The Opinionated Gamers

Dale Yu: Review of Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly (Book) – Spoiler Free

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Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly (Book)

Well, the Opinionated Gamers is a blog that usually writes about boardgames, but we’ve been known to stray afield here and there.  One of the more popular developments in boardgames over the past few years has been the Escape Room/Puzzle genre.   We have played quite a few of these games, and each has a unique take on how the players get to solve the puzzles.

Some previously written game reviews include:

We have also looked at previous books that were similar:

 

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly (Book) is another paperback book that provides you (and possibly some friends) the chance to solve a series of puzzles.  While the components are slightly different – here you simply get a book; the experience turns out to be very similar to many of the games listed at the top.

This particular book, interestingly enough, actually has its genesis from a real live Escape Room in the UK.  https://www.escapefromtheroom.co.uk/games/the-curse-of-old-maid-milly  If you want to do the real thing, it’s £75 for up to 6 people.  The book is much more affordable – you can get it at Amazon for $16 or so – though as I’ll describe in a bit – it’s probably best as a one to three player activity.

From the author’s own description: “The Curse of old Maid Milly finds Doctor Harris, an esteemed professor from the London Institute of Paranormal Investigation, locked inside a room haunted by the restless spirit of Old Maid Milly and tasked with discovering the truth. You, as the reader and player, must search the room, collect items to help overcome problems, decrypt codes and solve puzzles all while the story of Doctor Harris’ adventure unfolds. With the room depicted over more than twenty illustrated pages, you may revisit any part of the room to look for clues that may help you solve puzzles as you navigate your way through the book. The book shares similarities with a ‘choose your own adventure’ in that you do not read front to back, the solution to each puzzle gives the page number to visit next. With online hints, reaching the conclusion to the book is achievable for all, giving everybody the chance to escape from the room. This book mimics the key elements of a live escape room in a portable format available for everyone to experience.”

The book arrived in the mail on a Friday afternoon, and with the weather outside being cold and blustery, three of us decided that the day of arrival was a perfect night to sit down and start with the book.  At the outset, we weren’t sure how we were going to “play” the book – i.e. all in one go or in a few sessions over the course of the weekend.  We simply cracked open the book, read the instructions on the first few pages and then dove into the story.

The format of the book is simple.   Every right-hand page in the book has a bit of the narrative – helpfully broken up into story text and puzzle text.  There is a fairly involved story line here, and I would guess that if you took all the story text and put it all together, you’d have a nice little 20-page short story when you are done.  You’ll also find the description of the particular puzzle at hand on the right sided page.  Opposite to this (on the left side), you’ll get some additional information – sometimes a close-up graphic of something seen on the right, sometimes it’ll be some blank area for you to jot notes, sometimes it will be additional information that you’ll need to solve the puzzle.

All of the puzzles have a solution which directs you to a page in the book.  Most of the puzzles actually generate a 4 digit number (I’m guessing that this is the format used in the actual Escape Room from which this book is generated from), and if so, the book will tell you which digits you need to use to get to the right page number.  Once you think you’ve solved the puzzle, you turn to the next page as directed…  As you can see, you won’t read this book in the usual way, starting at the first page and reading them consecutively until the end – instead, you will jump around from place to place as the puzzles instruct you to do.  The book gives you a little rubric to convert non-numeric answers into numbers.  Depending on the letter, compass direction or other direction you need, you can always generate a number from that answer…

Each right-hand page in the book has a page number on it – large and centered at the top.  Underneath the page number, you will also find a helpful guide to tell you the page number where you should have previously been (in order to be on the right track). If you turn to a page number, and you did not come the place that the book tells you that you should have been – then you know that you do not have the right answer to the puzzle and you should go back to try to solve it again.

Unlike the physical Escape Room (as well as some of the escape room boardgames), the path in the book is strictly linear.  At each step along the way, you are presented with a puzzle, and you really can’t progress until you’ve solved the puzzle at hand and moved onto the next page in the path.  There are NOT multiple options on how to work through the book.  That being said, you should keep your eye out for any important details or clues as you go, as you may need those things to solve later puzzles in the book!

As the back cover will tell you, the book includes over 45 different puzzles.  Our group ended up playing through the whole book in a single setting.  I have obviously only played it once – and like most escape room products, you will only ever be able to play this book once – but I think that this was the ideal way to do it.  Some of the puzzles require you to remember details that you might have seen earlier on in the book, and we felt that it might be harder to remember if you took some time away from the book.  Sure, you can always go back and look at the previously read pages – but it felt good to be able to remember those details immediately rather than have to sift through the book to find them again.

We thought that 3 players was probably the maximum for this format – and that was because that was the most number of people we felt could be around the book and read it.  The instructions suggest that you could play this with large groups and simply cut out the pages to lie on the table – but the conceptual problem I have with this is that if you cut out the right sided page, the back side of that sheet includes the left-hand page for the next page in the book – and you often need to have the left and the right together… sure, you could always dig thru your stack of pages to find the one that you want, but that seems like it would be kind of a pain to do.

If you cut out the previous page, then you’d have to search for this close up of the cat quilt when you needed it!

The puzzles themselves are of varied types, and for us, the difficulty was easy to moderate.  There is a website that is referred to on the top of every left-hand page which offers hints for the puzzles in case you get stuck, and we did need to refer to this for a single puzzle.  Otherwise, we were able to get the correct solution on our own for the rest of the puzzles.

I will say that the hint page is less than ideal.  There are two hints offered for each puzzle, but EVERY hint is listed on a single web page – so you go to the page and then you manually scroll up and down to get to the hint that you need.  The downside is that it would be quite easy to inadvertently read a clue for a puzzle that you haven’t yet seen (nor need the hint for!).  Given that web page generation isn’t that hard, I would have much preferred each clue to have a separate page so that you didn’t spoil anything by accident.

My other comment on the hints is that they generally weren’t needed because the book included way too much hinting in the text on the puzzle.  Many of the puzzles had emphasized words in bold or italics to help direct people to the solution of a puzzle – and IMHO – this is un-necessary to have in the text itself.  Many of these instructions would have been much better served to be the first hint offered on the website.  We felt that there were a number of puzzles that might have been moderately difficult to solve that were instead instantly solved by an unwanted clue/hint in the text that we had no chance to avoid.  Now, take this criticism with a grain of salt, as all three of us are fairly veteran puzzle solvers – both escape room and other paper-and-pencil puzzles.  I think that the hints in the book text make the puzzles accessible to just about anyone – but, again, it doesn’t make sense to neuter them for those looking for more challenge, especially when you have an online hint system already set up.

One other thing I wish the book had was a better numbering system.   As you play the game, you will discover that the right handed pages are numbered sequentially, starting at 1 and going to the highest number.  After you solve a few puzzles, you will get a feeling for how many pages there might be in the book – and this fact turns out to be a clue to use in solving puzzles… Once we figured out that there probably weren’t more than 75 pages in the book, we pretty much knew that all our answers would never start with the letters S or later in the alphabet, nor any directions involving South –  because there wasn’t a page number to support that answer!  I think that book could be improved by simply using the full four digit answer as the number on the top of a page.  As long as the pages were still in ascending numerical order, you could continue to flip thru the pages to see if you had a match to your four digit number.  If you didn’t find a page with the number, then you know you have the wrong answer!

And, since we’re talking about the page numbering system – I would have really preferred the pages to also be indexed in the top right corner – so that I could try to limit revealing any extra information while I flip through the pages.  It would also  be nice to have the “continued from…” info in a different place, say the lower left corner – again to stop you for accidentally learning information.  With the current format, you pretty much have to open the book fully to see the page number in the top center of the page, and that often allows you see stuff that you maybe shouldn’t have seen…. Especially if you had the wrong answer to the previous puzzle!

Despite the above quibbles, we actually had a engrossing time with the book.  We ended up playing all the way through – well with some breaks to prepare and eat dinner as we played – and at the end, we all agreed that it was an enjoyable experience.  We would have preferred the puzzles to be a bit more difficult – or at least not clued so much in the text – but even with that, we had a lot of fun solving the puzzles.  We also enjoyed the development of the story as we progressed through the book.  As I said earlier, there is quite a lot of story, so you also get a decent short story out of it too!  The story can be a bit macabre, so you may want to consider that when playing with younger kids – but my guess is that kids that are old enough to be able to help solve the puzzles in the book should be OK with the story line as well.

For a first book, it’s a decent effort, and one I am glad to have tried.  It appears that there is a second version in the works, and I’m interested in giving that one a go as well based on our run through the first one.  I just hope that it can be made a bit more spoiler proof.  Like every other escape room book or game that I’ve played, Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly is no substitute for the real escape room experience – but, it provided us with an enjoyable evening together, comparable to the other escape room games that we’ve played.

[Note – the links above direct you to book’s page at Amazon, and the link includes our Associates code within.]

Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor

 

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Craig V: Although I have quite a bit of experience with of real life escape rooms, escape room apps, and escape room card/board games, the idea that there were also escape room books never occured to me. Strange, I know, especially considering that puzzle books have been around for a long time. Now it seems obvious that there would be escape room books available and knowing that now has opened opened up an entirely new variety of games!

Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly was my first book-based escape room experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect and can only really describe it as a story, choose-your-own adventure, and puzzle book all combined into a somewhat new type of gaming experience. Did it work? Was it fun? The concept and idea is really intriguing, but this adventure left me thinking that it could be better.

What I liked:

What I didn’t like:

There were times that we found it difficult to want to finish this book. The story dragged on a bit too much, the puzzles started feeling repetitive (e.g., so much counting!), and the fun factor seemed to be just out of reach. Reading through a written description of the actions that players would be making in the real version of this escape room didn’t translate well since it ultimately just becomes a string of puzzles inserted into a story. Maybe I was hoping for something more innovative or complicated, or maybe I’m just not the target audience for this book, or maybe I’m just being too critical. Regardless, I would love to try the real escape room version of this story as the description of it throughout the book sounded really good.

Despite my reservations about the format and mechanisms of this particular escape room adventure book, I do recommend giving Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly a try. It’s a great value for three hours of playtime, a good introduction to escape room games/puzzle games, and the combination of story, puzzles, and portability creates a unique experience. It also introduced me to an entirely new format of escape room games, and now I will definitely be on the hunt for more books to play!

 

 

 

 

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