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.

20191001_2058033798254456151929396.jpg

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)

Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $24.99

Nothing good happens underground.

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

Gloomy crypts lie under the city of Paris. The catacombs swallow city light, riddles, and, apparently, also people. After the mysterious disappearance of a friend in the catacombs, you and your team embark on a search party, making your way through the puzzling underground labyrinth. Will you be able to find your friend in time and escape this cavernous world of darkness? This double-sized EXIT game is presented in two separate parts.

First Impressions:

It has been well documented that Exit: The Game is one of my favorite tabletop escape room experiences, and for good reason. Most all of their games have been high quality, with twists and turns you don’t quite get from other games available via retail. When I heard the newest box would be a two part adventure, I was instantly excited to see what the designers would do with this new, expanded format! Once we obtained it, we quickly got to puzzling.

20190915_141625-1239967209300595932.jpg

A double size box for a double size adventure!

High Points:

The Catacombs of Horror has easily some of the most tactile and engaging props yet. Several puzzles require players to manipulate the items in fascinating ways in order to create some really ingenious reveals. The initial sections of both halves of the game do a great job of easing players into the game before ramping things up with intuitive and challenging, but not overly difficult puzzles. Some of my favorite puzzles within this box were incredibly intuitive, encouraging players to read between the lines and pay close attention to their in game surroundings in order to pick up on key clues, resulting in some excellent moments of revelation as all the disparate parts fall nicely into place. The two part experience delivers bonus items during the second half that ensure the adventure remains stuffed with original interactions, and several of our favorite Exit: The Game tropes can be found within this box. Puzzles themselves trend towards multi-layered, challenging affairs, and when they’re implemented well, they’re astounding to behold, but sometimes the difficulty veers a bit too far into the realm of logical leaps and obtuse cluing. The theme is much darker for this outing, tying the Paris Catacombs to an ancient evil, and the stakes remain appropriately high from start to finish. Our team of two enthusiasts remained engaged with this adventure for a little over two hours, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, time-wise.

20190915_1416122518636567441865487.jpg

Even more evidence to process than usual!

Low Points:

As noted before, this is certainly Exit: The Game’s most difficult box, even more so than Dead Man on the Orient Express. However, the difficulty is derived far too often from logical leaps and the absence of intuitive clue threads. The connective tissue of several puzzles needs to be beefed up in order to make complete sense, and some of what should be the most climactic interactions in the game become mired in frustration due to deficient cluing. One particular riddle gives fewer clues the quicker you’ve solved so far, and this feels needlessly punitive, a blatant time sink in a series that has so far artfully avoided such puzzles. Another time sink forgoes cluing entirely in favor of a guess and check puzzle that also provides a choke point that will leave any players beyond one waiting around for the moment they can move on. While previous linear Exit games have proven skillful in implementing linearity to the benefit of weaving an excellent story, the linearity of The Catacombs of Horror tends to ignore the story, leaving only choke points and dead zones in the game flow that really kills the atmosphere of the adventure.

While the first half of the game tends to run a bit more smoothly, the second half tends to implement more complicated puzzles which, on its face, is a good idea. Ramping up the difficulty curve is standard. However, the design decisions made in order to present difficult puzzles for the sake of difficulty rather than challenge compounds here, and results in over complicated, red herring filled illogic. This is unfortunately most evident in the ultimate puzzle, which should be a climactic and exciting solve, yet falls flat in practice. In fact, we stumbled upon the solution in a way that is completely opposite to how it was intended to be completed, as integral information was just missing completely from the clues. The experience has two different endings, a good and bad one, and the ending you receive depends on how you solve this final puzzle. Luckily, we pulled the correct card, but I could definitely see a lot of frustration arising from being given only one shot at this puzzle, due to the flawed implementation of the cluing here.

Verdict:

The Catacombs of Horror evolves the Exit: the Game experience, but in other ways is a huge step back for the franchise. While there are many interesting mechanics and clever puzzles to be found, there are also a cavalcade of questionable design decisions and an uncharacteristically uneven game flow. While we ultimately had an alright time with this game, I can’t really fully recommend it, and new players should definitely not try this before any other Exit game. Exit enthusiasts are the definite market for this game, but I’d only recommend checking it out once you’ve finished the rest of the available games. 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!

5.5/10 (Mediocre)

Exit: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Night at the Museum

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

A classic tale of murder on the Orient Express, reimagined. The culprit of a grisly crime is still on board your train. It’s a race against time to piece the clues together before the train reaches its destination. The case is perplexing, and you must solve it quickly so the assailant does not escape.

