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

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Boardgame - Scooby-Doo: Escape From the Haunted Mansion - USAopoly

"♫ You know we got a mystery to solve... "





Publisher:
USAopoly (The Op)
Designers:
Jay Cormier, Sen-Foong Lim, Kami Mandell
Artists:
Rob Lundy, Rick Hutchinson
Languages:
English
# of Players:
1 or more (I recommend 3-4)
Age:
12+ (I'd say 10+)
Duration:
? (there are 2 chapters, which I'd say can take 1 to 2 hours each)

BoardGameGeek Reference:

Game Design & Mechanics

Sample game components

  • Guess I should start off by pointing out that this game's mechanics are very reminiscent of Kosmos' Adventure Games series, which I reviewed just a few days ago. However, since those are two distinct offerings, I don't want to force people to learn about it through another post. Consider yourselves warned, though - it might read as if I'm repeating myself in a few places.
  • The game main components are two decks of cards that you only reveal whenever you're asked to.
    • Map Tiles are numbered, oversized cards. As you explore the game setting, you'll be allowed to pick and place an increasing number of them on the table, building your "board" as you go.
    • Clue cards are regular-sized, and also bear a unique number. Those cards can show you an item everyone can now use, or an interesting document, or even a "close-up view" of part of a room.
  • The game also includes a series of "Secret Envelopes". Those too, are numbered, and opened whenever the game tells you so.
  • The whole "Mystery Machine" gang is present, both as cardboard standees and as paragraph-filled Narrative books. For most of the game, though, you won't have access to all of them at once. 🤔
  • Contrary to what you might expect, players don't get to "pick" a character for themselves. Everyone plays in turn, and on their turn they just pick one of the available characters, move it somewhere on the map, then perform one action with him/her.
  • Here's the kicker: characters have one single action associated with each of them: Velma "researches", Shaggy "eats", Daphne "uses", Scooby "smells", and Fred "investigates". (Yeah, the difference between Velma & Fred isn't clear to me either, but as you'll see, it won't matter much.) So the character you pick also indicates the action you want to perform. You grab the corresponding book, and look up a paragraph number constructed from the parts you want to interact with.
  • Rulebook example
  • The most basic action is to explore a specific area within a room. Map tiles bear a bunch of 3-digit numbers, so a character can interact with every nook & cranny by reading the corresponding paragraph out loud.
  • Inventory objects (which have shorter numbers) can be combined one with another, by merging their digits to create a 4-digit number, and checking if a corresponding entry exists in the Narrative book.
  • Rulebook example
  • The Narrative books can even be used to validate the occasional puzzle, as long as its answer is a 4-digit code.
  • While the game can - of course - be played in one sitting, it's broken down into 2 chapters, making it easier to pause in-between. The game box even includes an empty envelope you can use for storage.
  • You start off the game with a "supply" of 20 Scooby Snacks. Whenever you make a particularly poor decision, or try an incorrect solution, you need to "eat" one. Your remaining snack count will then affect your final ranking.
  • If stuck, there is a "hint table" at the back of the rulebook. You can look up a room name to get a list of paragraph entries, which will give you incremental hints. Higher-level hints will also cost you Scooby Snacks.
Pros
  • The game manages to convey a pretty good "Escape Room" feel - so much that I've decided not to mark it with the infamous #notquite tag, in spite of the lack of a time limit.
  • With envelopes, cards and paragraph books, the game leverages all the best mechanics out there.
  • The game does a wonderful at conveying the "Scooby-Doo" feeling. I'm sure fans could mimic the characters' voices while playing.
  • Overall, the puzzles are varied and clever. I really enjoyed them.
Cons
  • The "characters are actions" mechanic is probably the weakest one of the game. While I understand the intent, it feels a bit artificial in several places.
  • I've seen people complaint about the game "not having been tested enough", although I personally haven't struggled the way some of them have. I did notice that some of the paragraph numbers listed in the hint table just don't exist, but that's the worst I personally experienced. Apparently, others had to deal with missing components, and other such annoyances.
  • Speaking of the hints, despite the attempt at providing incremental help, there are no illustrations of any sorts in them, and so I suspect that some folks are bound to get annoyed at not properly understanding a solution.

Errata

  • As mentioned above, the Hints section seems slightly buggy. I've prepared this alternative instead. (An empty space between two hints means that the hints are about different topics.)
  • One of the hints implies the use of a "number 19", with no such number present. It should really be "91".

House Rules & Suggestions

For more competitive gameplay, I suggest you do the following:
  • More expensive hints
    Every time you look up a hint, if that hint does offer some useful knowledge, eat one Scooby Snack if it's in a white column, and two if it's in a yellow one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Boardgame - Adventure Games - Kosmos

Crossing that line (so be it)


  



Publisher:
Kosmos
Designers:
Matthew Dunstan, Phil Walker-Harding, Chihiro Mori
Artists:
Martin Hoffmann, Maximilian Schiller, Johanna Rupprecht, Folko Streese
Languages:
English, German, Dutch, French & more
# of Players:
1-4
Age:
12+ (more for some scenarios - I'd recommend 10+ for the tamer ones)
Duration:
270 min (broken into ~90 min chapters)

BoardGameGeek Reference:

Wait! Is this even an "Escape Room in a box"?

Fair question. One thing I've noticed in recent years is that the line between what is an "Escape Room", and what isn't, has become increasingly blurry, and that isn't really surprising. Most forms of entertainment go through phases where "standards" are established, followed by a phase in which those standards will be transformed and expanded. Game genres tend to pollinate one another all the time. When talking about the "origin" of Escape Rooms, for instance, you'll see folks saying that it all began in 2004, when Toshimitsu Takagi created a single-room puzzle adventure game in Flash. I've seen others say it began in 1988, when two brothers decided to use HyperCard for something it really wasn't meant to. Personally, I think if you're gonna go that far, you might as well say it all began in 1975, when a divorced computer programmer tried sharing his love of speleology with his daughters. Just another thing we can all "agree to disagree" on.

So anyway, I did not intent to review this series at first, especially since it doesn't even advertise itself as an escape-room-style game. However, I've seen many people regularly bring it up, and the fact it's got the exact same size that those EXIT boxes doesn't help... I ended up changing my mind for this particular game. I still don't expect to publish reviews for this, or this, or this, or this, or this...
Game Design & Mechanics

Sample game components

  • The game is primarily made of two decks of cards that (as always) you only reveal whenever you're asked to.
    • Location cards (they have different names in each game, but the idea's the same) are oversized cards identified by a single letter. As you explore the game setting, you'll be allowed to pick and place an increasing number of them on the table. Some cards might also end up replacing others, as things change in the game world.
    • Adventure cards are regular-sized, and typically bear a single number (although each game has special cards with other codes). Those cards can have all sorts of effects and instructions, but for the most part they'll show you an item you can now use.
    • The game will typically ask you to perform one of these 3 things: "Take card X from the deck" (if it's not there, just keep going), "Put card X back in the deck", and "Put card X back in the box" (meaning it's out of the game for good, whether it was still in the deck beforehand or not).
  • Before the game starts proper, each player will have to pick a character from the 4 offered. (If you're playing solo, you'll be asked to pick 2 and play for both.) Although they don't have any special stats per se, you'll find that they'll respond differently to some of the game events.
  • The final game component is the Adventure Book, a whole bunch of numbered paragraphs. I'll explain how this works below. There are also textual descriptions of every Location card. You must read those out loud the first time you enter a location, and can check them again whenever you like.
  • When it's your turn, you'll be allowed to 1) trade item cards with other characters in the same spot, 2) move to a different location, 3) perform one action at that location, and 4) trade items once again.
  • Rulebook example. By looking up entry 1015 in the Adventure Book,
    you'd be told to put card 10 in the box, then take card 12 from the deck.
  • The most basic action is to explore a specific area within a location. Those cards bear a bunch of 3-digit numbers, so your character can investigate every nook & cranny by reading the corresponding paragraph out loud.
  • Inventory objects can be combined one with another, by merging their two 2-digit numbers into a 4-digit one, and checking if a corresponding entry exists in the Adventure book.
  • Likewise, you can try to "use" any object in a location by merging the card's number with any of the 3-digit code, and look for a matching 5-digit entry in the Adventure book.
  • The Adventure Book can even be used to validate the occasional puzzle, as long as its answer is made of numbers.
  • Every game will have its own extra rules. For instance, "The Dungeon" has a "wounds" system, while "Monochrome Inc." has an "alarm level".
  • While each game can - of course - be played in one sitting, it's broken down into 3 chapters, making it easier to pause in-between. The game box even includes baggies you can use for storage.
  • The Kosmos app, available for iOS and Android, lets you enter paragraph numbers to have them read to you.
  • At the end of every chapter, you'll be awarding yourself points by following the game's instructions.
  • If stuck, there are some hints at the end of the rulebook. You can look up locations or card numbers in them.
Pros
  • The "paragraph book" mechanic works pretty well. I wish more games had it.
  • The way different characters will react differently to one-time events means that not every playthrough's the same.
  • There are multiple ways to solve some of the obstacles you'll encounter along the way.
  • Story-wise, the game plots have several interesting twists and turns.
Cons
  • Well, like I said at the very top, I wouldn't consider these to be Escape-Room-in-a-Box in the first place. Aside from the absence of time limit, the puzzles are majorly "inventory-based", like, well, computer adventure games (duh), and don't feel very escape-room-ish.
  • I'm not quite how to phrase this, but the game mechanics seem to be... counter-effective somewhat. I mean that this is game that should inherently be about searching every nook & cranny, but doing that will likely get you into trouble. This paradox seemed even more obvious in "Monochrome Inc.", where the difference between a smart move and a dumb one can really be subtle. 🤨
  • Depending on the order in which your perform some actions, the 3 chapters might not be of even length. I've had a 150-min one followed by a 45-min one.
  • The hints, too, are somewhat uneven. You can be told "combine this card with number X", but whether or not you'll be told how to obtain that second card seems a toss-up.

House Rules & Suggestions

To get the best gameplay experience, I suggest you do the following:
  • No turns
    Unless a special rule is currently in effect (you know, something like: "lose a life after every turn you play until..."), I wouldn't bother about having every single character play in sequence. Just pretend everyone else is "passing".
  • 3 characters minimum
    Having more characters allow you to make strategic decisions regarding who handles what. The game suggests picking 2 characters if you're playing alone, but I suggest picking 3. Likewise, you could add 1 or 2 characters to a 2-player game, which brings me to the next suggestion...
  • Assignments optional
    Unless your group of players really cares for sticking to one character each, you could even go one step further, by having the players go in turn, but have them pick any character they want to use during their turn. Leave those characters in front of their respective "owners", but let others borrow them on their turn.
  • Score-affecting hints
    If getting "free hints" seems wrong to you, just subtract 1 point from your final score for every "useful" pointer you got from the Hints section.

Currently Out (underline bold titles are those I've played)
  • The Dungeon (played with 4)
  • Monochrome Inc. (played alone)
  • The Volcanic Island

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Boardgame - The Network - The Escapement

The Net Worth


Picture from the official website


Publisher:
Designers:
The Escapement
Artist:
None?
Languages:
English
# of Players:
1-6 (I'd recommend 3-4)
Age:
14+ (due to a few violent scenes)
Duration:
? (I'd say 3-6 hours)

Game Design & Mechanics

Sample contents from the box

  • For those not in the know, The Escapement is an Escape Room venue from Margate in the UK. I happened to visit it in 2019, during our family trip, and we had a great time there.
  • The first thing you get from this mysterious box is a letter from the "Interesting Circumstance Division" of something called "The Network", a secret organization operating in the UK. They've been compromised, and have decided to ask for help where their enemy would not expect it, namely: your place. 😄 That same letter will refer you to the game's website.
  • Most of the box's contents is split into 3 large envelopes, which you only open when being instructed to.
  • As instructed in the first video, you open the first envelope, have to figure how to get a code out of it, and then enter that code in the website, leading you to another video, and so on.
  • At each step, you can use the "Remote Support" button in the corner to "open a ticket" and request automated hints on whichever section you're currently working on.
  • The box is intended to be single-usage, with pieces you break down and a few things you're supposed to write over.

The ICD portal

Pros
  • The visuals are very slick, very modern. We're far from Unlock!'s brigthly-colored boxes. Likewise, the video sequences are well-made.
  • The production quality of those materials is also quite high. Nothing like your average "montly mail-order" box.
  • The puzzles are fairly varied. Each of the 3 envelopes felt like playing a slightly different game.
Cons
  • The price point is a concern, especially for us Canadians. If you're in the UK, having the box sent to you will roughly cost you the same as a couple Unlock! boxed sets. Even sharing delivery costs with a few friends, that box still cost me the equivalent of three such boxes. Hard to argue this is "worth" as much fun as nine Unlock sessions.
  • Given the above point, the fact that the box isn't intended for reuse makes it a hard sell. (That being said, I was careful with the components and I could picture other folks playing with my box, even though a puzzle or two would provide a lessened experience.
  • Although that didn't happen to us, I could easily picture the hint system failing to help some players - the hints are never quite explicit, and I could picture a group misunderstanding one of the pointers...
House Rules & Suggestions

To get the best gameplay experience, I suggest you do the following:
  • Play over multiple sessions...
    The three envelopes can be easily be played in 3 different sittings. (Besides, as I said above, they kinda feel like 3 different games.)
  • ...but keep your notes
    The browser might not track which part you had reached, so you might have to reenter your old codes first.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Boardgame - Cluebox: Schrödinger’s cat - iDventure

The cat's out of the... box?


Picture from the official website


Publisher:
Designers:
"Blackwood"
Artist:
None?
Languages:
Almost no text (Hints available in German & English)
# of Players:
1
Age:
14+ (because of the box's fragility? I'd say 9+)
Duration:
60 min (45 min for a better challenge)

Game Design & Mechanics

Animation from the official website

  • I'm sure you've seen a "puzzle box" at some point. You might even have seen some for sale at an Escape Room venue. (Heck, you might have encountered one inside a room, lucky you. 😏) In general, they're boxes with hidden mechanism that you need to figure out, in order to open them. As a general rule, the first trick will be well-hidden, and once you get past it, you'll be able to perform a new operation, then another, and so on.
  • This box officially plays the "escape room in a box" angle by suggesting a time limit, but also by having a few "gating points" where you'll have to examine what you have, solve a puzzle, then "enter the right code".
  • Unfortunately, I can't say much else about the box itself, without spoiling things. Let's just point out that the box is made of laser-cut birch pieces, and assembled by hand.
Pros
  • Not too big and good-looking, the box can easily become a conversation piece in your living room, or a nice addition to an escape room lobby.
  • The box offers a good mix of "escape-room style" puzzles and "classic puzzle box" ones.
  • It can be used to hide a small reward, like a shiny coin for a kid, or even an engagement ring, perhaps?
Cons
  • The term "Escape Room in a Box" is definitely an exaggeration. This remains a puzzle box, although the lock-style puzzles are nice.
  • The box can feel a bit fragile - possibly more than it actually is.
    Funny side note: I needed more time to open the box than my kids did, and while it might just be because I'm dumb 😛, I believe that I lost time because I wasn't trustworthy of the box's initial state. What if something's stuck? Was if this isn't supposed to happen? Those fears were unfounded, and my children were able to tackle the box with the prior knowledge that I had managed to open it.

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