Dale Yu – Review of Cantaloop Book 1: Breaking into Prison (published version, 2021)

Cantaloop

  • Designer/Author: Friedemann Findeisen
  • Publisher: Lookout Games
  • Age: 13+?
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Times played: 1, with preview copy provided by Lookout Games / Asmodee NA

So when I first heart about this book, I wasn’t even sure if it woudl make it into the BGG database. It is an adventure book, and by the definitions of BGG, it might not even qualify as a game there.  I don’t care so much for the definitions, and I had a great time working my way through the book, and now that I have the full published version, I wanted to update my review with new pictures and thoughts on the final production.

So, what is it?  Cantaloop is a book that you interact with and try to solve the mystery that the protagonist finds himself in – that is figuring out how to break into the jail in Cantaloop.  Think back to your youth (well, my youth at least), and do you remember all those great point and click adventure games that you played on your Apple IIe or your brand new 486?  Well, Cantaloop brings memories of those adventure games back to the forefront.  I’m talking about the classics here – like Leisure Suit Larry or Sam and Max Hit the Road!   (I actually found a Humble Bundle last year that was filled with these old-timey adventure games, and I had a blast all summer replaying the hits of my childhood!)

In Cantaloop, you will see a panorama view of a particular scene, and then you’ll essentially point-and-click at things and see what happens!  Your main character can interact with all sorts of things, which will result in an alphanumeric code.  At the start of the game, you start with a Magnifying Glass and a Cell Phone.  As you might expect, you use one to examine things and you use the other to communicate.  Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler – you get those things in the tutorial introduction…

As you interact with things, you can reveal the results of your encounter on the opposite page of the graphic (using a piece of red film) and see what happens.  Maybe you open a door.  Maybe you gain an item, like a piece of gum or a bottlecap.  Maybe something bad happens.  Maybe you try a combination that doesn’t make sense and the game mocks you.  As you continue adventuring, you can use the items that you find to interact with the scene or perhaps with other items that you have collected.

So, the key here is the interaction, and it is well done.  Here is the first scene of the book.  Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here… After all, if you play the game, you have to start here.  And if you don’t play the game… who cares if you see this or not?

So you see what looks to be the top of a lighthouse.  There is a box of text with a code (again, always letter-number-letter-number).  If you want to examine that thing, simply find the code on the opposite page and read the description. There are also two things that you can interact with – you can tell because they have a rectangle with 3 half codes and an arrow in them.  You can use anything in your inventory to interact with them, and something might happen.

For instance, let’s say I want to further examine the mansion in the upper left corner.  So I’ll take my magnifying glass and put it next to the box for the mansion so that they line up.  Now, when you look at the arrows on each box, each points to a half of the code.  In this case, we’ve made m8i0 – and we can go see if there is anything on the opposite page for this code.  That’s it… you pretty much know how to play now.

You generally can’t do anything wrong.  You just line things up and figure out the code that they make.  Then go and see if there is a code that matches.  If so, you’re good.  Well, usually good.  If there isn’t a code, as the old Infocom games would tell you, “Nothing happens.”

The other neat part of the system here is the trigger sheet – this acts as the gatekeeper for the game.  It helps track your progress through the story, and it may change how things react or interact with you.  As an example (which isn’t in the book), let’s say that if you manage to get your passport, you mark off trigger A1.  Then, later in the game, if you go to the airport – talking to the TSA Agent may tell you: “If A1 marked, you go thru security and go to the next Location. If A1 NOT marked, you are told that you cannot go further and you are kicked out of the airport”.

The trigger sheet in the game is a simple array of boxes that you cross off as directed, and this will help the game know where you are at all times so that people say the right things to you or give you the things you need (assuming you’ve done the right thing in the past).  Overall, this is a super clever system, and it helps this fully analog game shine in its interactivity with the reader.

I initially played with a PnP version, and I really enjoyed the experience.  That PNP version did not have a piece of red film – instead I just had to try to read only the sections of answer text that I was supposed to.  I didn’t have any issues with this at all, but I suspect that it will be even easier to avoid spoilage with the film.  Below is a picture from the PnP:

Below is an example of the actual text in the book with the first portion clarified with the red film.  As you can see – it is easy to read, and the small width of the red film prevents you from reading too much accidentally!

The story is well developed, and the humor is great!  If you liked the snarky humor of Leisure Suit Larry, Sam and Max Hit the Road or the Infocom text adventures, you’ll be right at home here.  There were more than a few times I literally laughed out loud at the jokes in the book.  The puzzles in the book range in difficulty, and while I never needed to look for help – there is a help section included at the end of the book to help get you back on track.

The entire experience is fully analog, and that was much appreciated.  You get the book, a deck of 60 cards, the trigger sheet and a few other pieces of paper – and that’s all you need to play!  You probably need some sort of table to lay out your cards, but it would easily fit on an airplane tray table.  (Though, who knows when any of us will be sitting in a seat that has a tray table in front of it!)  The storage is built into the inner cover of the book – the cards are split up into three groups, each in their own pocket – and Pro Tip – if you’re playing it and need to store it, you can segregate your current hand in one of the pockets and put the deck in the other(s).

I played the book over a few sittings (just leaving my cards out on the table so that I could easily return to my previous spot) – and I guess that it took me maybe 3 or 4 hours to play.  It’s hard to say for sure because I was also playtesting the book and looking for typos, so I was not necessarily taking the most direct path all the time.  But, it was time well invested.  The story was great, the laughs were great, and I’m definitely looking for to more experiences in this series.  I have had family members play the finished copy – and they took between 3 and 6 hours to finish (though their play through the book was in a couple of sessions due to meals, homework, etc.)

Am I hinting at more?  Well, let’s just say that if this one goes well, further episodes have already been started through playtesting….  I have already played through the first version of the second book, and I must say that I’m in love with the story, and I cannot wait to have the next book on the gameshelf next to this one!

I wish I could tell you more about the book, but I really can’t without spoiling the story or the other neat things about it.  I’d highly recommend that you pick up a copy and try it for yourself.  Apparently, it’s now available as I have a copy of the finished product now!  The book is a nice size – having nice long pages to give you enough space to see everything.

Here it is up against a 30cm box for scale:

Rating: 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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