First Impressions:

Exit: The Game is such a great series of at home escape games, and years after diving into the many at home escape series that are available from your friendly local game store, it remains my favorite to crack open and play. It doesn’t hurt that this one is based off the work of my favorite mystery author, Agatha Christie! Of course, after Unlock’s ill-designed Scheherazade’s Last Tale, I made sure to keep my expectations tempered, just in case.

High Points:

There was no need to temper my expectations, as this game easily blew them out of the water! Taking heavy inspiration, but not ripping off, the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express, this game packs a lot of great nods to the source material in while remaining it’s own experience. Another thing this adventure is chock full of is clever puzzles and interactions. Though the usual ten are set up via the puzzle dial, there is an overarching meta puzzle that you’ll need to solve to truly catch the murderer, so a keen eye and attention to the many details placed within the game will be required in order to reach the best ending. This excellently added sleuthing portion really ratcheted up the fun and intensity of the experience, as well as the story. Although older Exit games tended to focus more on puzzles rather than storylines, these most recent entries have definitely stepped up the quality of the mysterious stories while ensuring the puzzle quality stays high!

The experience is fairly linear, but this is not a bad thing as it allows a small group to stay focused on the task and clues at hand, while gating the story fantastically. Clues that belong to the overall murder mystery as well as the individual puzzles will need to be identified and sorted out as you go, and everything is meted out more effectively in this linear manner. New rooms and items are presented excellently, ensuring that each new step deeper into the investigation remains integrated into its place in the story. Further, the move from just opening new journal pages to revealing all new rooms after most solves makes each successful interaction all the more satisfying. Every puzzle is wonderfully tactile, and Exit continues to find glorious ways to integrate interactions into the most unlikely places while still ensuring that each enigma is intuitive and well balanced. The difficulty of this game is higher than most Exit boxes, but it never felt unfair, ensuring that each and every solve provided some superb moments of revelation. The game also serves a wide range of puzzle types, which will engage and satisfy all members of the team, allowing everyone a moment to shine. The climactic puzzle is involved and very satisfying to solve, and depending on your answer, can lead to one of two different conclusions, offering a great finale to an amazing at home escape adventure!

20190718_2212122070079683360739956.jpg

Diamonds, Cryptic Wheels, and Prescient Help Cards that will help you bust the case wide open!

Low Points:

I have no real complaints. One puzzle can be easily circumvented with what I believe to be a completely valid work around, but it didn’t feel like a let down, and we solved the puzzle we were missing as well, so the experience wasn’t diminished.

Verdict:

Dead Man on the Orient Express is easily my favorite new mystery from Exit: The Game, and I certainly recommend giving it a shot! Only one caveat, however, as though this is absolutely the best entry into the Exit series, it’s definitely one of the most challenging as well, so I wouldn’t recommend starting out with it. Pick it up along with one of the easier entries so you can get a handle on how the games tend to work first, but absolutely get this one as well. Buy your copy from your friendly local game store today! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Exit: The Game – The Mysterious Museum (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Night at the Museum

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

You are on a trip to the Florence Natural History Museum, intent on visiting the sunken treasure of the Santa Maria. Your relaxing day at the museum is quickly derailed by an incredible adventure! Can you solve the mysteries of the museum and find a way out?

First Impressions:

Leading off from where The Sunken Treasure left off, it’s time to visit the museum to have a look at the treasures we recovered! In pure Exit The Game fashion, however, a shady figure has arrived to make sure our adventures in Florence are much more interesting. As the Exit The Game series continues to innovate, it’s great to see that the stories are starting to intertwine, even slightly, so though this was the box I was the least interested in, it turns out that the game inside is easily a favorite.

20190703_1100144956997335462232638.jpg

It’s always pleasantly surprising how much puzzling Exit: The Game contains in such a small box!

High Points:

Like The Sunken Treasure, The Mysterious Museum is a story based, linear experience. While linearity can be a problem in escape rooms, I find that the more intimate experience of an at home game really lends itself to telling the story this way. It also allows for the most surprising and crazily themed twist of any Exit game to pop off early and take us on a much wilder ride that we initially expected! Though completely linear, the puzzles require teamwork, as well as a variety of solving styles, as the interactions are quite varied. This is one of the easier games on offer from Exit, but it’s still a fun challenge, and several puzzles are simple on their face, but throw a curve ball to players in order to keep things from being too easy.

