EXIT: The Gate Between Worlds
- Designers: Inka Brand, Markus Brand, Ralph Querfurth
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 12 min
- Time: 1-2 hrs on box, 44 minutes IRL for 3 players
- Played with review copy provided by Thames&Kosmos
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 EXIT adventure right around the start of June 2021, and it hit the table nearly immediately as my group was keen to play another one of these. It had been awhile since our last experience with this franchise. We did have to wait a week to make sure that everyone in our regular group was available because 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, You find an ancient map that leads you to a mysterious circular gate hidden inside a cave. The gate has cryptic markings and large metal rings that can be rotated. Can you figure out how to activate it? And where do you suppose it will take you once you do?
The format of the game is somewhat 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. You also get 7 colorful world maps (which you are instructed to NOT open until the right time).
So, when you start this game, you have only the solution wheel and the single puzzle card (Card A) which is seen on the wheel itself. As usual, puzzles will be denoted by a black outline of a shape (such as a circle, a crescent moon or a cross). 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 get though all of the maps. 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 continues to confirm 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 found this one to be pretty standard in difficulty, and we did not require any of the clues. Our group of three solved this one in about 45 minutes.
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 us stuck for a few mightes, but with a bit of discussion – we managed to crack the puzzle, 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 traveling 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 us to sit and think for a bit (but none that stumped us), so I think the rating is reasonable.
This game focused on the different maps, which turn into full size sheets of paper when unfolded. This was the right size for three puzzlers, but it might get tight if you have more. This was a mild improvement from the usual EXIT game because normally, only one person (or at most two) can look at the book or a card given the smaller size of the components.
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. Here it was a little difficult to figure out which one of the 10 circular portal shapes was the one needed, but we just had to closely look at the pictures on the maps to get it right.
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.
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Now that there over seventeen 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