YouEscape – Magnum Opus (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 2-5

Price: $30 per team

Time to Escape: 60 minutes.

Escaping together even while apart!

Theme:

From the YouEscape website:

The greatest alchemist of all time has mysteriously vanished. It rests upon you, his loyal apprentice, to discover the reason behind his disappearance. Your alchemy guild allows you to access his rooms for 60 minutes, before sealing them completely to prevent the misuse of his secrets.

First Impressions:

At the time of this writing, the world is currently in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and many of us are still in lockdown. YouEscape seemed like the perfect remedy for our current situation, providing a live puzzle experience via the magic of Google Hangouts. As we had not been on one of our escape room marathons with our regular team, Keyed Up! in over three months, we were excited to get the band back together for a puzzling adventure!

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We had a live screenshot, but it unfortunately did not survive the computer shutting itself down. Thanks Windows!

High Points:

I can say with certainty that YouEscape does a fantastic job bringing escape rooms directly to you in the comfort of your own home. I’m sure all of us have been feeling isolated during this pandemic, and the ability to see friends and puzzle through an adventure like this with them in real time was wonderful, especially knowing we may not be able to get a new escape marathon together for a while yet. YouEscape’s format is unlike anything we’d seen before, but does an excellent job of mixing together an online puzzle experience with the feel of an escape room. Our GM, Jared, sent along a Google Hangouts call, and once we had all connected, he went over the rules with us via a concise, but informative introduction. We were given a link to a google drive that would contain pieces of the puzzles, and were also informed that we would use anything we could see on his screen to work our way through a series of locked boxes and ultimately unlock the Alchemist’s greatest secret! Jared was an amazing GM, and worked brilliantly with our group to ensure we had an excellent time.

The game flow is very linear, but works well within the format and conceit of the game, ensuring there isn’t too much visual overload while still allowing players to discover all the secrets of the game for themselves. (Even those players, like ourselves, who are still absolutely horrible at finding hidden objects when there are only like, three to five things on screen. We wear the cone of shame.) The difficulty curve is very smooth, starting off the game with a fairly simple win to get players used to the format and jump start the experience, and slowly ramps up towards the final, multilayered conundrum that had us really thinking to unlock that final box! At no point did anything feel frustrating, and moments of revelation were just a few logical steps away. Puzzles ensured that we needed to work as a team, especially during the latter stages of the game, when it truly took all of us working together to crack the final locks. My favorite puzzles involved some cool interactions that played with perspective, as well as a couple of puzzles that, had they been set up in a normal escape room, would usually be solo endeavors, but had been expanded to allow for a more team focused interaction. Everything included within the “room” is important, and all props are used effectively to deliver a great run of puzzles throughout the game’s run time.

Low Points:

There is one specific interaction that doesn’t quite have an on screen “clue,” and though it does make sense on the back end, it would be nice to have a subtle marker on screen to denote that the action that needs to be taken is available. It was still a very clever puzzle, however, I felt there could have been more of a visual representation in order to ensure players know that this is an option. The set is also very basic, so those looking for something flashy may be disappointed. We thought everything was used effectively however, and in the overall scheme of things, this is a minor detail. The story itself is a good framing device, but generally is fairly basic and feels secondary to the puzzling, which we don’t necessarily mind, but a well integrated storyline would elevate the game even higher.

Verdict:

YouEscape is the perfect antidote for lockdown boredom, and is a brilliant way to get together with your favorite group of escapists for an escape! Using everyday props to deliver an exciting, smoothly produced and excellently designed game experience, I heartily recommend giving YouEscape a shot, and cannot wait to try out another of their adventures. Book your time with YouEscape here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: YouEscape provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Society of Curiosities – Madok’s Lost Treasure (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-3

Price: $39 plus shipping every 3 months, or $149 per year (4 mailings.)

Good things come in small packages.

Theme:

From the Society of Curiosities website:

You receive new information that could lead to the discovery of the lost treasure of Captain Edus Madok. Study the artifacts, articles, and expert resources to track down the location of the treasure and dispatch your team to dig it up.

First Impressions:

Society of Curiosities sent along a mysterious envelope recently, and I was already impressed by the attention to detail and passion for immersion the second I had a peek at the weathered mailing and strange looking objects inside. Though when I first emptied out the contents, I was wondering how much gameplay there could actually be. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised!

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Magic card not included.

High Points:

Society of Curiosities may be one of the most brilliantly immersive at home games I’ve played in a while. The absolutely stunning attention to detail of the props, the inclusion of some great reveals, and reality questioning research items discovered later truly immerse players within the Society of Curiosities like no other game has for us. It reminds me a lot of the AR PC game Missing: Since January and its sequel Evidence: The Last Ritual. I whiled away many hours with these game researching using myriad provided resources you could never tell were real or not, and Madok’s Lost Treasure captures that same feeling perfectly. So many of the puzzles incorporate things you never really would think would be part of a subscription puzzle game, and the experience is made all the better for it. Every single bit of the game is not only important, but woven into the story itself, and while other games generally had moments where I think, “we have to overlook this out of place bit due to the nature of the experience,” I never once felt that during our time searching for the Lost Treasure! Everything is just so well connected and navigation within the game world feels so natural; the designers should be commended on that alone, and we haven’t even touched on the puzzles yet!

The game flow works incredibly smoothly, and after a big dump of items and information at the beginning to sort through, it becomes easier to make connections and begin solving. This game is amazing, as though we had to engage in a fair amount of research, it is presented in a way that makes the googling and poring over information fun rather than an arduous exercise in tedium. I was absolutely thrilled that what is usually one of my most hated chores in any game became engaging, immersive, and purely fun. That alone proves to me that Society of Curiosities knows exactly what they’re doing. Puzzles are filled to the brim with great moments of revelation due to this masterful game design, and both my wife and I were very pleased with ourselves as we put together the pieces of some really masterfully designed and subtly clued interactions, sometimes even before it seemed like we should! The adventure taken as a whole was easily one of the most satisfying games to solve we’ve come across, and truly raised the bar when it comes to world building!

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It may not seem like much on the surface, but there’s a lot of content hidden about!

Low Points:

The first stumbling block most folks will come across with this experience may be the price tag. At $39 plus $6 shipping for quarterly purchasers (one game is released every three months,) that may be a steep cost for the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I do think the adventure is worth it, and absolutely understand where that price tag comes from, but I do know as veteran players of these sorts of games, we did blow through it, coming in a bit below the lower end of the estimated 2-5 hours of game time. However, newer players may find themselves taking longer, so your mileage may vary. Again, the experience is very worth it, but I want to mention it for those for whom cost matters greatly, myself included.

For us, the final puzzle got a bit convoluted, and though we had come across the items required to advance, one in particular is VERY deviously hidden. As a non-spoiler hint, make sure you look at literally everything, as it is all important. It’s a small thing, but that one item started to become frustrating due to how immediately well it was hidden, and how early on it was introduced. We were able to skip over one key point of the game, as my wife is brilliant at codebreaking, pulling out one of the quickest unintended solves I’ve seen in a game. The clue we skipped was therefore easy to miss, and is important later for another puzzle, but the set up seems to encourage players to take the route we did. These are both small quibbles related mostly to gate keeping of clues, however, and were the only in game shortfalls we came across.

Verdict:

Madok’s Lost Treasure is the start of something special for Society of Curiosities. Though there are some bumps in the road at the end, we had a gloriously fun time playing through. The many moving parts required to provide this type of experience go off without a hitch, and I really look forward to seeing where the journey takes us with their next adventure! Start your journey seeking the buried treasure here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Society of Curiosities provided a complementary mailing.

 

 

 

Adventure Games – Monochrome Inc. (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $19.95

Point and click… manually!

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

A thrilling adventure set in the headquarters of Monochrome Inc., a biotech company with some nasty secrets. You manage to get inside, and then it’s up to you to figure out what to do. Similar to a PC adventure game, players have to explore spaces, combine items, find clues, and talk to people. Step by step, you’ll start to grasp the plot and devise a plan. A fascinating story unfolds with each action.

First Impressions:

The one genre I never thought I’d find myself playing as a tabletop game is one of my most beloved, point and click adventure games. I’ve been playing these sorts of games since the 1990’s, and though these games aren’t nearly as prevalent as they used to be, they’re the whole reason I got into escape rooms in the first place. Imagine my surprise when the publishers of our favorite at home escape games released a new line of products based on point and click adventures! I went in with expectations high, and blessedly, I wasn’t disappointed!

High Points:

We had an awesome time with Monochrome Inc, to the point that I totally lost track of time and blew through the entire almost four hour experience in one sitting! (Though my wife later expressed she’d have liked to take a break, so next go, we’ll certainly do that.) Such a marathon session isn’t require to puzzle through the entire experience however, and there are well timed break points at approximately every ninety minutes or so, allowing for players to play at their own pace. With around four times the content of the usual Exit game, there is loads to do during the course of play with Monochrome Inc. As a completionist, I wanted to ensure we’d searched every nook and cranny and found every secret, and there was a lot of satisfaction to find in uncovering every detail, but it is certainly not required. In fact, the game becomes more replayable by using different combinations of player characters, (there are four included with different strengths, weaknesses, and story segments,) and several different endings possible! Much like my favorite adventure game of all time, Barrow Hill, I can definitely see coming back to this game every now and again to experience the story.

Initially, the rulebook seemed… astoundingly long, but the rules are actually incredibly elegant and deliver an adventure game experience amazingly well. While this old school adventure game feel can be a double edged sword from time to time, on the whole, anyone who was a fan of these sorts of experiences is going to love the inventory based puzzling and focus on story. Each area and interaction is beautifully integrated into the Thames and Kosmos Helper App, and while you can still play and read out the story yourself using the included Adventure Book, the narrative is voice acted very well within the app, and we highly recommended it. Locations within the game are beautifully designed and dynamic, changing based off player choices; a fantastic touch that builds the immersion well. It’ll also save your vocal cords if not playing solo, (which I also recommend, as a complementary co op partner is invaluable due to the variety in puzzling,) as there is a very dense amount of story available! It never feels arduous however, and the story bits refrain from droning on interminably. The climax is excellent, and caps off the story in a satisfying way, tying off all loose ends and, if your skillful, (and a little bit lucky, perhaps,) the ending you unlock could be explosively exciting as well.

I loved the puzzling itself, and the vast majority of them require using items you’ve picked up along the way in increasingly creative ways. The difficulty curve is great, and starts with some easy deductions, and gradually works players towards more challenging conundrums while avoiding too many logical leaps. There are also no overly punitive “gotcha” moments, and as the game is not strictly timed, there’s no pressure to rush. Even during more dire moments in the story, players are encouraged to think things through, allowing the pressure to be dictated by the players, rather than the game. This is a great set up, and allows for more freedom in dictating how intense or casual you want the game to be, and more options is always welcome. On the whole, I felt as though Monochrome Inc. had a great story to tell, and allowed me full agency in exploring it the way I preferred.

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Low Points:

Though I have loved adventure games for a good long while, I recognize there are some problems endemic to the genre that just seem to pop up in even the best games. These problems show up in Monochrome Inc. to varying degrees, and while none of them are game breaking, a few tweaks to remove them would certainly be appreciated. One of the biggest issues encountered in these types of experiences is logical leaps, making the inventory puzzles morph from intuitive enigmas to guess and check lunacy. As anyone who has experienced The Longest Journey’s Rubber Duck puzzle can attest, it’s maddening when you have to read the developer’s minds. While nowhere near as insane as that puzzle, there are moments within the game that made us wonder how we were supposed to derive certain answers intuitively. There are only a couple of these moments, but we had to delve into the hint book for some direction the game itself did not provide in these moments. While the hint book is helpful, “hints” may be a bit of a misnomer. In most cases, the answer was given away completely, and we would’ve preferred to have proper hints to guide us. For completionists, the ending can drag out a bit as it can be rather difficult to suss out what remains to be seen, and certain points can become unreasonably more difficult if you successfully used an item in an earlier puzzle.

Verdict:

Overall, Monochrome Inc. delivered exactly what I didn’t know I wanted with it’s approach to tabletop point and click gaming. There’s a huge amount of content included, and I can easily say that the high standard Thames and Kosmos has set with their Exit games is easily matched by this new line of at home experiences. I cannot wait to try out The Dungeon, as well as any new adventures they put out! Buy your copy at your Friendly Local Games Store today, I wholeheartedly recommend it!

8.5/10 (Great)

Sleuth Kings – Case 031: Dark World

Kara’s Note: This review was brought to you by me! 😀

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $29.95 per box

Someone will die… of fun!

Theme:

From the Sleuth Kings website:

Jack Hill, the owner of Dark World – an interactive sci-fi museum – has gone missing. Sullivan is afraid he’s been murdered, but Jack’s wife believes that the museum holds the key to bringing her husband back. With no other leads, Sullivan’s last hope is to search Dark World for any trace of Jack’s whereabouts. If Jack really is still alive, Sullivan is afraid he’s running out of time. Can you help Sullivan navigate Dark World’s six kingdoms and bring Jack home?

First Impressions:

Potential murder? Bringing Jack back at the museum? I did not know what to expect with this box, but I was excited to dive right in and find out!

Also, are interactive sci-fi museums actually a thing? Because that. Sounds. Awesome! 😀

High Points:

As can always be expected with Sleuth King boxes, this one included great puzzles with props that were multifunctional, layered, and well themed. For the most part, all the pieces of the box really worked well together and built on each other effectively to create good suspense for the final puzzle.

There were a couple of moments that made us appreciate how well thought out and intentioned the design was. We initially got concerned with one of the puzzles when we noticed that it did not follow the traditional way of being solved. However, we soon became impressed with how seamless the answer appeared by using the small, but highly effective, clue we were given. Additionally, I appreciated how clear it always is to figure out which clues go together, as the props tend to serve multiple purposes.

We also had some good a-ha moments brought on by the creativity of the puzzles. It is not the first time that we have appreciated their meaningful use of space. In instances like these, I find myself having fleeting thoughts of – hey, that seems weird – and then finally having that lightbulb moment. Some moments come more quickly than others. J

I usually find that the Sleuth King Boxes have their own character to them, which is in large part due to the great theming and creative prop/design choices. It is always fun to be in the Sleuth Kings universe, and we certainly appreciated the apt references to someone whose name may or may not rhyme with Mowie.

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Low Points:

The penultimate puzzle was a bit confusing for us. There were multiple parts to it, and while it was not hard to figure out what you needed, it was confusing how to intuitively put together what to do with them. While we were able to stumble into the answer after pushing through with a logical leap, a little more direction would have been helpful.

While the story had an interesting premise, we were left pondering about some of the plot aspects, which made it slightly harder than normal to become fully immersed. Of course, this was not enough to detract from our enjoyment of the puzzles and it certainly helped keep the theme family-friendly, as Sleuth King’s is so great at doing. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with it.

Verdict:

Despite its name, the Dark World was a fun and interactive box to solve. For the most part, we found it very fluid and it seems like we blew right through it. I think that this box would be good for beginner/intermediate puzzlers, but still enjoyable for more seasoned players as well. You can purchase this and other previous cases from the Sleuth King’s archives here, and if you’d like to subscribe to upcoming adventures, you can use the promo code ESCAPEADVENTURE to get $5 off your subscription here! You can also read the rest of our Sleuth Kings reviews here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Sleuth Kings provided a complementary box.

 

 

 

Live Room Review Break for COVID-19

Hi Everyone!

We haven’t been able to visit many escape rooms in the past couple months, and we are starting to run out of content to share! We have some live rooms to review, but at the moment, we aren’t sure if posting those right now is super helpful, especially since you can’t visit, so we don’t want them to become ineffectual. Every business we’ve visited has at least one review live at the moment, so unless folks feel strongly about it, we’re going to hold off posting those for now.

In the mean time, we are starting to get a nice back log of at home games to share, and we are working on getting those reviews sorted. We’ll continue posting those one Wednesdays, and as we gather a fair amount of reviews for those sorts of games, we’ll post a couple a week or more at the usual times. Hopefully we can get back to the regular schedule for in person games once places start to go live again!

In the mean time, New England Room Escapes has teamed up to bring you a huge puzzle hunt with some great prizes! Check that out here!

Also, check out my favorite online escape rooms of all time here! Neutral’s escape games are logical, relaxing, and a good challenge for fans old and new!

Thanks, and stay safe!