Think Fun's Escape the Room: Mystery at Stargazer's Manor, is the first escape room themed game ever published. For a first take it does so much so well. Even though none of the current generation of escape room games are re-playable by the same person, because of spoilers, this series can be repacked and played by other groups. Players can easily complete all of the puzzles in either Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor or The Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat without destroying any of the elements meaning it can be packed up and returned to the box so it is ready for the next play.
This series set the tabletop escape room standard of “game teaches itself” as you start to play, but it does so without neglecting the narrative element. The starting scene card sets the stage and then over the course of the room players open a series of envelopes by solving puzzles. In each are more puzzle pieces and a card advancing the narrative by explaining what happened in the world they are exploring.
Once players believe they have solved a puzzle they enter symbols they discovered into a solution wheel, which will show if it is actually solved and players can move on. The one potential failure of this clever mechanism is how easy it is to brute force the answers, or even say “hey, look, we succeeded” and move along. Most groups don’t cheat, instead relying on clues from the website (or a friendly teacher or librarian) to get them through any tough spots.
The website supporting the Escape the Room games is only essential during play if players need hints. Besides the a hint system, it also has background music selections to help set the atmosphere, and a map for resetting the game. Unless there is someone present who has already played through the room internet access may be essential for players to complete the rooms, let alone to have an enjoyable time.
The one unfortunate element of this series is the linear nature of the puzzles that prevents them from being suitable for groups of larger than three or four. Four tweens or three adults who enjoy puzzles can have an interesting time completing these in about 30-45 minutes, but if you have five players someone is going to be bored. Players should also be aware that both of the current Escape the Room sets have one puzzle that is significantly harder than the others included in the box.
Because most of the puzzles in the series are not extremely difficult Escape the Room gets a Green Light as an amazing “first escape room experience” for small groups, and is a great introduction to what real rooms have to offer, or even what can be expected from other tabletop experiences. The puzzles in Dr. Gravely's Retreat are a just a bit more difficult, making the the perfect follow-up to the Mystery at Stargazer's Manor.
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