With all the rooms closed, I needed to find an outlet for my escape room cravings. Fortunately, there were already a few games on the market, with a few more beginning to appear as it became the lockdown was here to stay. Here I’ve reviewed the first of a few of the ones I’ve played – I’ve focused more on the gameplay for the company as a whole, rather than specific scenarios.
UNLOCK! By Space Cowboys
This is probably one of the most well known board game series, and the first I played. I have since played nearly all of them, so I feel like I’m well placed to review them! The games themselves are essentially a deck of (puzzle) cards, occasionally another prop (usually paper), and a (free) phone app.
Pro: The game itself connects with an app, so you can easily time yourself, get hints as and when you need, and also offers some unique puzzles (and also a sound track if you like that). You can also play 1 player!
Pro: There is a large range of scenarios, from Sherlock Holmes to Cowboys to a killer Clown. The cards all feel high quality and the company offer print offs of any props you’ve used. This is an extra step I really appreciate – lots of these other games are one play only, but this company recognises and allows you to essentially reset the game to pass on/sell.
Pro: The price is fairly reasonable, around £20 for a box of 3 games. As mentioned you can also pass them on afterwards, and there are plenty to play.
Pro: The gameplay itself is fairly simple – You start with a card, which gives you the numbers for other cards to pull from the deck. Some numbers are hidden, some are in plain sight, and some you get by combining the numbers on other cards (eg a key and a lock). Sometimes you have to solve a puzzle on the app, and other times you need to use the extra prop. These puzzles are of a similar vein to those you might find in an escape room, in terms of making connections between things.
Neutral: Some of the scenarios are better than others. I particularly enjoyed the Press Start, Sherlock Holmes and The noside show scenarios – these used the extra props/app in a unique way, without derailing the story and a way that fit in really well. Other scenarios such as Expedition: Challenger, The Nautilus’ Traps and Tombstone Express, are not as good. The extra props/story line features got in the way of gameplay.
Neutral: The puzzles themselves tend to be fairly easy, for the most part, but just quite a lot of them. However, for some scenarios I would say they are non-sensical, and unfortunately you do get penalised when solving puzzles incorrectly in the app. It’s also hard to request specific hints if you’re stuck, which is obviously a common problem for any board game. That being said, the games are generally fun and not too frustrating.
Con: The gameplay can get quite repetitive after playing a few of these, and as mentioned it’s a bit of a pot luck whether the game is going to be great, average or bad. The ‘great’ ones are decent, but the bad ones are ‘can we just stop’ awful.
Con: I’m not really sure how many could logistically play at once. The first time we played (“Press go”) there were 4 of us, and I admit I got a little frustrated, and then quite bossy/possessive (I admit it wasn’t a good luck!). We were sat around a table and split the deck (as directed). However, this meant having to direct people to search their decks and wait for them to do this. Each puzzle was a little hard to place in a way that we could all see (particularly for this game), and as you only use one phone, some puzzles were limited. However, when playing 2 (or even 1) player, it’s much easier.
I will continue to play these games, as on balance they are more good than bad, and worth the risk of not getting an amazing game.