Key Enigma: The Butterfly Curse | Review

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Key Enigma: The Butterfly Curse Review | The legend tells that certain people who are blessed with the gift of deciphering and solving the most complex puzzles descend from dark pacts of blood. But now, an evil curse hangs over their shoulders, one that is taking the life of more than a hundred people. 

The Butterfly Curse” is an original horror escape game that mixes physical and digital puzzles with dark narrative to immerse you in a such terrifying experience that it may be impossible for you to distinguish reality from fiction.

Completion Time: 3 hours
Date Played: 28th November 2021
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Challenging

Welp… Definitely a game for a dark night!

We sat down on an extremely snowy afternoon to try out Key Enigma’s game, ‘The Butterfly Curse’. After Mairi had warned us that word on the street was that The Butterfly Curse was a real ‘scary’ play at home game, we were very excited to see what we would find within the ominous red envelope!

It had a number of “ah-ha” moments as you always want to see in an escape game, but The Butterfly Curse was also markedly different. There were also a number of ‘AHHHH’ moments, especially when we finally got around to opening that sealed envelope. Al was watching the screen through her fingers at some points, and insisted that we turn the volume down after being made to jump off her seat (on more than one occasion).

Before we started playing this game, Ash already had a fear of butterflies… Turns out, she might have been on to something!

Just your average, friendly BuzzFeed quiz…right?

We’ve all sat and played the classic online quizzes, wondering which Friends character we would be, or which Disney princess we would marry, but we can’t say we’ve ever done an online quiz quite like the one that welcomed us into The Butterfly Curse. It started off so normal… Until everything seemed to go terribly, terribly wrong! We were so impressed at what Key Enigma have managed to create – it is easily one of the most immersive web elements of a play at home game that we have had the pleasure of using.

The introduction was perfectly pitched – it was scary, the puzzles ranged in difficulty, and the general preface of the story was set up so well. We were very excited (read: Al was scared) to see where our journey would take us.

A word of advice: Definitely make sure you play the introduction first – it’s well worth it!

Image (c) Key Enigma

Your run of the mill friendly internet stranger

We soon got our heads stuck into the game, after finding out that we had been cursed by Farglos(!) (which Al kept reading as Fergus lol), to see if we could make it out alive. You are taken in by a helpful internet stranger, who becomes your guide for the rest of the game. The game functions through an online portal, as you solve puzzles using physical components, plus information that you find on the in-game website.

This combination worked really well as you were guided nicely through each step, making it clear which puzzle was next, and what to use when. We really liked this, as it stopped us getting super distracted by exciting items we found in the envelope, which we wouldn’t actually use until about 5 puzzles in. We had to use the hint system a couple of times to get some nudges (Al does not perform well under fear). Luckily, the clue system is set up nicely to give you a few hints before offering the full solution (useful if you really are paralysed with fear – or if you bang your head falling off your chair from a jump scare – looking @ u Mairi).

Welp x2 – what an ending!

The game finishes on an excellent climax, producing one of the most ‘thrilling’ final envelope openings of any game we have played. We had been looking at the mysterious ‘do not open’ envelope throughout our play, wondering what on earth was inside, and whether it would save us from an eternity of being Farglos’ slaves…

No spoilers – but everyone should play the game just for the ending. It was high tension, high drama, and Key Enigma have done really well to re-create the ‘buzz’ of that final puzzle of a real-life escape room. Anyone who has played this will know what we are talking about!

Overall – this was a wonderful game, with clever tricks and turns. Turn off your lights, close the curtains, and hope for the best when you eventually open your sealed envelope…

You can buy The Butterfly Curse here:
https://keyenigma.com/products/horror-escape-room-the-butterfly-curse.

Ratings

Puzzle Post: The Scandal | Review

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Puzzle Post – The Scandal Review | Femi Banuve, a sports photographer, has stumbled across a story of match-fixing and blackmail at the Marseille Tennis Championships. A bank of files and documents are being used to threaten a leading tennis star and Femi needs your help to disrupt the plan.

Completion Time: 70 minutes
Date Played: November 2021
Party Size: 2(+2)
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: A dinner party with a twist!

I am a huge fan of Puzzle Post – so when I found out they had a new (and quite unique) experience out, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! The Scandal differs from every other Puzzle Post game (such as The Split, The Secret Service and The Missed Flight) in that this one is not personalised. Rather than working on a code which unlocks a secret message for your lucky recipient, The Scandal is a game for groups to play together for a common goal.

Finally – I can stop buying these games as ‘gifts’ for other people then immediately asking to borrow them so I can solve it too!

Because it’s a group game, the envelope is packed with not one but two copies of the entire game. Doubles of everything. In particular, the creators suggest playing it over a dinner party – and I’d agree! With the addition of multiple copies in one go you can spread out and work together. With Christmas around the corner, it’s an impressive game that slims down to an A4 envelope that you could bring to your next celebration.

So What is The Scandal?

The scandal part of The Scandal takes place at the Marseille Tennis Open. The usual – blackmail, match fixing, and some very scandalous revelations. Some interested parties have got their hands on the information and stored it in a secure safe… The code for which, as I’m sure you can guess, is hidden behind juicy puzzles. It’s a fun spin on their usual formula where the sender hides their own message for the recipient to unlock!

Despite tennis being something we know absolutely nothing about, the puzzles that got us to the solution were fairly accessible. Each puzzle in the game is self contained and, hidden somewhere inside the game, is a meta puzzle which reveals the order.

I’m always particularly delighted when regular, almost ‘household’ items are included in puzzle games too. In The Scandal, on opening the envelope a full Raffle Ticket booklet fell out, as well as plenty of business cards, some stickers, leaflets, betting slips and menus. Each item is printed on different styles and qualities of paper but the whole thing felt incredibly genuine. In short, pretty much all the things you might accumulate if you were hanging around the Marseille Tennis Open.

Most of the puzzles are offline with the exception of one that will require you to use the internet. The ending too is digital, as you need to collect the codes from each puzzle and enter them to see if you’re correct. We used a couple of clues and again had to hop online for this – though the whole thing was mobile optimised, so no dinner-party-immersion breaks here!

