Exit: The Game – The House of Riddles (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $24.99

An enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a house!

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

You and your fellow detectives are summoned to an abandoned house. Never wanting to turn down an unsolved mystery, you arrive at the house. Suddenly, you hear screams and see that the entrance has shut behind you. What’s happening here? Will you be able to crack the case and find your way out of the house?

First Impressions:

Though we weren’t overly impressed with The Catacombs of Horror, I was interested to see how one of the standard new releases would play. This one hadn’t quite released in the US yet, but for my birthday, my lovely wife procured a British copy for me, and we soon got cracking!

High Points:

The House of Riddles plays out very straightforwardly, leading most of the puzzles within to be highly intuitive, and allowing for connections to be made through the game flow. The props were highly tactile, and most of the game presented us with conundrums that we would work through using physical pieces of the puzzles. The illustrations throughout the adventure are colorful and inviting, and use this to the game’s advantage by drawing the eye to excellently integrated clues. Perspective is played with in clever ways, and many points of the game present some excellently satisfying solves.

The House of Riddles is one of the easiest Exit: The Game entries, and is therefore a great game for families or new players. The linear nature of the game allows for players to be walked through the experience a little easier, and while there are still tricks to certain puzzles, encouraging players to think outside the box, there is no real need for previous experience with this sort of puzzling experience. Some of the more challenging Exit games definitely require at least passing familiarity with franchise tropes, but luckily this is a great first step for beginners.

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Lots of fun props and a little ball to keep away from the cats!

Low Points:

The House of Riddles is from what I’ve read, one of the first if not the first Exit game released in Germany. If that’s true, it does show in practice, as the game is rather basic on the whole. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but folks who’ve had a bit of experience with previous Exit games will find this particular game very easy. New players might not mind this as much, as this makes the game more approachable, but overall, this game isn’t quite as excellently fine tuned or challenging as others in the series. The story is overall pretty strange, being a fairly loose excuse for the player to be stuck in a giant escape room house. The climax is mostly random as well, and there isn’t much in the way of stakes. The most difficult puzzle is only difficult due to an erroneous clue that serves as a rather large red herring, throwing us off due to the placement of an illustration. We had the right idea, but the clues specifically led us off track. The game is also vastly linear, ensuring some puzzles that require solo work to become major choke points. Especially if your teammate is very precise with their cuts. So very precise.

Verdict:

The House of Riddles, despite being the earliest Exit game, is good fun. Experienced players will blow through it fairly quickly, so veteran players might want to skip it, however, new players will get a great introduction to the series via this game. I personally recommend giving it a shot if you want to scratch the home escape game itch, but your mileage may vary. Overall, I think hardcore enthusiasts will find it an overall fair to middling experience, but new players will love it. We enjoyed our time with the game, but I personally think it was weaker in the challenge department. You can pick up a copy from your friendly local game store today. We recommend checking out The Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC, check out their website here!

7/10 (Good)

Komnata Quest Brooklyn – Doctor Frankenstein (Review)

Location: New York, NY

Price: From $35 per person (Private games are available on a sliding scale, see website for more information)

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Raise the Dead!

Theme:

From the Komnata Quest website:

In the mystical world of steam machines and airships you have only one hour to revitalize a homonculus and unravel Frankenstein’s mystery.

First Impressions:

We had originally scheduled only City of Ashes and Hex of the Chinese Jewelry Box during our trip to Komnata, but our Game Master Devon graciously let us run through our booked games back to back, and we were able to escape quickly enough to ensure we had enough time for one more game. Never one to pass up the opportunity to engage in more escapes, we booked Doctor Frankenstein and immediately got to work puzzling!

High Points:

Doctor Frankenstein boasts another beautiful set from Komnata Quest, full of set pieces and well hidden puzzles, yet streamlined to ensure that it never becomes junky or full of red herrings. The steampunk take on the Frankenstein story is evident right from the start, and meshes well with the alternate take that Komnata has on the storyline. We really enjoyed uncovering the narrative bit by bit through the game play, and the steam punk theme is extremely well conveyed via all facets of the adventure. As always, progress is measured beautifully within the theme, and there is no in game clock, which allowed us to put all other worries out of our mind and focus solely on the game world. Lighting and sound design played a large part within the adventure as well, and the technology behind the puzzles created some very responsive feedback to most interactions we had during the game, which heightened the thrilling nature of the room. The story culminated in wonderfully Franensteinian fashion, and the climax of our journey was exciting and well implemented.