The game flow is excellent, as always, and the blend of mental challenges with the tactile and ever mysterious props brings a sense of immersion to the game as well. Our favorite puzzles were perfectly integrated into the game materials, with a couple hiding in plain sight from the start, and one a continuation of Exit’s supremely excellent inclusion of clues where you’d least expect them. The storyline is rather enjoyable, and it’s great to see the designers are willing to include a great twist early on that expands the game so much! It was definitely not what I expected from this theme and game, and the pay off works extremely well. The climax is enormously satisfying, and adds a wink and a nod that I think serves as a fun send off.

Low Points:

One puzzle in particular relies on somewhat colloquial outside knowledge, which is more forgivable in a game like this where the timer doesn’t really matter all that much, but it could still be a frustration for some. For others, it’ll be a fairly juvenile puzzle in a game usually directed towards teens and adults. There’s another puzzle which I loved, but had some background in, which, looking back, may present some difficulty due to a small lack of cluing on how to ensure the item itself activates.

Verdict:

The Mysterious Museum is supremely entertaining, and I highly recommend this one as a starting point for new players. As one of the most approachable Exit games available, it really teaches players how to solve its mysteries intuitively. Exit experts will still enjoy the lighter, but still engaging challenge and story presented by this game, as there are still some original conundrums to solve herein. Buy your copy from your friendly local game store today! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Exit: The Game – The Sinister Mansion (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Guess who’s back, back again?

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

You are invited to be a guest at a palatial mansion, but upon arrival, you find yourselves forced to take part in a macabre game. The clock is ticking, and there is not much time left to solve the puzzles. Can you escape the mansion before it’s too late?

First Impressions:

Exit: The Game is easily my favorite at home escape game series, as none of their products have yet to disappoint. When I bought the newest set of games, none excited me quite as much as The Sinister Mansion, as I can’t resist an old, spooky, possibly haunted setting!

High Points:

Exit games always appear to have only a few props, but explode into giant adventures as you progress, and The Sinister Mansion is no exception. Utilizing almost every item in the box in increasingly clever ways, there is much more than meets the eye to this game. Per usual, the mystery involves around ten puzzles of varying difficulty, and for the most part, each one is clearly solvable using the items as presented, though some may take a fair bit more pondering than others. The initial puzzle is a great start, and provides a perfect moment of revelation as part of the solve, without being so simplistic that it feels like a gimme. From there, the puzzles continue to be fairly devious, challenging the players to think outside the box during every step of the way. The game flow is astounding, and involves a lot of tactile steps, keeping everyone engaged with the mystery. Though it is linear, at points, we had to ensure we knew what exactly we needed to be working on at any given time, adding to the challenge as we parsed through what we had been given.

While the storyline isn’t quite at the forefront as in The Sunken Treasure, this game is a sequel to previous games, The Abandoned Cabin and The Forbidden Castle. While those are not required to play this game, I recommend giving those a try first to keep chronology in order. (And they’re great fun to boot!) However, if you decide to Tarantino the storyline, you won’t miss anything super important. There are also nice little callbacks to other Exit games, and it’s always fun to think back to previous adventures. The revelation about your mysterious captor is an enjoyable payoff to years of Exit games, and keeping with tradition, the adventure ends on another cliffhanger that teases another sequel!

20190428_213919445276099256857628.jpg

Your ever spooky captor has given you another set of props! He’s too kind.

Low Points:

One early stage puzzle doesn’t quite give enough hints to remove the guess and check elements from the game, requiring us to fiddle around to figure out which answer is the most correct. This feels like either a puzzle that hasn’t been tested quite enough, or a cheap way to pad the play time. For new players, there’s also fairly little to clue one into some of the more eccentric ways an Exit game is tackled, so this may end up being much more difficult for folks who aren’t used to the way these games are played. Playing through an earlier game or two should alleviate this problem, but the barrier to entry is a mite bit higher than usual for The Sinister Mansion. Finally, the linearity of play may limit how many players you’ll want to have around the table, and since this experience can only be played once, that could diminish the value for people that like to play with a larger group.

Verdict:

The Sinister Mansion is a great addition to the Exit series, and I look forward to meeting the evil escape room master behind these stories again soon! Veterans of the Exit series will absolutely love this entry, though newer players should be warned that this one does rely on a fair familiarity with some of the more unconventional solving methods of Exit games, so a run with another game might be helpful. Buy your copy from your friendly local game store today! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

8.5/10 (Great)