At the end of the game we found ourselves with a very exciting decision to make. One that, amusingly, we could not agree on! It’s traditional to have at least one argument per dinner party, right? I particularly enjoyed that ours was over our escape game choice (and not the best method of cooking potatoes – I’ll die on the ‘mashed potato’ hill).

The Verdict

I am completely here for this new direction of Puzzle Post games that you buy for yourself rather than a gift, and The Scandal is a fantastic first entry in what I hope is a new series. Everything the company produces is super high quality, really accessible to puzzlers of all ages and demographics, and feels so exciting. All round reliably good games.

There’s a reason they were one of the first puzzle-game creators to get me into the genre and hey, look at where we are now!

The Scandal can be purchased on Puzzle Post’s website here.

Ratings

Escape Tales: The Awakening

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Escape Tales: The Awakening Review | Players take on the role of Sam, whose daughter has been in a coma for a couple of months and whose doctors still cannot explain how or what caused it. According to them, everything is fine with the girl; she’s healthy and shouldn’t be in this condition. Sam is desperate and looks for answers everywhere he can.

Enter Mark, a man whose son was once in a similar condition. Mark is quiet on the details, handing Sam a scary-looking book containing a ritual called “The Awakening”. Mark promises that the book contains the answer, but Sam will need to prepare himself mentally for the journey ahead. Sam must transverse a whole different reality! Through determination, and a bit of luck, he will be able to find his daughter, understand the cause of her condition, and wake her up.

Completion Time: 3-4 hours
Date Played: Summer 2020
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

A sinister, story-driven game

The Awakening is a spell-binding, mysterious experience, merging board game and escape room, all pulled together by an emotionally charged, superb story. We played this during Lockdown 1.0 in Summer 2020, and absolutely loved it! We had added it to our wish list for a while before purchasing, and we are soo glad we did (and have since gone on to buy the other two games released by Escape Tales because it was so great and we wanted more!) because this game is a worthwhile investment!

The Escape Tales games’ format is an escape room style card game. But where, in an escape room you are challenged to complete the game within an hour, there are no time limitations in the Awakening, and encourages players to fully explore the story world they find themselves in, getting an amazing 3-6 hours of game play out of this story!

Logistically, this means that the game works as a choice based narrative, combining the use of a puzzle book with various cards, and an online app to input your answers and access clues. Players are required to solve puzzles to access objects or snippets of information. You are then required to make a series of (sometimes morally ambiguous!) choices, in order to progress through the game, moving you through various locations. You only have a limited number of moves in each location, so you need to think carefully about whether you *really* need to look at the teddy bear…

We found because of the decision making aspects of this game, that it worked well to play as a pair, as we could discuss our options and come to an agreement over what to do next. While the game is marketed for 1-4 players, we feel that 2 is the sweet spot for not having too many opinions on what to do next, while being able to talk each other into good decisions and out of bad decisions!

Image (c) Tabletop Board Games

You have chosen wisely

There is a good level of re-playablilty of The Awakening, as there are multiple different endings that players can end up with, depending on your choices throughout the game. This is great, as investing in a boxed game, it’s nice to know that you can play it again and get a different outcome! Lots of play at home games are designed to be played once, so it’s good to know that we can pass this on to someone else to enjoy without having the fear of ‘destroying’ anything that would affect future players’ game play!

By a very happy accident, we ended up with the most successful outcome (in the circumstances…), so we were pleased (read: extremely relieved!) about this. We did have a peek at the alternative endings and have to say, if you do choose less wisely, things certainly don’t go so well…

We got so engrossed in the story that we played the game in one hefty sitting (probably about 3-4 hours) ⏰ Considering that this is a play at home game, it is extremely immersive- we felt transported into a sinister ‘in-between’ land of those who have passed, or nearly passed!

The puzzles were challenging and logical, and managed to be varied despite the card based nature of the game. We got stuck in a few places, and definitely made some questionable decisions looking back 😦

The Beautiful Game

No, no, not football! We’re still talking about The Awakening and how beautiful this game’s aesthetic is! The artwork in the game was brilliant. We loved the style of the drawing, the theming and the colours used to create the perfect atmosphere for the story. The room cards are so vibrant, and each room you explore is so different.

In our first play through, there were some rooms we didn’t even mange to reach due to the choices we made, so when we glimpsed 👀 these when packing away the game we were definitely inspired to replay- we want to go to the bathroom next time!

Content warning

We would 100% recommend The Awakening games, but would add a provision that the story can get quite dark in places, with a content warning for themes of suicide, so tread cautiously if this concerns you. Perhaps give Children of Wyrmwoods a go, which doesn’t have a content warning, we’d definitely recommend giving Escape Tales a go!

You can purchase Escape Tales: The Awakening, as well as their other games: Low Memory (also great) and Children of Wyrmwoods (we have this on our games shelf ready to play 😃) from Board & Dice for €17,50.

Ratings

theory11: Box One | Review

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A game uniquely designed to challenge only ONE person – and it seems that person is you! And only you. Alone. Can you handle it?

Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 14th August 2021
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Medium

I’ve had Box One on the to-play shelf of shame for months. But every time I opened it up to peek inside I thought to myself “huh, is that it?” No. That is NOT IT. Expect the unexpected at every turn. For this reason, again I’ll reiterate – it’s really hard to talk in any detail about what to expect. In fact, one of the creators Neil Patrick Harris himself urges in the outro video for players not to reveal anything. So we’ll respect his wishes and instead just say: trust us on this. Box One is very special.

Photo (c) theory11

By One, For One

Box One is the brain-child of Neil Patrick Harris and theory11 who put their brains together to create a board game style escape room designed for one player. Yep, just one. By one, for one. This makes it pretty unique on the market, as many games can be played in a team of one, but very few are designed to be played as one.

This said, it’s not technically impossible to play in a larger group, but the game will constantly reinforce this idea. For example, I lost count of the number of times the game asked “are you alone”, for which I had to respond “yes”. I know many other folks have had great success playing in a team, but for me I did as instructed and played solo.

Extremely High Quality Materials

With two creators such as Neil Patrick Harris and theory11, you can expect high quality with mass market appeal. This is an understatement, as Box One is gorgeous! The inside is textured like black leather, it comes with a lovely pen and metal cipher wheel as well as several other beautifully printed trinkets.

Here in the UK it took a lot longer for Box One to hit our shelves. Whilst many distributors now stock it, at the time of purchasing the game we spend £70 all in all shipping it across the pond. This is compared to the approximate $30 (£20) for buying it from Target in the USA. Despite this… I’m not even mad! It’s a real keepsake box of excellent materials and one that deserved pride of place on my shelf.

Photo (c) theory11

How to play Box One

Box One is a very guided game, and at no point will you be left guessing what to to do next. Quite simply, you open the box and there’s a deck of cards each labelled with a number. You start with card number ONE and work your way through the deck following the instructions on each card.

Card One: Hold your breath. Card Two: Now let it out again.

Easy… Right? Well, not exactly!

In terms of difficulty the game is definitely designed for mass market appeal, meaning the puzzles err on the side of easier. But even if you do get stuck there’s a very handy hints system that manages not to spoil anything about the game. I used around 2 hints during the game – mostly on the more ‘trivia-style’ elements of the gameplay that were particularly American.

Speaking of the box itself, the creators have used the box in some very delightful ways which remind me a lot of EXIT the Game. In both games, the box is used in very unique ways, but I think that’s just another of the unique selling points of Box One. Everything is used in unexpected ways! Puzzles players can expect to come across include heat puzzles (both hot and cold ones), holding things up to the light, destroying things (in a manner of speaking), and hidden compartments. It’s a mix of online and physical gameplay packed with “wow moments”.

To complete the whole game took me under an hour. For the full experience, you’ll have to take breaks ranging from one hour to one whole day – so this would be the perfect game for someone looking for something more immersive at a leisurely pace… But I couldn’t wait to I cheated the system and jumped ahead. What can I say?! I’m impatient! If you need to know how I jumped ahead, I simply changed my computer’s clock. [Highlight to reveal]

Photo (c) theory11

The Verdict

Box One is lighthearted, and funny. It’s not often I can say this but it actually did live up to the hype and I’m surprised. If you’re a fan of the actor himself (I unfortunately haven’t seen him in anything but my partner kept passing by the screen like “omg wow NPH is talking to you!?”), you’ll absolutely love the witty, self-referential humour and Easter Eggs in this game.

In the escape room world, the creators break a lot of rules and do things outside (or inside) the box that regular players won’t expect and for this I commend them! They’ve gone the extra mile and it’s paid off. Box One was, at a time, one of the most sought after board games in lockdown. Thankfully now it’s a little easier to get your hands on but no less worth checking out the next moment you have.

Box One can be purchased from theory11.

Ratings

Diorama: The Vandermist Dossier | Review

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The Vandermist Dossier Review | The Vandermist Dossier is a treasure trove of beautiful, touch-real evidence from an old missing person’s case in a tiny Dutch village. Untouched since the 1970’s, will you follow the clues and figure out what happened to 19-year-old amateur sleuth Abigail Vandermist?

Date Played: 28th August 2021
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Comfortably Challenging!
Time Taken: 1 hour 15 minutes

The Vandermist Dossier is a brand new mystery box by the creative duo behind Diorama, Ruud and Tristan. It follows a missing persons case in a small Dutch town that quickly unfolds into Cold War secrets that could tear the titular family apart. This game officially launches on Kickstarter in September, but we were very lucky to get our hands on an early copy and WOW! Just wow!

Could this be one of the most exciting Kickstarter games launching this year? It might just be.

But let’s get into why…

Het Boekanier Dossier

What makes The Vandermist Dossier special is that it is based on an earlier, Dutch-language game by the same creators: Het Boekanier Dossier (“The Buccaneer Dossier”). Wildly popular in the Netherlands and around the world, the creators have since been hard at work with the help of Manda Whitney translating it into English and have even added several brand new puzzles to the rich world of Het Boekanier Dossier.

This gets a double thumbs up from us, as these tweaks and changes evidently introduce huge improvements on the already popular original game. Where the original averages a neat 8.5 on Board Game Geek, with the wealth of content, brilliant puzzles and engaging story, perhaps this version will push 9 or even 10.

The Vandermist Family and the Backwards Town

The story of The Vandermist Dossier picks up with a mysterious letter and box labelled ‘Vandermist Dossier’ arriving in the post to you. The letter is from a lady named Helena Vandermist who would like to enlist your help in a missing persons case. The missing person: Her sister Abigail.

Though the case is nearly 40 years old and definitely cold by now, Helena never gave up hope of finding her long lost sister and you might just be her last option. In the box, Ms Vandermist has sent you everything she’s found out about the case over the years, including letters from her sister Abigail, newspaper clippings, old passports and some rather curious coded messages.

No detail is spared and everything in the box felt genuine and handmade. What follows is a deep dive into the 1970s tracking down the movements of the young girl as she uncovered secrets of her own family intertwined with the fate of the town. It’s hard not to give anything away, but this game will take you into the heart of the Cold War with some surprising twists of fate.

Crack the Codes, Crack the Case

In terms of puzzles, The Vandermist Dossier has enough content to last between 1 – 2 hours and felt really well balanced the whole way through. The game is clear on where to start and each subsequent piece of evidence has breadcrumbs to lead to the next, and the next, and so on.

It’s also fairly clear which existed in the original game, with a few translations to make them flow more easily in English, and a fair few more which felt fresh. There were two in particular which I couldn’t believe would work… But they did! All in all this game is full of surprises to delight players: A few things I’d never seen before, a few moments of hunting through documents and squinting really hard and a few ciphers I thought I recognised but still managed to say “wow” at.

Overall, in terms of difficulty I’d rate this one as comfortably challenging. As a team of just one, I used a few hints here and there to keep me on track and confirm what I thought I knew already… But better yet if you have any additional players you can bring into the mystery and help bounce ideas and puzzle solutions around!

