20 September 2018
A little too clever for its own good
Unlock! Secret Adventures is the third instalment of the card-based puzzle game series from Space Cowboys. They’re often lumped in with the escape-room-in-a-box category, which is unfair because they’re more of a narrative experience using numbered cards to tell a story, interspersed with puzzles that yield answers that tell you which card to look at next. There’s also an app, which deals with puzzles, special codes, hints if you get stuck and also timekeeping, because each case lasts an hour.
Secret Adventures contains three cases: a cartoony romp to defeat an evil villain, a Wild West adventure set on a train and a version of The Wizard of Oz. The art and production are top-notch, as you’d expect, but some of the puzzles leave something to be desired. Many are variants of hidden-object games, needing close examination of the cards to solve. Others are fine as puzzles but feel shoehorned into the narrative: when was the last time anyone agreed to do you a favour if you could guess their favourite number?
The first case is fun, requiring some clever applications of logic. The second we found deeply unsatisfying. At its heart it’s a spot-clues-identify-crook mystery – we got the final big question wrong, and the game didn’t tell us what the right answer was. Agatha Christie wouldn’t have got far with that attitude. It also contains a silly and unnecessary dexterity game.
The third one, The Wizard of Oz, is a clever adaption of a well-known story to a puzzle-game format – and was the only one we managed to solve within the time limit – but one of the observation clues required such minute attention to tiny detail that we felt cheated by it.
The Unlock! games are decent, they pass the time and you don’t destroy any components as you go. The system is mechanically smart but not always satisfying in play. A game like this should make you feel clever, but instead Unlock! makes you feel how clever the game is – and that’s not enough.
Designer: Lewis Cheshire, Arch Stanton, Thomas Cauët
Artist: Legruth, Arnaud Demaegd, Mahulda Jelly
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 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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