I adore the Escape Game phenomenon, and have previously played the first of ThinkFun’s home version. I’d heard a lot of positive things about another series with a slightly different approach to the concept of adapting the experience. Here’s a SPOILER FREE look at two of the Exit games.
Exit games are similar to the Escape the Room version in that there’s an introductory booklet that basically just sets the stage and explains how to check your answers via the decoder disc. The disc is really well implemented here with colors and numbers on three different rings to be lined up with whatever symbol matches the puzzle to be solved, revealing a card number to check. There’s also a chart determining a final score depending on how long players take to solve everything and how many help cards they choose to consult. Reasonable enough way to provide incentive without real penalties for needed time/assistance.
From there Exit games become unique in the way they try to simulate the feeling of being trapped in a room with locks to unlock and puzzles to solve. The box is small and warns that the game can only be played once, as game materials will be marked up, folded, and torn. The main components are a booklet and a deck of cards, usually with a couple of additional “strange objects” which players are told to ignore until a called for.
Players start by diving into the booklet and “exploring” the environment by looking at the various puzzles, pictures, and maps inside. Whenever a picture of a card is found that card is removed from the deck and enters play. Many of the puzzles will involve a number of cards with new information, so there’s a real sense of unfolding discovery. It reminds me a bit of T.I.M.E Stories somewhat in the excellent and innovative way cards are used and incredible amount of atmosphere and immersion achieved with only a booklet and deck of cards.
I was also reminded of the puzzle book Journal 29 in the clever way the format was used to enhance the puzzles. I won’t go into further details to avoid spoilers, but I was very impressed with the execution in both Exit games I’ve played.
Another nice touch is the presence of help cards, which are coded to the puzzles with the same symbols that are used on the solution wheel. The first help card for each puzzle lists in full what materials are needed to solve the puzzle (so players know if they’re trying to solve a puzzle prematurely) and provide a small clue. The second a more pointed clue and guide for solving, and the third gives the solution. This is a great way to allow players to control the difficulty and prevent anyone from becoming permanently stuck.
The decision to make these disposable, one time experiences actually serves the games well, as they aren’t limited in puzzle construction by needing components to be preserved. This all combines to make these feel much closer to an actual escape room than the other types I’ve tried. Add in the fact that they found a way to pack a lot of gameplay and information in a small package to keep the cost down and I think their approach is fantastic.
As for the specific two I’ve played, both The Secret Lab and The Abandoned Cabin were engaging and fun with interesting puzzles. I think I liked Cabin better by just a touch, but I recommend either as a starting point into this great series of games. Great stuff overall, and I can’t wait to play more of them.