Is this trilogy worth getting stuck with or will you be climbing the walls?
Shunning the digitally-enhanced format of fellow escape-the-room newcomer Unlock!, the initial trio of Exit: The Game titles are instead fully pen-and-cardboard affairs, utilising a physical decoder disc in all three entries to provide access to new clues and ultimately answer the various riddles scattered around the rather unoriginal locations: The Secret Lab, The Pharaoh’s Tomb and The Abandoned Cabin.
There’s a light amount of thematic dressing before players are thrown into three essential identical setups, save for the riddles. Scan through a book of puzzles, try and solve one of the conundrums and input the three-symbol code into the disc, which directs you to a card asking you to find where the icon relating to the puzzle was in the environment. Get it right and you’ll get more clue cards and further enigmas to crack. It’s an efficient system and surprisingly well implemented, with an excellent three-tier structure of help cards (two useful clues and the solution) to alleviate the worry of getting stuck with no way forwards.
A wrong answer doesn’t lose anything but time, but (again, unlike Unlock!) hitting the recommended one-hour limit also isn’t instant failure – instead you’ll be graded on the time taken and number of help cards used. It’s a curious decision, as it detracts a little from the atmosphere of pressure (‘You’re doomed if you don’t solve the riddles in time!’) but avoids the frustration of having to start from scratch.
This last point is important because each of the £13 boxes can only be used once, as some of the puzzles involve cutting things up or drawing on materials. It’s perhaps a little steep for what amounts to around an hour of entertainment, but the puzzles are well constructed and rewarding enough to justify the price if you’re willing to commit – without spoiling anything, some of the more inventive solutions resulted in genuine ‘a-ha!’ moments of elation when we finally figured them out. When you complete a box, the back of the manual offers a space to record the specific details of your win – it’s hard to see the certificate being kept as a sincere memento, but it’s an admirable attempt to led some permanence to the otherwise disposable package.
Although it is a little disappointing that the code wheel format is implemented almost without change between the boxes and that the symbols used to identify each puzzle seem very out of place with the atmospheric settings – seeing a plain black hexagon or square on Tutankhamun’s tomb is jarring – all three sets of puzzles are diverse enough to warrant playing through all of them if you enjoy one.
We found The Pharaoh’s Tomb to be the strongest experience overall, followed by The Abandoned Cabin and then The Secret Lab, with the latter certainly feeling more like an introductory scenario. (We did play it first.) The Abandoned Cabin easily came in as our quickest time by a good 15 minutes – although, as we played it last, it’s hard to tell if this was because there was less substance (it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time) or because we had become accustomed to the format.
What the Exit titles lack in terms of inventive theme and format, they more than make up for with creative puzzles and an acutely satisfying level of accomplishment – assuming you get the answers right, that is.
The themes may be a little uninspiring and it’s a shame the format isn’t better tailored to each unique environment, yet the Exit trilogy easily overcomes its shortcomings with a rewarding selection of puzzles and an air-punching feeling of triumph that many games would struggle to match.
Price: £13 (each)
Time: 45-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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