The puzzles themselves are beautifully integrated into the theme, and their somewhat non-linear nature ensured that even if we were stuck on one puzzle thread, we stayed engaged while we mulled over possible solutions. Many clues were presented in plain sight, but not to the point of visual overload, and it was up to us to discern what was important, and keep those things in mind for possible future use. Connective tissue between puzzles and inputs was extremely strong however, and at no point did anything become an unintentional red herring in this regard. The whole room is incredibly intuitive, and ensures that players remain on track by creating fantastic and subtle signposts to follow throughout the adventure. On the whole, the room encourages a lot of out of the box thinking and teamwork to ensure that even larger groups will remain engaged with this electrifying escape!

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I’m sure one of these books has something about raising the dead…

Low Points:

One puzzle in particular is very interesting in theory, but required a lot of fiddling with to ensure we saw exactly what we needed to see, and even then, the solution felt somewhat iffy when we were entering the code. With no way to confirm it with the game master, we had to enter it into the lock out safe and hope for the best. Luckily, we were correct, but had we needed to guess multiple times, we may have been left twiddling our thumbs during this crucial choke point of the game. There is also a few moments of aimless scavenging, which would’ve been better served via the addition of a puzzle or clue worked into the game flow. A certain answer for one puzzle was meant to be entered into it’s corresponding lock in a completely unintuitive way, leading to fully avoidable confusion. A hint leading players to the correct way to enter this code would remove a good bit of frustration from this part of the room.

Verdict:

Komnata Quest is absolutely one of the most immersive escape room companies I’ve visited, and our time within Doctor Frankenstein is another exemplar of that fact. This room does an excellent job combining an interesting mash up of themes with an engaging puzzle flow that is intuitive, yet challenging enough for new players and enthusiasts to enjoy. I give it two (green, stitched together,) thumbs up, and recommend booking your time reviving Frankenstein’s monster here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Komnata Quest Brooklyn provided our team with media discounted tickets.

Komnata Quest Brooklyn – Hex of the Chinese Jewelry Box (Review)

Location: New York, NY

Price: From $35 per person (Private games are available on a sliding scale, see website for more information)

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 2-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Never steal artifacts from a dig site.

Theme:

From the Komnata Quest website:

A renowned professor of artifacts was on a dig in Asia and found an artifact he did not recognize. He was found dead in his home a week later. It was a mystery what killed him. In one of his journals it was found that he found out what the artifact was and wanted to be rid of it. He was going to destroy it and burn it so no one would have to be hexed. He wasn’t successful obviously. The details of the hex were specific, if someone comes in contact within the object for 1 hour they would be hexed and meet an untimely fate.

First Impressions:

After the high octane terror of City of Ashes, I made sure to book a less scary room for my wife’s benefit, as she doesn’t enjoy pure horror as much as I do. (Though I appreciate that she goes along with it so I can enjoy them.) Hex of the Chinese Jewelry Box promised to be a more straightforward, brightly lit escape room, so it fit the bill perfectly!

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A calming, post psychological terror escape room!

High Points:

Hex of the Chinese Jewelry Box seemed to be one of the less thrilling rooms on offer from Komnata Quest, but once we began working through the many puzzles on offer during the adventure, I found that it ended up being my favorite room during our New York trip! Displaying the best set of the three games we played with Komnata Quest, the professor’s home was beautifully and convincingly appointed. The set designers for this location do a fantastic job of ensuring players are removed from the Brooklyn office building their rooms are housed in and transported directly into the world of the game. The opening story, delivered over speakers in the room, presents an ominously mysterious vibe to begin the game, and sets the mood excellently. No game clock is present in the room, and it’s absence really ensured we had forgotten about the time limit and were fully focused on the game itself. After playing many games without timers in room, I can really see how this one small change can take the immersion factor through the room, and hope that this becomes more the norm for future games.

