A visit to the escape room is, for most of us, a pinnacle of possible escape experiences. It doesn’t mean that different escape experiences are bad, quite the opposite – we’ve looked into a few different escape experiences in the past, like our visit to the Labyrinth, the oudoors escape experience, we were also looking into immersive escape experiences – and we really enjoyed all of them. This time, we’re looking at option to pull off an escape – right from the comfort of your home.
Gather up your fellow escape room enthusiasts, put on your investigator hats, grab a beer or two and let’s escape – from your kitchen or living room.
To be honest, I was looking to write up an article about escape room board games together with Escape Room in a Box – a rather successful Kickstarter project from a while back. But as its delivery was delayed for a bit, we decided to give a couple of other escape room board games a chance before we get our hands on that one.
In the end, we ended playing Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor and Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat in one sitting. We’ll have a look at Escape Room in a box, hopefully in combination with another escape room board game in the future.
First of all – with the escape room craze that flushed across the world in the last few years, the escape room board games are surprisingly rare. Our search, if we didn’t miss something substantial, only came up with a couple of options. I guess escape room experience isn’t easy to capture in a board game. You’re also dealing with 2 types of potential players – escape room enthusiasts and board game players – and even though the groups are usually somewhat similar, there are still two sets of expectations to fulfill.
I can count myself as a member of both groups – an avid escapee, and board games lover, so I’ll try to combine the two aspects in this post.
The game setup
When unpacking the box, you get a set of instructions first – what to read and prepare before your guests arrive for the best possible experience. There are some ideas for setting up the mood of the game, adding a bit to the atmosphere of the game. They range from music you could play in the background to costumes, if you want the take the immersion to a higher level. We didn’t :). Mostly, you don’t have a lot of work preparing the game in advance – quite the contrary, you are advised to stop after the very basic introduction and leave the rest for when the guests arrive, so you can enjoy the story and the play through together.
There are also invitation templates available on their website, which you could print out/save as .pdfs and send them out, with the introduction to the story, setting the mood and and other information they will need. The invitations are quite cool, and are a nice touch, if you want to use them.
You don’t have a lot of work preparing the game in advance – quite the contrary, you are advised to stop after a very basic introduction and leave the rest for when the guests arrive.
The playthrough – spoiler free
The games are meant to be played with 3 – 8 people, and it says you should expect around 90 minutes of playtime from each of them. As a reference, we played it with 6 people.
When you gather your friends around a table (a bit bigger table might be better – there are quite a few pieces and we had to move them around a bit during gameplay), you start with an introduction of the story, and the basic rules and instructions on how to solve puzzles and how to check if you’ve got them right.
The story and puzzles are presented by the envelopes you find in the box, each representing a different scene from the story /room. They are sealed and you open them as you play (solve the puzzles to open them). The way of checking if you’ve got the right solution is ok, I guess as good as you can expect without any padlocks or any real mechanical parts. The escape is rather linear, so solving one puzzle leads to another (yet, you might want to return for some scenes for additional info later on). The basics are quite simple and easy to explain / understand.
If you’ve visited more than a few escape rooms, or are in general good with puzzles, you shouldn’t have much problems with the puzzles presented.
if you’re an escape room veteran who wants to find some challenging puzzles you’ll most likely be disappointed
And so, we come to the puzzles – What most of the escapees value very highly in an escape room experience. Here’s where escape room enthusiasts in for a bit of a disappointment. If you’ve visited more than a few escape rooms, or are in general good with puzzles, you shouldn’t have much problems with the puzzles presented.
For reference, we finished the planned 90-minutes game in well under an hour in both cases. We could probably be done in about half an hour, but we took our time, read out the story segments, and, mostly, mess around quite a bit while playing.
Does it mean that they are no fun? Absolutely not. Some of the puzzles are really cool (especially in The Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat, which I’d recommend over the Stargazer’s Manor), while some are really basic. However, if you’re an escape room veteran who wants to find some challenging puzzles you’ll most likely be disappointed.
And so, puzzle by puzzle, you make your way through the scenes, towards the end – to resolve the mysteries!
First, let’s look at aspects we enjoyed.
- The story, the mood setting suggestions etc. can be quite nice . I suggest you don’t rush with the puzzles, but rather try to follow the story, and, importantly, give everyone behind the table a chance to contribute.
- Some puzzles are quite cool, and were new even to me with quite a few escape rooms behind me (again, looking mostly at The Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat).
- Overall, we enjoyed the experience. A big part of it was of course, having a great bunch of friends gathered around and a lot of the fun factor actually came from them (and messing around with them) – so it’s hard to say how it’d be with a different group.
- The price is acceptable (if you look at it like that, it can be around a third, fourth or even smaller part of a price of a visit to an escape room – depends where you’re from).
I suggest you don’t rush with the puzzles, but rather try to follow the story, and, importantly, give everyone behind the table a chance to contribute.
And to look at the bad aspects. Note that these are not necessarily bad things for everyone – I’m just pointing out what I can see improving (or different).
- As mentioned, if you’re looking for real challenge (as an escape room veteran) you probably won’t find it.
- Basically no replayability – when you play through it, you’re mostly done with it. You can repack it and use it again for another group of people, but you won’t be able to enjoy it again.
- Max people limit is set rather too high – we played with 6 and it was still ok, but I can’t really see it playing with more people. We were doing our best to include everyone in, and give everyone a chance, but if you’ve got some non-team-players in your group, it might not be fun for everyone.
- It’s rather short (it can be done in 30-45 minutes if you’re a bit familiar with puzzles)
As usually, it’s impossible to choose a definite “Yay” or “Nay” in the end. If we compare it strictly with escape room experience, it lacks in challenge and puzzles. If we look at it strictly from board game perspective, it lacks from replayability.
I think it’s better suited for relatively inexperienced groups, or maybe younger groups. It can be a very cool way to introduce escape room to people! It can be a great gateway drug for a potential new escape room junkies :).
It can be a very cool way to introduce people to escape rooms!
It’s not like experienced players won’t get anything out of it – it’s still cool, especially with the right group.
It can also be a good time filler, if you’re planning an evening at your place – it can be a really cool game to play, even if it’s more of a one-time thing.
As said, I’d suggest the Secret of Dr. Gravely’s retreat over the Stargazer’s Manor.
Looking to the future, I look forward to seeing how escape room board games can evolve. It’s an interesting niche, and even though I’m sure it’s not easy to capture the charm of escape room into a box, I hope we can expect a bright future for our board escapes also.