Dale Yu: Review of Escape the Room – The Cursed Dollhouse  (SPOILER FREE)

  • Designer: Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Bleau
  • Publisher: ThinkFun
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: about 90 minutes
  • Times played: 1, with review copy provided by ThinkFun
  • Affiliate Link: https://amzn.to/3fRoOoK

The “Escape Room” genre is one of the most prolific areas of growth in 2020 for our hobby (at least in my opinion).  There seem to be plenty of new games coming out in this area, as well as a huge growth in physical escape rooms as well.  In 2020, due to safety concerns, I really haven’t been able to do too many actual escape rooms, but I have been able to get some of that experience via these board games.

This particular series was amongst the first that we ever played and reviewed:  Escape the Room – Dr Gravely’s Retreat and Escape the Room – Stargazer’s Manor were both well received by our group.  The Cursed Dollhouse is the third installation in this series, and it immediately seemed to be a more involved matter.

In The Cursed Dollhouse, the oversized box is converted into an actual 5 room dollhouse.  There are fairly detailed instructions on how to assemble the dollhouse and which items are to be placed in the different rooms.  Take some time doing this correctly so that nothing is destroyed inadvertently nor anything secret is revealed accidentally.   As far as physical presentation goes, it’s pretty neat to see the huge dollhouse on your table with all the different contents splayed out in the rooms.

Each of the rooms in the dollhouse has its own set of puzzles, and as the game progresses, your group will complete one room at a time as they move through the house.  (This is similar to the previous games in the series, though in those cases, there were sealed envelopes that separated the different phases).  In order to exit each room, you’ll have to find three specific symbols in the room – which will then also be found on the solution wheel.  If done correctly, the Solution wheel will signal that you’ve solved the room and then you can move onto the next part of the story.  The puzzles in any particular room are not ordered, but your path through the rooms is a single path.

The story itself is given to you in the back half of the instruction book.  You read the page long part of the story for the current room, and then you can examine the room itself as well as the objects in that room.   You will need to look and listen carefully – clues will be found both in the story itself as well as on the game components.  Also, you’ll want to remember things that you’ve seen because some of the clues for later puzzles may be given to you earlier in the game.

This game is rated for 2.5 hours, and you start the timer after reading the intro page of the story.  And, after taking about 10 minutes to put the dang thing together.  The two halves of the box serve as the left and right of the house, and then you tack the attic on top.  You also have to go thru the box to dig up the 2 or 3 pieces of equipment for each room…   It would have been super awesome if the props already came in the right portions of the box, but alas, most of them are too large to have fit, and they have to hang over the edge of the floor of each room.

Like other Escape the Room games, the story here is fairly linear.  You start the game in a room, and you get the puzzles for that room – and you cannot move onwards until you figure out the code for the room input it into the solution-checker wheel and then go to the next room.  In each room, you will have three different puzzles to solve, one for each ring of the solution wheel.   Sometimes it is fairly obvious which bits go with which colored puzzle, and other times, it’s less obvious.  To make things more complicated, you might need to use bits multiple times, or save them for later in the game to use on a later puzzle – and this just gives you more to think about and argue over!

Overall, the complexity of the puzzles here is high – and this is a good and bad thing.  Oftentimes, we can get through an escape room game without ever needing a hint.  Sure, I want the puzzles to be challenging, but I also want to feel like I had a decent chance at solving them all.  Not sure whether our group was having a bad day or not, but we ended up needing the online hint system for a number of the puzzles, and needed to just look up the solution for at least one of the puzzles.   Again, based on our previous experience, this puts the relative complexity level quite high.  Due to the theme and the complexity of the puzzles, this is probably a game more for teens and older (sometimes I think that the age requirements on the box are misleading, oftentimes due to safety regulations) – but in this case, the puzzles here would be difficult for your average 3rd-4th grader.

Due to the complexity of the puzzles (and the number of puzzles), this one takes a bit longer than most escape-room-at-home games.  We needed about 95 minutes of solving time to finish this, though the actual time is a bit murky as we stopped for pizza in between two of the rooms, and yours truly may or may not have accurately stopped and restarted the clock…   There was enough there to keep three people engaged almost the entire time – and I think it would work OK with 4 people as well.  More than that – and frankly, there aren’t enough things to look at, and I think some people would just be twiddling their thumbs waiting for a chance to do things.

The components are well done here, and there are a few things which really make this feel more like a physical escape room.  There is a certain sense of adventure in peeling things off the wall and looking behind them (just like a real room!).  It definitely added a bit more of a tactile quality to some of the puzzles, and it’s nice to have lots of things to pass around so that people can look at all the stuff to figure out what they want to help solve.

One of the benefits of this series is that you can go online after you are done and reprint puzzles and things that may have been destroyed so that someone can play the escape room again.  In the case of this game, I might not recommend that.  The experience was really awesome with the given components, and without giving up any spoilers, lets just say that there is no way that you are going to truly replicate some of the components as they are originally provided to you.  Additionally, while we didn’t do it ourselves, it would take a really long time to get everything back together as well – and man, I’d advocate just getting a new set to make sure that you experience this game the way that the designers and ThinkFun intended.

The design team of Cravotta and Bleau are making a nice career out of designing these escape room games.  Last week, we looked at another one of their recent games, Break In Alcatraz.   When I see this design team listed, I know that I’m likely in for a great experience.

The game is not yet available, it’s supposed to ship in October, 2020.  You can pre-order at Amazon, here is a helpful affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3fRoOoK   (any purchases made via this link will help fund the Opinionated Gamers and keep us online!)

While supplies last, Think Fun is offering $10 off with the code 10DOLLHOUSE 

 Rating: I like 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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5 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Escape the Room – The Cursed Dollhouse  (SPOILER FREE)

  1. paschott says:

    Out of curiosity, is there a minimum age you’d recommend based on the content/theme? The concept looks neat, but concerned about playing with a younger set – even with Thinkfun’s general family-friendly reputation.

    • Dale Yu says:

      For this one, I would probably agree with the box. 12 or 13 at youngest, due to both theme and the higher average difficulty of the puzzles

  2. Benjamin J Goertz says:

    I can’t seem to get the promo code to work. Is there something special I have to do on Amazon’s Website?

    • Dale Yu says:

      The promo code was limited to an (unknown to me) number of uses. The code may have already expired / exhausted

      I will check and see if I can get more info from Thinkfun

      • Benjamin J Goertz says:

        Thank you for the follow up. I missed the limited part so if that is the case I completely understand :)

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