EXIT Games (The Sinister Mansion, The Mysterious Museum, Dead Man on the Orient Express, The Sunken Treasure)
- Designers: Inka and Markus Brand
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: about 60 minutes each
- Times played: 1 with each game (with review copies provided by Thames&Kosmos)
The EXIT series was one of the original puzzle-game franchises to hit the market when the escape room game craze took off a few years ago. To date, my family and I have been able to play all of the ones released here in the US, and this is a series that we continue to look forward to future installments.
While there are many worthy competitors in the genre, the EXIT series is possibly the best known of the bunch – due in part to the initial set of games being awarded the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres award.
I received a box of four new EXIT adventures right around Essen, and with travel, holidays and general business, it has taken my family a few months to get these to the table. Trust me, it’s not for lack of excitement about them, but more just trying to get all four of us together when there isn’t something else on the agenda for one of us. The reason that we need so much coordination is that these games (like all their other EXIT predecessors) can only be played once. Once you know the puzzle solutions, you really can’t play the game again. Additionally, the game may require you to destroy or deface some of the components, and that also makes it hard for someone else to play with a copy which has already been experienced.
I will try to give my thoughts on these four games, but beware – much of what I saw will be couched in generalities. As with all the other escape room game reviews, I will not spoil any of the secrets. Any details come from the box or the rules themselves.
Like the earlier EXIT games, these four 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 the various puzzles.
The deck of cards is split up into three stacks. The first stack is a bunch of green clue cards. There will be three clues for each of the ten puzzles in each game. So far, in the entire EXIT 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 light blue numbered answer cards. You will use these to see whether you have answered a puzzle correctly. A final stack are the red 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 – the initial story and hints are usually found on the cover and the first page of the book. Again, puzzles will be denoted by a black outline of a shape (such as a circle, a crescent moon or a cross). 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 astonishingly high. Of all of the escape room/puzzle hunt games available, I still feel that the Kosmos EXIT games are my favorite. This third series of games 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 previous games which were very inventive and innovative, and I’m happy to say that the quality in this set remains high without repeating puzzle types. 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 in this set is variable. The games all have a difficulty rating on the front of the box, and two of them (The Mysterious Museum and The Sunken Treasure) are 2 out of 5, the lowest difficulty rating yet on the games. These games are obviously easier to solve and would be great for gamers new to the genre. As such, the path is much more linear – solve puzzle #1, then get the bits for puzzle #2. When you solve that, then puzzle #3 is introduced to you.
That being said, the Dead Man on the Orient Express is rated at 4 out of 5 – though I feel that this one may be the most challenging EXIT game thus far. This game follows the previous pattern of always having two or three active puzzles – and it’s up to the solvers to figure out how to put the different clues together. 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 the linear episodes 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 well matched to the stated difficulty on the box cover. Regardless of the difficulty level, the hint cards are well written to help nudge you in the right direction. There were a few puzzles that we needed to take hints to solve in the Orient Express module, but none of those puzzles – in retrospect – felt unfair. 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. The two easier games did not give us any problems with the puzzles, but we still enjoyed solving them together.
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 is confusing. Sometimes it’s hard to find the graphic on which the puzzle icon is placed on – but I understand why they went this route to prevent accidental clues being given away from a card being exposed at the wrong time.
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 $11 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.
Now that there are 10 EXIT games available – I think many of you will already know if you want to do these or not. The two easy ones would definitely be good to introduce people to the genre, but that being said – my family still very much enjoyed playing them together. If you are looking for a meatier challenge, head for the Orient Express or the Sinister Mansion.
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 am quite excited to see that there are three or four more coming in the first half of 2019, and I can’t wait for a chance to play them soon!
Overall, my rating for the entire series is an enthusiastic I love it!
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor