Dale Yu: The EXIT series from Kosmos – EXIT: The Forgotten Island, EXIT: The Forbidden Castle, EXIT: The Polar Station

The EXIT series from Kosmos

  • Games:  EXIT: The Forgotten Island, EXIT: The Forbidden Castle, EXIT: The Polar Station
  • 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 few years 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.

  • Reviews scheduled for publication in January 2018 (maybe even later today…)

This new set of releases unexpectedly arrived at Essen Spiel 2017 – when I had been in contact with my German press liaison at Kosmos, they didn’t think that the EN versions would be ready.  However, as I was packing up late Saturday night, I saw a picture that Lorna had managed to find some at the Kosmos store!  As I didn’t know they were at Essen, I learned exactly nothing about them at the show.  I was super surprised to get a shipping notice on the day that I got back from Essen saying that I was getting a mystery box from Thames+Kosmos!  I was super excited to get the new set of escape games, and we got them to the table quickly.

 

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.

 

Like the original set of three games, this second series 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 entries in the escape room game genre, 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 to the previous games. 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 is a bunch of clue cards.  There will be three clues for each of the ten puzzles in each game.  So far, in all six games in the series, there have always been ten puzzles in each box.  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 answer 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 – which might be letters, numbers or shapes.  It all depends what is on the solution wheel in the particular game.  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 earliest clue usually telling you which game components you need to have access to at that time in order to be able to solve the 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.  It is not uncommon for there to be two or three puzzles that are active at any time, and usually solving an earlier puzzle will give you a needed card or special component needed to progress on a different puzzle.

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 remains high.  Of all of the escape room/puzzle hunt games at this time last year, I thought that the Kosmos EXIT games are my favorite.  This second series only confirms my belief that the Brands are at the top of the heap as far as this genre goes.

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.  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).

 

I thought that there were a number of puzzles in the initial set of games which were very inventive and innovative, and I’m happy to say that the quality in the second triad remains high without repeating puzzles.  There were one or two excellent puzzles in each of the games in the second series that I felt were very well done and provided nice “A-ha!” moments upon solving (or reading the clue cards to get the answer when we were stumped).  The variety of puzzle styles is also quite nice – ranging from visual to straight logic to everything else in between.  

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, there were a few puzzles that we needed to take hints to solve, but none of those puzzles – in retrospect – felt unfair.  There were two puzzles that we spent at least twenty minutes on each before finally looking at the clue cards – and we were SO close to the right answer but couldn’t make that final mental jump.  Yet, in retrospect, after seeing the solution, the puzzle didn’t seem unfair, and that’s the sign of a great puzzle.  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.  The combination of the answer wheel and the two-part card solution is as good of a protection as you can get.  My only quibble with this is that sometimes the iconography used to determine the answers (especially in The Polar Station!) were confusing.  It felt like the card there used 8 different file cabinet doors as the pictures for the card, and they were nearly impossible to tell apart.  Surely they could have found some more distinct illustrations… or at least made the tiny graphics a bit brighter/higher in contrast so that you could pick out the details on the 1cm square image!

 

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.  

 

Though there isn’t an official order to this set of games, if I were asked, I’d recommend that you do them in the following order:

1)      Forgotten Island

2)      Polar Station

3)      Forbidden Castle

 

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 definitely enjoyed the first three in the series, and this year’s set is actually even better than the original three.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Karen M: These are pretty fun entertainments. I am, in fact, hosting a dinner party on Saturday and have the first 3 Exit games primed for the evening’s entertainment. My guests are non-gamers, so we’ll see how it goes. I plan to be the overseer and gently guide them since I have played them before. I anticipate it will be a fun evening. And from the new series, my favorite was the Forbidden Castle…really fun puzzles with a couple of great “Aha!” moments as Dale mentioned.

 

Craig V: The Kosmos EXIT games remains my favorite series of escape room games followed closely by the Escape Room The Game series. I have played five of the six EXIT games available to date and my top three favorites have been: (1) The Abandoned Cabin, (2) The Forbidden Castle, and (3) The Pharaoh’s Tomb.

 

Lorna: We love these. We’ve tried one of the other series but the Exit games are everyone’s favorites. I’ve played 5 of the 6 out in English and they were all well worth the cost even for one and done. Still cheaper than a movie and popcorn and more fun.

 

Simon W: So far I’ve played the Abandoned Cabin and the Polar Station and I am wowed by the originality of the games, the devious nature of the puzzles, and the fun I’ve had with them. They really do feel like proper Escape rooms! Strongly recommended, I intend to get all 6 Exit games.

 

Greg S:  I have only played one so far (EXIT: The Pharaoh’s Tomb), which is a solid and relatively faithful reproduction of an escape room experience.  It presents players with problems and riddles that they must solve and overcome, which requires group effort and cooperation.  The theme is reasonably strong and adds to the atmosphere.  Arriving at the correct solutions can be challenging.  One or two seemed a bit ridiculous to me, although others in our group thought they were clever.  I also felt some of the components were a bit small with a large group, making it difficult for everyone to study them at the same time and discuss options.  

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love them! Dale Y, Craig V, Lorna, Simon W.
  • I like them. Karen M, James Nathan,
  • Neutral.  Greg S.
  • Not for me…

 

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2017, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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