to write on the sheet, maybe even cut it down into pieces.
  • Every 3-month "season" has a connecting theme, meaning that combining all the answers make a longer phrase. Validating that phrase with Mr. Fallows entitles you to a bonus prize, while supplies last. (There are also meta-puzzles that require owning a full year's worth of envelopes, but I don't really know about those.)
  • After a certain time, hints and solutions become publicly available.
  • The entire first year (2017) can now be purchased as a digital download.
Pros
  • It's pretty. Very pretty. Can't quite describe it, but you can check out the website and see what I mean. There is a strong artistic vibe coming from this series, and it will certainly strike a chord with the "artsy" types.
  • It's also quite clever. Having played through 4 envelopes, it seems that a lot of efforts have been put into ensuring the puzzles would be varied and well-thought.
  • Ironically, as much as I hate having to "destroy" components, I had no qualms with the CPP model. The small detached sheets are super-easy to photocopy and manipulate.
  • Soooo... puuurty... 😵 (Am I repeating myself?)
Cons
  • The subscription model can feel a bit pricey when you're, say, a Canadian dealing with steep exchange rates. 🙄 It's clever, it looks good, but is it 10 GBP worth of gorgeous cleverness? Only you can decide.
  • Although you can theoretically start the subscription at any point, I suspect it just won't be as enjoyable as if you start at the very beginning of a given year.
  • Sometimes the process by which a "result" is used into the following page is really part of a single puzzle, so ultimately you don't necessarily get 7 puzzles per envelope.
Additional Considerations
  • The very first issue (March 2017) can be downloaded for free. There's your opportunity to try it for yourself.
  • If you end up purchasing digital files for 2017, let me point out that one of the initial puzzles cannot be completed as-is. Something's missing from the file. I won't say which one (and I already pointed it out to Mr. Fallows), but you've been warned.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Boardgame - Escape Room The Game: Jumanji - Spin Master

Easier to escape than the real thing





Publisher:
Spin Master (US/Canada)
Designers:
Unknown (boo!)
Artist:
Unknown (boo!)
Languages:
English
# of Players:
3-5 on the box (2-4 on the website?!)
Age:
10+
Duration:
60 min

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Game Components
  • Let's cut to the chase here: this game is basically a stand-alone expansion that works exactly like the original. You can pretty much read my review of the original box, and you'll know how the game works.
  • One notable change is that there are only 2 hour-long scenarios in that box. And instead of being referred to as Part 1/2/3, the two scenarios are presented as Levels 1 through 6, suggesting they're all part of a single storyline. That doesn't change the game per se - you still play Levels 1/2/3 on a single 60-min timer, then the last on another.
  • There's also a "Level 0" in there. It's a 15-min introductory game that requires using the ERTG app (available on iOS and Android) instead of the real-life Chrono-Decoder.
Pros
  • The things I generaly enjoy about this game are still there.
  • You can see a definite willingness from the makers in trying to find new ways for players to interact with the components.
  • Having an extra Chrono-Decoder around could be seen as a bonus (especially if you keep sharing your games with others).
Cons
  • Some of those "original interactions" can be rather frustrating. In one case, even after reading the walkthrough, we haven't been able to get the result described. 😠
  • The game seems to be selling for the same price as the original box, while having over 40% less gameplay.
  • Paying for that extra Chrono-Decoder is annoying if don't care for it.
  • It's not explicitly mentioned anywhere, but the game is heavily based on the new "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" movie. People who have only watched the original movie will likely be confused (and possibly disappointed).

Scenario Results

The Drumming Closet (Level 0)
Official difficulty: 2 / 5
Played with: 3 players
Made it? YES

The Search for Jesse (Levels 1-2-3)
Official difficulty: 3 / 5
Played with: 3 players
Made it? YES

Break the Curse (Levels 4-5-6)
Official difficulty: 3 / 5
Played with: 3 players
Made it? NO

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Boardgame - Escape Room The Game: Virtual Reality - Spin Master

"♫ You spin me right round, baby, right round... "





Publisher:
Identity Games, Spin Master (US/Canada)
Designers:
Unknown (boo!)
Artist:
Unknown (boo!)
Languages:
English, German, Dutch, Spanish, French and more
# of Players:
3-5 (3-4 in my opinion)
Age:
16+ (10+ in my opinion)
Duration:
60 min

