Unlock! Escape Adventures – The Formula (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

It’s an older game, sir, but it checks out.


The Department has lost contact with their esteemed chemist, Dr. Hoffman! It’s up to you to discover his secret lab, deep within the New York subway tunnels, and find out what he’s been up to. The lab has a sophisticated series of security measures you’ll need to overcome however, including a sixty minute self destruct timer that has just triggered! Be quick, and find The Formula!

First Impressions:

Though I tend to enjoy Exit: The Game a bit more, Unlock! has always been a close second to me, delivering exciting escape adventures within a compact deck of cards. Usually a great activity for my fiancée and I when we aren’t off on an escape room marathon, these games generally scratch the escape room itch for a fraction of the price. The Formula is one I’ve actually played a couple times. Once over a year and a half ago, and again after I’d forgotten much of the game and was looking for something puzzling to play around with. So there’s some replay value there, though you’ll have to wait around 18 months for that to apply in my experience.


The tools of escape.

High Points:

The Formula can best be described as a basic introduction to the Unlock! series of escape games. This isn’t wholly a bad thing, however, as the game is intuitive to newcomers, and presents its challenge in a mostly straightforward way, like many early days escape rooms. The game flow is mostly linear, with non-linear parts, and can easily entertain a solo player or team of two. There are a couple nice stand out moments, including a few puzzles that contain multiple ah ha moments as you move from making the connection between items, to formulating the plan of action, to finally solving the conundrum and gaining your reward. The sense of progress is excellently gauged by the deck, and while the companion app keeps time for you, you can predict how far you have to go by the size of the deck, as well as the progress you’ve made with each subsequent room you uncover!

The companion app itself is excellent, and provides more than just a timer counting down from sixty. The included soundtrack, (which can be muted if it’s not your thing,) is appropriate and creates an environment of mystery to adventure to, and if you ever need a hint, they’re just a click away! The app will also give you some assistance with the much maligned “hidden object” portion of the game at regular intervals to ensure you’re kept on track, which is an absolute boon. Once you’ve finished, the game does not require you to destroy any components, so it can be passed to a friend as an added bonus!


Black lights! Can’t get away from them, even in the home games.

Low Points:

Being a basic Unlock! game is a double edged sword, especially now that there are three more Unlock! sets that have released since this one hit the scene. If you’ve never played an Unlock! game before, The Formula will definitely be a fantastic introduction to the series, but if you’ve played one of the more recent entries to the series, you’ll definitely find that there has been a lot of innovation applied in recent years which is noticeably absent from this game. There are a couple of points that penalize the player for doing otherwise logical things, and it stings to have to press the penalty button and lose minutes off the clock for something that would be a quick and reasonable course of action in reality. Though innovative for it’s time, many of the included puzzles will have become old hat for veterans of the genre, and this one can easily be solved well under the prescribed hour. The hidden objects, while not the worst I’ve seen in an Unlock! game, are still rather annoying at times, at points feeling overly tedious to find rather than a puzzle in themselves. The way the game is set up, I definitely would not recommend any more than two players, and the recommended maximum of six is absolutely laughable.


Despite some glaring issues that have become more apparent with the passage of time, The Formula is still a fun way to kill thirty minutes to an hour solo or with a friend. New players will get a great intro to the series, but veterans may be better off with one of the more recent entries to the series, as the improvements made to the newest games are noticeably absent here. Set out to find the formula at your friendly local game store today! We bought ours at the ever excellent Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC, check out their online store here!

7/10 (Good)

The 7th Guest: The Board Game (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $69.95 MRSP

Old Man Stauf he built a house, and filled it with his toys. Six guests were invited in one night, their screams the only noise.


The granddaddy of PC horror games, The 7th Guest has been adapted into a puzzling tabletop game! Take on the role of one of Henry Stauf’s guests, attempt to solve his puzzles, and leave Stauf Manor with your heart’s desire, or die trying.


Ah, the thrill of wandering around Stauf’s creepy manor returns!

First Impressions:

As a fan of The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour, I was very excited to see that Trilobyte games was releasing a board game based on these properties. When the call for reviews came out, I jumped at the chance to give it a spin. At first I was cautious as the computer games have been dear to my heart since childhood, but my expectations were definitely exceeded with this game!


Feeling loooooooonely? 

High Points:

My fiancée and I tried The 7th Guest out one evening, and once we’d given it a quick run through on the quickest game mode, “The Nickle Tour,” we were hooked! We immediately spent the next couple hours running through “The Grand Tour” and have played it many times since. Backing up a bit, the game is based on basic board game mechanics of rolling a special die, (This one is a d6 based on the Ouija board from the original game, and features only the numbers, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11, which is an odd choice, but somehow works,) and moving towards a destination in order to solve Puzzler cards. Your destination on the board is determined by a number of randomly dealt out Destination cards, (anywhere from 5 for a 2 player 30ish minute game to 18 for a 2+ hour game,) and the Puzzler cards are a mashup of trivia, cryptic clues, mind games, and horror themed puzzles. Each time you reach a room and successfully solve a Puzzler, you discard your current Destination and begin the trek towards your next one. Once you’ve run out of Destinations, you move to the Little Room at the Top of Stauf Manor to solve one final Puzzler and win the game!