The game flow in this room is astoundingly good. There are a few meta puzzles that wind though overlapping stages of the room, and these help ensure that progress is tracked intuitively, while also giving players a steady jolt of satisfaction as the meta puzzles are slowly being completed. There’s definitely a rush that is felt every time a new, recognizable part of these long term puzzles are found, and the feeling of excitement is comparable to the wonder of discovery I felt during my first escape rooms! One of the late stage interactions presents a puzzle that is pieced together over the course of three distinct stages, and is amazingly satisfying to solve. Though we initially thought this would be a time sucking process puzzle, it ended up being one of the most memorable moments of the game. It wasn’t the only memorable moment, however, as Hex of the Chinese Jewelry Box is filled to the brim with magical moments of mysterious tech, satisfying moments of revelation, and a great climax that provided an excellent ending that celebrated our win fantastically.

Low Points:

There is quite a bit of searching to be done within this room, and while it generally isn’t too egregious, another puzzle rather than a hidden object is always preferable. That being said, Komnata Quest has somehow found a way to make most of the scavenging within this room pretty enjoyable, so it’s a very small critique. The room is plenty exciting to puzzle through, but we were hoping to learn about more about the mysterious artifact along the way, unfortunately, however, after the initial story is given, it doesn’t really develop further.

Verdict:

Hex of the Chinese Jewelry box is an amazing game, full of well clued interactions, intuitive connections, and great design all around. I wholeheartedly recommend trying it out if you find yourself in Brooklyn, as it presents a game that’s highly approachable for newcomers, yet was able to elicit that excellent sense of discovery and wonder that only the best escape rooms are able to provide. Book your time searching for the cursed artifact here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Komnata Quest Brooklyn provided our team with media discounted tickets.

The Conundrum Box – Anastasia: The Lost Princess (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

Long Live the Romanovs!

Theme:

From the Conundrum Box website:

In 1918 the world believed that Czar Nicholas II and his whole family, including his youngest daughter Anastasia, were murdered by the Bolsheviks in Russia, but you have recently found that that isn’t the whole truth. Now you must race against the Soviets as they try to find the Grand Duchess Anastasia that got away! Find her first and save her from the same grisly fate that befell the rest of her family!

First Impressions:

A new escape room subscription box is always exciting to hear about, but when it comes from an experienced design team who previously ran an escape room business, it becomes a must play! The unique theme of Anastasia captured my attention, as did the promise of longer stories told over multiple boxes in future installments. The day the box hit our doorstep, we couldn’t wait to begin puzzling!

High Points:

One of the first things we noticed about The Conundrum Box is that they successfully portray a historical story through puzzles and an excellent online component that delivers a level of interactivity we really enjoyed. The historical basis for puzzling delivers an experience that we had hoped for from Finders Seekers, but was not found within that particular subscription, so it is awesome to see this gap in the market finally filled! The experience is presented in a non-intimidating fashion, with only a small amount of puzzles and evidence to work through, with several envelopes containing new interactions and props that are opened as the story progresses. This keeps the game well directed, as well as providing an excellent mechanic for traversal though the game’s world.

From start to finish, there is a dense amount of puzzles, and the game remains highly varied throughout, ensuring different puzzling styles are well represented. There is a point in the story where everything starts to kick off in earnest, and this stage of the game delivers some of the most exciting story beats, as well as some of the best, most tactile puzzles. Things become very non-linear at this point, and our team was incredibly engaged with the experience throughout this stage of the adventure. This isn’t to say that the initial stage of the game isn’t fun, but once the initial expository beats have been completed, the adventure becomes extremely immersive! For the most part the game flow is brilliantly smooth, delivering new story revelations, puzzles, and props at a good clip, ensuring the game has fresh new content at every turn. Cluing is extremely well done, especially with particular puzzles, some of which hide their secrets in plain sight, only becoming clear once certain pieces of evidence have fallen into place. This results in some really brilliant moments of revelation, and it is always satisfying.

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A selection of the many, many items to be found within this box!

Low Points:

There was an error in the initial “practice round” puzzle, which we found was a manufacturing problem, luckily this one is solvable otherwise. One particular puzzle caused some confusion as the solution bucked the trend of passwords generally being a word when they include letters, so we were unsure of our answer until we finally tried it. Usually, having an actual word to enter is a great way to ensure players have an immediate check against whether the code is valid, but it’s a small problem since passwords are entered online. Another puzzle requires a lot of guess and check to initially work out, but there is another work around we found that skipped most of this frustration. The adventure gets off to a somewhat slow start, picking up story and puzzle wise about a third of the way through. If you’re a player that doesn’t enjoy reading exposition, this will be a bit of a slog for you. We enjoyed the storyline for the most part, but were definitely more engaged when the non linear puzzling and really exciting moments started to kick off. Though the Adventure mode shows promise, we were somewhat disappointed in the lack of a payoff for the mode itself. A bit of expansion on this could add a whole new layer to the experience, affecting the story depending on how well players do.