If you want to make the most out of your copy of The Vandermist Dossier, wait until an overcast evening, brew a strong cup of tea (or a tipple of your choice), and invite a close knit team of your best investigator friends. Since the story centres around two sisters, it would also make a lovely collaborative story to unfold with a close sibling of your own. But since mine is 11 and far more interested in Minecraft, solo play works fantastically too!

The Verdict

“Alexa, what are some synonyms for incredible?”

But seriously, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed The Vandermist Dossier. It ticks a lot of boxes for me personally: The Cold War… And even colder cases! Espionage, Missing Persons, European Small Towns… All packaged in a really neat and high quality box you could complete in an afternoon. The best part? There are two more boxes in this trilogy to come!

What I love the most is how much passion the creators have brought to the project. It’s a labour of love and the culmination of many people who love what they do! Many times when playing “boxed escape rooms” I’m delighted to find one or two keepsakes, such as a cute cipher wheel or a lovely coin. Every single item in The Vandermist Dossier I’d like to take out and frame… Beginning with the hand drawn map and the vintage feeling newspaper.

Back The Vandermist Dossier on Kickstarter

If you want to support Ruud and Tristan to bring The Vandermist Dossier to life further, you can back them on Kickstarter from last September. At the time of writing, a whole month before the launch of the Kickstarter, I have a beautifully high quality copy of the game in my hand. Whilst there may be a few production tweaks between now and fulfilment, this game is gorgeous and it’s ready to go. With such an enthusiastic creator team, it’s sure to be a fun Kickstarter.

The Vandermist Dossier can currently only be purchased by backing the project on Kickstarter. Check out the creator’s website here for more behind the scenes content.

Ratings

Dark Park: Witchery Spell | Review

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Witchery Spell Review | While playing Witchery Spell you will meet 5 young witches. One of them recently turned 23 and mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth. What happened to her and does the same horrific fate await the others? As young girls, they performed a ritual from an ancient book they found. Now it turns out that this seemingly innocent child’s play may be their downfall. The problem: only someone who is not a witch himself can lift the spell, but what are the consequences? Are you brave enough to unleash the powerful ancient magic once again?

Rating: Spooky
Completion Time: 1hr30
Date Played: 1st August 2021
Party Size: 3
Recommended For: Small groups on dark nights

Witchery Spell is one of those games. You know the ones I mean… Everybody is talking about them.

If the at-home escape room industry had a ‘game of the year’ award, Witchery Spell would probably be up for nomination in every category there is. Which is why I’m surprised to be writing that I don’t know if it quite lived up to the hype. But don’t get me wrong – it was still a brilliant game. But that’s the problem with hype, isn’t it?

So all hype aside, we’re going to discuss the game’s merits with one cautionary note: Don’t me like me and place Witchery Spell on a (literal) pedestal in your office and wait over a year to play it because you were too worried about ‘wasting it’ on a regular board game night.

Just play it now! You won’t regret it.

Solve the Puzzles, Save the Witches

Dark Park have created a really well rounded boxed game that is equal parts surprising and delightful in Witchery Spell. At it’s core, Witchery Spell is a story about a group of witches being hunted by a modern day witchfinder organisation. One of their party had recently turned 23, which is the age their original protection spell wore off. Before they’re all found and killed, they turn to you for help. You see- there’s another protection ritual that they desperately need in order to evade detection, but apparently witches can’t actually perform this type of magic themselves. How inconvenient!

What follows is a non-linear style game to figure out a number of things:

  • What happened to the missing witch? And,
  • How we could perform the ritual ourselves?

To help you out, you’ve got a big cardboard box full of stuff, and the internet.

Really Impressive Puzzle Components

What makes Witchery Spell such a special game is the sheer high quality of it’s components. However I’ll caveat that by saying it does come in a very ordinary, and very degradable cardboard box. The box was pretty scuffed up when it arrived in the post *shakes fist at the postal system*, but thankfully the material inside was in tact, packed up tightly with straw.

The components include:

  • Curious jars and vials of ingredients, such as Arsenica, Ivory and Salt
  • Equipment that looks right out of an apothecary
  • A candle, a feather, and some magical stones
  • A small deck of Tarot Cards
  • Several rolled up scrolls
  • Something that can only be described as a “demon summoning mat”
  • Photographs, case files, and other oddities about the witches in question

…But that’s not all, Witchery Spell also has a very large online component, guiding you through the experience and providing guidance and puzzles along the way too. For a two hour experience, it really is an immersive and in-depth game.

Each one of these components I’ve mentioned ended up being used in really delightful ways. There’s one moment in the game, and I’ll try not to spoil anything here, where we suddenly spotted that an earlier item we’d put aside was now doing something very unexpected. Yes ‘doing’. Cue some very excited screams!

So I guess you could say it’s about as close to magic as it’s possible to get.

How Difficult is Witchery Spell?

Our team of three completed Witchery Spell in around one hour and thirty minutes with no hints. We did accidentally skip one or two steps in the game – reaching the next part without fully following how we’d made the jump, but overall this game flows well and doesn’t throw anything super difficult at you!

This means that in terms of difficulty, I’d rate it ‘comfortable’. It’d be a great game for beginners to fall in love with the wonderful world of at-home escape rooms, but still provides enough brilliant ‘wow’ moments and unexpectedly exciting puzzles for veterans. I can also guarantee that even players on their 1000th game will experience something very new in Witchery Spell!

That said, there is a ‘choose your own adventure’ element to this game. I mention this as the ‘other path’ may have wildly changed the difficulty in this game, but I may never know!

Halloween Activity? Look No Further

As mentioned, I had this game on my shelf for literal months. When one of my closest and most enthusiastic escape room buddies visited after a long lockdown, I figured it’d be the perfect game to try out with her. The sun was already beginning to set, we switched up the lighting to red, lit some candles and got stuck in.

In hindsight, October 31st 2020 was one of those days Witchery Spell sat on my shelf gathering dust, and I regret not playing it then! It’s so atmospheric and genuinely puts the player on edge, feeling like they’re inside a world of black magic and witches perfectly. But October 31st 2021? I might just put that refill kit to good use and invite a small team around to give this another go – it’s just that perfect of a game for October.

In particular, I’d recommend this for a team of up to 5 players sat around a table. Better still with candles, and better even still with some kind of witchy playlist in the background.

Overall, a brilliant game. Sure, it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but it’s still absolutely worth the price and I can see how impressive it is in the at-home genre. Go in with an open mind and a sense of delight and wonder and you won’t be disappointed. Especially don’t let this one gather dust on your shelf 😉

Witchery Spell can be purchased for around £55 on Dark Park’s website here. We’d recommend purchasing a refill kit.

EXIT the Game: The Sunken Treasure | Review

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Setting sail for dangerous waters, you embark on a treacherous quest for the legendary treasure of the Santa Maria. While investigating a mysterious shipwreck, something goes terribly wrong and you are trapped deep underwater! Can you solve the riddles of the wreck and recover the treasure before your time is up? In this The Sunken Treasure Review we take a deep dive into the game.

Rating: Fun!
Completion Time: 35 minutes
Date Played: 7th July 2021
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: A beginner escape room in a box with a fun theme!

When I look at my board game shelf it’s at least 60% EXIT the Game boxes… But hey, at least my shelves look colourful and mysterious, eh?

For our weekly board game night, my player 2 picks a game the first week, then I get to pick the second week, which is how we come to be making our way through the brilliant EXIT the Game series. Starting with: The Sunken Treasure. It’s a little box covered in brilliant illustrations of the ocean and rated a respectable 2 out of 5 stars in difficulty. In short, this makes it a perfect starter ‘escape room in a box’ for someone who may not be familiar with their gameplay yet.

A Board Game Where you Dive for Lost Treasure

Playing The Sunken Treasure is about as close as you can get to taking a real trip out on a boat, strapping into a scuba kit and diving for treasure. That is of course assuming that underwater shipwrecks are usually covered in puzzles, and you have a handy cipher wheel to help you. I mean, I’ve never been scuba diving. I have no idea.

But jokes aside, I really enjoyed the theme, and the story, of The Sunken Treasure. It’s fairly simple: Whilst on a holiday in the Caribbean you pay a street vendor a few dollars and receive a cool old nautical chart. But what you thought was just a fun trinket from your holidays turns out to me a long lost treasure map. So out you venture onto a boat and arrive where ‘X marks the spot’.

You and your crew of puzzlers descend into the water in search of the old wreckage and luck have it, you discover it. But after so many years of being under the depths there’s a few challenges before you can retrieve your riches. What’s more, you’ve only got an hour’s worth of oxygen left so you’d better make it quick!

The Sunken Treasure: An Escape Room in a Box for Beginners

Personally, I did find The Sunken Treasure to be on the easy side, although our little team of two did use one hint and an answer for one of the puzzles I’m still not totally sure I understand how to solve (but I largely blame the bottle of wine we’d opened by that point).

One stand-out feature of The Sunken Treasure is how linear the gameplay is. Guiding you along your journey is a book that paces the story out with approximately one puzzle per double page spread. As each page clearly indicates a new card to be drawn and the previous to be discarded, it makes for a very clean play area.

For The Sunken Treasure it makes sense as you progress from your ship to diving down to finding the wreckage and so on. Never once are you presented with a room where there are several doors you can choose from, it’s instead a regular story with a beginning, middle and end.

In terms of puzzles, there’s a good mix in this game and nothing too challenging. My only advice would be to go in with an open mind and expect to have to destroy things and use the box in very creative ways. If you’ve played any of the other EXIT The Game games, you’ll probably know the drill by now – but it’ll be a delightful surprise to those who haven’t.

On the subject of it’s destructibility, I own a second-hand copy of The Sunken Treasure, kindly gifted by Escaping the Closet. Whilst EXIT The Game are known for being impossible to re-gift as a result of needing to destroy elements of the game, I think taking a little bit of care with The Sunken Treasure will make it replayable to an extent. There are a few puzzles where you have to cut things up, but on the bright side seeing that my co-writers had already done this I viewed it more as a “yay one less step” rather than being game breaking. So take that with a pinch of salt!

How to Play EXIT The Game

In all EXIT the Game board games we’ve played so far, there’s a fairly similar setup, which we’ll describe below:

  • Riddle Cards – These are given a letter and generally speaking are worked through in ABC order
  • Answer Cards – These have a corresponding letter to the riddle cards and, you guessed it, they give the answer if needed
  • Help Cards – Each help card is denoted by a symbol which you can find on the puzzle you’re working on somewhere (often it’s quite hidden – so look closely)
  • A Book – This sets the scene and guides you through the story
  • A Cipher Wheel – To check your answers, a cipher wheel is used. In The Sunken Treasure this cipher wheel is covered in cute sea critters – very sweet!
  • A bunch of cool looking misc. items – in The Sunken Treasure, you get a whole host of cool things including some very shiny looking gems!

To play, you get up your game with your Help Cards stacked according to symbol, and your Riddle / Answer cards in their own stack. The book guides you through the story to solve each puzzle, find the correct symbols, run it through the cipher wheel and progress.

The Verdict

Really good fun! The Sunken Treasure is a great beginners game and introduction to the EXIT The Game series that will challenge and delight in equal measures. It’s a high quality game with great components – especially those gems *ooh shiny*. I’d recommend this game for a smaller group, with 2 or 3 players being the sweet spot!

The Sunken Treasure can be purchased from most major online retailers..

Epic Escapes: Escape Room In a Box (Crime) | Review

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You have just 60 minutes to escape. The clock is ticking. Teamwork, creativity, logic, and attention to detail will be needed to race against the clock.

Rating: Immersive!
Completion Time: ~45 minutes
Date Played: 16th July 2021
Party Size: 2 (+1)
Recommended For: For a party

Mairi’s Review

Get in lads, we’re gonna do some crime.

Sitting in pride of place on my board game shelf is Epic Escape’s Escape Room in a Box. It’s a huge box packed with not just one but three play at home escape rooms designed to turn any room into an escape room experience. Any room…? I muse to myself, wondering if I could feasibly host this in my bathroom.

Locked in a Panic Room

The first of the three games in Epic Escape’s mega box of epic proportions is called “CRIME”. If there were any doubt as to which one this it, the envelope is indicated by a rather shady individual on the front cover!

The story goes that you’re house-sitting for a friend who has gone away to Italy. You know, just watering plants and ruining their Netflix “For You” suggestions by watching trash TV… When suddenly armed aggressors! Arghhh! Your apartment is surrounded and they’re demanding the money they’re owed by your friend. Thankfully, you quickly discover that your friend has a panic room you can hide out in. The only problem is – you’ve accidentally locked yourself inside and you’re running out of air!

It’s up to you to figure out why there are so many angry people after your friend and figure out a way to escape and save yourselves… No problem. Right?

How to Set Up an Escape Room at Home

Epic Escapes are quite adamant that the host cannot play along. This is one of the main reasons we took so long to play – I love escape rooms, my partner not so much. He didn’t want to ‘host’ and spend the 30 – 60 minutes required to set it up, and I didn’t want to ‘host’ for a lukewarm audience of one. So we waited, and waited for lockdown to end so we could invite an unsuspecting friend round for board game night on one sunny Friday evening mid-July.

Welcome to board game night- SIKE! You should this was Monopoly? Surprise! We’re all trapped in a panic room and you’ve got one hour to escape before you run out of air.

But this is where it gets interesting:

Even though I set up the game Crime, at no point did it tell me how to solve any of the puzzles. Sure, I had to reset number locks to specific codes, and I decided where things were hidden, but all this was so easily forgettable! In short: I also got to play this game!

As a host, you’re in charge of the following:

  • Resetting locks for particular codes
  • Hiding certain items inside the locked boxes they provide
  • Hiding all items for your teammates to find around your room

Here’s how I set up Crime:

Spoiler Warning for contents

@theescaperoomer

Unboxing EPIC ESCAPES triple escape room in a Box (it’s it’s heavy 🥵) Part 2 coming soon! #escaperoom #boardgame #boardgames #boardgametok #epic #fyp

♬ original sound – The Escape Roomer

To help you set up there’s a really handy checklist provided in the Instructions leaflet. This tells the host what to do and in what order, such as “hide this on a windowsill” or “reset this lock to XYZ”. The whole setup takes around 30 minutes, 60 if you’re being very thorough. I didn’t personally want to overcomplicate anything, so I ‘hid’ things in very obvious places such as poking out from behind plant pots or on tables.

Ideally you want a totally empty room, but I think that’s impossible for most people. So just be sure that when you hide things you don’t mind your players rummaging around in your personal belongings:

“Hey, is this sock a clue?”

Since finding all the items took just a few minutes, everything that came after I was able to join in with and the three of us spent most of our hour sat around a table examining clues, cracking codes, and solving puzzles.

Overall, I completely understand why Epic Escapes do not suggest the host plays, but secretly I think it’s totally fine. If you have any concern about buying an Escape Room in a Box and then not being able to play it yourself, don’t be! If you’re still worried about it, you can always set up the escape room, as they recommend, 1+ day in advance and try and forget everything you know.

Solve the Crime, Escape the Room

Crime is the easiest in difficulty of the three escape rooms in Epic Escape’s Escape Room in a Box and it’s a great introduction to the series. It definitely sets the vibe of what to expect in the series, without being overly difficult! In our team of three we managed to breeze through most of the puzzles. There were a few I recognised, and a few more which were delightfully original. The only time our team struggled was right at the end with the final puzzle. It could have been signposted better, but that’s what the hints are for.

Here’s a video of how we got on:

With any game like this, you’ll get out what you put into it. For us, we put on some Italian music, cracked open some beers, and aimed to have a laugh. For one of our party, it was his first ever escape room experience and I think it did it justice! It’s about as close to a real life escape room as you can get from the comfort of your own home. I reckon we’ve done a good job converting him to the hobby!

It’s £99 for the whole box. At first, this feels a little pricy, but in hindsight I don’t think it is when you consider the quality of the materials you get. This box is HUGE for starters, and packed with all manner of delightful locks (even one hidden inside a dictionary) and high quality clues to hide around your house. Many components are reusable, and you’ll get at least three hour-long escape room experiences. Just be sure to clear a lot of space on your board game shelf to make way for this one!

Mairi’s Verdict

We had a lot of fun playing Crime! Easy to set up, visually impressive, and fun puzzles to boot. I absolutely can’t wait to get stuck in to the second and the third games inside this box. My only regret? Waiting so long before playing this one! But it’s definitely a game best played in a big group – so invite all your friends round and get stuck in.

Nick’s Review

The prospect of an “Escape Room in a Box”, really got the juices flowing, and it is safe to say the guys at Epic Escapes did not disappoint. This game type is certainly an emerging market in the escape room world, and with this being the first time of playing a proper “at home” room, I didn’t really know what to expect. 

Opening the box, the first thing to say is that I was blown away with the quality of the product. Without any spoilers, much of the hardware contained within the box is of great build quality and it is evident that a great amount of effort has been put into perfecting the contents. The box also contains a volume of consumable items and a large number of clear to follow, fool-proof instructions. 

The box contains three different at home escape room experiences; Crime, Piracy and Hijack. Each differing slightly in difficulty level. To get us off to a steady start, we opted for the easiest of the three, Crime, as our first. 

So, the story… You are house sitting for a friend who has gone away to Italy. All seemed to be going well until people started angrily banging on the door in the middle of the night. It turns out the friend you are house-sitting for owes these people money. You have found your way into his panic room and your mission is to escape and find why he owes these people money. 

A nice simple story to follow, which actually fits very well with the “at home” theme. I decided to be the game master for this occasion so hid the clues and locks etc for my family to locate and find answers to. We all agreed that the puzzles for this are very well put together, they flowed particularly well, and it was evident that a clear path needed to be followed in order to escape. 

The panic set in with a few members of the team when they couldn’t find some answers, however the box also includes some hint cards. These came in very useful on the final challenge, when they simply couldn’t fathom the answer – a subtle hint in the right direction proved essential and the team escaped with around 20 minutes to spare. 

Nick’s Verdict

A really well designed, high quality, at home product, with a clear story and flow. Brilliant for first time escape roomers as the puzzles were well structured and understandable. Likewise, experienced gamers would also find this a great starting point. Really looking forward to playing Piracy and Hijack shortly – watch this space…

Escape Room in a Box (3 in 1) can be purchased on Epic Escapes’ website here.

Trapped: The Art Heist | Review

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In Art Heist, the obscenely-rich Harrington family invites you to an exhibition of their priceless art. Upset that his family hoards wealth, though, their youngest son, Charles, asks your party to steal a painting… Fearing detection, Charles leaves only a series of clues to help you find the right artwork. But you’re not alone! Charles has also convinced one of the staff to help you escape… Can you find the painting, steal it and flee the scene – all in 60 minutes?

Rating: Different!
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 23rd June 2021
Party Size: 3
Recommended For: Families or a Party Game

Every Wednesday in my household is board game night. We’re not technically supposed to double book ourselves with anything on that day, but on this particular Wednesday my player two had invited a friend a friend over…

“No worries, we’ve got ourselves a 3rd player. That means it’s HEIST TIME!”

The Art Heist has been sitting on my shelf for an embarrassingly long time. But in my defence, it’s been a long lockdown and The Art Heist is definitely best played in a group setting. There’s a bit of set up required as you empty the box and follow instructions on each item: Pin this to a wall, put this on a door, put this item on a coffee table. If it’s your kinda thing, here’s me setting up our game over on TikTok:

Escape Room in Your Home

What Trapped does quite differently from most other ‘boxed escape room’ companies on the market is turn your space into an actual escape room. Ordinary items can become extraordinary within the context of the game and even the host can play too. Just pick a door, set the scene, and try to escape! It’s pretty cool, really.

On the back of each item in the box is a few lines of instruction, indicating where best to put it: “Place this on a wall” or “This goes on a windowsill or coffee table”. The rest is up to your imagination – but it helps to keep everything roughly in the same general place so your guests aren’t wildly searching through your cupboards to find the next clue.

I also reckon this game would be fantastic for a family setting. Got a group of kids in your house? Give them a name badge, an art collectors pamphlet, and let them figure it out for themselves. It’s wonderfully fun exploring and looking for hints, and leaves a lot to the imagination!

What I also love about this style of gameplay is that it fits so perfectly with the setting: An Art Gallery. The only rule? Don’t look too suspicious. It’s so easy to get lost in the immersion of the game, that you’re just an inconspicuous group of art collectors quietly perusing an art gallery before BOOM stolen painting and lets get the heck out of here.

…Well, that’s the idea anyway, though it didn’t completely go to plan. Why’s that?

“Alexa, play some heist music”

Cue Alexa to DROP THE BASS. Apparently searching for heist music via an Alexa device plays a hilarious medley of hardcore electronica music, but we thought to ourselves, “Hey, why not? Let’s roll with it.”

Combined with a couple of beers on an otherwise really quiet Wednesday afternoon, the whole experience was quite surreal! I couldn’t stop laughing, except to take this one ‘serious’ photo.

How to Play The Art Heist

There are two stages to The Art Heist:

  • First, you need to identify which painting you’ve been tasked to steal. No, no – Charles wouldn’t just tell you which painting to steal, that would be too easy. You’ve got to follow his trail of breadcrumbs and figure it out for yourself!
  • Second, you need to escape with the painting undetected. It’s a good job the painting is so small I could just slip it right into my pocket! Haha!

We may have missed something (I’ll blame the beer and confusing electronic music), but we spent around 90% of the time on Part A and only 10% of the time on Part B. There was also one item which I realised after packing up that we’d not used either…. Days later I still can’t figure out what it’s for, but perhaps we’re just that good of art thieves we didn’t need it.

If at any point you find yourselves needing a clue, the clue system is an absolute delight. Trapped provides a ‘clue book’ which, at first glance, looks like gobble-de-gook. By overlaying another object found in the box and lining up the numbers, a secret clue is revealed. It’s a really nice touch if you want to avoid spoiling the game for yourself!

So how did we steal the painting?

Not without help of course! The clues our handler Charles had left behind were tricky… But not too tricky! Nothing frustrating, and as a very casual play through we didn’t mind checking for a hint or two to keep us on the right track and having fun.

Puzzle solving veterans will probably immediately recognise certain puzzle types and be able to figure them out quickly, but new players will benefit from a hint or two I’m sure.

Overall, players can expect to encounter some folding puzzles, puzzles that involve finding details in blocks of text, puzzles that involve looking at things from a certain angle, some pretty cool maths puzzles, and so on. As you can probably tell, it wasn’t the most challenging game, but heck it was fun and I’m really glad I picked up a copy.

The Verdict

A fun and silly Wednesday afternoon’s worth of fun! Particularly great for a larger party of a family setting, but we had an excellent time over a crate of beer as a group of three non-puzzley 20 something year olds. It’s got great mass-market appeal and would be an awesome game to introduce to a group of friends not used to puzzle games.

I would say that the size makes it sit a little awkwardly on my board games shelf, but as a one-use game it’s already been packed up and sent to my co-writers here on The Escape Roomer and I can’t wait to hear what they thought of the game too.

Trapped: The Art Heist can be purchased from most major online distributors for around £13.

Key Enigma: Hack Forward | Review

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There has been a global hacker attack that has stolen data, video recordings and information from important businesses and personal. Anyone with a smart device can be a target. You will be an investigator whose predecessor disappeared under strange circumstances and who must find those responsible for the leaks. But not everything is as simple as it seems and the safety of the world will come into play.

Rating: Impressive!
Completion Time: 8 – 10 hours
Date Played: June 2021
Party Size: 1
Recommended For: For an exciting, immersive boxed escape room!

How long does it take Mairi to hack into a nuclear power plant and save the world from imminent destruction… We finally know: It’s at least 10 hours over 2 months!

No but seriously, saying there’s a lot to do in Hack Forward is a massive understatement. I started playing Hack Forward in May 2021 and finally clicked my last click and hacked through the final, metaphorical firewall, at the end of June. Phew! We did it lads. We saved the world.

Hack Forward: Kickstarter to Household Name

In 2020, at the height of the global pandemic, Key Enigma did the incredible – they announced an epic 8 chapter immersive escape room adventure on Kickstarter and raised more than €115,000 to bring Hack Forward to life. Since then, the team have launched this game into English, Spanish, German and French too.

From the moment I received Hack Forward in the post I could tell that there’s a lot of love in this game. With a 6-strong team of designers, artists and narrative writers, I struggle to find any single flaw with it at all. The materials and the box are incredibly high quality and each new envelope I opened delighted me. The story is an emotional rollercoaster designed to make you laugh and cry all at once. The puzzles are challenging, but never frustrating or illogical. Just perfect!

But let’s get into it…

Meet the crew

Hack Forward is an alternate reality game taking place in the present day where you, a budding amateur hacker, stumbles into a plot oh so much bigger than yourself. The hacker group is comprised of 5 members:

  • HarDer
  • FlaBoom
  • White Lupin
  • Masquerade
  • Jigghack

One of them is your reliable leader, another is an intellectual always ready with a book quote, another member of the team is a video game programmer… And so on! It’s all very humanising and brilliantly written. Even though deep down I knew I was talking to a very sophisticated chatbot, the whole thing felt so real from start to finish.

Almost so real that when I took a 2 week break between chapters I felt genuinely guilty to come back late.

“Sorry guys, I know we have to save the world but I had to take my mum out to lunch last weekend.”

But despite the unconventional method of meeting, you and your five comrades-in-hack quickly become very close as you collectively uncover an enormous conspiracy. I mean, I was definitely the weakest link in the team, but it was kind of my fellow hackers to keep me around as long as they did. Where each character specialised in some area of hacking or knowledge, I was there to smile and nod. Yep, just smile and nod Mairi.

Eight Chapters, Eight Exciting Twists

Hack Forward plays out over eight chapters. Each takes around an hour to complete and there’s an optional break inbetween each. I definitely recommend taking the breaks, but don’t leave it too long before jumping back into the action. Your team need you!

One very cool thing about Hack Forward I found was that each chapter was very cleverly designed with a unique ‘vibe’. By this I mean they had very different styles of puzzles, to the point that you could pick up any chapter and play it as an isolated escape room game and still have an absolute blast. Together? This game is outstanding.

Without spoiling too much, here is a run down of each chapter:

Chapter 1: The Job

You’re greeted by a mysterious, unknown entity and offered an enticing job proposal. It’s an introduction to the mission.

Chapter 2: Meet Your Team

Here’s where the story really begins as you meet your fellow hackers. But not before they put you to the test and see if you’re worthy enough. They’ve sent you a box with five puzzles in it. Solve them and you’re on the team.

Chapter 3: Finding Leaks

This chapter was a good ol’ social media stalking hour of fun! Here the game steps into the world wide web and has you scouring Instagram, Twitter and Facebook in search of digital breadcrumbs to access forbidden accounts.

Chapter 4: The Key

Chapter 4 gets a little more hardcore, and I love it! The mission is simple, hack then change the source code. If you’re interested in more hacking style puzzles that involve accessing documents and dipping into codes, this is the chapter for you! This chapter also involved our first major twist in the story and some really, really exciting and gasp-worthy augmented reality.

Chapter 5: Expose the Enemy

This chapter was visually very impressive but I’ll be damned if I were paying attention. This was the chapter I used the most hints (*cough* and checked solutions) on. But hey, even if the puzzles weren’t my forte, I still had fun.

Chapter 6: Hacking Battle

*new character enters the room*
Gasp! Double gasp!
I found Hacking Battle really creative in terms of puzzles. Things I’d assumed were mere decorations suddenly became puzzles, and parts I’d ignored earlier in the game needed to be reused in delightful and creative ways.

Chapter 7: Double Agent

Is there a double agent in our midst? Perhaps…
You’ll have to do something a little different in this chapter to figure it out and it was by far my favourite part of the whole game, as the puzzles were largely based on the subtle nuance of “he said”, “she said” and figuring out who is lying. The puzzles that didn’t involve social deduction instead required you to think so far out of the box I felt giddy with excitement when I realised what I actually had to do to solve it! Well played Key Enigma, well played!

Chapter 8: The Final Plan

*dun dun dun* the grand finale! By now, you know the drill. Clock ticking, time to save the world (or die trying). This final chapter will pull in a lot of knowledge from the earlier parts of the game and still manage to surprise you with several twists. Choose incorrectly and you’ll have a chance to reset the chapter and give it another try too.

All in a Days Work?

Honestly, I won’t beat around the bush. Hack Forward was hard. Really hard. But why shouldn’t it be? For the price, this is an incredibly in-depth experience that takes you on a cinematic journey across the world. I’m glad it took me as long as it did to solve it because I didn’t really want it to end.

There’s a sneaky suggestion of time travel in Hack Forward – I won’t spoil it because it’s awesome. But it did get me thinking. If I could travel back in time, what would I do? I’d go back and chuck a bunch of money at Key Enigma’s Kickstarter, just so I could play this game sooner.

Anyway, so now that I’ve solved Hack Forward and returned to my normal life, I’m expecting a knock on the door from GCHQ, or NSA’s recruitment team any day now. I’m available for any and all hacking purposes and I’ll even provide my own pair of blue-red code cracking specs.

Hack Forward can be purchased for 69.90 Euros by heading to Key Enigma’s website here.

⚠️ Bonus Content Alert! ⚠️

Here’s a TikTok I created featuring content from Chapter 1 of Hack Forward: