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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trudeau Towers - Lockdown - Ottawa


If you're not familiar with my reviews, click here for some notes and definitions...
Room name:
Trudeau Towers
Location:
# of Players:
2-6 (Played with 6)
Duration:
45 min
Multi-Room:
Constraints:
Yes
Language:
English
Hints:
2 (Delivered in person, when called through a provided walkie-talkie)
Official Description:
You’ve booked your stay at the city’s most luxurious hotel, Trudeau Towers. You enter the elevator to take you to your deluxe suite, but the elevator stops along the way due to a bomb threat in the building. Do you have what it takes to defuse the bomb and save the building?!
Played in:
Winter 2017
Made it?
YES - With less than one minute left - 2 hints used
Verdict:
I took advantage of a "Family Day Special" to take my family to this place I hadn't yet tried.
Overall, I found it to be on par with the "Escape Manor standard". A decent setup, a healthy mix of classic and unexpected puzzles...
The only caveat I noticed is that the room felt a lot more linear than most. There a couple concurrent puzzles, at best.
Thanks to the attendant, who saw that my family was stuck on a technicality (two people with good English skills were required, and I was pretty much the only one) and who decided to call us and use our 2nd hint to voice out the info I needed.
Lessons Learned:


Photo de la salle / Actual room picture
Thanks to Stephanie White and her blog
Click on the picture to read her own review


Si vous n'êtes pas un habitué de ce blog, cliquez ici pour quelques explications et définitions...
Nom de la salle:
Trudeau Tower
Emplacement:
# de joueurs:
2-6 (jouée avec 6)
Durée:
45 min
Salles Multiples:
Contraintes:
Oui
Langue:
Anglais
Indices:
2 (Donnés en personne, lorsque appelé à l'aide d'un walkie-talkie remis en main propre)
Description officielle:
(Voir version anglaise)
Jouée durant:
Hiver 2017
Réussie?
OUI - Avec moins d'une minute restante - 2 indices utilisés
Verdict:
J'ai pris avantage d'un "rabais de la Journée des Familles" pour emmener ma petite gang à cet endroit que je n'avais jamais encore essayé.
En général, je l'ai trouvé comparable au "standard Escape Manor". Une mise en place adéquate, et un mélange sain d'énigmes classiques et inattendues...
Ma principale inquiétude serait que cette salle m'a semble beaucoup plus linéaire que la moyenne. On y a rencontré quelques énigmes en parallèle, tout au plus.
Mes sincères remerciements à la responsable qui, voyant que nous étions coincés sur une techniqualité (nous aurions eu besoin de deux personnes parfaitement à l'aise en anglais, et j'étais la seule), a décidé de nous appeler sur le walkie-talkie et de dépenser notre 2ième indice en me disant à voix haute ce dont j'avais besoin.
Leçons à retenir:


Photo thématique tirée du site web
Flavor picture from their website

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Magician's Studio - Mystery Motel - Ottawa


If you're not familiar with my reviews, click here for some notes and definitions...
Room name:
The Magician's Studio
Location:
Escape Manor - Mystery Motel, Ottawa (https://mysterymotel.ca/)
# of Players:
2-6 (Played with 6)
Duration:
45 min
Multi-Room:
Constraints:
No
Language:
Bilingual (Played in English)
Hints:
1 (Delivered in person, when called through a walkie-talkie located in the room)
Official Description:
Explore the studio of William Dank, who desperately wanted to become a world renowned illusionist. Failure pushed him to the brink of self-destruction, but was he really a murderer?
Played in:
Winter 2017
Made it?
YES - With over 11 minutes left - 1 hint used
Verdict:
Our second adventure at MM went even smoother than the first. In fact, we would've done even better if we hadn't started arguing about the final puzzle.
You see, without giving too many details, something about the solution we were considering didn't seem quite right. So we spent several minutes just discussing the puzzle, until finally trying it - with success.
After completing the room, we pointed out our concerns to the attendant, who seemed to agree that the puzzle was slightly off. (Of course, perhaps he was just humoring us.)
Lessons Learned:


Photo thématique tirée du site web
Flavor picture from their website

Si vous n'êtes pas un habitué de ce blog, cliquez ici pour quelques explications et définitions...
Nom de la salle:
The Magician's Studio
Emplacement:
Escape Manor - Mystery Motel, Ottawa (https://mysterymotel.ca/)
# de joueurs:
2-6 (jouée avec 6)
Durée:
45 min
Salles Multiples:
Contraintes:
Non
Langue:
Bilingue (jouée en anglais)
Indices:
1 (Donné en personne, lorsque appelé avec un walkie-talkie trouvé dans la pièce)
Description officielle:
(Voir version anglaise)
Jouée durant:
Hiver 2017
Réussie?
OUI - Plus de 11 minutes restantes - 1 indice utilisé
Verdict:
Notre seconde aventure à MM fût encore plus facile que la première. Nous aurions même pu faire un bien meilleur temps si nous n'étions pas resté plantés à argumenter sur le casse-tête final.
Voyez-vous, sans trop aller dans les détails, un élément de la solution considérée nous semblait quelque peu boîteux. Nous avons donc gaspillés plusieurs minutes juste à en discuter, avant de finalement essayer quand même - avec succès.
Une fois sortis de la salle, nous en avons discuté avec le responsable, qui a semblé être d'accord avec notre point de vue. (Bien sûr, il est possible qu'il ne faisait qu'être poli.)
Leçons à retenir:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Boudoir - Mystery Motel - Ottawa


If you're not familiar with my reviews, click here for some notes and definitions...
Room name:
The Boudoir
Location:
Escape Manor - Mystery Motel, Ottawa (https://mysterymotel.ca/)
# of Players:
2-6 (Played with 6)
Duration:
45 min
Multi-Room:
Constraints:
No
Language:
Bilingual (Played in English)
Hints:
1 (Delivered in person, when called through a walkie-talkie located in the room)
Official Description:
Nearly a century ago, Rose LaFleur checked into this very room before vanishing along with the famed diamond in her possession. Can you retrace her steps and uncover the truth behind her disappearance?
Played in:
Winter 2017
Made it?
YES - With a little over 6 minutes left - 1 hint used
Verdict:
Mystery Motel is a partner (a subsidiary?) of Escape Manor, and it's easy to see the similarity in room styles. Then again, it also means you get the same quality.
One big twist of MM is that each of the three rooms contains a clue leading to a meta-puzzle: a "Diamond Hunt" across town, with real prizes being drawn among the seasonal winners.
As for the room itself, I didn't expect much from what is essentially a small bedroom, but ended up being pleasantly surprised.
We got into a weird situation where the endgame got extremely linear (with several players sitting idly because there wasn't enough left to do), but I believe that's because we managed to get stuck where we shouldn't have, while also managing to get ahead in some aspects the designers didn't expect. Can't say more than that. 😉
Lessons Learned:


Photo thématique tirée du site web
Flavor picture from their website


Si vous n'êtes pas un habitué de ce blog, cliquez ici pour quelques explications et définitions...
Nom de la salle:
The Boudoir
Emplacement:
Escape Manor - Mystery Motel, Ottawa (https://mysterymotel.ca/)
# de joueurs:
2-6 (jouée avec 6)
Durée:
45 min
Salles Multiples:
Contraintes:
Non
Langue:
Bilingue (jouée en anglais)
Indices:
1 (Donné en personne, lorsque appelé avec un walkie-talkie trouvé dans la pièce)
Description officielle:
(Voir version anglaise)
Jouée durant:
Hiver 2017
Réussie?
OUI - Un peu plus de 6 minutes restantes - 1 indice utilisé
Verdict:
Mystery Motel est un partenaire (voire une filiale?) de Escape Manor, et on peut facilement voir les similitudes dans le style des salles. Bien sûr, c'est aussi un gage de la même qualité.
Une grosse particularité de MM est que chacune de ses salles contient un indice qui mène à une ultime énigme: une "chasse au trésor" à travers la ville, avec de vrais prix offerts en tirage chaque saison parmis les chasseurs de trésor victorieux.
Pour en revenir à la salle proprement dite, mes attentes n'étaient pas très élevées dans la mesure où il s'agit d'une vieille chambre à coucher, mais en bout de ligne j'ai été agréablement surpris.
Nous avons eu une situation un peu bizarre vers la fin, le jeu devenant trop linéaire (plusieurs joueurs ont dû attendre parce qu'il n'y avait plus assez à faire), mais je crois que cette situation est survenue parce que nous sommes resté coincés là où nous n'aurions pas dû, tout en prenant une avance imprévue sur autre chose. Mais bon, je ne peux en dire plus. 😉
Leçons à retenir:



Mystery Motel from Escape Manor on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Heist - Escape Manor - Ottawa [Discontinued]

(From the web - missing credit, sorry)
Si vous n'êtes pas un habitué de ce blog, cliquez ici pour quelques explications et définitions...
Nom de la salle:
The Heist
Emplacement:
Escape Manor - Musée de la Nature, Ottawa (http://escapemanor.com)
# de joueurs:
5-15 (jouée avec 15)
Durée:
55 min (une fois chaque équipe en place)
Salles Multiples:
Contraintes:
Non
Langue:
Bilingue (jouée en français)
Indices:
3 (1 par sous-équipe) (Donné en personne, après avoir mis la main sur un animateur)
Description officielle:
(Voir version anglaise)
Jouée durant:
Automne 2016
Réussie?
NON
Verdict:
Une formule plutôt unique - un mélange entre une "escape room" et les "rallyes" qui furent si populaire autrefois.
Sachez d'abord que le jeu se joue à travers une aile entière du musée. (Dans ce cas-ci, la Galerie de la Terre au 3ième étage.)
Le groupe est séparé en 3 sous-équipes. Chaque équipe reçoit un outil spécial (nous avions des loupes) et une carte montrant son itinéraire spécifique.
En suivant la carte et en résolvant les questions et énigmes trouvées en chemin, chaque équipe peut parvenir à récupérer l'une des 3 clés qui donnent accès à la "géode spatiale", ainsi des instructions pour l'ultime défi (qui regroupe toutes les équipes).
Mon équipe a obtenu sa clé avec une quinzaine de minutes restantes, ce qui nous a permis de donner notre indice à une autre équipe, et de nous séparer pour aller aider les autres.
Malheureusement, la 3ième équipe a récupéré sa clé avec moins d'une minute restante, et nous n'avons pas pu faire l'épreuve finale.
Leçons à retenir:


Photo du musée, tirée du site web
Museum picture from their website
If you're not familiar with my reviews, click here for some notes and definitions...
Room name:
The Heist
Location:
Escape Manor - Museum of Nature, Ottawa (http://escapemanor.com)
# of Players:
5-15 (Played with 15)
Duration:
55 min (once all teams have been settled)
Multi-Room:
Roomy:
No (Although it actually *is* very spacious, obviously!)
Constraints:
No
Language:
Bilingual (Played in French)
Hints:
3 (1 per sub-team) (Delivered in person after getting your hands on a supervisor)
Official Description:
Tonight your team of world-renowned cat burglars is determined to get away with the Museum of Nature's precious space jewels. Your swift arrival, however, has tripped the silent alarm, and you now have only 60 minutes before the RCMP arrive!
In an effort to beat the heat, you split up your gang, tasking each faction to seek out one of the three keys, that when combined, will release the precious gem!
Do you have what it takes to get these out of this world gems out this museum?
Played in:
Fall 2016
Made it?
NO
Verdict:
A very unique formula - a mix of classical escape rooms and another classical game the French call "rallying".
First, the game is played through an entire wing of the Museum. In this case, the Earth Gallery on the 3rd floor.
The group is split into 3 teams. Each team receives a special tool (ours were magnifying glasses) and a map of the area showing their customized itinerary.
By following the map and solving the riddles and trivia bits found along the way, each team can eventually get one of the 3 keys unlocking the space gem, and instructions for the final (cooperative) challenge.
My own team got its key with roughly 15 min left and no clue, which allowed us to give that clue to another team, and then split and go help the others.
Unfortunately, the 3rd team got its key with less than a minute left, which didn't leave us any time for the final part.
Lessons Learned:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Outlaw Saloon - Escape Manor - Ottawa [Discontinued]

(From their website - EM isn't into group photos, unlike most other places...)
If you're not familiar with my reviews, click here for some notes and definitions...
Room name:
Outlaw Saloon
Location:
Escape Manor - Downtown, Ottawa (http://escapemanor.com)
# of Players:
2-6 (Played with 6)
Duration:
45 min
Multi-Room:
Constraints:
No
Language:
Bilingual (Played in English)
Hints:
1 (Delivered in person, when called through a walkie-talkie hidden in the room)
Official Description:
You and your crew of outlaws are celebrating a successful train robbery in a saloon over some whiskey. Your boss, the king of outlaws, Billy the Kid himself, has snuck away, taking the loot with him and locking you inside the saloon.
The sheriff will be there at sunrise to arrest you. Do you have what it takes to outsmart Billy The Kid and escape before the law rolls in?
Played in:
Fall 2016
Made it?
NO
Verdict:
My second visit to Escape Manor - yet again with co-workers. Yet again... a failure for us. 😝
Interestingly enough, our downfall wasn't the inability to solve puzzles, but our failure to search the room thoroughly. (I hear it's a common affliction of seasoned escapists. More on that under "Lessons Learned".)
Escape Manor remains true to its reputation, and the new rooms are significantly better than the original ones. I thought some of those puzzles were quite clever indeed.
Lessons Learned:


Escape Manor from Escape Manor on Vimeo.

Si vous n'êtes pas un habitué de ce blog, cliquez ici pour quelques explications et définitions...
Nom de la salle:
Outlaw Saloon
Emplacement:
Escape Manor - Downtown, Ottawa (http://escapemanor.com)
# de joueurs:
2-6 (jouée avec 6)
Durée:
45 min
Salles Multiples:
Contraintes:
Non
Langue:
Bilingue (jouée en anglais)
Indices:
1 (Donné en personne, suite à un appel fait avec un walkie-talkie caché dans la pièce)
Description officielle:
(Voir version anglaise)
Jouée durant:
Automne 2016
Réussie?
NON
Verdict:
Ma seconde visite chez Escape Manor. Une fois de plus, avec des collègues de travail. Une fois de plus, un échec de notre part. 😝
J'ai fait une remarque intéressante: si nous avons échoué, ce n'est pas dû aux énigmes et aux casse-têtes, mais plutôt parce que nous n'avons pas bien fouillé la pièce de fond en comble. (On me dit que c'est un problème courant chez les joueurs plus expérimentés. Plus de détails sous "Leçons à retenir".)
Escape Manor demeure à la hauteur de sa réputation, et les salles plus récentes sont significativement supérieures à leurs ancètres. J'ai trouvé certaines de ces énigmes très ingénieuses.
Leçons à retenir:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Boom Room - Room Escape Ottawa - Ottawa


If you're not familiar with my reviews, click here for some notes and definitions...
Room name:
Boom Room
Location:
Room Escape Ottawa, Ottawa (http://www.roomescapeottawa.com/)
# of Players:
2-8 (Played with 8)
Duration:
60 min
Multi-Room:
Yes
Constraints:
No
Language:
English
Hints:
Multiple (delivered via a monitor screen, in the first room)
Official Description:
A mysterious tip has led you outside of the enemy bunker.
You’ve been on the enemy’s trail after suspecting their plans to destroy important historical and cultural landmarks around the world – and now you’ve finally located their hideout.
You manage to sneak into the bunker when suddenly, the door behind you slams shut and locks. You have walked into a trap!
The bunker is rigged to explode and the clock is ticking.
Can you escape before the room goes boom?
Played in:
Fall 2016
Made it?
NO
Verdict:
We booked this room for my son's belated birthday party. Chose this venue because it's the closest to home, and they didn't mind hosting a bunch of kids.
The language was a bit of concern, but most of the kids had a decent understanding of English, so that part worked out well.
Multiple rooms, varied puzzles and a consistent look & feel have made Room Escape Ottawa my new local favorite. The hint-providing clock screen is also a neat feature.
Although we didn't finish it on time, we reached the final puzzle and knew exactly how to solve it - but doing so would've required another few minutes. I'm sure a more experienced crew would've pulled through.
Lessons Learned:


Photo de la pièce réelle tirée du site web
Actual room picture from their website


Si vous n'êtes pas un habitué de ce blog, cliquez ici pour quelques explications et définitions...
Nom de la salle:
Boom Room
Emplacement:
Room Escape Ottawa, Ottawa (http://www.roomescapeottawa.com/)
# de joueurs:
2-8 (jouée avec 8)
Durée:
60 min
Salles Multiples:
Oui
Contraintes:
Non
Langue:
Anglais
Indices:
Multiples (donnés par un écran d'ordinateur, dans la première salle)
Description officielle:
(Voir version anglaise)
Jouée durant:
Automne 2016
Réussie?
NON
Verdict:
Nous avons choisi cette salle pour célébrer (en retard) l'anniversaire de mon fils. Mon choix s'est porté sur REO parce que c'est l'entreprise la plus près de notre maison, et qu'un groupe plus jeune ne les dérangeait pas.
Le problème de la langue me préoccupait un peu, mais la plupart des jeunes invités se débrouillent bien en anglais, alors le tout s'est bien passé.
Une succession de pièces, des énigmes variées et une ambiance et une facture professionelle ont fait de REO mon entreprise préférée de la région. L'écran qui fournit des indices occassionnels est également un point positif.
Même si nous n'avons pu terminer à temps, nous avons atteint l'énigme finale et savions exactement quoi faire - il nous manquait seulement quelques minutes de plus pour l'exécution. Je suis persuadé qu'une équipe plus expérimentée aurait réussi.
Leçons à retenir: