Mystery Locks: Santa is Missing! | Review


Santa is Missing! Review | The most wonderful time of the year has arrived, but something is wrong. The presents are missing, the Christmas Tree is empty and there’s no trace of Santa Claus anywhere! The North Pole is in chaos, and the fate of Christmas rests on your shoulders. You and your team of merry helpers have been summoned to save the day and find Santa Claus in time to save the holiday. But where could he be? The clock is ticking, and the children of the world are counting on you to keep the magic of Christmas alive. Put your skills to the test and follow the clues to unravel the mystery and rescue Santa Claus. Will you save Christmas, or will the holiday be ruined forever? The countdown to Christmas has begun, and the clock is ticking – let the adventure begin!

Date Played: December 2023
Time Taken: 40 Minutes (+ extra time for cutting / sticking)
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Easy
All photos on this page are (c) Mystery Locks.
Used because my own printer decided to wash out all the colours in printing, so my photos didn’t quite do it justice!

Since lockdown, I really haven’t played that many “printable” escape rooms. Not least of all because I own the world’s least reliable printer, and no longer work from an office where I can print anything out more professionally… But also because they aren’t so common anymore! I suppose the market has simply changed. Since 2020, international freight for board games has resumed *cough cough* nice to see there aren’t any boats blocking the Suez, and of course escape rooms across the world have opened up… Which all amounts to less demand than there was three years ago. But equally, it makes it feel refreshing when a new one does come along. So when the lovely team at Mystery Locks reached out about their Christmas experience, I was excited to see what Santa is Missing! was all about.
Santa is Missing! Play at Home Escape Room
Of the Mystery Locks collection (an enormous plethora of printable games for all ages and group sizes), Santa is Missing! is one of their most family friendly. With it’s light-hearted, Christmas theme and puzzles on the easier side, it’s fairly accessible and easy to pick up. Although, from experience playing similar games with kids, I would still recommend parental supervision. It wasn’t immediately clear if you should cut everything out before playing, or cut as you go – but a fair warning that cutting all the bits out does take a significant amount of time. There are 25 pages in all, and whilst you probably don’t have to cut every single thing out, the photographs on Mystery Lock’s website seem to suggest you should. In all my printer took around 30 minutes to print everything out (remember I said it was an unreliable piece of equipment). I then took a further 30 minutes to cut everything out (hey, I’m slow and there was a Christmas film in on the background, so who can blame me). Then with a cup of mulled wine in hand, I finally sat down to play it and finished the whole thing in around 40 minutes. In hindsight, it does take longer to setup than play – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.

What followed was a fun puzzle-heavy experience in rescuing Santa. You see, the very first page you print out sets the scene that Santa is missing, and the following page indicates that there’s a “guilty elf” involved. The story doesn’t go much more detailed than that. It’s slightly confusing, but I suppose I’m not the target audience – I’m sure a young child wouldn’t have quite as many unanswered questions as I did (how are we to know an elf was involved? How was the elf involved? Why did they do it? What did the password unlock?). I mentioned that the game was puzzle-heavy, to the detriment of the narrative. The whole game is essentially a series of puzzles to unlock a series of numbers which give you the password to a QR code page to check your answer. The answer is a 12 digit code, and the first three letters of a name. The name is case-sensitive, which resulted in more than a little confusion when I managed to get the correct answer incorrect twice in a row, but I got there in the end with a little check in the Walkthrough.

But, for what it lacks in storytelling signposting – it makes up for in labelling signposting. Each puzzle is very clearly labelled at the top the sheet. If printing and cutting, it’s helpful to make a note on the back of the items you cut out exactly which puzzle they’re for, as you can keep them in a neat pile. The game therefore folds linearly throughout the series of puzzles from one through to twelve, through to the grant “whodunnit” finale.

If I had to pinpoint my favourite thing about the game, it would be the puzzles. It’s really quite a clever collection of little puzzles, a few of which felt delightfully unique and festive enough to spark Christmas joy. For sure, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing or why I needed to do it, but the physical process of going through each puzzle in turn felt satisfying. They were aimed at a younger audience and involved a lot of physical manipulation of the paper – cutting, folding, moving things around, but cozied up on my sofa wanting a “light-hearted puzzle experience” it really scratched the itch.

The Verdict

Overall, the game didn’t quite capture my imagination, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I enjoyed the puzzles themselves, but ended the experience with a few more questions than answers, and felt it was lacking a little signposting in some parts. I’d recommend it for a family audience, and if anyone is in the market for a fun little puzzler over Christmas. I think in general, and this is definitely a bigger discussion to be had in a future article, that printable experiences just aren’t as magical as they once were. If you’re stranded with just a laptop and a printer but forgot to pack any board games, then a printable game is a great and low cost “do it yourself” option for family games night. Within the genre, Mystery Locks have done a good job in creating something fun for their target audience – so they’re well worth checking out. But in all, I’m not sure if this was quite for me.

Santa is Missing! can be purchased by heading to Mystery Locks website here. As a printable game, you’ll be responsible for printing out and assembling your own copy.

We were not charged for our experience playing Santa is Missing! but this does not affect the contents of our review.

EscapeWelt: Blackbeard’s Compass | Review


Blackbeard’s Compass – the newest puzzle box from EscapeWelt, inspired by the adventures of the legendary Captain Blackbeard. The Blackbeard’s Compass includes various riddles, each unlocking the next, ultimately leading to a hidden compartment within the box. Don’t miss the exciting escape room experience, lots of fascinating riddles and new unique mechanics – sea knots, a treasure map and even a real compass! Chart your course, set your sails, and embark on a legendary quest!

All images on this page are (c) EscapeWelt

Date Played: 19th November 2023
Time Taken: 45 Minutes
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Good things come to those who wait, and EscapeWelt’s newest wooden box experience now live on Kickstarter was well worth the wait. My co-writers Karen and Georgie previously played other games by EscapeWelt, but as for me – I’m pretty new to the whole wooden ‘break into the box’ mechanic, so I was excited to get my hands on this. Unlike your traditional ‘escape game’ where (the clue being in the title) you escape, EscapeWelt boxes are all about breaking into something. In this case, breaking into the mysterious pirate-themed compass case. Start anywhere, play with anything, and see where you get. That’s how I imagine these things go anyway.

With that in mind, I set aside a quiet Sunday afternoon, put a film on in the background (my first Christmas film of the season, though I was tempted by the on-theme Pirates of the Caribbean), and got to work. As a neurodiverse person, I love having something in my hands to play with. I keep a rubix cube on my desk for long meetings- as yet unsolved, but very very well worn. So the idea of a puzzle box really appeals to me. It’s also compact and tactile. The whole thing sits so nicely in my hands with just the right amount of details to entertain the eyes as well as the fingertips.



The Treasure Trove of Tactile Puzzles

My only real problem with this box was… Well… Me. I went through a period in my life where I learned how to pick locks. A period of my life I took way, way too seriously. I mention it because I think my knowledge of how keys and locks actually work counted against me here. As the Christmas film played on in the background, I played around with the box listening for little, subtle wooden clicks that told me I was onto the right direction. There was something extra satisfying about this, and at times I even closed my eyes just to prove to myself I could solve a puzzle just by feeling it.

