Posts tagged #tabletop

Escape Room the Game

Title: Escape Room the Game
Publisher: Spin Master MSRP: $39.99
Recommended ages: 16+
Time: 60 minutes
Reset: Not without printing or using page protectors & dry erase
Players:  3 - 5
Recommended Players: 3 - 4
App Required: No


Escape Room the Game easily has some of the most unusual technology of any tabletop escape room experience. When you open the box the first thing you will notice is a giant plastic mechanism with codes and ciphers stamped into the side, a bunch of strange plastic keys, and several bags - each one containing their own scenario. These elements makes Escape Room the Game truly unique and worth exploring.

That this box contains not just one but four different rooms is pretty amazing for the modest price of $40. When you add in the custom plastic keys and the “Chrono Decoder,” you know you’re in for a different kind of experience. The countdown timer adds tension, while sliding the keys into place and checking to see if you’ve found the right answer adds a physical element that sometimes feels lacking in other escape room products. 

The hint system is utilizes red filter technology and players are allowed to look at hints after enough time has passed. We ended up looking at hints even if we didn’t feel like we were behind, and on at least one occasion the hints caused us more trouble than they helped. Overall it’s a great system, but it doesn’t always work.

When it works, the Chrono Decoder is a great prop that also tells you when to look at hints. Escape Room the Game has expansion packs that utilize the Chrono Decoder provided in the base box. The themes are nice, but fairly standard for escape rooms.

Sometimes the Chrono Decoder doesn’t accept the correct keys, which penalizes you time and stalls out the game play. A couple of the puzzles are very poorly designed. It’s no good for more than four players and, except for the Nuclear Countdown room, is best with three.

As much as our group enjoyed Escape Room the Game I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. It is in turns rage-inducingly frustrating and stunningly brilliant. The Prison Break isn’t a great starting scenario and the Temple of the Aztec is the worst of the lot.  (Aztec felt like it needed a couple of extra components that were removed at the last minute.) The best scenario in the starting box set is the Nuclear Countdown room; just make sure you have a charged cell phone ready when you play it.


Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us:


Escape room games.jpg

Publisher: dv GIOCHI

Recommended ages: 12+
Time: 30 - 90 minutes
Reset: Yes, reasonably quickly
Players:  1 - 6
Recommended Players: 3 - 4
App Required: No

Another in our series of tabletop escape room game reviews, and this time we are talking about the Deckscape series. The two sets we’ve played are Deckscape: Test Time and Deckscape: The Fate of London, and this review reflects experiences with those two titles.

Deckscape 1.JPG

There are several elements making Deckscape appealing additions to both school and library collections, the most important of which is that there is no reason any of the components, all of which are cards, need be destroyed while playing the game.  With an incredibly reasonable price, the included cards are of good size and good quality and all the needed information is clearly visible. With care these boxes should see dozens if not hundreds of plays.

London cover.png

One great thing about about Deckscape series is the good density of puzzles in such a teeny box and price point. To get so many in the box there seem to be a bunch of easy puzzles which help build momentum, right up until players hit a wall and can’t progress at all. Which leads us to the most egregious issue; most, if not all, of the Deckscape puzzles have binary fail states. There is no “oh, we were wrong, so let’s go back and try again”.

Unlike most other escape experiences, if you get an answer wrong in DeckScape then that puzzle is failed; players then take the penalty, and move on. In other words, players don’t have the satisfaction of working through a puzzle if they get it wrong on their first answer. Unfortunately some of the puzzles seem to be designed to make players fail, the game could have used a bit more testing.

At some point in the game Deckscape has players break the deck up into parts as you go through the adventure. These parts are different puzzle chains that intersect with each other, keeping the experience from being narrow and linear by having players work on entirely different puzzles simultaneously. Splitting the puzzle chains also keeps players engaged and interacting with each other as they each have a unique perspective on the tableau of puzzles before them.

As you can see Deckscape, as a series, is not without some problems. The order of the cards in the box really matters, because both sides of the cards are needed, and it is essential that they are revealed in a certain order. This differs from the Unlock series where, because of the way cards are revealed during play, most of them don’t need to be in order. Unfortunately having any of the Deckscape cards out of order has a good chance of actually breaking the game flow. Fortunately, the numbers indicating card order are clear and easy to see so it is theoretically possible to sort most of the deck without ruining any major surprises.

