Escape Room Gameplay at Home: Unlock! and Exit: The Game

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[Image courtesy of The Portland Press Herald.]

In yesterday’s post, we discussed different ways you can enjoy escape room-style puzzling at home. We covered books, apps, and audio formats, but we left the largest category for today’s post: escape room games.

There are a myriad of games that try to encapsulate the escape room experience — searching the space, finding clues, interacting with the environment, solving puzzles, and experiencing the narrative — with varying degrees of success.

Escape Room: The Game, Escape Room in a Box, Escape from Iron Gate, Escape from the Grand Hotel, and Escape Tales: The Awakening are just five examples that turned up with a cursory search. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course, when you consider games that incorporate escape room-style or timed elements, like Mission X-Code, Cut the Wire, Bomb Squad Academy, Fuse, and Two Rooms and a Boom.

But all of those games are dwarfed in the marketplace by the industry leaders — based on sheer number of available puzzly experiences, anyway — so we decided to sample those and explore escape room gameplay from.

I solved three games from the Exit: The Game franchise and three games from the Unlock! franchise.

Let’s dive in, shall we?


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[Image courtesy of Meeple Mountain.]

Exit: The Game products create an escape room experience by combining a deck of cards, a guidebook, a sliding decoder ring, and miscellaneous items to be used throughout the game. The deck of cards is divided into red riddle cards (labeled by letter), blue answer cards (labeled by number), and green help cards (labeled by symbol).

There is an app as well that hosts a tutorial, your timer, atmospheric sounds and music, and a star-based scoring mechanism rating your performance at the end of the playthrough.

In the easier games, the guidebook progresses page by page, and you’re meant to go no further until the answer cards tell you to do so. You’ll use what’s on each page, along with the information on the riddle card to solve each puzzle.

Most of the puzzles will result in a three-digit number, which you enter into the decoder wheel. The decoder wheel will reveal a card number, which you will pull from the answer card deck. If you’re completely wrong, you flip the card to reveal a red X and go back to the drawing board. If you’re on the right path, the answer card will have different card numbers for each of the different puzzle symbols. You find your symbol, then go to the card in the answer deck indicated.

For instance, if you’re solving a puzzle with a triangle symbol, you solve the puzzle with a three-digit code, and enter that code into the decoder wheel. It sends you to, say, card 29. On card 29, you look for the triangle symbol, and you go to the card number listed. If you’re correct, you move forward in the game with new riddles, rooms, and in the easier games, the next page in the guidebook. (In harder games, the entire guidebook is “in play” the whole time, and you must figure out which pages connect with which puzzles and riddle cards.)

Some of the riddle cards and guidebook pages must be cut, manipulated, or destroyed in order to complete the various puzzles, so each Exit game is a one-time play experience. Each also requires some outside-the-box thinking (sometimes literally!) in order to crack various riddles.

I found each game to be an enjoyably interactive experience, and it felt like many of the above activities associated with escape rooms were replicated nicely. (One of the harder games not only had the puzzles and riddles to solve, but a murder mystery as well, which really kept me on my toes, because I wasn’t just thinking about the next riddle and discarding the bits and bobs I’d used. I had to pore over every detail in order to solve the murder!)

In case you’re interested, the three games I tackled were The Haunted Roller Coaster (difficulty: 2/5), The Abandoned Cabin (difficulty: 2.5/5), and Dead Man on the Orient Express (difficulty: 4/5).


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[Image courtesy of Escape Games Canada.]

Unlike the Exit series, Unlock! games consist of entirely of a deck of cards and your app. But that doesn’t make it any less interactive. Instead of the guidebook, decoder ring, and riddle cards being manipulated, more of those experiences are handed through the app.

The cards provide locations, challenges, helpful items, solutions, and warnings, all identified with numbered or lettered cards in the deck. So you can end up with quite an array of cards in front of you while you solve.

The app, on the other hand, hosts your timer, atmospheric sounds and music, a penalty button (which removes time from your timer!), a hint button, a machine button, and a code button. Any codes you unravel are entered into the code screen (instead of a decoder ring), and certain puzzles are mechanical, which you manipulate in the app. The app then tells you what number/letter card(s) to draw from the deck to proceed.

The number system for the Unlock! cards is interesting. Each card representing a puzzle to be solved or an item to be used has a number associated with it; to see if you solved the problem correctly, you add its two numbers (one for the challenge, one for the solution).

If you combine a helpful item’s card number with a challenge’s card number, the total equals another card in the deck. If you’ve solved the challenge correctly, the card matching that sum reveals something: an opened lock, a new room, additional puzzles and helpful items, etc. If you’ve combined items incorrectly, the card matching that sum reveals a time penalty. (For instance, if you have a key on card 16 and a keylock on card 25, you’d go to card 41 in the deck.)

There is no destroying cards or anything here, so if you wished, you could reshuffle the deck and allow someone else to try the game. (It wouldn’t be much challenge for you, since you know all the riddle solutions now. But it’s nice to know I could walk less experience escape room solvers through the game on a replay, enjoying their efforts. That’s not possible with an Exit game.)

In case you’re interested, the three games I tackled were The Night of the Boogeymen (difficulty: 1/3), The House on the Hill (difficulty: 1/3), and Squeek & Sausage (difficulty: 2/3).


Each brand has its pluses and minuses.

While the guidebooks in Exit are more detailed than the location cards in Unlock! games — and the miscellaneous items are a nice touch — I found I had to do more searching with the location cards. I would scrutinize every nook and cranny, because some numbers were hidden in shadow, or written at odd angles so your eye slides right past them. Exit is less devious with that aspect, but only because it has more space to play with for puzzles in the guidebook.

Both game systems had red-marked cards to indicate your failure on a given puzzle, but in Unlock!, you were penalized twice over, because you’ve already lost the time on the clock you spent on that dead end, and then you get the timer penalty as well.

Unlock! definitely makes greater use of its app. Honestly, except for the star-ranking system and some nice atmospherics, you could do without the Exit app. (Particularly since group solving can be pretty noisy, so the atmospherics are mostly lost unless you’re in quiet contemplation.)

I was thoroughly impressed by how both systems tried to recreate so many aspects of the escape room experience. Searching the space, finding clues, interacting with the environment, solving puzzles, and experiencing the narrative were all included to some degree, and I felt genuine pressure watching the minutes and seconds tick away as a particularly vexing puzzle left me baffled, if only momentarily.

I would recommend games from either series to anyone trying to recapture that escape room spirit in these trying times. But they’re also terrific icebreakers for people who have never tried an escape room, but don’t want to feel the pressure of being on-location, instead solving from the comfort of home.


I hope this brief look at these two puzzly franchises — I purposely stayed light on actual puzzle or scenario details to avoid ruining the experience for anyone — offered yet another avenue for you to explore as you enjoy escape room solving from home!

Don’t forget, tomorrow is the finale of Escape Room Puzzle Week, as we review ThinkFun’s latest diabolical creation, Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse!


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Escape Room-Style Solving From Home!

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[Image courtesy of Yelp.]

Unfortunately, the ongoing global crisis is preventing a lot of people from feeling safe while engaging in communal puzzly events. While crossword tournaments (and events like the upcoming Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League) have adapted to the online and remote-play spheres, escape rooms haven’t been so lucky.

Sure, some have reopened during this difficult time — and anyone familiar with escape rooms was probably using a fair amount of hand sanitizer to begin with, even before all this! — but there’s no doubt that the industry has taken a hit.

Some escape rooms have adapted, hosting virtual escape room experiences on Zoom and other platforms, and I’ve heard good things about those communal play experiences.

But there are other ways to harness that escape room-style solving vibe for yourself from the comfort of your own home. Today, we’re going to look at a few options.


Escape Room Apps

While The Room is probably the benchmark series for escape room apps, there is a vast world of escape room-inspired apps available for both iPhone and Android users.

A casual glance at each brand’s offerings give solvers a host of intriguing choices. Names like Forever Lost, RealMyst, Agent A, The Birdcage, All That Remains, Adventure Escape, House of Da Vinci, Rusty Lake, War Escape, Cube Escape, and Spotlight hint at hugely different solving experiences.

Some are point-and-click-style explorations of a space, ranging from a series of doorways to vast multi-room affairs loaded with secrets to uncover with the touch of a finger. Others, like our own Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate, give you an entire town to explore!

Some go beyond point-and-click, letting you actually manipulate objects, twisting knobs to open doors, spinning wheels on combination locks, moving puzzle pieces into place, and more.

And the different narratives behind each are virtually limitless. You might be a prisoner concealing your efforts to escape from the guards, or a bird trying to free yourself from your cage, or a person onboard the sinking Titanic, or a secret agent pursuing your nemesis.

For a relatively low price — or sometimes even free (with the occasional ad) — there are plenty of options available right in your pocket.


Escape Room Books

These come in all shapes and sizes, and can be delivered right to your door.

Some are constructed like Choose Your Own Adventure novels, allowing you to make different choices and explore the outcomes, both good and bad, resulting from your decisions.

Others are built like labyrinths to be explored and unraveled. A good example would be Brad Hough’s The Maze series, which offers a first-person perspective on labyrinths, as if you’re actually wandering into each room and new area.

Still others are page-by-page progressions, full of puzzles and wordplay that require you to solve certain challenges before you can proceed forward.

Each of these offer the sort of sequential chain-solving that escape room devotees look for. You can make choices, solve puzzles, and move forward in the narrative toward the next challenge!


[Image courtesy of I Googled Israel.]

Escape Room Audio

Yes, you can even solve interactive audio versions of escape rooms now! My sister showed me this recently — utilizing the voice-activated Alexa feature on her phone — and I’ve tackled several different scenarios.

It plays like an old text adventure game, where you give the game vocal commands and it responds with information. For instance, you can tell it to look left, look right, look up, look down, or look at a particular object, and it will tell you what you see.

As you build a visual idea in your mind of what the room and its contents look like, you must find useful items, crack codes, solve puzzles, and escape!

The quality of these can vary by setting; for the most part, they’re competently assembled and feature puzzles that wouldn’t feel out of place in a real escape room. (One of them, though, had a solution so nonsensical and wacky that I couldn’t believe THAT was the correct solution. As always, your mileage may vary.)


Do you have any other suggestions for escape room-style solving from home, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

And remember, we’re continuing this discussion on Thursday with a look at two of the top at-home escape room game brands on the market today, Unlock! and Exit: The Game, before reviewing ThinkFun’s new 3-D escape room puzzle game The Cursed Dollhouse on Friday!

Stay tuned, and happy puzzling!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!