Dale Yu: The EXIT series from Kosmos
- Games: EXIT: The Abandoned Cabin, EXIT: The Secret Lab, EXIT: The Pharaoh’s Tomb
- Designers: Inka and Markus Brand
- Publisher: Kosmos
- Players: 1+
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 45-90 minutes (or maybe more)
- Times played: 1 play of each of the three games with review copies provided by Thames&Kosmos
As you’ve likely noticed, the past year or two has been filled with releases in the “Escape Room” genre – games where players work together to solve whatever puzzles come in the box. We’ve reviewed a number of different releases here on the OG blog in that time period:
For spoiler free reviews from Opinionated Gamers of other escape room games, please see:
- Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment
- Escape the Room: Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat
- Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor
- The Game Room Part 2: Mr Boddy
- Escape Room The Game and Expansions
- Deckscape: Test Time
This new set of releases first came to light at Essen Spiel 2016 – however, I didn’t learn too much about them at the show. First, they were all in German, and the puzzles are fairly language dependent. Second, like most of the games in this genre – they can only be played once; so I didn’t want to learn much about them lest I spoiled the actual game experience for myself. It’s not like you can take a demo of the game – because once you have seen the puzzles, you’ll remember how to solve them!
As with all the other escape room games, I will not spoil any of the secrets. Any details come from the box or the rules themselves.
This set of three games are all in small format boxes, and all the puzzles material is contained within the box. However, the rules specify that you will need some extra material – it recommends having paper, pens, and scissors handy. Unlike some of the other games in the class, this one is definitely more of a “legacy” style as the intent is that you will need to alter the components in some way in the process of solving the puzzles.
The format of the three games is fairly similar. Each has a single sheet of rules, a large deck of cards and a few assorted specialized bits that are specific to each game. In each game, there is a glossy booklet which is shared by the team. This book has the introductory information about the puzzle as well as components of multiple puzzles.
The deck of cards is split up into three stacks. The first stack are a bunch of clue cards. There will be three clues for each of the ten puzzles in each game. The puzzles are identified by a shape (in the game components) and this same shape is found on the back of the associated cards. The second stack are the numbered cards. You will use these to see whether you have answered a puzzle correctly. A final stack are the letter cards, from A thru … (different for each game). As you solve different puzzles, you’ll be directed to reveal certain letter cards which give you more information or puzzle pieces.
So, when you start the game, you generally only have the glossy book to start with. Again, puzzles will be denoted by a black outline of a shape. However, many puzzles have multiple parts to them, spread out amongst the different game components, and oftentimes they’re not all labeled – it will be up to you to figure out what goes with what. As you look thru the bits, you will often see a red letter card icon. Whenever you see this, you can then look at the matching letter card from the deck.
All of the puzzles have a three part solution. When you think that you have the right answer, you use the solution wheel to dial in the answer. The outermost ring has the ten puzzle shapes. You line up your three-part answer in a column under the appropriate shape, and then you look at the hole in the inner section. It will give you a number. You then go to the deck of numbered cards, find the match and then look at the back.
Generally, that numbered card will have a grid on the back of it – and then you have to find the number which matches the puzzle you’re actively trying to solve. The grid will not be filled with the black shape outlines but rather images which are somehow associated with that puzzle; this prevents cheating or inadvertent puzzle solving. The chart will direct you to a second card number which you then find. If you’re wrong, the card tells you to try again. If you’re right, there will be instructions, puzzle bits or letter cards on the back of the second card that you can then add to your inventory.
The group wins the game when they complete the ten different puzzles. If, at any point, you feel like you’re stuck, you can flip over one of the clue cards for the puzzle you need help with. They are ordered from one to three. The early clues mostly make sure that you’re at the right place in the game to be solving the particular puzzle. The game doesn’t necessarily specify an order to the puzzles – but for many of them, you have to solve other puzzles first in order to have all the information that you need.
Once you have finished the game, you can give your performance a rating using a chart provided in the rules. Essentially, the best rating is for finishing the game in under an hour and having used zero hint cards. Your rating decreases with more time spent and more clue cards used.
My thoughts on the games
The quality of the games is high. Of all of the escape room/puzzle hunt games, I think that this set is my favorite. The puzzles are well constructed, and most of them are “fair” in the sense that you are given all the information that you need to solve them. I thought that there were a number of puzzles in this initial set of games which were very inventive and innovative. Sure, there is a bit of lateral thinking involved in solving some of the puzzles, but there is generally enough clues given to you in the game material to at least allow you to make the mental leap (if you’re able to piece together the information correctly),
The pacing of the puzzles is nice – there seem to always be two or three active puzzles. This is good because you can split up the work amongst the different team members. It also makes the solving a bit more interesting than in a linear game because you have the added challenge of figuring out what pieces go with which puzzles.
I would say that the difficulty level of the individual puzzles here are average to above average for the class, and the hint cards are well written to help nudge you in the right direction. In this set of three games, there were a few puzzles that we needed to take hints to solve, but none of those puzzles – in retrospect – felt unfair. What I mean is that, we may not have initially seen the connections between the clues given to us, but once we saw how they fit together, it didn’t seem like we couldn’t have done it. I also really like the way in which the answer cards are setup to prevent you from accidentally getting the answers.
Unlike many of the games in the genre, these games are meant to be used only once. As the rules clearly tell you, you might need to alter the components (drawing, cutting, pasting, eating, etc.), and once you do that, it may be impossible to play that particular set again. I don’t have a problem with this at all. First, and foremost, allowing (or demanding) that you change the components opens up all sorts of possibilities with puzzle creation, and I think that the Brands have done an excellent job at this.
Second, the cost of the game is not high – and at an MSRP around $15 (I have found them as low as $14 online), that is a fair price for a good one to two hours of entertainment for a group. If nothing else, it is certainly in line with the price of other one-use games. And, from the BGG Origins preview – it looks like you can get all 3 at the show for $30 as “MSRP $15; buy any two EXIT: The Game titles at Origins 2017, and you’ll receive a third for free.”
Though there isn’t an official order to the games, if I were asked, I’d recommend that you do them in the following order:
- Secret Lab
- Abandoned Cabin
- Pharaoh’s Tomb
The amount of puzzling goodness is very high given the size constraints of the box, and I think that the overall experience of this series is the best of any of the escape room games I’ve played thus far. I’ve definitely enjoyed the first three in the series, and I’m happy to report that there should be three more coming near the end of the year.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Craig V: At the time this review was published, I have played fourteen escape room scenarios spanning seven different series. Included in that count are my plays of The Abandoned Cabin and The Pharaoh’s Tomb in the EXIT: The Game series from KOSMOS. I am happy to report that this series is my favorite so far with Escape Room The Game is a close second. There are many similar games now available and my concern was that they would start feeling the same and repeat puzzles and content. However, the EXIT games definitely put those thoughts to rest for now since they were incredibly engaging, creative, and innovative. They present a fresh approach, different puzzles, and a challenging experience. Overall, there is quite a bit of adventure packed into a small box with minimal components and a really attractive price point. I really look forward to playing The Secret Lab and all of the other upcoming EXIT games. The announcement list of new EXIT games includes another eight and my excitement just keeps growing. The next few months should be another really fun time for escape room games!
Dan Blum: I’ve only played Abandoned Cabin, but I thought it was good; some of the puzzles were challenging but it was quite possible to complete everything in time. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to hardcore puzzle enthusiasts but it should be fine for everyone else.
I’m not thrilled with the requirement to destroy part of the game, and in fact we didn’t since Dale had made copies of the relevant parts. In fact I think the one puzzle in Abandoned Cabin that used these parts is simple enough to solve without cutting anything, but that may not be true of the other games in the series.
Lorna: This is the only escape series I’ve tried and I really enjoyed the first two Abandoned Cabin and Secret Lab. Since I wanted to share the games at my con we managed to do both without permanently damaging any contents. I thought the Cabin was easier than the Lab. I’m really looking forward to the next ones.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love them! Dale Y, Craig V, Lorna
- I like them. Dan Blum
- Not for me…