EXIT: The Haunter Rollercoaster and EXIT: The House of Riddles
- Designers: Inka and Markus Brand
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Players: 1-4
- Time: about 1 hour each
- Times played: 1 each with review copy provided byThames&Kosmos
Did you know that today is “Escape the Room” Day? This is a day, started a few years ago by a company in Holland – from their website at http://www.escaperoomday.com:
Escape Room Day is the day that we celebrate the birth of escape rooms. It is a day where in the whole world escape room companies and people that like escape rooms will come together and try to play as much escape room games. Since 2013 escape rooms are a phenomenon and it keeps on growing. Now in 2017 we reached more than 10.000 escape rooms in the whole world. There are so many good mystery experiences around escape games. Escape Room Day is an initiative of Escape Rooms Nederland (NL) and they want to make sure that escape games are here to stay. October 1st, 2016 was the first edition of the worldwide Escape Room Day. Hopefully hundreds of companies around the world will join this initiative next years.
The Opinionated Gamers have certainly been fans of escape rooms (in the original physical form – we have reviewed two recently!) as well as the boardgames that has sprung out the same movement. Closely related to that are the puzzle escape games which we have also played and reviewed.
One of the best known franchises is the EXIT series from Kosmos – many of which can be found by searching our blog. In the most recent set, we have just played The Catacombs of Horror – which was fairly unique for the series as it was a two-part affair taking twice as long to solve.
These next two games are a return to the more familiar format of a single length puzzle – about an hour in length.
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 these newest EXIT adventures recently, and we were excited to get another two puzzles to solve. It took a little time to get it to the table as we had to find a time when we were all free from homework, practice, paperwork, etc. 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 games as best as I can, 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, the rules, or the things which you can see from the start of the game.
From the publisher – short descriptions of the back story to each of the two games
Haunted Rollercoaster: Dark corridors, terrifying shrieks, bone-chilling monsters — sounds like a lot of fun, right? At least that’s what you thought when you decided to take a ride on the haunted roller coaster at the amusement park. But suddenly you are stuck in a really freaky place. The ride’s gates are locked tight in front of and behind you. You stumble upon a strange riddle. Can you summon up all your courage to solve the riddles and escape the haunted roller coaster?
House of Riddles: You and your fellow detectives are summoned to an abandoned house. Never wanting to turn down an unsolved mystery, you arrive at the house. Suddenly, you hear screams and see that the entrance has shut behind you. What’s happening here? Will you be able to crack the case and find your way out of the house?
As with the rest of the series, all of the puzzle material is contained within the box. 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 two 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 four stacks (yes! this is a little different). 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 third 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. Finally, each of these two games has a small deck of “odd” cards – well, that’s what the rulebook calls them!
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.
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 was one puzzle in Roller Coaster that we needed to take hints to solve but it did not seem unfair; we simply just didn’t see the “in” to the 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. While we felt that Catacombs of Horror may have been a bit on the tricky/difficult side for families, these two might actually fall on the “too easy” side.
But, don’t take that as criticism. We had a great time with the two games, and frankly, the ease of the puzzles isn’t necessarily a criticism. I think that KOSMOS does a great job with their own rating system on the covers, and these two definitely belong in the 2/5 range. Each game gave us an hour-or-so of fun, and perhaps most importantly, an hour to spend time with each other where we weren’t all looking at our phones or a TV screen.
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. 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 more coming , and I hope to learn more about them at SPIEL in Essen in a few weeks.
Overall, my rating for the entire series is an enthusiastic I love it!
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
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For House of Riddles, would that be somewhat appropriate for the teen set? I seem to remember that was based on the Three Investigators from the original German release so curious how that adapted over to family-friendly theming in the US.
I wouldn’t have an issue with any games in the EXIT series for teens. A few have bordered on the macabre, but nothing that I’d personally worry about with that age group. FWIW, the entire series is rated 10+ by Kosmos.