It’s a simple game, but is so much fun, especially for a 7th Guest enthusiast. You don’t have to experience the original computer game to enjoy this one however, as my fiancée, who doesn’t really enjoy horror that much, also loves playing this one! Moving around the house is a joy for fans, and all the hidden passages and rooms are detailed just as they were in the game. Some of the best scenes from the game continued to pop up in my head as I played, and every so often a Puzzler would contain a well placed easter egg, so there’s a lot of excellent nostalgic nods for long time fans. The Puzzlers are great fun as well, and are a mixed bag of difficulty, running the gamut from basic trivia to mind melting riddles. Even when it isn’t your turn, these moments remain engaging as you might have a chance to steal the Puzzler if the current player answers incorrectly, so you’ll be wanting to formulate the solution as well! If you do successfully steal, you’ll get to discard your current Destination and begin on your next one, an awesome mechanic to ensure the game moves at a fairly quick pace!

The miniatures themselves are fantastically detailed renderings of the six original guests from the game, as well at the infamous Lady in White ghost from the upstairs hallway. These look great on their own, but I think they’d also work well painted, and would love to work on doing so if I ever get the chance. Puzzler, Destination, and Mystery Spell cards are all lovingly detailed with renderings from the game and spooky artwork, and set the creepy tone for the game immediately. Every part of the game is infused with the love you’d expect from Rob Landros, designer of The 7th Guest computer and board game!


Want a balloon, sonny? Nah… Nah, I’m good.

Low Points:

For the most part, we absolutely love this game, and are having a great time playing it beyond the need to do so for the review, but there were a few small things we think could be improved on. The die itself does not denote whether the nine is a six or nine with the standard line marking the bottom. It’s easy to remember once you know that all the numbers are odd, but it still confuses us from time to time. The Little Room at the Top mechanic is a great way to end the game, but in order to win, you only have to solve a standard Puzzler. It can be a bit anticlimactic when you get thrown a softball by the Puzzler deck, but I understand why it is handled this way.

With 300 Puzzlers, we will get a fair amount of play out of The 7th Guest, but it’s slightly disheartening to know we will eventually run out. Luckily, there are plans for expansions to ensure this game won’t be a finite experience! Finally, the Ghost mechanic is bafflingly punitive, but luckily optional, so we do not play with it. This mechanic involves a player becoming possessed and being unable to progress in the game until they pass along the affliction to another player by landing on the same square or room, or getting a random Mystery Spell to release their spirit. The mini is the absolute best one in the box, however, so we always use it as one of the player pieces instead.


Beware The Lady in White!


The 7th Guest: The Board Game is a surprisingly entertaining game, even 27 years after the PC game’s original release. Fans of the game will find a lot of value in the nostalgia present, as well as the ability to revisit Stauf Manor one more time for this new experience! The game is also very approachable and intuitive for those who aren’t long time fans, and just pure fun to play regardless. The game is set to begin shipping to Kickstarter backers soon, so I expect this will be available to the general public shortly! You can pick up your copy here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Trilobyte Games provided a complementary copy of this game.

Unlock! Secret Adventures – A Noside Story (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-3

Price: $14.99

Give the mouse his own game!


After the events of Squeak and Sausage, evil Doctor Noside has returned yet again to menace the city! It’s up to your team to infiltrate his lair and thwart whatever maniacal plot he has dreamed up this time. Bypass his traps and make sure you aren’t caught, or who knows what Noside will do!

First Impressions:

Unlock! is one of the top escape room at home card games, and we’ve mostly enjoyed the last six that were released, but none of them were quite as awesome as Squeak and Sausage, the cartoony prequel to A Noside Story. When I saw that a new set was releasing, I knew I could wait on the other games, but this one was a must have on day one. (I still bought the other two a couple weeks later. I have an addiction.) Hopefully it measured up!


The lair of Doctor Noside is guarded by an old friend!

High Points:

A Noside story definitely measures up to it’s predecessor, and includes some fantastic easter eggs and callbacks to Squeak and Sausage for veteran players, while still staying 100% accessible to newcomers to the series. The tutorial ensures that even the more complicated card mechanics, such as machine cards, are understandable and intuitive, and penalties are much less random than previous iterations. In fact, we never saw one due to the game’s excellent flow! Puzzles are mostly linear, with branches from time to time, but with two players, we were always engaged with the game. The cartoon-y cards are bright and engaging, and the many locations are fun to explore! The cartoon nature of the adventure is also present within the game’s logic, presenting outlandish solutions that fit within the theme of the adventure. A Noside Story also innovates beyond the usual mechanics of Unlock!, presenting interactions that will surprise even those grizzled veterans of the last couple sets! Machines are more involved, and present complex interactions that add to the immersion greatly.


James the mouse, the hardest working animal in the Escape Business. 

Low Points:

The cartoony logic can be a double edged sword at times. I was used to this method of thinking, due to my experience with the previous game, but my partner was used to the more “grounded” logic of the other Unlock! games, so the connections were much muddier to her. One particular puzzle took a huge leap of logic, which newer players will not be used to, and while it is amazingly innovative, it could seem illogical to some players. Although the game box says 1-6 players, I cannot see the game being fully engaging with any more than 3. Too many cooks and all that.


A Noside Story is a worthy successor to it’s predecessor, delivering an even tighter, more engaging experience! I highly recommend giving it a try, and definitely getting your hands on a copy of Squeak and Sausage as well! Pick up the game at your friendly local game store, and return to the world of Noside, James the mouse, and the ever distractable guard pug today! We bought ours at the ever excellent Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC, check out their online store here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)