So… Did I solve the puzzles in the way the game wanted me to? No. But did I solve them all? Yes. In the wrong order? Oh yes. Was it fun? Oh my god yes.  The long and the short of it is, this means it’s really hard for me to be objective. Because I loved this, but I didn’t exactly solve it in the right way the creators expected someone to.

In fact, I ‘found’ Blackbeard’s Compass so early and completed my goal so soon that I had to go back and solve the puzzles I’d missed just for that sense of satisfaction afterwards.

I also later found that besides solving the wooden lock portions incorrectly, there was another part of the game which I ‘solved’ by doing the obvious thing and not doing the thing the game wanted me to do. So I think if I had any real criticism of this experience it was just that: The game wasn’t exactly clear on the ‘right’ way to solve it, and I found myself doing all the ‘not right’ ways, but getting the same success state. Some of those ‘not right’ ways were me just being me and wanting to solve it my own way. Other times, there just wasn’t the instruction to do it the other way.

But let’s bring it back to that central point – did I have fun? Oh yes. I’d buy another and do the same in a heartbeat.



The Quality of a Compass

Blackbeard’s Compass scores very highly on my quality scale. Even though one teeny tiny component was broken in my copy of the game. Which, I should add, didn’t affect the gameplay in the slightest and is easily fixable by myself at home with a little glue. The reason I give it such a high mark is twofold:

Firstly, I loved the physicality and feeling of the wood, there’s such an incredibly level of artistry that’s gone into the game and that’s clear. Secondly, the compass itself. Now, I don’t want to give any spoilers – but the game is called Blackbeard’s Compass, and so at some point a compass is involved. It’s a compass so beautiful and delightful the whole experience is worth it in among itself even if you buy it only because you want to own a cool compass.

The real question for me is whether I display it on my puzzle game shelf ‘closed’ or ‘open’ – it looks so cool in both ways, I can’t possibly decide.


The Verdict

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience with Blackbeard’s Compass. Even though I solved it ‘the wrong way’ and went back to figure out the puzzles later, I had a really good time doing so, and would actively look out for more games by EscapeWelt in the future.

At the time of writing, Blackbeard’s Compass is available via Kickstarter. The current pledge for UK backers comes in at £43, not including shipping which is estimated to be around £7. Excluding the fact this might be slightly lower than retail – which is customary with Kickstarter campaigns – it’s a fairly expensive game. For this reason I’ve given it a 3/5 on value, purely based on “how much fun I had” versus “regiftability factor” versus “how much I want to keep it because it looks on my shelf”. Basically, how much lifetime value will I get from this game for £50? It feels expensive, and I only played it for around 45 minutes. I’m not sure it’s worth it based on that metric, BUT it is very cool looking, and could (fairly easily – with the exception of one puzzle) be reset to gift on to someone else, if you wanted to. So do with that information whatever you will.


You can back Blackbeard’s Compass by heading to this link here.

We were sent a free, early access copy of the game by EscapeWelt though this has not affected our review.

The Blue Coconut: Echoes of Stardust | Review


Echoes of Stardust Review | Dance your way into the vibrant world of the “The Stardust Palace”, where groovy tunes and hidden mysteries await! Are you ready to immerse yourself in an adventure that will transport you back to the neon-lit heart of the 1980s disco era? Prepare to solve enigmatic puzzles, decipher cryptic clues, and unravel secrets from the golden age of disco!

Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: 40 minutes
Date Played: October 2023
Difficulty: Easy

Recently I travelled down to Sheffield to hang out with Al, Ash, and our friend Tasha (collectively, and separately of Escaping the Closet) which meant a weekend of escape rooms and tabletop puzzle games! Of course, it would also be that weekend I’d forgotten to bring the bag packed chock full of board games – so imagine my delight when I unzipped my small backpack to find I’d slipped one (just one) game in there. This one! Praise be to envelope sized light-weight puzzle games that are also printable just in case you forget your files at home.

I also packed The Blue Coconut’s other game, the spooky “Curse of Blackthorn Manor“. But on glancing through both of them, we collectively decided to leap into the light-hearted disco themed romp complete with dazzling font and bright and exciting colours.


Image (c) The Blue Coconut


The Blue Coconut themselves are prolific Etsy sellers sporting, at the time of writing, some 3,500 sales all around the world and a 5 star rating across the board. Some portion of their sales seem to come from a previous version of the business from 2015/2016 where the duo specialised in art prints. But then in 2021, The Blue Coconut was born (or reborn) as a tabletop puzzle game creator. Since then, they’ve been making anything from murder mystery games to more traditional puzzle games to popular response. In fact today, if you log into Etsy and search “escape room” you’ll probably see them pop up in one of the very first listings. Outside of Etsy, the team is slightly less known – which is a shame, because having played through two of their games now, I had fun!

But let’s get into it… What sort of fun can a player expect from Echoes of Stardust?


About Echoes of Stardust

Echoes of Stardust is a short puzzle and murder mystery hybrid game. You, the player arrives at The Stardust Palace after receiving a letter from “Vincent Groovemaster”, the venue’s owner. The star of the show, Celeste Nightingale was found murdered, and we had three missions to complete:

  1. Find the identity of Celeste’s killer
  2. Discover the location of Celeste’s cryptex
  3. Decipher the code to the cryptex to find out what she’d left within it

To solve those three missions, you’re faced with a range of puzzles. This is very much a “tip the contents of the envelope onto the table and explore” type of game, so there wasn’t too much in the way of signposting – we could tackle any puzzle in any order.

A few of them we got super easily. Of those, we picked up the killer’s name right away, for example. A few others required a little cutting and sticking – in one instance a jigsaws-style puzzle, and in another assembling a CD cassette case (so retro! I love it!). Since there were 4 of us, we split across the table into 2 groups of 2 and got solving, occasionally swapping clues when we got stuck on something in particular.

Guiding you along the way is a small business-card with images of which aspects of the game need to be used together to solve a puzzle. If we needed a hint, there was an online web portal we could go to to find out more. In the end, we used on hint on what I think is the very last puzzle in the game. It was a classic case of “we were overthinking this”, but a little extra signposting on this puzzle may have gone a long way.


The Physical Papers from The Stardust Palace


In terms of quality, Echoes of Stardust is available in two forms:

  • Print at Home
  • Shipped in an Envelope

We opted for the former, and ours arrived in a cute pink envelope inside a more stable cardboard envelope to protect it during transit. Since the game is essentially a printable game, everything in the envelope was a simple paper puzzle, with the occasional item on more durable stock including a metallic scratch-off solution reveal, and a shiny brochure stock.



Visually this game is beautiful… Well, at least until closer inspection when I realised that the majority of the eye-catching art is actually AI generated. Here at The Escape Roomer we are not huge fans of AI art. We get that there’s often a need to iterate on a design very quickly at the prototype level, but seeing AI art in a finished project is a big no no for us and we, at The Escape Roomer prefer to support human designers and human artists who have been fairly paid for their work.

With that elephant in the room out of the way, we can go back to the fun part. What is our verdict?

Echoes of Stardust: The Verdict

Well, Echoes of Stardust is very much a more entry-level escape room experience, and as a result isn’t targeting the enthusiast market. The team has chosen a formula (word answer, then digits for all other puzzles) and stuck to it across their games that I can see. Forcing puzzles into the box of “the output has to be a 3 digit code” or “a 4 digit code” doesn’t always make for the most interesting puzzles. I think the game could have done more with the theme, or been more – perhaps with a more cohesive storyline, or more unique puzzles. Personally, I would love to see the team do something that breaks their own formula. A bigger, more encompassing murder mystery which creative and mimetic puzzles that fit well into the universe they have created. Rather than a puzzle arbitrarily outputting a 3-digit code, perhaps you’re retracing the victim’s steps, or comparing fingerprints to suspects, or listening to music that contains backwards speaking in a creepy final message the victim left us – just the little things that make more ‘mimetic’ sense in the universe of ‘solving a murder’.

But all that said, for the low price and fun visual presentation, Echoes of Stardust hits the spot and ticks enough boxes for us to be called fun… And 3500 five star reviews on Etsy can’t be wrong. They’re clearly doing something right, that their target audience loves!

I would recommend this for the casual puzzle player looking for something fun on date night, or a game at home with friends. For an even better experience – you could probably use actual digit locks and a cryptex (if you have such things lying around your house – unfortunately I do, haha!) to lock away fun disco-themed prizes that are revealed once you solve the puzzles.


Echoes of Stardust can be purchased as a printable game, or shipped directly to you by heading to The Blue Coconut’s Etsy here.

Please Note: We were not charged for our experience, but this hasn’t affected our review.


PostCurious: The Morrison Game Factory | Review


The Morrison Game Factory is a narrative puzzle adventure that blends board games, escape rooms, and interactive fiction. New and experienced players alike will enjoy progressing through a charming story packed with puzzles and physical materials.

Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 2 Hours
Date Played: October 2023
Difficulty: Medium

Spoiler Warning: This review mentions key plot elements of The Morrison Game Factory.

So, it turns out we’re big fans of PostCurious – a revelation that came frankly far too late in my ‘puzzle life’, when I think about all the years I was just out here like, never having played a PostCurious game before. I mean, did I really even know what a good puzzle game was until now, hmm. But now I know there’s only one thing to do about this fact, and that is play every single PostCurious game I can get my hands on as quickly as possible. So what’s a better way to ‘catch up’ on the catalogue than play the newest PostCurious games before it even launches! Wait what?! Well, this week on The Escape Roomer we were super lucky and incredibly grateful to be sent a copy of The Morrison Game Factory, a brand new Kickstarter game from the puzzletale creators.

The Morrison Game Factory is a sweet little puzzle game, a little shorter than the others from PostCurious but no less brilliant. It’s a powerful story, and one set in it’s namesake factory centred around a ‘board game printing machine’ that gains sentience. It also gets to go down in my private hall of fame as one of the only games which made me tear up. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a lonely little sentient robot. Move aside A.I. and Wall E, 3248 is  my new favourite lonely robot.

But first, a little background on the game and it’s creators.



The Morrison Game Factory, A Background

A while back I wrote an article on marketing tabletop puzzle games on Kickstarter, it was published on Medium but there’s a version here on The Escape Roomer. One of the most interesting (though perhaps not surprising) things I found was how prolific PostCurious is on Kickstarter. They’ve built up an incredibly solid fanbase over the years and now we’re at the point where a PostCurious game is guaranteed to fund within the first 24 hours, and probably go 200, 300% higher than that by the end. After a successful ‘remaster’ of Tale of Ord earlier this year, the latest Kickstarter launch is a collaboration game titled The Morrison Game Factory. This is probably where it gets quite interesting, because this would make The Morrison Game Factory is a new breed of PostCurious game. One not directly created by Rita Orlov, the company founder – but one designed by someone else and published under the label. It marks a bold and exciting new move for the company, and after playing this game, a trend I hope will continue and lead to even more brilliant games being made in the future.

Because, where The Morrison Game Factory really shines is in it’s story… And is that really surprising since the game’s collaborator is the popular Nebula-nominated Lauren Bello (a TV writer best known for her work on Apple TV+’s Foundation and Netflix’s The Sandman)? I suppose not! And it just goes to show what a powerful collaboration this is, and how much care and attention PostCurious put into picking a game to publish that just fits so well with their others. It’s true, it took me by surprise just how brilliant the story was – but that just served to remind me of how important story has been this far with the other games I’ve played by the same company. It’s safe to say that PostCurious really put the ‘puzzle’ in their self described ‘puzzle tale’ title.


@mairispaceship unboxing a new kickstarter board game: The Morrison Game Factory by PostCurious 👏 #boardgame #boardgames #kickstarter #kickstartergame ♬ Cafe / video cute lofi ♪ Chill(885831) – ImoKenpi-Dou


(please note, the above video was recorded before we played!)


Meet 3248, The Morrison Game Factory’s Sentient Computer

Now, there isn’t a huge amount of information on this game on the internet so far, so I’m going to describe the game with as few spoilers as possible. But I think it’s not possible to explain it without introducing the main character: 3248. 3248 is the technical name for one of the board game printing machines at the Morrison Game Factory, the game’s narrator, and it’s principle character.

The game opens with a letter from an unknown source, inviting you to investigate the Morrison Game Factory – an old abandoned factory. There, waiting on a conveyor belt and freshly printed was this very game you hold in your hand. It quickly becomes apparent that nobody left this game for you – no, it was printed after the factory was abandoned, by one of the very machines within it. A real mystery, and a real puzzle to solve. What follows is a dive into the past – the history of the factory, it’s workers, and it’s machines, as we retrace the breadcrumbs left behind across meeples, boards, locked boxes, and components from scattered board games past.

It’s a story about friendship, but also about loneliness… And it’s told through the actions you take and through the story you read. Yes, reading. So, there is quite a bit of reading to do in this game- not necessarily within the box itself, but more on the side of the web portal as the game unfolds. You’ll have to recover memories and read through in order to both advance the story and also understand what to do in the game. But despite my saying “quite a bit”, it’s also somehow simultaneously the “exact right amount of words” to tell a perfect story. The characters so believable, the story so happy and so heartbreaking. It’s *chefs kiss*



Puzzles Vs Storyline

So, let’s talk about those puzzles then.

The game is gentle in it’s puzzling. I won’t lie, we did use more than a few hints to get through it – but at no point did we feel lost about what to do. The hints were delivered in character and were helpful and straightforward with steps and instructions. As such the general lower level of difficulty, thorough signposting, and straightforward hints mean it’s probably a game quite suitable for a more generalist audience. The Kickstarter recommends the game for an audience of 14+. In my particular playthrough, I played it with my 14 year old brother, who absolutely loved the puzzles and the story. I think it would really depend on the child – but I found that neither the puzzles nor the story contained anything that would be difficult for a younger audience, except that the tale itself is complex and nuanced. But each to their own.

In terms of the styles of puzzles, it erred on the side of the logic style of puzzle I recognise from other PostCurious games – though that may be confirmation bias on my part. I notice logic style puzzles because frankly, I love them. I mean, I’m literally currently working on a videogame where the central puzzle style is the kind of “if this, then that, but not that” puzzle I can’t get enough of. So when they pop up in games I notice them.

Besides logic puzzles, there were also some fantastically delightful moments hidden in puzzles too. Think ‘showstoppers’. One in particular prompted some external materials in a moment of what I can only describe as pure science delight – resulting in us both gathering round the table and gasping in delight. I think these moments of puzzle-light but spectacular-heavy really pull a game like the Morrison Game Factory together nicely.

I will say that in our particular playthrough we encountered two minor, minor issues. One of them was a print error which has already been corrected for the general sale of the gamet. The second is that the game does require making a US phone call which did cause us some issue, being all the way over here in the UK. After some googling we couldn’t figure out an easy way to make the call other than… Well, the obvious… Just phoning it and paying the $$. We made the call as quick as we could, recorded it from another device, and hung up as fast as we could. It cost £0.16 on my phone plan (~$0.20). Not breaking the bank, but I only mention it as I know a lot of international phone plans don’t allow for international calls. There is a warning about this on the Kickstarter page, and the promise of a workaround if you’re unable to call the number – but it’s just worth keeping in mind!


The Verdict

The Morrison Game Factory has been one of my favourite games, at least so far in 2023. Which is saying a lot, since it’s already the end of October and I don’t think there’s anything else on my to-play pile that will pip it.

So why The Morrison Game Factory? For me, it’s the perfect blend of puzzles and story in a high quality box that is packed with retro illustrations, fun little meeples, and curious things to discover. I’d recommend this game for just about anyone, and if you’re reading this whilst the Kickstarter is still alive I implore you to back it.

At the time of writing, The Morrison Game Factory can be backed on Kickstarter in October / November 2023. After, it will be available on PostCurious’s website here.

Please Note: We were sent an early copy of The Morrison Game Factory to review ahead of the Kickstarter. As such, we weren’t charged for our experience. There also may be small differences between the version of the game we played, and the final print production edition. We’ve taken lengths to ensure that this does not affect the content of our review.


PostCurious: The Emerald Flame | Review


The Emerald Flame Review | The Emerald Flame is a narrative tabletop puzzle game told in three parts. Commissioned by an organization shrouded in mystery, players take the role of a historical expert embarking on a quest to piece together the recipe for a fabled elixir by investigating maps, drawings, alchemical diagrams, and mysterious artifacts. Combining history, hand-drawn illustration, vibrant characters, and original puzzles, The Emerald Flame will challenge and engage players of all experience levels and has been called “a captivating adventure from beginning to end.”

Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 6 Hours
Date Played: June – September 2023
Difficulty: Tricky


Wait, what? This game took you nearly four months to play? Yes… Yes it did haha. Between my co-writer Rebecca and I, we split it into three sessions. But you know what, from the first session until the very last, I thought about this game a lot. Like, all the damn time. If it weren’t for various life events (work trips and holiday trips), and the Edinburgh Fringe taking over our city for a month, we’d probably have binged this game in just the one setting. But like a really delicious three course meal, a game like this is best savoured. So I’m not even mad at myself that this took 1/3 of a year to play.

So what is The Emerald Flame? The Emerald Flame is one of the most popular Kickstarter games of all time. It’s a labour of love from PostCurious, who are best known for creating the Tale of Ord, among other award-winning and cult hit puzzle board games. It takes somewhere around 6 hours to solve – maybe a little more if you work solo – and the whole thing is just fantastic puzzle after fantastic puzzle, linked together with a compelling and detailed narrative.

I think it is probably the very best example of a tabletop puzzle experience in this entire genre. Yep, there, I said it. It’s creative and delightful, challenging but immensely rewarding. The materials are impressive and unmatched by any other company.



Introducing the Koschei Historical Society

PostCurious games, unlike a lot of other at-home experiences, pay particular attention to their worldbuilding and storytelling. The story of The Emerald Flame begins with the mysterious Koschei Historical Society and an ancient alchemical elixir. Told over three chapters, taking between 1 and 3 hours each, you the player go in search of that elixir and it’s magical properties. You’re guided through on your journey by a series of old papers and documents. Each document felt as realistic as the last – all aged and yellowing, with hand illustrated watercolours. In each chapter too, is a series of correspondences between Marketa and Hannah, our main characters, whose own lives are unfolding as that of your own adventure progresses.

There’s multiple layers of narrative, but never did the game feel too convoluted. Even after returning months later, we were able to pick up the threads of the story fairly easily. The micro, the macro, and our peculiar hunt through history on the trail of an elixir that may or may not even exist.

At the very end of the game, without wanting to spoil anything – the player gets to make a choice. In our playthrough, we didn’t realise it was a choice, and charged into it a little blindly. After reading out the ‘finale’, we realised that very choice was, how to say, quite important. But by then, our fates were sealed. So no spoilers, except to say – keep an eye out for that one.



The ‘Puzzle’ Part of Narrative Puzzle Adventure

In terms of puzzles, for me at least, this is where all PostCurious games really shine. There’s a real mix of delightfully unique and original puzzles in here that use their materials to the maximum. Most of the puzzles we encountered were multi-steps, and leaned heavily on logic (which is excellent for me, because I love logic puzzles), meaning that whilst each individual step may not have been too tricky, continuing the thread from start to finish within each one was.

To tackle this experience, Rebecca and I mostly divided and conquered. Meaning, after reading each chapter’s narrative introduction, we leafed through each puzzle trying to figure out where to get started. In most cases, the puzzles were non-linear meaning that they could be done in any order to get to the end of the chapter. On the one hand, most of the puzzles felt very single-player – in that whilst one of us was solving, the other didn’t have much to do with the puzzle. But on the other hand, this suited us really well, as we shine in a two-player team left to our own devices.

After solving each one, we typically swapped notes to make sure we were on the page – before continuing on to our confirmation mechanism. Speaking of, the confirmation mechanism is an online portal. Well, it’s essentially a chatbot, but a very clever one that makes you feel as if you’re talking to a real person! Log in, go to the relevant part, and input your answer to proceed.

We used a few hints throughout our experience – and mostly just to keep us on the right track, or more likely get started on a puzzle.



Curious Paper Ephemera

The last thing I’d love to mention about The Emerald Flame is the quality of the materials. You, the player, are scouring through papers that are hundreds of years old on the tail of an alchemist. Every single object in this game looked, and felt impressive. From the tea-stained papers, to the fabrics, to the curious ephemera tucked inside little bags and glass cases. I’m a big fan of the illustrative, watercolour style, and I really enjoyed the tactile mix of materials. In particular, there are two instances of using a necklace, and they were both some of the most delightful interactions in a tabletop puzzle game I can remember! It’s clear the designer has really thought outside the box.

There’s also… Like… So much in this game as well? Which, since the experience is broken up into three parts, I didn’t quite realise until I needed to spill everything out onto the table in order to take some pretty photographs and videos. The paper ephemera just… Kept… Coming. For a relatively normal sized board game box, it’s like a TARDIS in there.

Last, but not least, for the price, really reasonable. The only reason I didn’t back it originally was that it launched in 2020 and 2020 was my “year of being absolutely broke”. Whilst I couldn’t justify £60 on it then, today the game retails for £75 (converted from $90 USD), and having seen the wealth, breadth and creativity of the materials in the box – I’m surprised it’s not even more expensive.



The Verdict

If it weren’t obvious from this review, we really, really enjoyed The Emerald Flame. I’m repeating myself, but it may well be one of the very best in our genre. For this reason (and a million others), I’m awarding this tabletop game The Escape Roomer “Badge of Honour“.

BADGE OF HONOUR The highest award of them all! The Badge of Honour is the best badge The Escape Roomer team can bestow upon a game. These games were incredible!!

I’d recommend The Emerald Flame for enthusiasts, and folks who are interested in a bit more of a challenge than your average game. It’s on the pricier side, but well worth the investment. I’m glad I played it, and my only regret is not backing it on Kickstarter or playing it sooner. I won’t make that mistake again on PostCurious’s next game, that’s for sure.


The Emerald Flame can be purchased by heading to PostCurious’ website here.

All photos in this review were taken by me, the author, Mairi Nolan.


Mystery Guides: The Mystery of the Gunpowder Snitch (York) | Review


Moments before Guy Fawkes lit his fuse an anonymous letter tipped off the authorities and foiled his dastardly plot… Who wrote the letter? Nobody knows, but a dusty diary found beneath the floorboards of an old York pub could finally expose him, and this is where you come in…

Date Played: August 2023
Time Taken: 3 Hours
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Easy

The Guy Fawkes Inn in York is famous for a couple of things. Firstly, the pies. Steak and ale with a beautiful pastry. Very tasty indeed. The other thing (arguably the main thing) is being the birthplace of Guy Fawkes – hence the name…

Yup, Fawkes is kind of a big deal around these parts. Him, Dick Turpin and Vikings. If you’re looking for a theme, then one of those three will probably do the job, and in The Gunpowder Snitch the notorious plotter’s deeds take centre stage.

Presented in a colourful, well-put-together booklet, The Gunpowder Snitch has you eliminating suspects, colours, seasons, and several other things Cluedo style until you are left with the pieces required complete the final puzzle. These allow you to discover exactly who was responsible for the writing of secret letters that, ultimately, foiled the plan. You do this by following a route, finding the relevant landmark, and then using it to somehow decipher a coded message before moving onto the next. Between the puzzles are background details, diary entries and antiquitorial titbits to help fill out the story.

Location, Location, Location

York is the perfect city for such an activity. It’s dripping in history – both horrible and otherwise – and you can’t kick a bush without several ‘most haunted’ pubs scurrying out. There are so many interesting nuggets lurking around, that this mystery barely covers a quarter of the famously condensed city, however that’s not to say there’s a lack of content. The distance travelled was just over three kilometres, took roughly three hours, and included many points of interest that could be missed easily as a tourist. In fact, even having lived there for over a decade, some of the plaques and shields that were required for the puzzles had somehow managed to evade us until this book pointed them out.


The Hunt for the Snitch

Following the clear directions on the pages will see you traverse a section of the famous walls, duck through a snickelway*, and witness plenty of other quirks. Though, if you wanted, you could easily stretch the experience out to a full day by exploring on your own between clues.

Usefully, when the planned routes presented potential hurdles (no dogs allowed or the steepest, narrowest stairs ever created) an alternative was always provided. Though, York can get extremely busy at weekends and some of the areas you need to pass through are obstacle enough in themselves. Especially if you’re looking to stop, stare and ponder instead of being pushed along with the crowd. One puzzle required us to locate and read something that was literally being smothered by a street performer and the huge crowd that had gathered to watch. Another was in one of York’s smallest and busiest streets where every molecule of space was filled with people queuing to secure themselves a small pottery ghost**. Thankfully this has been thought of and, as well as further hints on the back of the book, the clues are available via QR code should you simply be unable to reach your desired destination.


York-based Family Fun

The challenges themselves shouldn’t tax seasoned puzzlers. Most of the tasks are simply a case of finding a particular object and substituting letters for symbols in one form or another. It’s fairly basic, but that’s by design. The bright colours and cartoony Horrible Histories feel telegraphs the experience as one for the family and kids will love searching for clues and helping with some of the easier decoding. There’s certainly a little something for the adults too, though… As well as starting and ending in two of York’s oldest pubs, there are another two visited along the way, offering suitable points to sit, grab a drink and – in our case – argue about what Minerva was the goddess of*** without succumbing to Google. Fun times.

The Verdict: The Mystery of the Gunpowder Snitch

This isn’t a breakneck, high-octane race around York full of fiendish puzzles. It’s a great family day out. It’s also an excellent way to see some of the sites if you’re visiting for the day and partial to the odd anagram. If that’s what you’re after, then you’re sure to have a great time.



* Essentially a narrow street. A portmanteau of snicket, ginnel and alleyway. Legend has it that the Barghest roams them waiting to prey on lone travellers, so maybe bring a friend.

** The York Ghost Merchants on the Shambles benefitted from their model ghosts going viral on TikTok. They are VERY popular.

*** Loads of oddly unrelated stuff, apparently. Including justice, weaving, wisdom, medicine, trade and strategy. It’s no wonder we couldn’t pin it down.


The Mystery of the Gunpowder Snitch can be purchased from Mystery Guides website here.

Note: We were not charged for our experience but this does not affect our review.

Mysterious Package Company – Body of Evidence


Body of Evidence Review | From the devious minds at the Mysterious Package Company comes a new type of game: Body of Evidence. Dissect the clues in this grisly web of deception and intrigue. Body of Evidence will test your skills of observation, pattern recognition, and will push players to the cutting edge of a detective investigation. A murder mystery experience, with a twist!

Date Played: August 2023
Time Taken: ~2 Hours
Difficulty: Easy
Number of Players: 2

Please Note: We received a complimentary, pre-launch copy of Body of Evidence with the expectation of a review. This does not affect the content of our review.

The Mysterious Package Company, a company based over in Canada and best known for the Curious Correspondence Club series, among other spookier experiences, recently gifted us an exclusive sneak peek of their new game ‘Body of Evidence’ which will soon be launching on Kickstarter! Although there are still a few production elements to finalise (such as the construction materials and some of the writing) this was a great insight to what we can expect from the finished product.


Photo provided by Mysterious Package Company


Unlike a traditional ‘murder mystery’, the premise of Body of Evidence is that it’s a murder mystery, but one you will primarily be solving via an autopsy of the victim. As well as your standard murder mystery evidence, such witness interviews, the victim’s belongings, maps of the location, and details about the crime scene – you benefit from being able to get your hands on and explore the physical body of the victim as well. As well as of course, your own knowledge.



To guide you through your autopsy of the victim, you have on hand a handy “Coroner’s Handbook” which helps you understand what you’re looking for and what this could mean. This Coroner’s Handbook is the meat of the puzzle part of the experience, as these guiding steps are smaller, bite-sized puzzles. I really enjoyed this aspect, and found it very unique and different to other games on the market in both the “murder mystery” and “tabletop puzzle game” genres. I felt very immersed, all the way noting down my observations and reading the information to understand the implications.

At various points your start to open up the body, and I was so impressed by the depth of detail they included, and the way this happens! But since this is the real ‘centrepiece’ of the experience, we’ll not put spoilers here and instead let you experience that part for yourselves.

Alongside the autopsy there are various other pieces of information to read through, including witness statements, call logs and sometimes seemingly irrelevant papers. These all did a fantastic job of painting a full story of the city of Thornhill, the restaurant where the murder itself takes place, and the various suspects that could be found in the case. Once I’d completed the game I looked at these again and noticed lots of small hints and features that made so much more sense once the killer was uncovered. But equally, as a lot of murder mysteries do quite well, were a lot of realistic red herrings and plot twists that didn’t contribute to the killer’s narrative. It all added together to make this a very layered experience.

My favourite ‘puzzle moment’ was creating a timeline from all the witness statements, trying to figure out who was lying and who was just misremembering. Again, the way the witness were fuzzy/vague on the timings felt very realistic and this was so much fun for me to sit down and puzzle through.



The case is solved at each stage via ‘Evidence cards’. Each folder contains two questions that you answer by drawing the correct cards from a deck – if the ‘red threads’ on the front of the cards match, your answer is correct. If not, you’ll have to go back and take a closer look at your deductions.

Eventually, you create a full timeline using these threads, which leads you directly to the killer. I thought this was a really fun and thematically suited mechanic, as well as providing a very clear signpost each time for what I was meant to be solving. As the case fell into place, my red threads connected throughout like building a gigantic murder board.



The overall experience took me around 2hrs, and I found it very enjoyable and unique. I only got stuck at one point, but I was able to move pass this without too much frustration and complete the game. A departure from the traditional murder mystery – Body of Evidence gives you a hands on experience as you explore the autopsy. The narrative pulls you in with red herrings and interesting plot twists that make this an amazingly layered experience. I really recommend backing this one!

Body of Evidence can be backed on Kickstarter in September 2023. If you’re reading this review later than then, head to Mysterious Package Company’s website to purchase.

Please Note: We received a complimentary copy of Body of Evidence with the expectation of a review. This does not affect the content of our review.

BreakInBox: Blue & Black | Review


BreakInBox Review | Three locked boxes one inside the other. Breakinbox Challenges weave together versatile knowledge worlds making the solution a complex unique experience. 

Date Played: July 2023
Number of Players: 3
Time Taken: ~20 – ~60 minutes
Difficulty: Easy-Medium

I always get extra excited when I received puzzle games from far flung countries around the world, and Israel is a new one for me… Well, I’ve played a digital game or two from there – but never a physical one. How exciting! So when not one but two boxes from BreakInBox showed up, I couldn’t wait to get my regular group of puzzlers over to try something a little different.

BreakInBox is a company who specialises in perhaps the ‘purest’ form of tabletop puzzle games. They are quite literally locked boxes. Yep, you read that right. A cube with a padlock. Inside that locked cube is another cube with another padlock. You’ll never guess what’s inside that one: Another cube… With another padlock! In this way, you progress through a Matryoshka Doll- style experience, unlocking three layers of unique puzzles. Whilst each layer is locked with a padlock, the puzzles themselves are found printed on all the sides of each box. In this way, you’re encouraged to pick up and manipulate the boxes in your hands – turning them over and examining each one closely.

We played through two of the games available:

  • The Blue Box
  • The Black Box

As such, we’ll be writing about both in this review. There are some generalisations between the two, and there were some major differences. For example one of the boxes had more linear puzzles – one meant to be completed after another. The other on the other hand had much standalone puzzles that the three of us could tackle simultaneously. Similarly, one of them involved a unique sound puzzle – and the other had you send an email, which was exciting.

When the website explained the difficulty levels – they weren’t wrong. Blue is meant to be much easier, for beginner puzzlers, and black is meant to be a real head-scratcher. And yep, that’s absolutely right. We breezed through blue in around 20 minutes. Black on the other hand took all three of our collective brain power working together (and a clue or two) to crack the codes!

So, without further adieu, lets get into it:



The Blue Box

We played ‘The Blue Box’ over an evening and a couple of beers. It was sandwiched between a few other puzzle games, and it provided a very welcome break with some lighter, intuitive puzzling. In all, the Blue Box took us around 20 minutes. We think it would take the average puzzler around 30 minutes – but as mentioned, we erred on the side of “working simultaneously on all puzzles” where we could.

As such, it definitely felt more entry-level, but in a satisfying way with some particularly creative puzzles I always enjoy seeing in tabletop games like this.

The puzzles required the use of the internet. In particular, this box asks you to send an email in order to receive your next step digitally. In another way, the game also required the internet as there’s some pretty niche trivia knowledge needed – but thankfully there’s no rule against not Googling things. Unless you’re an absolute pub quiz boffin, it’s good to have your phone nearby to check some obscure detail or two.



The Black Box

We were so confident after playing the Blue Box we were all like “ahaha, this’ll be a breeze”. Oh how wrong we were. The creator, Avi, wasn’t wrong when he said to play the Black Box second because it’s significantly harder. But with the added difficulty, came the added fun. Of the two, we really, really enjoyed the second one. Each puzzle felt like a real mental workout.

In particular, I really enjoyed this game’s use of the internet. There was a fun sound-puzzle, and several puzzles which required us to absolutely scour Google Maps for very hard to find details! There was a nod to the UK we found particularly charming. But in general, it was the fact this box had so many satisfying ‘aha moments’ that scratched the itch of the kind of puzzles we love playing. As a team of three, we find ourselves taking part in a lot of online puzzle hunts, and this felt like a self-contained version of one of those – and well clued at that too.



Both Boxes

In both experiences, there isn’t so much of a “story”, other than “here’s a mysterious box, good luck”. As such, even the puzzles felt “pure” in a way I can’t quite describe in any other way. They’re like puzzle-hunt puzzles – the best versions of themselves, without being held back with the need to fit into context. For me, the puzzles were the best thing about both experiences, and I almost think there’s a certain charm to the fact they haven’t gone for story-heavy. There’s no right or wrong answer, but since The Escape Roomer always consider the story and narrative, it has to be mentioned.

In terms of quality, BreakInBoxes are simply made – with the most ‘high tech’ things being the user interface on the internet, and the three-digit locks that close the boxes. Otherwise these boxes are light-weight, and simply built, with simple graphics and colours. They’ve taken the phrase “Less is More” to heart, but in a way that feels true to their brand.

In both experiences, we also received a little bonus treat at the heart of the three boxes – the less I say about this the better! But it was super fun finally getting through to the ‘finish line’ and finding something fun waiting there. In this way, I think BreakInBox has a unique edge in the market in that it’s fully resettable and replayable – but better than that, because if you planned to gift this on to someone else you could put whatever you want inside the box. You could fill it with sweets, or a prize, or even a birthday gift..! Cute!

Last but not least, in terms of value, this one is a little harder to quantify. It’s another thing we always consider at The Escape Roomer. BreakInBox is based in Israel, but they have a shop listed in USD for international customers. Each box is around $35 USD, so about £30. Shipping comes in at $13.80, making the whole cost of a single box just under £40. Now, this is a little steep – but given the *gestures vaguely at the world* current cost of living crisis, it tracks about “what these things just cost these days”. We had a lot of fun with the two boxes we played. But did we have £40 x 2 fun? Well, I’m not sure… Maybe? Perhaps?



The Verdict

The verdict? We did have a lot of fun playing this one. The Black Box slightly more than the Blue Box, but there isn’t too much difference in it – both games are good for their respective audiences, and I commend the designers for creating such an experience like this. It’s probably slightly more expensive compared to a few other comparable games, but the puzzles are delightful and unique in their application, so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. In particular, the Blue Box would be great for a younger / less experienced audience. The Black Box is for more hardcore puzzlers who want a real challenge! I haven’t yet played the others in the series, but I imagine they’re well placed on the scale between these two.


The BreakInBox set can be purchased by heading directly to BreakInBox’s website here. The Escape Roomer readers may also use the code: TheER23 to receive $5 off their order.

We were not charged for our games, but this does not affect the content of our review.

Search Party: Chaos at the Park | Review


Search Party: Chaos at the Park Review | Come one, come all, to the wild amusement park filled with havoc, crazy characters, and mysteries to solve! It’s up to you to create some calm in all the chaos – and fast! Search Party is a 3D search-and-find adventure game. Solve missions, find important objects, uncover motives, and more.

Number of Players: 3
Date Played: June 2023
Time Taken: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy

Search Party is a new brand of board game experience from the creators of the popular party game: What Do You Meme. I say a ‘new brand’, because there’s nothing else quite like it in their catalogue. And, judging by how they explain the game in the instructions, I doubt this will be the last. The format is very repeatable, and I have a sneaky suspicion there are more “Search Party” games to come.

It is therefore a compelling first venture into the search-and-find genre. The theme, a sprawling and three dimensional circus park is an excellent place to explore a chaotic scene filled with weird and wonderful characters. Throughout the park are various scenes – there are three grandmas who have been shrunk down and can’t get on the roller coaster, there’s zombie on the loose, there’s a witch who crashes into another mid-air and all her belongings are scattered across the park. You get the gist. Big board, lots of things to find, and lots of missions to complete!



Pop-Up Funfairs & Other Shenanigans

The first and most important thing to say about Chaos at the Park is how visually impressive it is. Seriously! Before I’d even played it I knew this would be something special, and so I saved it for a day where I could sit around with a group of friends really getting into the nitty gritty of it. I also was so enamoured by the game, that I paused a work meeting in order to talk about this “very cool thing” I got in the post, and unfold the board to show them. We do a lot of work in the pop-up world, you see, but nothing quite as cool as this!

So all that to say, our group was very impressed by the moment of unfolding the board, laying it out over our table, and watching as the world literally popped up in front of us. A sprawling rollercoaster packed with park-goers, a big wheel, and the pop-up entrance to the park complete with it’s stripey awning. This game looks COOL.



Puzzles and Pop-Up Parks

The second important thing is therefore to mention the puzzles. With your board game you receive 15 missions spread over 83 cards. The missions are brightly coloured and look absolutely adorable all stacked up together in the box. Each of these missions has a ‘start point’ and then a series of questions the players need to answer to progress through the game.

For example: to begin you might be asked to find a clown. Then you’ll be asked where this clown came from – who are they, what they were doing and so on The activities in the park roll backwards in time, meaning as you trace someone’s path you’ll be able to follow where they came from and see them in steps. Since the whole board is only 50 x 50 cm, it was never too difficult to find what we were looking for in any case. Of course, the game is 3D however, so things got very interesting when the clues we were looking for weren’t on the ground but… Up in the air!

If you finish all of these, there’s a bonus booklet which has a whole host of strange things to find around the park. A refrigerator, a tiger, a pair of frogs. Little easter eggs and odd people doing odd little things. These added some amusing moments of bonus gameplay which you can take or leave as you like. I enjoyed these – although most of them I finished solo, long after my co-players had gone home for the evening.

In terms of the difficulty, this is where I think the game falters a little – it is quite easy. But I fully admit that these puzzles are aimed more at a family, children audience than at me. In our team of three, we had a mix of players with differing experience levels, but we were all familiar with games in the genre and knew what to do and how to do it. Each mission took us no more than 5 minutes to complete, making for a speedy and satisfying whiz through the game.

In all, I think a game like this is best played with younger children, with one or two adults gently guiding them through the experience.



Where’s Wally Meets Micro Macro Crime City

So, lets address the elephant in the room: Search Party is essentially the same as Micro Macro Crime City. And that’s okay… Maybe? In fact, we didn’t need to read the rules because we were all so familiar with Micro Macro, we got the gist of this one immediately. But lets not dwell on the similarities, lets instead point out the differences:

  • Search Party is a 3D game, meaning you don’t just need to look top-down but you also look at the things ‘popping out’ of the playing board to find clues there.
  • Search Party is also family friendly… There’s no murder and crime here
  • Search Party also had an added bonus of a manual filled with fun ‘extra’ things to find and tick off. Kind of like those old Where’s Wally Books have a few pages at the end with cryptic clues of bonus things to find in each world. So does Search Party.

In these ways, Search Party brings something a little new than what Micro Macro offers. It’s a version of the genre that I’d be comfortable playing with my younger sibling or children in my friends/family group who can’t play Micro Macro due to all of the… Well… Slightly horrifying crime!

Somewhere in this there’s a conversation about copyright and ethics – for example, how close is a board game to another board game before it feels uncomfortable? I’m not a board game expert, I’m an escape room person, so I can’t really comment – but it is worth throwing it out there. Search Party is very, very similar. Therefore if Micro Macro isn’t right for you for any reason, and you want something more family focused, brighter, and a little sillier – this would make an excellent alternative.



The Verdict

Honestly? I did really enjoy the game! So did my co-players. We went in with absolutely no expectations – at the time of writing the game is very, very brand new and so there’s not much content available. So we weren’t sure, but we were ready to give it our all. The strengths of the game are absolutely in it’s presentation. It’s gorgeous. I love 3D environments and a 3D theme park is brilliant in it’s presentation and execution. It’s the kind of game you want to have out on display all year round.

The puzzles were a little too easy for our group, and as such we’d probably recommend this for a more family audience. I have the fondest memories of playing Where’s Wally as a child, pouring over the pages of a book, and this game took me right back. If you have kids and those kids enjoy Where’s Wally, then get them on this game right away, they’ll adore it for sure.

The only real negative was that we felt ever so slightly uncomfortable at how similar the game was to Micro Macro – but none of us felt like we really knew the board game landscape or genre well enough to comment. For all I know, there’s thousands of games just like this out there, but we’ve only come across Micro Macro. Who knows. It’s just tricky not to compare the two, and it’s even harder to compete with a game like Micro Macro which is world famous and has won countless awards. But I commend the creators for putting their own spin on the genre and making something refreshing and fun.


Search Party: Chaos at the Park can be purchased by heading to What Do You Meme’s website here.

Note: We were sent a complimentary copy of Chaos at the Park for review purposes, but this does not affect our review.


George Wylesol: 2120 | Review


George Wylesol 2120 Review | You’re Wade, a schlubby middle-aged computer repairman, sent to fix a computer in a vacant, nondescript office building. When you get inside the door locks behind you, and you can’t get out. Now the adventure begins! You have to explore this building and try to find your way home. The building is huge on the inside with a lot of sprawling hallways and empty rooms but your only hope is to uncover clues and try to work out the mystery this whole experience hangs on.

Date Played: June 2023
Time Taken: 3 Hours
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Hard

Wait, hold on a minute… Is that… Is that Avery Hill Publishing?

A couple of days ago I spotted a review on my friends Room Escape Artist’s website for a book by none other than one of my favourite authors at my absolute all time favourite publishing house. Is it strange to have a favourite publishing house? Maybe. But I’ve backed just about every Kickstarter they’ve ever run, and any time anyone gives me money and tells me to treat myself, I head immediately to Avery Hill’s website. I don’t know why this started, and I’m not like this with any other publishing house. It’s just whatever they publish I know I’ll love. I haven’t disliked a single book they’ve produced, and that’s cool.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. This isn’t’ about Avery Hill, this is about George Wylesol’s 2120. My love for Wylesol started way back with Internet Crusader – a book I’m proud to say isn’t just on my shelf, but is now also on the shelves of most of my good friends too. According to Wylesol’s website, Internet Crusader is:

“full-length graphic novel telling the story of a doomsday cult and the fight against the literal devil, told through collages of chat windows, video games, and other early web design.”


So when I found out 2120 had come out via spotting a review on REA, I did a double take. Not just a new book, but a new book literally packed with puzzles. Sign me the heck up.



What is 2120?

And why am I writing about it on The Escape Roomer?

Well, I would describe it as a choose-your-own-adventure escape room in a book. Yes, it’s a graphic novel, but one you don’t get the luxury of reading left to right. No, you have to choose your path carefully and many of those paths will be blocked by puzzles. Fiendishly difficult and sometimes slightly obtuse puzzles… But hey, I’ll take puzzles in books wherever I can take them.

The story of this experience puts the reader in the shoes of a computer repair technician called Wade. You show up at the mysteriously vacant office building at 2120 Macmillan Drive and, after stepping in, you find the door locks suddenly behind you. You have no choice but to venture further into this building. But where on Earth are all the computers?

What follows are pages and pages of wandering around a labyrinth of non-descript office corridors. Occasionally you come across untold manmade horrors, but more often you just find locked doors. Sometimes these locked doors have padlocks on them. Yay! Sometimes they just stay locked. Boo!

It’s like if House of Leaves had a baby with a graphic novel, and also the year is 1999. From the plastic yellow, to the sinister shadows just out of the corner of your eye, to the building that just seems to get bigger and bigger and bigger… It’s a true horror. Chilling and disconcerting and definitely not one to ‘read’ right before bedtime unless you enjoy trippy nightmares about faded carpets and strange cupboards with strange blurry photographs inside them. For some reason the book made me feel like I was reliving the Y2K bug, like some unspeakable technological nightmare awaited me on the next page. But no, it’s just a book. But good books should make you feel things right? This one gave me all the feels.



Okay, I get it, but you’re not selling it…

If you don’t like horror, this might not be for you. But if you like innovation, outside the box thinking, and wacky surrealism, then this is definitely for you.

I don’t want to describe it in too much detail, because I found that going in with almost no expectations was the best way to approach it. It made each new puzzling twist and each new reveal as I turned a new corner even more surprising. The book does a good job at avoiding spoilers – unless you go looking for them really hard, usually the next page you need to flick to to progress is within easy reach, meaning you don’t have to go walkabout too far. So in true nature of not spoiling it for you, I’ll leave it at that.

Although I was itching to complete the experience – the very weekend after 2120 arrived, I had friends staying with me. One of them made the mistake of asking “what I was currently playing”. Expecting me to launch into an excited discussion about video games, I shook my head and grabbed 2120 by George Wylesol and opened it up to one of the many bookmarked pages:

“I’m playing this book right now”

I wasn’t expecting much, except that everyone started to gather round and make helpful suggestions as we flicked through-

Hey, go through that door” and “What’s this? How do we solve this?

It’s safe to say, 2120 has been a hit with pretty much everyone I’ve shown the book to so far, even in passing. I’m proud to have it on my shelf. So even if it doesn’t initially look like something you’d be interested in, I’d implore you to reconsider and give it a go.



Choose Your Own Nightmare

In terms of the gameplay, since it’s choose-your-own adventure, it’s no surprise there’s an element of choice. However on successfully completing the book, I flicked back through and found that most (if not all) of the paths I’d already found. Since there are so many puzzles in the experience, I often found myself pausing and then retracing my steps to find a doorway I didn’t go through, or a cross-roads at the end of a long dingy corridor where I could try taking the other path. Eventually, the book allows you to loop around and come back to where you started in a seamless way, if you want to go back and rediscover more. In this way, although there are some alternate endings the player can stumble across, I did get the impression I’d “completed” the game by the time I finally put it down. But I’m not sure if “complete” is really the right word with an experience like this.

Like, did I complete the game, or did the game complete me?

But it worked so well. 2120 definitely encourages the player to be exploratory. Often the solutions for the puzzles the player encounters can only be solved by taking meticulous notes and by retracing their steps to re-examine something that seemed innocuous earlier but turns out to be central later.

The feeling the book manages to evoke is definitely that of early 90s computer games. Not just the strange, blocky illustration style, but also the text and the way you feel as if you’ve “clicked on something” every time you go to look at something closer up. In that case, it was possibly missing an inventory system, especially to collect clues as you go – though how an author could pull that off, I do not know.

Overall, I did find the puzzles erred on the side of difficult. I’m not shy for a puzzle or two, but more times than not I found myself putting down the book in frustration, or aimlessly flicking back through the pages I’d already consumed in annoyance. More than once I ‘cheated’ to get ahead – having found part of a solution but being entirely unable to find the remaining part, I made some educated guesses about where the book wanted me to go, and found those to be correct. But this may just have more to do with my own expectations of ‘reading a book’ and wanting to hurry on with the story, than any particular flaw with the puzzles. It’s an interesting medium, and the author used it to a fantastic degree, so I can’t fault them for that.



2120: The Verdict

Maybe I’m just not as used to booked like this – the usual “escape rooms” I consume are the physical or tabletop kind. But I was seriously impressed by 2120. I’m less used to experiencing my escape rooms in book format, but I enjoyed it. A lot. I hope this kind of book becomes more popular, and more puzzle designers consider it as a medium for telling interesting stories and sewing the seeds of interesting puzzles.

For this reason, the verdict is very simple – we adored this book, and we think George Wylesol is a playful genius when it comes to creating visual experiences.

Who do we recommend this for? Everyone, and no-one at the same time. This book is for you, and it’s also probably not for you. I don’t make the rules.

2120 can be purchased directly from the publisher by heading to this link.

We were sent a complimentary copy of 2120, but this doesn’t affect our review in any way whatsoever!