Dale Yu: Review of Escape Tales: Children of Wyrmwoods

  • Designers: Jakub Caban, Matt Dembek, Bartosz Idzikowski
  • Publisher: Board&Dice
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 450 minutes on box (my game lasted 5hr 15min)
  • Times played: 1, with review copy provided by Board&Dice

*** The buik of this review is spoiler free.  I will mention at the top that the pictures I used here were taken within the first 5 minutes of me playing the game – yes, there is some actual content in those pictures, but they are literally the first things you’ll see – so I really don’t think there is much spoilage going on.  If you were to play the game, you’d see all this stuff immediately anyways. ***

The Escape Tales line of games (now three total) are a bit different from other “escape room games” – these games are more story driven, and then claim to offer up much more than the 60-90 minutes of gameplay as is generally standard for the genre.  The publisher also claims that there is a higher replay value to the game as “you won’t gain access to every puzzle and location in a single playthrough of the game. Everything you do will impact the end result – which means the game can be played more than once”.

As with many other escape room games, any review of the game needs to avoid spoilers – and as such, I will not really give any specifics of the things that I saw in my playthrough of the game.  The game is not timed – so this is not a race – and yes, there is a lot of story here.  My play took about 5 hours in a solo adventure on a rainy and cold February evening.. There are multiple locations in the game, and you theoretically have the ability to search “anywhere”. In actuality, each location is split up into twelve different zones, and each of those twelve zones can be explored by spending an action marker there.

So, let me talk about the story a bit before I get into how it works – most of the story takes place through a set of 3 story books – and the introduction on the first page of Story Book 1 tells you what you are about to get into:

The story books are split up into a whole bunch of numbered chapters – the storyline is scattered around the pages so that you hopefully will not accidentally read something too early or by mistake.  The book will tell you to read “P005”, so then you flip through the book to find chapter #005, and then read it aloud. The written story may give you clues as to what you need to explore on the location or maybe clues on how to solve a particular puzzle.

Other than the story book, there are a few decks of cards.  There is an oversized location deck. You will be asked to find certain cards in this deck at times which will be flipped over to show you an image of the location you happen to be in.  There is a regular sized deck of 187 game cards – these have a number of different purposes. Some of them show miniature location maps, and you’ll use those cards to mark where you have explored.  Some will be clue cards or items. Some will hold puzzles, or part of puzzles. The story book will generally instruct you when to go thru the deck and pull out a specific card.  You may even find some modifier cards – these cards have a stripe along the right edge which are placed under your character card, and this will change the attributes of Gilbert based on the course of your adventures.

There is a thin deck of rest and focus cards – each portion of the game has its own subset of rest and focus cards; be sure to get the right ones out for your stage of the game as outlined in the rules.  As you enter a location, you’ll be told how many action tokens you have for a particular location. If you ever run out of action tokens but you want to keep exploring (or you must keep exploring because you haven’t found a way out of that location yet) – you’ll have to read a Rest or Focus card which will help you keep going… but usually at a cost.  The rules even warn you that the ending of your game might change depending on how many of these cards you take!

I’d recommend having some pen and paper handy.  There are lots of puzzles in this box, and some of them will be much more easily solved if you have pen and paper…  The last thing you will need is a computer, tablet or smartphone.  The game solutions are found on a website, and as you play, you can check your progress via this site.  The site also provides clues and hints which you can take as you need them.  And, of course, you can use the app to combine cards to help further your progress.

You will work through a location by choosing one of the twelve regions to explore – and the map card will tell you what paragraph to go read in the book.  You read that section, and this may then tell you to flip over one or more cards from the game deck.  You place a token one the map card for each section you want to explore, and if you leave the location before you use them all – you keep any leftover tokens to use as extras in a later location. 

Puzzles are generally denoted with an icon in a green vine lined oval.  You can try to solve them at any time – and when you think you have all the cards for the puzzle and you’ve figured out the answer, you can go to the app and plug in the answer. Also, if you’re not sure what you’re looking for in a puzzle, you can go to the app and at least see how many spaces are in the answer area…  

You also have the option of trying to combine cards that you have acquired – this is a neat function that allows you to make helpful things.  To do this, pull up the trusty web app and plug in the two cards that you want to combine.  If you want to see what Gilbert thinks about a card, combing Gilbert’s card with the object!

As you explore, you will uncover more of the story and progress thru the different parts of the book (Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Epilogue).  As you enter the new section, you will need to remember to set up the Rest and Focus decks for where you are.  

The game purports to have multiple endings, and there are a few places in the game where it is clear that your group stands at a fork in the road – This is a neat feature of the game, and these decision points will definitely get your group talking about what is the best play…   Depending on your choices, you will eventually reach the end of your particular story, but… you might be able to play the game again and see how it ends differently if you make alternate choices.

My thoughts on the game

Escape Tales: Children of the Wyrmwoods is a long and immersive experience, and one which offers a lot more story and theme than a traditional escape room game.  Heck, a few of the single locations in this game could have served as easy standalone puzzle room games!  At 5 hours, it is clearly longer than most other games in the genre.

I like the way that game teaches you most of the rules as you go.  Sure, there is an 8 page rulebook – but most of the important parts are also taught to you on the cards as you go.  Importantly – if you have played either of the previous two versions, there is a nice summary on the back cover of the rules that outlines the changes from previous versions.  This is a good way to keep everything separated in your hand because they are very similar yet with some important distinctions between them.

The visual presentation is stunning as the artwork is superb.  I like the overall layout of the cards/maps, and this helps push the theme into the forefront of the experience.  The components are solid, and the writing in the books is well done.  I did not find any glaring typos or errors in my play of the game.

The quality of the puzzles is variable, but mostly good, and the complexity of the puzzles spans the full range of difficulty.  Some were quite simple and could be solved without too much struggle while others required a good bit of lateral thinking (and maybe a hint or two from the smartphone).  I felt that I needed more hints while playing this one than in the previous two editions.  Of course, this may also be because I was playing this one solo – and sometimes when playing these escape room games, it’s nice to have more than one player at the table as you sometimes need a different perspective at a puzzle to unlock it.

As I mentioned, the gameplay here is longer than you’d normally see for an escape room game; but the game can be stopped at any time.  If you have enough room, just leave it set up on your table and you can come and go as you please.  The way the story is set up, it would be very easy to stop at the end of Chapter 1 – and use that as an almost mid-point place to pause the campaign.  If you have to put things away, there is a chart on the back of the story books where you can record the information as far as what cards you have, what location you are at, etc.  

The app is a nice way to make sure that players can get the correct answer – and that they can get hints as they need.  I do personally wish that the answer block was simply an empty space rather than a set of underscores. Sometimes, just knowing how many characters I needed to enter to solve the puzzle gave away the puzzle.  I would have liked to see this information maybe be one of the clues. The other thing I didn’t particularly like about the app system is that the number of cards needed for each puzzle was found on a button on the app.  I would just as soon have had this information on the card itself OR have it be the first hint. But this is consistent with the previous versions.

After spending five minutes on an early puzzle trying to solve it – but only later realizing that we only had one of three cards needed to solve that puzzle – we pretty much always went to look to see if we had all the right components.  Either, hide the information completely OR just make it clear what you need. Yes, maybe this is more a sign of our impatience than anything else – but that sort of frustration is not the type I want from a puzzle game. If I’m stumped on a puzzle, hey, good for you for making a tough puzzle.  If I waste ten minutes trying to solve something which I don’t even have all the information for – that just makes me want to quit or do something else.

The hints on the phone are good, and we did need to use them on a few occasions.  Most puzzles have at least three hints, and if you are really stuck, the final hint is simply the answer to the puzzle… so, even if you are fully stumped, you will never get irrevocably stuck.

I do wish that the app maybe kept track of the number of hints that you take so that it somehow affected your progress through the game or maybe which ending you moved towards.   You can freely take as many hints as you like, and I think that using the number of hints taken would have been another interesting way to stratify how you progressed in the story.

I have only played this game once, and to be honest with you, I still don’t necessarily agree with the claim that this has high replay value – though I think there is more here than in the Awakening because the story is longer and more complex.  For me, this was the most challenging of the three Escape Tales.  It’s hard to say that one is “better” than the other though as each has its own qualities that will make it be a good fit for certain gamers.

While it is true that you won’t see or finish every puzzle, and there are some locations in the game that you might not see – you’ll likely remember enough of the puzzles that you already did to change how the game plays.  You will likely remember all of the wasted exploration spots, and gaining those action tokens back is possibly enough to reduce the tension to a point where there really isn’t any tension at all. After the game, I did look at a few of the other puzzles and search through the rest of the cards to see what we might had missed – but overall, I was quite satisfied with the story experience that I got in our play, and was OK with leaving some things behind, never to be seen….  I plan to pass the game along to someone else in the group so that they can also enjoy the experience of the Children of the Wyrmwoods.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! 
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

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.
This entry was posted in Essen 2020, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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