Verdict:

Anastasia: The Lost Princess is an good start for The Conundrum Box. While there are a few kinks to work out, this is definitely a new escape room subscription box that I am excited for! With their new three box adventure, Escape from Sleepy Hollow kicking off soon, we cannot wait to see what comes next! I recommend giving this box a shot, as the games are developed by experienced puzzle developers, and The Conundrum Box shows great promise! Subscribe to The Conundrum Box here! You can get $5 off your first box with our Promo Code ERA5OFF!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: The Conundrum Box provided a complementary box.

Exit Escape Room NYC – Operation: Dive (Review)

Location: New York, NY

Price: $30 per person (Private games are available on a sliding scale, see website for more information)

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Down Periscope!

Theme:

From the Exit Escape Room NYC website:

The USS Growler submarine has been decommissioned since 1964, but with the the sudden rise of a new attack threat to New York City from a hostile enemy submarine carrying a destructive missile due to be deployed in one hour, the Pentagon has ordered an immediate counter-operation. With the absence of naval submarines on the East Coast, you and your team were ordered to re-activate the Growler, submerge her and carry out “Operation Dive”. Can you stop the attack and save the city before time expires? Operation Dive is our newest and most high-tech escape room- a fully immersive and unforgettable experience.

First Impressions:

High Speed NYC was such a fantastic room, we had to return later that day for another highly recommended room, Operation: Dive. The promise of another high tech, fully immersive experience was just too much to resist! (And let’s be real, if I’m given the option of doing an escape room, very little is going to prevent me from doing said escape room.)

High Points:

Operation: Dive is certainly a very high tech room, with all puzzles, save for one, relying on some sort of technology rather than a lock. This leads to a slew of extremely original puzzling that is based within the sub itself, ensuring that everything remains well integrated into the theme. Speaking of theme, submarines have become a more ubiquitous theme for escape rooms, but Exit Escape Room NYC puts their own cool twist on things by setting up a modern day missile attack we are forced to fight off using a Cold War era sub. The set design is interestingly implemented as well, taking place within a small, narrow room, filled to the absolute brim with the trappings of an old time submarine. The use of space here was pretty amazing, hiding so many clues in plain sight, and submerging us within the world of the USS Growler effortlessly. Lighting, sound, and tech effects further added to the immersion, and though the storyline was fairly straightforward, it was superbly told via the submarine’s reactions to our puzzling.

The game flow was interesting, as the small space ensured that we could see most inputs and their clues, but much of the challenge was working out what needed to be activated, when, and how. For the most part, all of this was signposted so that once something had been activated, it was very clear, though there were a few points where we tried to solve things out of order that would’ve benefited a bit from some extra feedback. On the whole, this method of giving us all the information up front was a fun way to throw us immediately into the action. By tossing us directly into the deep end, forced to figure out the game as we progressed, the feeling of being operatives on a time crunch attempting to figure out Cold War technology was expressed very cleverly. The climax of the game is great, providing some excellent pay off to the adventure via a highly satisfying final run of puzzles and interactions.

Low Points:

Though the size and shape of Operation: Dive conveys the experience of being within a submarine fairly convincingly, I think an eight player maximum is a few too many. With four, we were able to comfortably move around, but another player would’ve had us tripping over each other. The room is starting to show some signs of wear and tear, with several props and areas showing dents and dings, detracting a bit from the overall effect. One main prop was majorly banged up, and it was a shame, since it was one of the focal points of our mission. A particular type of clue is used a few times within the room, and since most of the clues to all puzzles are hidden around the sub, this can result in some unintentional red herrings that get in the way of the game’s flow. Though Operation: Dive was billed as more challenging than High Speed NYC, we found that the challenge mostly stemmed from making the connections between clues and puzzles, and that once those connections were made, the room was generally a good bit easier, overall.

Verdict:

Operation: Dive is an exciting game that does an excellent job portraying its theme through the unconventional game flow. While there are some rough edges around, and can unintentionally become rather befuddling, it is overall a good time. I recommend giving it a go, but definitely advise either taking a small group of no more than four. Book your descent on the USS Growler here!

7.5/10 (Good)