Dale Yu – Review of EXIT: Theft on the Mississippi

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 this most recent EXIT adventure right around the start of May, right in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, but it took a few weeks to get it to the table because I planned on playing this in a group with my brother and his wife – who live 2,000 miles away in California! The reason that we need schedule coordination is that these escape room 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 this game, 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 almost all the earlier EXIT games (except The Catacombs of Horror), this game comes in a small format box, and all the puzzle 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.

In this game, A robbery has taken place on a Mississippi steamboat. You’re a team of investigators, traveling the Mississippi on a paddle-wheel steamboat in 1872. Last night there was a robbery, valuable documents have disappeared! Can you find the culprit before the riverboat docks in New Orleans?

The format of the game is 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. This game also includes a foldout poster of the main room in the ship where you can try to reconstruct the position of all the suspects at the time of the crime.

The deck of cards is split up into four stacks – this is a slight departure from the usual… 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. There is a final set of cards which are suspect cards – two groups of 4, labeled A and B. You start by questioning the A set of people.

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, colors 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. There is a certificate on the last page of the rules which can be filled in if you want to keep track of your successes (or failures).

My thoughts on the games

The quality of the games remains high. Of all of the escape room/puzzle hunt games available, I still feel that the Kosmos EXIT games are my favorite. This latest 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). We had a few stumbling blocks in this one, and we ended up using three hint cards as we solved the puzzles – which is more than we normally need.

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 was one puzzle which had a memorable solution, and it is puzzles like this that make the series so engaging. The variety of puzzle styles is also quite nice – ranging from visual to straight logic to everything else in between.  I also liked the investigative aspect of this game, it was a bit different than the usual theme, and it was a nice change.

The EXIT games all have a difficulty rating on the front of the box, and this one is a 3 out of 5, the lowest difficulty rating found on the EXIT games (there has yet to be a 1 out of 5). It had a mix of very easy puzzles and a few which required clue cards, so I think the rating is reasonable.

The information for the puzzles is often found on different cards (or in the booklet), and this is good because you can split up the work amongst the different team members. We played this over Google Hangouts, and it worked perfectly. Sure, we each needed to have our own set of materials (i.e. copy of the game), however, this may have actually worked out better because we were able to have more eyes look at the puzzles. Normally, only one person (or at most two) can look at the book or a card given the smaller size of the components. In our game, we had one set of things in Ohio and one in California.

I generally 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. We did have one big issue (user-based) in the Theft on the Mississippi where we didn’t use the right icon from the key card, and thus, we did not get the “puzzle solved” response – but once we figured it out, we realized that the problem was on our end, not the game’s. (So, if you think you get stuck on a puzzle in The Theft on the Mississippi – be sure to double check that you’re going to the right answer card!)

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. Even if you double the cost to have two sets of material, it’s still a cheap date – and in the coronavirus era, the ability to hang out with friends at a distance is a nice option.

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Now that there over fifteen EXIT games available – I think many of you will already know if you want to do these or not. If you haven’t played them yet, they can be found online fairly easily, and they are perfect for a little activity when you’re stuck at home. 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.

Overall, my rating for the entire series is an enthusiastic I love it!

Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor

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.
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