Showing posts with label book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book - Maze

Vintage despair


Christopher Manson
Christopher Manson
# of Players:

Game Design & Mechanics
  • Let me start by stating the obvious: this book came out in 1985, so of course it isn't marketed as "an escape book". However, I've seen it pop as recommendation a few times on Amazon, and I strongly suspect that if the book was released today, the publisher would definitely try to put an "escape" spin on it.
  • As it stands, it's more of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book (yet again), but with strong visual elements.
  • Each of the 45 "rooms" takes 2 pages. On the left side, you have a textual description (with a pinch of storyline), then on the right, a full-page depiction of the room. Any passageway with a number on it means you can choose it, and go to the matching room page.
  • As explained at the beginning of the book, your first goal is to reach Room 45, at the center of the maze. Then, find your way from there back to Room 1. (As you might have guessed, some doors are one-way only.) Then, find "The Path" - an optimized track going from Room 1 to 45 and back, in only 16 moves.
  • Once you're figured out the Path, it's time for "The Riddle of the Path", also mentioned at the beginning of the book. There are, in fact, two riddles with a common answer. You can either look at everything in Room 45 and try to phrase a question out of that, or look for words and letters hidden along the rooms of The Path.
  • When the book was initially published, 35 years ago, there was a contest giving 10,000$ to the first person would provide both the riddle and its answer. No one managed to do that initially, so they extended the deadline and added some hints, eventually giving up and splitting the money between the 12 contestants would had come close.
  • Throughout the years, the book has continued to capture imagination, and a website now exists dedicated to it. In fact, not only does the site collect official solutions and fan theories, but it also holds the entirety of the book in digital form. You can go ahead and read it from there. The website also covers some "meta" mysteries, such as the nature of the Maze itself.
  • After all these years, the book still looks great. Mr. Manson's line art is very evocative.
  • The "storyline" (or individual storylines, rather) is very intriguing. It's an enjoyable read, puzzle or not.
  • Seeing the rooms and their (presumed) solutions online can provide really nice examples...
  • ...of what NOT to do when designing an escape room. You see, to quote the author: "Anything in this book might be a clue. Not all clues are necessarily trustworthy."
    So basically, readers are assuming that every room has a "best exit", and that clues in the room text and/or picture point toward that exit in some way. But since the author never provided explicit answers, in many cases all those "solutions" read like double-guesses made after the fact. To me, that was a bit disheartening. Heck, anyone can come up with "perfectly logical" explanations to connect A with B, in hindsight. Just ask Nik Kershaw.
  • Common sense seems to be that the maze is unsolvable without trial-and-error.
  • Other "metagame" revelations have a bit of a "dark" angle as well. But hey, that's a very personal stance. 🤷‍♂️

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Book - The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book

"♫ Spin that wheel! "


"Ormond Sacker" (possibly Viv Croot?)
Tobias Willa
# of Players:

Game Design & Mechanics
  • Let's start with the most in-your-face, eye-catching characteristic of the book: there's a code wheel embedded right in its cover. It lets you convert either a letter or a dancing man (a Sherlock classic) into a color and/or digit and/or different letter. Right now, a digital version of that code wheel is even available on the publisher's website.
  • Beyond that, though, the book works like a classic "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, having you jump from one section to another. Although there are a few "traditional choices" to make, you can count those on just one hand. Most of the book follows the same pattern: reach a point where you need to solve a puzzle, figure it out, go to the right section, rince, repeat.
  • A puzzle will either state "figure out a number and go that section", or give you a list of possible answers to choose from. Every section clearly states the section number(s) from which you could reach it, so it's easy to check whether or not you "guessed" correctly.
  • In a few cases, making the wrong choice / guess won't really make a difference. In other places, you'll get an immediate "game over" ending. You might also end progressing with the story, only to later find out you've missed on a clue (or gained a "fake" clue) which can now only lead you to failure.
  • The book holds a dozen pictures. Some are linked to puzzles, others are just for show.
  • Picture from the editor's website
  • There is no global time limit, but a couple puzzles come with a short (ex: 15 seconds) explicit time limit.
  • There's a "Hints" section at the end of the book, followed by "Solutions". Those cover most of the puzzles, are detailed, and helpful.
  • The Code Wheel is fun to fiddle with. (No wonder they put it on the cover.)
  • The book has a couple clever ideas.
  • Some of the design choices seem somewhat counter-productive to me. If the player is supposed to (possibly) make a wrong choice and keep on playing, why provide hints and solutions for everything? Why provide an exhaustive list of every section leading to the one you're at, when this might spoil something?
  • For most the book, you're being railroaded in a rather disappointing manner: you might notice a hidden message somewhere ("Oooh, the first letter of every word spells a number!"), but then the book will tell flatly: "Take the first letter of every word and go the number they spell." 🙄 The worst part is, there is a part where you need to think outside of the box, but after being dumbed-down for so long, you might just miss it.
  • I didn't find the storyline engaging. The author seems to have done his/her research on Holmes, but this enthusiasm doesn't translate into a great story. Before playing this book, I'd just finished reading "Le Piège de Moriarty" from the French "Escape Book" series, and the contrast is obvious.
    (Oh, and a side note: you want to create a good Sherlock Holmes mystery game? Do not make Holmes the main character. It just doesn't work. Holmes is supposed to be brilliant, all the time. That's hard to fit in an interactive setting.
  • The ink is very dark in some of the pictures, to the point I only ever was able to see some hidden symbols under broad daylight.
  • There's a couple puzzles for which you'd be tempted to make photocopies. Unfortunately, the book binding makes that very hard to perform.
  • Section 58, "A Red Notebook", states that every fourth number is skipped, but the example doesn't really match the statement. So beyond page 4, it really is every fifth page being skipped (1-3, 5-8, 10-13, and so on).
House Rules & Suggestions
  • To get the most enjoyable experience, I'd suggest trying the following: try playing the book without using any hints (except if you get completely stuck not knowing where to go next). Then, assuming you fail, try again using only the Hints section, and if you fail once again, then use the Solutions.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book - Escape Room Puzzles

Most Unassuming Title Ever


James Hamer-Morton
# of Players:
1 (possibly more suggested - I don't quite picture that)

Game Design & Mechanics
  • This book was released as part of a whole series of hardcover, mass-printed books usually best known for their brain teasers and riddles. I previously got a few of these books (in French) at Costco, and was quite surprised when I stumbled upon this particular one (in a gift shop in Scotland, no less!).
  • In spite of its very generic title, this book ticked all the boxes of what I expect from an escape-room-in-a-book experience, including an extensive storyline.
  • The book is broken down into ten chapters that tell the story of journalist Adam Parkinson and his friend Henry, who get involved with yet-another-mysterious-and-somewhat-scary corporation. In each chapter, the protagonist gets "stuck" into a situation reminiscent of escape rooms. To get out, he'll have to solve multiple puzzles. Therefore, every chapter could be viewed as an "escape room" in its own right.
  • Every chapter includes many illustrations, which can be puzzles, hints, or just for show. Some of them have a special icon that tells you should cut off that page, but in such cases you can easily make photocopies, or even try to work things in your head.
  • Picture from the editor's website
  • At the end of each chapter, you'll be asked to obtain a specific code, or piece of knowledge, in order to proceed. Some other times, though, you'll also get mid-chapter gates - a point where the protagonist tells you, in bold letters: "Once I figured out X, I was then able to proceed." You should then be able to figure out that thing before turning the page.
  • There is no time limit per se, although many chapters will mention a certain time limit. ("I had 55 minutes until the guard returned.") I guess one could theoretically try to follow those same limitations, although the book rules make no mention of that.
  • Outside knowledge might be required in a couple circumstances, and so you're allowed to search the internet as you see fit. Likewise, you're always allowed to get check back on past chapters, and there are a couple points where you'll definitely have to.
  • There is no way to validate your current answer, although the next section you read will often mention what the right answer was. There are also full-fledged solutions at the very end of the book.
  • When stuck, you can check at the back of the book for gradually increasing hints (they're grouped by "Hard Hints", "Medium Hints", etc, then by chapter). And as I said before, those are followed by complete solutions.
  • The puzzles are quite varied, and the way many parallel puzzles might converge toward a single answer is fairly evocative of real-life escape rooms.
  • I found the story very engaging, and the main characters fairly sympathetic. I ended looking forward knowing what the whole thing was about.
  • The illustrations are quite nice. (Which is somewhat ironic, given that they're mostly made from stock photos.)
  • The book's binding made it fairly easy to photocopy the occasional cut-out page.
  • The more I played on, the harder the typical puzzle seemed to me. You know, this is always hard to properly assess - maybe I'm just not that smart - but it seemed to me that a number of those puzzles just relied on a series of arbitrary guesses.
  • Likewise, there's at least one task that's so hard to complete - even if you know exactly what you're supposed to do - that the solution itself seems to imply they don't expect their readers to do the legwork. Huh? 🤔
  • In the hints section, puzzles seem to be listed in arbitrary order - even changing from one hint section to the next. I often would've wanted to get some direction as to which puzzle I should be tackling first, and the only way to get that info was typically to go straight to the Solution pages.
  • Speaking of hints/solution pages, many of the mid-chapter "gates" don't list the hint page numbers. You'll have to look for them by yourself. The hints do exist, though.
  • Once again, what a bland title. Ugh.
  • On page 59, the text mentions finding a 5x5 grid, but the picture that follows is 5x6. This is a mistake - the grid really should be 5x5.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book - The Escape Book

The hardest puzzle? Figuring how to survive that writing...


Ivan Tapia
# of Players:

Game Design & Mechanics
  • At first glance, this book reminded me of the French "Escape Book" series: a fairly thick soft-cover book with lots of text and not many images. As it turned out, the two are quite different, though.
  • Gameplay-wise, it's a lot more similar to this other book I previously wrote about. The reader / player goes through a series of linear puzzles. The main difference is that there's lots of text to read in between each puzzle.
  • Every puzzle you'll come across (there are 17 in total) yields a 2 or 3-digit code, which indicates the next page you need to go to. If you see a note saying "Candela has solved puzzle X", and it's the one you were working on, congrats, you can keep going.
  • The puzzles cover a reasonably wide range of styles, although they're mostly visual. The book encourages you to write inside it, but you can generally go without that. Still you might want to keep a copy machine within reach.
  • Whenever you feel stuck, the puzzle also provides a page number you can turn to for incremental hints leading to the complete solution.
  • There is no time limit proper, although the narrative constantly reminds the reader of the few amount of time that Candela (the main character) has left.
  • The puzzles cover a wide enough range that you're likely to find something you like in there.
  • A strong emphasis is put on the storyline...
  • ...which is unfortunate because said storyline is downright dreadful, along with the prose. You know, I'm all too aware that my own writing isn't on par with the great authors of this world (especially in English), but reading through this book helped me realize that I do have some notions of what "good writing" means. The repeated emphasis on visual descriptions and the overexposed background plot all pile up to make the "reading" part thoroughly unenjoyable.
    via GIPHY
    Some people have suggested skipping the text altogether and jumping from one puzzle to the next, but there are a couple cases in which that would deprive you of a few clues, namely .
  • Considering that every code can only be a page number, the pool of available answers is a bit small.
  • There are couple cases where the reader is expected to have some knowledge which I definitely would consider "outside knowledge", namely .
  • Like I've said before, I'm always flabbergasted to see authors and publishers expecting me to write into a pristine copy of a book, let alone fold and/or tear it. Fortunately this remains a minor concern here.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Book - The Librarian's Almanaq

Roy Leban
# of Players:
1 or more (I recommend 3-5)
8-40 hours for a single person, less for groups
(although players aren't expected to time themselves)

Game Design & Mechanics
  • I'm a regular visitor on Kickstarter, looking for new boardgames and - duh - any sort of "Escape Room in box". Given that, it would've been hard for me to miss The Conjurer's Almanaq, a very successful project which nears completion as I write this. The price tag for this KS seemed a bit high, but I had noticed the mention of a precursor book, more affordable, and available on Amazon. That, I had to see.
  • That first Almanaq initially started off as part of the 16th annual Microsoft Puzzle Hunt. Puzzle Hunts (where some puzzles lead to more puzzles, and so on) are fairly common in the US, but we don't see them as much in French-speaking communities, it seems. (We apparently prefer treasure hunts, car rallies, and the like.)
  • I find it a bit hard to properly write about this book given that, ideally, you'd approach it without any preconceived ideas, fully enjoying the thrill of discovery. If that's how you feel, you can stop reading now, I won't take it personally. 😇 For those who'd prefer to get a small idea of what they're buying into, let's proceed...
  • The book opens with some basic instructions, and then comes the Opening Puzzle, where you're asked to tear out (that's tear out 😱) actual pages out of the book. Lots of pages.
  • Those pages will have to be assembled in a "grid" of sorts. (I won't say more.) Once you have the answer to this first puzzle, you'll use it to unlock another list of pages to tear out. Those pages cover 8 additional puzzles. You'll have to figure out which pages goes with what puzzle. Sometimes, you'll even have to figure out exactly what it is you have to do. With those 8 answers, you should be able to tackle the Final Puzzle.
  • And what about the pages you didn't rip out? Well guess what - they're all fake! Decoy puzzles, lovingly placed in the book to force you into finding the right ones. (Which, let me remind you, are the ones you've been savagely pulling out. 😵)
  • Heeeeey, have you been losing weight?
  • The author has set up a web page where individual answers can be validated, and where you can also get a couple hints for every puzzle.

  • If you want to get value for your money, I'd say this book gives you at least five times more gaming time per dollar than your typical "Escape room in a box".
  • It can be a great introduction to Puzzle Hunts, given how clear the rules are, and how easy to is to validate your answers.
  • In spite of the simplicity of the material (because, y'know, it's a book), some of the puzzles still came up as fresh and unexpected (to this reviewer anyway).
  • I'm placing a #notquite tag on this review because the book might be missing some of your favorite Escape Room elements: there's no theme proper, no time limit, and nothing I would count as "searching".
  • If you're a regular on this blog, you can guess how freaked out I was to have to destroy my own book. Be assured that this time around, there just isn't any workaround.
  • Although me & my friends are all functionally bilingual, none of us are native speakers, and it showed. If you're in the same situation, rest assured you will need an English dictionary and access to Wikipedia, and you will also have to validate pretty much all your answers in the Opening Puzzle. If the very idea of using an online tool to look for anagrams upsets you, then you'd better get yourselves some English-native, word games enthusiasts.

Another (free) suggestion
  • If you have a taste for Puzzle Hunts and never played "The Fool's Errand", you definitely should. This game from the 80s can be download for free from the author's website.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book - Paper Escapes

Pictures from the publisher's website

Jesse Cruz
# of Players:
60 min (although players aren't expected to time themselves)

Game Design & Mechanics
  • This "book" is in fact more like a fancier version of those "puzzle books" you can buy in drugstores. It's clearly meant to be written directly into and eventually discarded. (And this being escape-themed, you won't be surprised that you might need to mess with the book in other ways.)
  • There 10 puzzles listed in sequence. The answer to every puzzles is always a series a digits.
  • As I already stated, the book doesn't ask you to time yourself (it's meant to be a casual experience), but if you get stuck on a puzzle for more than 5 minutes, you're invited to turn the page over and read the hint written on the next one.
  • If you're still stuck after that, there's is a URL (and a QR code printed there for convenience) which send you to page listing the full answer.
  • The last puzzle uses the codes you previously obtained, and the final code you get is supposed to be entered on the publisher's website, where a terse congratulations message awaits.
  • In general, the puzzles are decent, and each one if fairly unique. They're the kind of stuff you can find in Escape Rooms, and even more so in the Escape-Room-in-a-Box games I've previously reviewed.
  • Let's start with the most crucial point: the "Escape Room" angle is a farce. I've seen such puzzle books (made of various puzzles that connect together) for years. This book has no storyline (not even a theme), nothing to "search" through, and nothing to "unlock" except for that one final code.
  • I see absolutely no point in giving this book a high quality finish (and the price point that goes with it). Why put so much production value in a book meant to be written into (and worse)? At the beginning of this review I mentioned puzzle books in drugstores, and I think that should've been the proper model for a book like this: cheap paper stock, cheap cover, cheap price tag, and then you sell it alongside crossword puzzles and sudoku books.
  • It's also way too big for its own good. I could easily see the book pages being half as small, and gameplay wouldn't really be affected.
  • The internet angle is a bit of a waste, too. Why not put the solutions at the end of the book? The main benefit of books is that you can bring them anywhere, even out in camping. You can still do that with this book... but only if you're willing to wait for the answers.