- Designer: Jay Cormier, Sen-Foong Lim & Kami Mandell
- Artists: Rob Lundy & Rick Hutchinson
- Publisher: The OP
- Players: 1 or More
- Time: 60-120 Minutes
- Times Played: 2
DISCLAIMER: This review will be as spoiler free as it possibly can be. Some of the photos may contain information that is unknown at the start, but I will tell you nothing about how any of it turns out, or what to interact with, or how. Pictures will be there to just show mechanisms involved in the game, plus the look and feel.
If ever there was a list of themes that were just absolutely made for an escape room in a box style of game, Scooby-Doo and the gang would be at the forefront of that list. I mean that’s what they do, they drive around places, get trapped in creepy mansions, and solve mysteries. It was right there the entire time. Thankfully the folks at The OP managed to get the rights and put together a quality design team in Jay, Sen and Kami, and decided to give us what we needed, nay, what we deserved — Scooby-Doo!: Escape from the Haunted Mansion.
The Mystery Inc gang is all here and they are on the road, travelling somewhere when suddenly the van starts to break down. All Fred can find is an old creepy mansion off in the distance, so off the gang goes, looking for help. What they find is a mansion supposedly haunted by the deceased wife of the owner, Lord Fairmont. You know what this means, that’s right, lightning flashes and everyone disappears from the foyer. Only Velma remains, and it’s time for the mystery to begin.
Escape from the Haunted Mansion is what The OP calls “A Coded Chronicles Game.” What this ultimately means is that it is part Tales of the Arabian Nights and part typical escape room in a box. The game comes with five different books, one for each of the Mystery Inc gang — Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo. In those books are a myriad of numbered entries, and when you find a code in the game, you will read the corresponding entry from the book. How does one find a code? Well, each member of the gang has a number on their standee, and on the tiles that represent the mansion as you discover it, you will find more numbers, mostly three digit ones. Each member of the gang has a specialty, Velma researches, Scooby smells things, Fred investigates, Daphne uses items, and Shaggy eats (yes, really). What this means is that when you want one of the characters to interact with something, be it on a map tile or on a card, you create a four digit code number by starting with the character who is doing the interaction. You then open their book and locate the number and read aloud what happens. All codes are four numbers long and begin with the character’s number. In the image below, for Velma to research the foyer table, you would look up 1201.
Being a cooperative escape room style game, no one person controls one character, instead everyone works together as a team, figuring out which member of Mystery Inc should be interacting with what objects. Want Scooby to smell the rug? As long as there is a number there, you can interact with it and see if you find out any information.
Sometimes you think you have a puzzle solved — yes, there are certainly puzzles to solve — and you’re wrong. If that happens, you take a penalty, by eating a Scooby Snack. Sometimes the books will tell you to take one, sometimes you will look up a code that just doesn’t exist in the book, either time, you then eat a Scooby Snack. This is how you are graded, by solving the mystery and by how many Scooby Snacks you have left out of the twenty you start with.
As you uncover clues, and investigate more items, the books will tell you to draw and reveal cards from the deck of cards in the box. These are usually objects that you find, but some of them may be the suspects, oops I mean, workers of the old haunted mansion. Ultimately you are trying to figure out just who the ghost of Lady Fairmont is, because it can’t be a ghost, can it? You may want to add something about adding more mansion tiles as time goes by, Betrayal style, as you only start with a few, and it grows throughout the game.
That’s all there is to it, investigate the mansion, find items, solve puzzles, find your friends, figure out who is doing the haunting and get out all while being as meddlesome as possible.
We played through Escape from the Haunted Mansion over two sittings, and in total I think that it took us about two and a half hours. The first half was me and my youngest daughter (10), with my oldest (16) jumping in towards the end. The second sitting was me, my oldest daughter, and my wife, who wanted to give it a whirl as well. At no point in our play did we feel bored. Everything kept progressing forward, and there was always something to be investigating or solving. Plus, there is quite a bit of reading to spread out among everyone to help keep everyone involved and active.
The system takes a bit of getting used to. Once you do though, there really is a greater sense of exploration in a game done this way, rather than say the Exit titles. You really want to explore everything you can, sometimes with more than one character. Building the mansion with map tiles as you discover entrances to other rooms is a fantastic way to do this, it sort of feels a bit like Betrayal at House on the Hill, or any other myriad of dungeon crawl games where you build the map as you explore.
There are some issues I have with the game, and while mileage will vary on these, I don’t think that any of them should persuade fans of the genre of games from trying it out. I am not a fan of the clue system. Each room will have a couple “freebie” clues, clues that you can take without having to eat a Scooby Snack. Those clues aren’t the helpful ones, we were long past that point in a room when we looked. After those first couple clues though, the rest cost you a Scooby Snack to look at. Guess what though, we didn’t need the first one or two of those either, we just needed help on the last bit, and no one wants to just skip to the end clue. So you end up eating a couple extra Scooby Snacks just to figure out where in the clue hierarchy you are. Yes, it’s a silly gripe, no one really plays these for points — at least I don’t think they do — but still, it bothered me.
The other thing that bothered us also ended up being something that penalized your score. You can solve things without having everything available. Some item cards you don’t need until later. You won’t be using everything immediately, so that means that puzzles are able to be solved in rooms where you didn’t find everything possible. What makes that a bother? At a couple of points during play, the game checks to make sure that you have everything you need. The book will tell you which cards you should have in front of you available, and if you don’t have something, well, that’s another Scooby Snack eaten. We had this bite us a couple times. I’m not sure why that’s a penalty when maybe there was a way to ensure that the team backtracks to find missing things, but maybe that would just make the game longer and more aggravating.
Those two nitpicks aren’t enough to detract from the fact that this is a really well done escape room in a box game. The puzzles are challenging, without being aggravating, although I will confess to the three of us getting a bit irritated with one of them, but we got through it in the end. Some are just common sense, but others will definitely require some time and thought. There are a couple in particular that are really well done. Everything can be solved without any knowledge brought in from outside the game, it’s all self contained. No silly trivia, or anything like that required. There is also a nice touch in the game with having an envelope system, when you hit certain points, you will gain something new to use, or look at, and be instructed to open an envelope. It’s just an exciting way to give you things that you need to progress.
There is a way to save the game about halfway through, which is what we did, and the folks at The OP have provided a fairly large envelope to store everything that you currently have at the time of stopping. With instructions on the front of the envelope of just where to go in the books to continue the story, just in case you forgot where you left off.
These style of games are probably never going to be my favorite way to pass the time. Playing them usually feels as if you would be far more efficient to just play them solo, and that bothers me, as I think that having a good team is really what a good escape room type game calls out for and what makes the experience special. Some of the puzzles were too much for our youngest, and she did get a bit bored with the amount of reading that had to be done, that’s why she didn’t join us for the second half, but I know that our oldest, my wife and I, really did enjoy it. We were even reading in our best, which were awful, Scooby Doo/Mystery Inc voices. Lots of Jinkies and Ruh Roh Raggy, you know the stuff. I’m glad that this exists, and I am really happy to have had the opportunity to play it, and I look forward to seeing where Kami, Sen and Jay take the Coded Chronicles system with The Op. I can certainly think of a few IPs that would be a lot of fun to explore this way. Apparently we already know the next one, it’s based on The Shining. Bonus for The Op because this is an escape room in a box that I can most definitely pass on to someone else, you don’t destroy anything. So hopefully my brother and his family get as much enjoyment out of it as we did and they are persuaded to buy the next one and share with us.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it.
I like it. Brandon
Not for me…
Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:
Erik Arneson: Looks like a great implementation of the theme, and I’m looking forward to playing it. Funny you mentioned Betrayal at House on the Hill — Scooby-Doo! Betrayal at Mystery Mansion (BGG entry here) is scheduled to be released on July 24 by Avalon Hill / Hasbro. I had a chance to play an early prototype of that one and it also implements the theme very well. (It’s a quick-playing version of Betrayal; the box says 25 to 50 minutes.)