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Picture from the manufacturer's website
  • The gist of the game, in style and in structure, is very much akin to the "Escape Room: The Game", which I reviewed a while ago. Here I'm going to focus on what's different about it.
  • This version of the game is coupled with a free (and mandatory) app running on iOS and Android phones, using Google Cardboard. Such a device (the cardboard, not the phone, obviously) is included in the box.
  • While the original game used a "Chrono-Decoder" icon on some of its components, this time it's "VR" icon. Whenever you see that icon on a paper clue, it implies that you'll need to access the VR environment in order to solve that puzzle.
  • What does that VR environment feels like? With your phone running the app and tucked inside the Cardboard box, you gain access to a 360° scenery that one player at a time can explore.
  • The scene can be interacted with, to some limited extent. A cursor is middle in the middle of your field of vision, and it changes shape when you're looking at something that can be interacted with. The Cardboard has a button you can click on to toggle an interaction.
  • Those interactions, albeit limited, means that the VR environment can eventually "change state". Even though the "main game" happens in the real world, elements might allow you to make progress in the virtual world, hence gaining new clues to assist you in the table game.
  • I've already mentioned the "Chrono-Decoder" that was a staple of the original game. So let's be clear: this game does NOT include it! Even though the core game mechanic is still all about finding which 4 keys need to inserted into the 4 slots, 3 times, you'll have to either 1) use the Chrono-Decoder from another ERTG set, or 2) use a 2nd device running the same app, but this time to be used a virtual Chrono-Decoder. We tried both modes, and I felt that not having "real" keys is just not as enjoyable.
Pros
  • The VR works well enough, providing an exciting type of interaction that other boxed games don't have.
  • The overall format (with the Chrono-Decoder, the 3 successive "gates" and the disposable paper components) remains one of my favorite for playing with others.
  • If you own a Google cardboard device of your own (or any compatible phone-based headset), there's nothing preventing you from running multiple VR headsets at once, so that more people can enjoy the 360 display. However, keep in mind that the VR does track "state", so you could technically "move on" within the game in one headset while remaining stuck in the other.
  • The game has a print & play scenario that can be downloaded and played for free. However, it's only 15 min long, which means a 2nd device is necessary because it's not compatible with the Chrono-Decoder.
Cons
  • As mentioned above, if you play without the Decoder (and its physical keys), the experience just isn't as nice.
  • Depending on your teammates (especially younger players), you might have to regulate the usage of the VR headset, so everyone can have their go.
  • The game suffers from the same problems I've seen in other ERTG expansions: the scenarios just aren't as good as the first ones. There's absolutely no reason for that - the game system should be adaptable to all kinds of scenarios and settings. Yet somehow, the folks at Identity Games seem to struggle at making a scenario that's both "hard" yet "fair". Likewise, they seem to struggle coming up with "investigative"-type scenarios.

A Word of Caution

In the past, the publishers have done a great job at providing PDF replacements for all the "disposable" components. In "Submarine", however, they current only provide a replacement for one side of a piece of paper. 🤨 You might want to scan the other side and reuse it. (Or see my own humble attempt here.)


Scenario Results

Down Below (print & play demo)
Official difficulty: ? / 5
Played with: 5 players
Made it? NO

Submarine
Official difficulty: 3 / 5
Played with: 6 players
Made it? YES - 1 single second (!) remaining

Behind Enemy Lines
Official difficulty: 4 / 5
Played with: 3 players
Made it? NO

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Boardgame - Escape Tales: The Awakening - LockMe



Publisher:
LockMe, Board & Dice, KOSMOS
Designers:
Jakub Caban, Bartosz Idzikowski, Matt Dembek
Artists:
Magdalena Klepacz, Paweł Niziołek, Jakub Fajtanowski
Languages:
Polish, English & many others
# of Players:
1-4
Age:
12+
Duration:
3-5 hours (can be broken into multiple sittings)
BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

  • Although it definitely qualifies as an "escape room board game", Escape Tales also pushes the envelope into new territories, with game mechanics reminiscent of "adventure board games" such as T.I.M.E. Stories, Tales of the Arabian Nights or The 7th Continent.
  • First of all, there's no time limit in the traditional sense. Instead, the players have a pool of "action tokens" they spend whenever they want to investigate their environment.
  • Furthermore, said environment is made of multiple locations that you'll visit in sequence. So instead of being "stuck" in a proverbial room, you'll be exploring several.
  • Image from the rulebook
  • Each location is made of 1 or 2 Location cards. Those cards are placed over a game board with a grid and a system of coordinates. Players must look carefully at the location, and then decide which parts of the location are worth spending your precious action tokens on.
  • Once you've made your choice, the card gives you a paragraph number to look up in the Story Book. You might get some info, some new cards to draw, or you might even be asked to make a decision as a group.
  • Game cards come in two main flavors: clues have a red symbol that corresponds to a puzzle you'll have to solve, while items have a white symbol that is typically used to refer to it elsewhere without spoiling what the item actually is.
  • Image from the rulebook
  • Every time your group runs out of action tokens, you need to draw the next Doom card out of pre-arranged deck. The card will give you some more tokens, but will also make the story move forward - and not in a good way.
  • The game has an associated "app" available on the web. Using that app is mandatory in order to validate whether or not you've solved a given puzzle, but it can also be used to get a hint, or even just to confirm whether or not you've got all the cards needed to even bother solving it.
Pros
  • Simply put, this game has given me the best "tabletop escape" experience thus far. The heavy emphasis put on the story line made this game experience quite unique. A stark contrast with real-life escape rooms and their paper-thin plots.
  • The game includes pretty much every element of a real-life room: you "search around" by looking at the Location cards and choosing your spots. You manipulate objects, solve puzzles, and the action tokens do a great job at keeping pressure on you and your fellow players.
  • I'm not sure if it was due to the nature of the puzzles, the use of the Story Book, or both, but my team of 4 didn't feel the usual "crampiness" associated with card-based games.
  • While the game can easily fill up a whole game night, it can just as easily get paused and resumed in a follow-up session.
  • The game has multiple endings, and due to its mechanics, it isn't easy to figure out if a choice you made earlier was the right one or not. After reaching the end of our game session (on a rather sad ending), we tried backtracking just a bit, and ended up with a slightly better one. So we backtracked some more... and got an even worse ending than the first. Now we can't wait to see what other endings there are in there.
Cons
  • As tech-savvy players will notice, the "app" is really just a stand-alone web page. 😞 Fortunately, the rulebook says that internet access is not needed once the page has been loaded, and that seems accurate - in fact I was able to use the "Save Page As" feature to get myself a local copy of the "app" (although a bit of extra tweaking was needed).
  • When we played (a couple months ago), some puzzles weren't adequately clued in the app, going from hints we didn't quite understand straight to the solution. Perhaps this will improve (or already has) over time.
  • For this first offering in the "Escape Tales" series, the theme seems a bit dark. Perhaps something a bit more "traditional" could have been used in order to balance the innovative mechanics?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Boardgame - Deckscape - dV Giochi




Publisher:
dV Giochi
Designers:
Martino Chiacchiera, Silvano Sorrentino
Artists:
Alberto Bontempi
Languages:
Italian, English & many others (French announced)
# of Players:
1-6 (5 max in my opinion)
Age:
12+ (10+ in my opinion)
Duration:
60 min

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Images from the Print & Play demo
  • Of all the Escape Room simulations I've seen, Deckscape is probably the most straightforward. It's a deck of cards (hence its clever name), nothing more. No app for your phone, no extra components.
  • The game typically works like this: you read what's on the very top of the deck, out loud. If it's a puzzle, the whole group can look at that card, discuss, and try to figure it out.
  • Once you think you've figured it out (or you've just given up), you can flip the card and validate your answer. If you've failed to figure it out, you add an "X" marker to your game tally. You then move on to the next card.
  • Some of the cards you'll encounter along the way are "items" that you put in a separate pile. Items might be needed to solve future puzzles, and if at some point you try solving a puzzle for which you're still missing the right item, you'll get an extra "X" and won't be able to proceed until that item has been found.
  • Images from the Print & Play demo
  • "But wait!", astute readers might object, "How could we be missing an item if all we do is digging through a deck of cards?!" Well, at some point in the game you'll have to split that deck into several. (For instance, you might be instructed to make cards 15-20 into a pile without looking at them, then 21-25 into another, and so on.) That allows for concurrent paths and non-linear puzzle solving.
  • Upon reaching the end of the game, you'll be given instructions on how to combine your play time and all those Xs into a final score. The final assessments are usually lumped into three buckets (great, good, not good). Clearly this is meant to be more about the journey than the destination.
  • The deck also includes a couple cards with hints. You look up the card number you're currently stuck on, and a hint message is written in reverse lettering. There are no specific constraints or penalties regarding hint usage.
Pros
  • Obviously, these games are the easiest to carry with you. Their Dutch name is "Pocket Escape Room", and indeed they can easily fit into a pocket.
  • They can also be played pretty much anywhere. It's the only escape game I could picture being played in the car, at the beach, and so on.
  • They're also the least expensive, at least based on their MSP.
Cons
  • My major complaint against Unlock! can pretty much be reused verbatim here. Even though the Deckscape cards are oversized, much bigger than Unlock's or EXIT's, it's still hard for players to huddle around the same card.
  • The puzzles' difficulty seems to be fluctuating a lot. This is especially true in "Fate of London", where some puzzles are a lot harder than others. "Test Time" seems more evenly calibered.
  • In spite of the "sub-deck" method I described above, the game still seems a lot more linear than it needs to be.
House Rules & Suggestions

Should you play this and want to compare your performance with friends, I suggest you do the following:
  • 5 players max 
    Six is a bit too much to fight over a few cards.
  • 2 minutes per hint
    Every time you look up a hint, add some marker (say, an "H") along with your Xs. At the end of the game, every H adds another 2 minutes. If you get an ending that lets you remove more Xs than you got, you can remove Hs instead.
  • 15 extra minutes in "The Fate of London"
    That one's just too hard. Even with that proposed bonus, my own team still fails.

Scenario Results

Test Time
Played with: 5 players
Result: 50 min + (1X - 1X) * 5 = 50 minutes - No hint used

Deckscape Demo (Print & Play scenario)
Played with: 1 player
Result: 8 min + (0X - 1X) * 5 = 8 minutes

The Fate of London
Played with: 5 players
Result: 90 min + (6X - 2X) * 5 + 2H * 2 = 114 minutes

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Boardgame - Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment - Mattel






Publisher:
Stay at Home Werewolves (KS), Mattel
Designers:
Juliana Pattel, Ariel Rubin
Artists:
(unknown)
Languages:
English
# of Players:
2-8 (I recommend 4-6)
Age:
7+ (the KS edition said 14+)
Duration:
60 min

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Original prototype box
  • This game began its life as a Kickstarter project, at a time where very few "room in a box" wee available on the market. By the time it shipped (late, but then what KS isn't?), things had changed considerably, but that didn't prevent it from getting very positive reviews.
  • Furthermore, almost as soon as the game was released, Mattel announced they had acquired the rights to it, and the 2nd edition of the game is indeed available for purchase as I write this review. Please keep in mind that I played the first edition, so it's possible that the Mattel version has changed a few things (but nothing major).
  • Prototype sent to reviewers
    Credits: I Play'd It
  • Now, on to the contents... In this section, I typically describe the different components that can be found in the box, but this time it's trickier, as there are no standard components per se: as you as you lift the lid, a cardboard pane tells you to stop, and not proceed further until you're ready to play. Searching the box is an integral (and exciting) part of the game, so I don't want to spill the beans...
  • Likewise, this is usually the part where I explain how the designers of the game managed to simulate the opening of a lock. Well, here's the kicker: in this game, locks... are locks. Actual locks. There's one padlock, and 2 combination locks, holding small containers shut. This is a game where you get to manipulate real, physical components.
  • Kickstarter edition components
    Credits: Room Escape Artist
  • In spite of those constraints, I guess it's ok to mention a few things. The instruction booklet found at the top of the box will instruct your team to gather some extra pen and paper, a time-measuring device of some sort, and one glass of warm water (Oh?), which players are immediately warned is not meant to put any piece of paper in. (Oh.)
  • Inside the box are a number of paper sheets with codes such as "A1" and "P5". I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that the "P" sheets are puzzles you will typically solve with a pen or pencil, while the "A" sheets are meant to hold the final answers. For replayability, I would suggest you don't write on any components beyond those sheets.
  • Mattel 2nd edition components
  • There are downloadable files available on the web, allowing you to replace those Ps and As.
  • The new edition comes with another gimmick: if you own an Alexa home assistant, you can install a custom app for it. The app will take care of "hosting" the game, keeping track of time, providing clues, and so on.
Pros
  • I can't understate how nice it is to get real locks in there. Having actual components always provide an extra thrill.
  • The puzzles are numerous, and can easily be split and shared among team members.
  • They're also well designed, and pretty varied (with one caveat, see below).
  • The "replacement" instruction package make it fairly easy to reset your box for another play. There's even an "hosting guide" that gives suggestions about hosting the gave for a group, spreading the box' contents across a room, acting as a referee, and so on. It even includes invite templates. A nice thought.
Cons
  • A significant chunk of the puzzles are word puzzles of one form or another. Fans of more traditional "puzzle hunts", popular in the US, will feel at home here, but players used to the other boxed games might find it unsettling.
  • If you're like me, and English isn't your first language, you'll likely find these puzzles significantly harder than usual. Even though you're discouraged from using outside sources, you're probably better off keeping a dictionary within reach.
  • The very materials that I keep lauding also happen to be rather flimsy. After just two games, I had to replace one of the locks, one physical component, and one metal box had to be fixed (thanks luv!).
  • Likewise, the KS combinations locks have been known to switch their combination by accident. That happened to me once... but then that's the lock that broke, problem solved! 😉 Provided that you can find the new combination through trial-and-error, you can follow the intructions below (from the designers) to set it right.
  • I have mixed feeling with the price. Paying the Kickstarter price for those components seems like a bit too much, especially when you realize that with the "refill downloads", it wouldn't be that hard to get your own components and create your own custom copy from scratch. At least the Mattel pricing fixes that.

Results

The Werewolf Experiment
Played with: 7 players
Made it? YES - 25 minutes left (after getting a time bonus) - 1 clue used


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Boardgame - Spy Code: Operation Escape - Yulu




Publisher:
Yulu
Languages:
No language needed
# of Players:
1+
Age:
6+
Duration:
120 min
BoardGameGeek Reference:
None (Guess it's considered more like a toy than a board game)

Game Design & Mechanics

Picture from the manufacturer's website
  • The game is made of 4 main components, each of them being a stand-alone toy in its own right.
  • First, there's a "ticking time bomb" belt that you can set to a number of seconds of your choice, lock around your favorite hostage's belly, and set off. From that moment on, you need to insert a small key in order to stop the clock and unlock the belt. (Alright, let's clear that matter right away: the game comes with three keys, and they're all identical. Using the first key to get the two others is just part of the rules.)
  • The next toy is a puzzle box with each side shaped like a maze. A key is placed inside it, and a player will try moving it out of the box using two plastic hooks.
  • There's also a cryptex of sorts, with 3 dials sporting digits and one with A-B-C-D. It requires a key to operate, and stores another key inside it. To figure out how to open it, players can look a cards of increasing difficulty (green-yellow-red) showing a single, wordless, multiple choice puzzle. You enter the card number on the small dials, you pick your answer on the big one. If you guessed right, the key slides out a bit, but if you made a mistake, it slides fully back in. You'll need 3 consecutive good guesses in order to retrieve that key.
  • The final device is a "guessing wheel". You unlock it using a key, give it a spin, and then you're allowed to open 3 of its doors, hoping to find the one with the last key (the one meant to go into the bomb). Some doors will show you an arrow pointing clockwise or counterclockwise, so the game is sort of a visual variant of the classical "high-low" number guessing game. After 3 attempts, the player must close all the doors, and re-spin.
  • The game can be played competitively (with every player taking a turn and trying to get the best time) or cooperatively (with players splitting tasks and trying to get out in time).
Pros
  • The game is highly customizable, which means you can calibrate its difficulty any way you see fit. An adult could be forced to used to toughest side of the maze box, 3 red cards, and have less time, while a younger child can pick a random side, 2 green cards and 1 yellow, a have more time to proceed, for instance.
  • Instead of seeing this item as a game with strict rules, you can treat it just as a set of individual kid-proof components. A couple days after getting the game, my son designed a slightly more complex escape room that used the game parts coupled with some original puzzles and room-searching.
  • The components are wordless (the puzzle cards are visual-only), which means even pre-school kids might be able to play the easiest puzzle cards.
Cons
  • Even though the game marketing is definitely focused on the "Escape Room" angle (the game was even sold as "Operation Escape Room" at some point), I don't think it really qualifies, hence the infamous "notquite" tag on this entry. If you play the game as-is, there won't be any room searching, nor any "figuring out what needs to be done next", two staples of escape rooms in my mind.
  • The game, on its own, won't keep adults entertained for more than 2 or 3 games... which means, in total, less time than most escape rooms.
  • The "explosive belt" is rather small, unlikely to fit most adults. Sorry, pops - you likely won't be the one tied down to a chair. (But then, is that really a drawback? 😈)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Boardgame - EXIT: The Game - Kosmos




Publisher:
Kosmos, Thames, Iello
Designers:
Inka & Markus Brand, Ralph Querfurth
Artists:
Silvia Christoph, Franz Vohwinkel, Michael Menzel, Martin Hoffmann
Languages:
German, English, French
# of Players:
1-6
Age:
12+ (10+ in my opinion)
Duration:
120 min

BoardGameGeek References:

Game Design & Mechanics

Picture from the manufacturer's website
  • At first glance, you might think that EXIT ripped off some ideas from both ThinkFun's "Escape the Room" and Space Cowboys' "Unlock!", since it features both a code wheel and a deck of cards. Ironically, though, EXIT is the oldest of all 3 games, having been released in Germany 2 years ago.
  • Let's start with the cards. They come, in fact, in several types. Riddle cards are pretty straightforward. They're identified by a single letter on their back. If told to "get clue X", you fetch that card. Riddle cards typically show a clue of some sort, but they can also have a picture of game scene, a new room you just got access to, etc.
    • The "hidden object" mechanic found in Unlock! isn't present here, although it's possible to see a picture of Riddle card inside another picture (meaning you should pick up that matching card).
  • Every "lock" in the game is associated to a pictogram, and it's always "solved" by combining 3 icons found on the code wheel. The wheel then gives you a number, and you check out the matching Answer card. There's an interesting twist, however - the card might simply tell you you're wrong, or it might show you an array of small pictures. You find the image depicting the lock you're trying to open, and you consult the matching card number.
    The neat thing about this gimmick is that, in addition to providing two-tier validation, it prevents the players from opening a lock they haven't found yet. You see, the pictures shown on the Answer cards don't have the logos on them, so even if you figured out how to solve the "star" lock, it can't happen if you haven't got to that lock yet, since you wouldn't know what it looked like.
  • Help cards come in sets of 3, one for each lock. The first card tells you what you need in order to solve the lock. The second card gives you pointers as to what needs to be done, and the third gives the solution outright. The more cards you use, the lower your final score.
  • When the game starts, all you have is the code wheel and a booklet. Somewhere in that booklet will be a picture of the room you're in, with the first locks you'll have to deal with.
  • Once you've read the final Answer card, the time it took you to finish and the number of Help cards used are tallied to give you a score, going from 10 stars (less than an hour, no help) to 1 (over 2 hours, over 10 cards).
  • The last but not least of the game's features is the fact that the game is meant to be played once. And I don't mean "once" as in "a player can't play the same scenario twice", but rather as in "the box is meant to go in the garbage". Players are encouraged to write on things, tear them out, cut them off, and so on.
Pros
  • These games are especially "meaty". Difficulty-wise, they're on par with their competition, and the 2-hour duration advertised on the box is the real deal. After playing most other escape-room-in-a-box games, I always feel like playing another. With these, I always felt fully sated. 😋
  • The price point is pretty good. There are plenty of escape room that cost more for one single player than an EXIT box.
  • Using a scoring system means that players can actually choose between taking their time and not taking hints, or using multiple hints to finish quickly.
  • The fact that cards and components can (and will) be teared down allow for a number of clever, original puzzles.
Cons
  • For people like me, the biggest turn-off is definitely the "single use" angle. In recent years, there have been plenty of "Legacy" board games, which are meant to played by the same group over a few sessions, and eventually thrown away. As much as I can agree on the principle, I find it a lot harder to cope with the destruction of a single-session game. In the past, I've enjoyed lending my games to other people, and even watching them try their best at solving it. Being unable to share that experience with others without buying a brand new box is, to me, a big issue.
    That being said, there are ways to circumvent the single-use aspect - see my notes below.
  • Although I didn't notice it at first, it seems the puzzle sequence is pretty linear - you open lock A, then lock B, etc. Nothing in the game mechanics actually prevents concurrent puzzles, but it just happens to be that way.
  • According to the scoring system, you can flip through Help cards like crazy, read every single puzzle solution, and still end up with 4 stars...

UPDATE - Spring 2018
  • With the second batch of scenarios, two small-but-nice improvements have been made to the series. First, every game now has an official difficulty setting. Second, Kosmos has come up with a companion app that can act as a timer while playing some background music.

Gilles' Guide to Sparing your EXIT box

Alright, so you've decided you'd rather keep your copy of EXIT in a good enough state so you'd be able to have it played more than once, even if that means some of your friends will tease you for being such an obsessive-compulsive freak. (Word up, Marc-Antoine! 😎) Here are my tricks for you:
  • Keep an All-in-One printer close by
    Without a doubt, this is the most straightforward way to get quick copies. Many printer/scanner combos have a "Copy" button that makes the device work like a copy machine. If yours doesn't, you can still scan a page then print it back - just make sure you disable any "Fit to Page" setting and print at the exact same size as your originals.
  • Snap a picture and doodle over
    A friend of mine took an overhead photo of a page using his tablet, and began doodling directly over the picture. If that's something you have experience with (say, for work), it can get good results pretty fast.
  • Keep blank sheets nearby
    Tracing paper can be expensive, but most printer paper is "light" enough to be see-through. You can place one such sheet over the booklet and trace lines on it using a pen or pencil.
  • Use baggies/sleeves and fine-point sharpies
    Kudos to my wive for thinking about that one. Another effective way to write over a page or a card without permanent damage.
      

Errata

  • In the first printing of The Secret Lab, the 2nd clue of the "six-pointed star" lock could be misleading (the puzzle was simplified but the clue wasn't updated). So if you have an older box, the first paragraph of the card should read:

Scenario Results

The Pharaoh's Tomb
Official difficulty: 4 / 5
Played with: 5 players
Result: 3 Stars. Finished in 105 minutes. 7 Help cards used.

The Secret Lab
Official difficulty: 3.5 / 5
Played with: 4 players
Result: 9 Stars. Finished in 85 minutes. No Help cards used.

The Abandoned Cabin
Official difficulty: 2.5 / 5
Played with: 7 players
Result: 7 Stars. Finished in 80 minutes. 2 Help cards used.

Le Mystère de la Première (Free Print-and-Play mini-scenario)
Official difficulty: 1 / 5
Played with: 5 players
Result: 10 Stars. Finished in 9 minutes. No Help cards used.

The Forbidden Castle
Official difficulty: 4 / 5
Played with: 4 players
Result: 3 Stars. Finished in 100 minutes. 6 Help cards used.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Boardgame - Unlock! - Space Cowboys



Publisher:
Space Cowboys / Asmodée
Designers:
Alice Carroll, Thomas Cauët, Cyril Demaegd, Arnaud Ladagnous, Fabrice Mazza, Sébastien Pauchon, Billy Stevenson, Arch Stanton
Artist:
Florian de Gesincourt, Arnaud Demaegd, Legruth, Pierre Santamaria, Sergio
Languages:
French, English, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese
# of Players:
2-6
Age:
16+ (10+ in my opinion)
Duration:
60 min (typically)

BoardGameGeek References (big boxes only):

Game Design & Mechanics
  • This game sets itself apart by its mandatory use of an app (made available for free, on iOS and Android, weeks before the game came out). The app knows each of the available scenarios, tracks the time remaining, provide hints on demand, and is also used whenever a numerical combination needs to be entered, or when a card instructs you to do something.
  • As for what's in the box, every scenario is made of a single deck of cards - nothing else. Those cards have very different content, however. Some of them will show a puzzle or a lock, others an item (often a key, but not always). Some cards will show you a small map, or an image of an object found in the room itself.
  • The cards have a unique code (a number or a letter) on their back. This allows for a number of different mechanics like "combining inventory" (as if you were playing a computer adventure game), visual puzzle solving (reminescent of some gamebooks of yore) and even room searching (if you see a number hidden in a picture, you're allowed to reveal the card of that same number).
Pros
  • As others rightly pointed out to me, of all the other boxed games out there, this one is the best at conveying the uncertainty of standing in a real Escape Room. How far have you gone? Is this really the last puzzle? Are those remaining cards red herrings and penalties? You can't know for sure until the app tells you it's over.
  • With some non-linear puzzles and all those scenery cards you'll want to pick up and scrutinize, there are plenty of opportunity to "multitask". Your players shouldn't have to fight over cards, unless there really is a lot of you.
  • Since each scenario is essentially a deck of cards, this might be one of the cheapest offer out there. And with the English scenarios being sold separately, it's even easier to give in.
Cons
  • Well, you know, they're cards. Cards are small, and two people can't really look at the same card at once. Even though I understand the whole rationale, I really, really wish they had included a few foldable maps along with those cards.
  • If you're familiar with games like T.I.M.E Stories (also from Space Cowboys) or Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (a 30 year-old game which has just been reprinted by - guess what - Space Cowboys!)  you might guess what my next complaint will be: the game is hard. And I don't mean "fun hard", where you feel challenged yet encouraged to keep trying your best. I mean "cocky hard", where the game almost seems to take pleasure in making feel inferior. (Then again, those games are among my favorites, so I guess I'm a masochist. 😧)
  • After playing most of the available scenarios, I noticed that the game has an "anti-pattern" of sorts. You see, it punishes players harshly for trying, but scolds them lightly for asking for help, which is the downright opposite of pretty much any Escape Room out there. Think about it, when was the last time a real-life room took 5 minutes off your chronometer just because you tried the wrong key on the wrong door? Oh, of course the game will (vehemently) explain that the key clearly wasn't meant to go in there, but many of these cases seemed quite subjective to me. Check out my personal results below. Notice how the same group performed way better in S&S than in The Formula? I believe that's because we learned from our mistakes and became more cautious - but once again, I don't see any fun in that.
    • In fact, as I keep thinking about it, I believe that the whole "card matching" mechanic should have been dropped. I wouldn't be surprised if it was one of the very first game mechanic the designers came up with, possibly predating the use of an app.
      But there is an app, and it's a mandatory part of the game, so why not use it to validate all the players' attempts at combining stuff? Why waste all that cardstock just to write "No, these things don't together, you're a moron, lose 5 minutes!"
      I know I'm ranting a bit more than usual here (especially for a game that'll keep getting my money for sure), but I believe a few changes could make a great game even better.
UPDATE - Fall 2017
  • A whole category of cards - machines, the cards I mentioned above as "visual puzzle solving" - have been heavily revamped. Instead of showing numbers that you must add up to solve a puzzle, you're now being asked to enter the card number in the app, which lets you play the solving part directly in there. The 2nd wave of scenarios have this from the get-go, and it looks like older ones will be retroactively made that way.
UPDATE - Spring 2018
  • The latest series of adventures ("Secret Adventures") starts including some non-card components. For instance, the Oz scenario has a folded map you acquire at some point. I must say I've been impressed at Space Cowboys' talent at making every iteration better than the last.
House Rules & Suggestions

Should you play this and want to compare your performance with friends, I suggest you do the following:
  • 5 players max
    Otherwise there's too many of you fighting over a dozen cards.

Scenario Results

(NOTE: When I started playing Unlock!, I saw that the app would give you a score (out of 5 stars) but I decided that I wouldn't care for those, and would focus only on the overall success and the completion time. In retrospect, it was a bad idea. Some scenarios have variable duration, multiple endings, and so on. I suggest you stick to those scores, dear reader.)

Tutorial
(Print & Play version)
Official difficulty: 0 / 3
Played with: 4 players
Made it? YES - Less than 5 minutes remaining

The Elite
(Free Print & Play module)
Official difficulty: 2 / 3
Played with: 4 players
Made it? NO

The Formula
Official difficulty: 2 / 3
Played with: 5 players
Made it? YES - More than 10 minutes remaining

Squeek & Sausage
Played with: 5 players
Official difficulty: 2 / 3
Made it? YES - More than 25 minutes remaining

The Island of Doctor Goorse
Official difficulty: 3 / 3
Played with: 7 players
Made it? NO

The 5th Avenue
(Free Print & Play module)
Official difficulty: 1 / 3
Played with: 4 players
Made it? YES - More than 11 minutes remaining
One anecdote, though. We first played an aborted game where we spent 12 minutes completely and utterly stuck, until we figured out that poor printer quality had made some hidden numbers completely invisible. We kicked off another session with the PDF sitting nearby. Seems the recently updated version of this module isn't nearly as bad.

Doo-Arann Dungeon
(From Ravage magazine - Later released as a Print & Play)
Official difficulty: 2 / 3
Played with: 3 players
Made it? YES - Less than 3 minutes remaining

Temple of Ra
(Free Print & Play module)
Official difficulty: 3 / 3
Played with: 5 players
Made it? NO

The Tonipal's Treasure
Played with: 5 players
Official difficulty: 3 / 3
Made it? YES - More than 15 minutes remaining

The Nautilus' Traps
Official difficulty: 2 / 3
Played with: 5 players
Made it? YES - About 6 minutes remaining

The House on the Hill
Official difficulty: 1 / 3
Played with: 4 players
Made it? YES - More than 12 minutes remaining

Tombstone Express
Official difficulty: 2 / 3
Played with: 3 players
Made it? YES - Less than 3 minutes remaining

A Noside Story
Official difficulty: 1 / 3
Played with: 3 players
Made it? YES - Less than 10 minutes remaining

The Adventures of Oz
Official difficulty: 3 / 3
Played with: 3 players
Made it? YES - 3 seconds remaining - side quests completed

William and the Boogeymen
Official difficulty: 1 / 3
Played with: 5 players
Made it? YES - Less than 10 minutes remaining