Hint System

I've been out of school for more than a decade, and still my blood pressure shoots up when someone says "there will be a test".  -DD

I've been out of school for more than a decade, and still my blood pressure shoots up when someone says "there will be a test".  -DD

As with most puzzle games, there are always a couple puzzles that seem designed to force all but the most non-linear thinkers to use hints.The Deckscape hint system is two cards with a list of card numbers and a hint written backwards next to them. Unless players are careful it’s pretty easy to accidentally discover a hint.  While it’s great to have the ability to play without an app, it would be excellent to have a mobile app allowing players to access clues without the chance of seeing clues they aren’t looking for.

Suggestions for Circulation

Include copies of the score sheet (card 6 in London, 7 in Test Time), or make one that multiple patrons can use in sequence to replace the existing one. Another possibility would be to put that card in a card sleeve/ziploc bag, or laminate it; either way include a dry erase pen.  It’s also a great idea to include additional card sleeves for cards that include puzzles more easily solved by writing on the card.

Even though the Deckscape games don’t get our highest marks for puzzles or hint systems when compared with some of the other boxed rooms these quick and affordable escape experiences are great candidates for inclusion in a school or library, if you have have someone to sort them every time they are played.

Join us in the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group to discuss this review or join in other conversations about using escape rooms in libraries.  

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us:

Posted on March 7, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment

Look! A real lock!

Look! A real lock!

Publisher: Mattel
MSRP: $29.99
Recommended ages: 7+
Time: 60 minutes
Reset: Not without Printing
Players:  2 - 8
Recommended Players: 3 - 8
App Required: No

If you are looking for the most realistic escape room experience then this is the one. The Werewolf Experiment has locks and other common escape room gizmos that would be a bit too spoilery to discuss. The game has a relatively strong narrative and is a neat twist on the mad scientist room.

The best thing about the Werewolf Experiment is the way they structure the puzzle chains; larger groups can stay engaged in puzzles instead of just one or two players like in many other escape activities. The Werewolf Experiment really works well with a group of up to six or possibly even eight, without feeling like it’s being stretched at the seams. The same puzzle structure makes it really tough to complete in the time allotted with only two players.

Speaking of puzzles, there is a good variety of puzzle form and quality for a tabletop experience. The designers packed some very interesting puzzle props into the box, and the puzzles range from easy and silly to quite challenging. Some will probably need more than one person to examine them before being solved, but that's the nature of escape rooms. 

If they hit a wall and cant proceed, the players have a hint booklet that they can reference a certain number of times during the escape “without failing”. It does a great job of spurring things along when players need help. There is a second hint booklet that appears later to help with the final puzzles, and dividing the hints that way helps to prevent accidental spoilers.

Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

The only significant problem with the Werewolf Experiment is the pain of resetting it for the next group. Which is even more of an issue because of some consumable items that, once depleted, will be impossible to replicate without just purchasing more. The box includes several refills, but they are a limited resource. (While the game requests you put a kettle on, or have a source of warm water while playing we managed to complete the session without doing so, but for kids it would be much cooler to have the warm water available.)   *** UPDATE: The puzzle which we were describing was for the original Kickstarter version only and was replaced in the Mattel version of this product. The replacement puzzle componants are not used up during the course of play.***   

While many of the other tabletop escape rooms play out like normal game experiences, it is easy to tell the designers want their escape room to be an something more. Nothing shows that more than the Werewolf Experiment website where they have party tips, printable labels, invitations, a "SUPER RAD SOUNDTRACK", a bonus puzzle, and repacking instructions. 

To sum up, Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment is the closest thing to a real escape room currently available as a tabletop experience. It would be an excellent core to an escape room event, but our recommendation is to buy two copies, play through it once, and laminate the pieces which require writing on the second set. This would provide additional backups for any elements that might go wrong. With a very high percentage of good quality puzzles and the ability to keep more than two or three people engaged at a time, this is recommended for a big event, if not necessarily as a permanent part of a circulating collection.

For additional information about Escape Room in a Box and the people who created it, check out On Board Games #  276: Escape Experiment where Donald Dennis talks with Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin, designers of Escape Room in a Box.

Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

This review is based on the first version of Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment. We have not played or examined the Mattel version.

Join us in the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group to discuss this review or join in other conversations about using escape rooms in libraries.  

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us:

Posted on February 28, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Escape the Room

The Escape the Room series includes:

Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor
Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat

Publisher: Thinkfun
MSRP: $21.99
Recommended ages: 10+/13+
Time: 90 minutes
Reset: Yes
Players:  3 - 8
Recommended Players: 2  - 4
App Required: No, but website is available for hints and atmosphere


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.

Join us in the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group to discuss this review or join in other conversations about using escape rooms in libraries.  

Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us:

Posted on February 23, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Escape Room Game Series

These are some of the games we will be covering in our escape room series. 

These are some of the games we will be covering in our escape room series. 

Games in Schools and Libraries is kicking off a new series on escape room related products for our blog. In our subsequent articles we will cover the breadth and depth of store-bought tabletop escape experiences, print and play activities, and even games that aren’t (strictly speaking) in the escape room genre but still evoke enough aspects to appeal to the same audience.   

Few experiences are more engaging than escape rooms, solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles are made even more enticing by the physical nature of the activity and the race against the clock. There are a variety of pre-packaged escape products that aim to reproduce one or more of the essential elements of the escape room experience, such as cooperative puzzle solving, critical thinking, and doing all of this under the clock.

Many of the tabletop products we will be covering have novel takes on many of the same problems - how to present a series of puzzles in such a way that players can continue to progress in solving interesting problems without getting stuck in such a way that the experience is destroyed by an insurmountable feeling of bafflement. Should players get truly stuck there is no sympathetic Game Master to deliver hints, but all of the games in the escape room genre have had to deal with this issue, frequently finding unique ways to present hints or allow players to progress even if they can’t follow the designer’s sense of logic.

We will be talking about all of these issues over at the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group, and even discussing some of these games before the reviews are posted. If you have something to say, or are just looking for more opinions after the blog post has dropped, that’ll be the place to go.

Link to the group  

Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us:

Posted on February 22, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Inktober Games

Every October artists from around the world pull out their pens and inkpots to draw a daily picture and share them on social media, tagging  #inktober or #inktober2017. The staff at the library in Pawleys Island love both art and games, so this year we are taking full advantage of Inktober to expose our patrons to the joy of art games.

The problem with art games is that for years there wasn’t much depth of catalog for that type of game. Pictionary, since release in 1985, was the omnipresence art game. It reigned supreme both because of it’s familiar charade like game play and its ubiquity on the shelves of mass market game and bookstore shelves alike. Much like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary was everywhere; when you said drawing game in the ‘90s people thought Pictionary. Now that we are in the back half of the 2010s there is a great variety in both form and function.

Fake Artist Box.png

A Fake Artist Goes to New York

Designer Jun Sasaki
Publisher Oink Games
Players 5-10
Time 20 minutes

A Fake Artist is both a social deduction game and the most colorful one-vs-many art game on the market. One “fake artist” is trying to blend in and convince all of the “real artists” that they are not the fake.

The patron player decides on a category that everyone knows, and then hands out notes to all the players with something from that category - a category might be sports, but the thing from the category could be any known sport, or even something more specific like a star athlete, stadium, or something like a football helmet. Then everyone but the patron takes turns drawing one line on the canvas tile, each player using a different color, until everyone has made two lines. Then players examine the created piece of art and then vote, trying to suss out the fake artist. If the artists don't guess who the fake is then the patron and the fake artist win the round. 

A Fake Artist is a party game that plays quickly without actually requiring any real artistic skill. It is easy, fast and fun. 

Tellestrations cover.jpg

Telestrations/Telestrations After Dark

No designer credited
Players 4-12
Best played with 5+ players
Time 30 minutes

Telestrations, also known as Eat Poop You Cat, is essentially the Telephone Game where players alternate drawing a picture of the word that was passed to them or guessing the word that the picture represents. Each player starts with a notebook, a dry erase pen, and a randomly selected word; after drawing the word they pass the notebook on and this repeats until the notebooks return to their starting players. Players then reveal their original words and show how things changed from the initial page to the last one.

Telestrations is lots of fun, and has been popular at our library with patrons and library staff alike. In theory there is a scoring system but you should ignore it, the game is much more enjoyable without it.


USAOpoly has created an adult version which is probably not appropriate for most schools or libraries due to mature or vulgar content, but you may find it an interesting addition to your home collection.



Designer Vlaada Chvátil
Publisher Czech Games Edition / Stronghold Games
Players 3-6
Time 30 minutes

Pictomania is one of the most direct inheritors of the Pictionary style of art game. Over five rounds players are dividing their attention between drawing their own pictures and guessing what the other players are drawing; players claim more points for being skilled and speedy artists or insightful guessers with the worst guesser each round being penalized. Yup, that’s right, players race each other in a real-time-simultaneous-drawing-and-guessing-activity to get points for early correct guesses and get a bonus for being done early. After five rounds the game is over.

The only problem with Pictomania is how the cards with the answers that players have to guess from may be tough to see with a full table. If the cards were double sided, duplicating the information on the back, then the clever use of card stands would do much more to facilitate the game. Other than that Pictomania is a drawing game that is as much about drawing as it is guessing and really feels like it’s a game for people who are enthusiastic about both art and games. 



Mangaka: The Fast & Furious Game of Drawing Comics

Designer Jason Thompson
Publisher Japanime Games, Mock Man Press
Players 1-8
Time 30-90 minutes

At the beginning of Mangaka each player draws three theme cards which provides the themes they will need to include in all four rounds of play. Players then draw two panels of a cartoon utilizing their themes. As the rounds progress, the challenge becomes more difficult by the inclusion of more panels they must fill and and trend cards.

In the first round players must fill two panels in five minutes, with two more added for each of the subsequent rounds but the time they have to draw does not increase! When you add the trend cards to the mix later rounds can be chaotic and out of control, just like real manga. After each round players show off their creations and get points for how well they’ve included their themes and met the trends.

The scoring, like in many art games, is the least interesting part of the game. However Mangaka is a great game for artists and manga fans of all stripes. The cards play off of many familiar anime tropes and provide a great inspiration for other art activities including as inspiration for Inktober art ideas.   

Here is a link to an album of pics from some of our previous runs of Mangaka.

That’s our top four art games, let us know what your favorite art games are in the comments!

The Games in Schools and Libraries podcasts and blogs are produced by Inverse Genius in association with the Georgetown County Library System
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Posted on October 25, 2017 and filed under Tabletop.

Fiasco RPG Spotlight


Fiasco is one of our more popular RPGs at the Waccamaw Neck Branch Library, in Pawleys Island, because of the wide variety of settings, sessions that run in a shorter period of time than many other RPGs, and zero prep is required by Game Masters because there is no Game Master. The entire premise of the game is “people with poor impulse control making bad decisions”, and the game is best when people play it in that vein instead of attempting to beat the scenario or come out on top. Lead your characters down the path of comic misfortune and dire tragedy and you will have fun. 

Gaming tends to be an exercise in power fantasy, wish fulfillment, and overcoming incredible odds to save the world or achieve victory; it isn't always easy for players to come to grasp with the idea that failing can be fun, at least in a narrative sense. A chain of consequences from one bad decision at the beginning can create a much more memorable experience than being the smartest, doing the best, or easily overcoming all obstacles. Few games offer an opportunity to intentionally explore folly and dire repercussions in a way that is also empowering and fulfilling. 

Getting into Fiasco is inexpensive, one book is all you need. If you order directly from Bully Pulpit Games  the rules and PDF run $25, and all you need to get started is the core rules book. The Bully Pulpit website also has a great collection of resources to download including a Fiasco Play Mat and a facilitation sheet, both of which really help when you moderate the game.  


Playing the Game


To play Fiasco the players will need to pick out a playset, gather up pencils, note cards, and a collection of standard six sided dice, two each in two colors per player.  You can use the insta-setup at the back of the playset, or roll the dice and create an inter-connected web of character relationships and motivations.

Once the setting and characters are established players take turns creating or resolving scenes where their character is a primary actor, but also involving one or more of the other characters. At the end of each scene one of the dice are distributed; in the first half of the game the active player gives the dice they receive from the other players to someone else but in the last half of the game the active player will keep the dice they receive. In the middle a tilt happens that changes up the actions and levels of frantic bad decision making. 

Once it's all over players roll the dice they have received and refer to the aftermath table. The table describes the ultimate outcome of the scenario for the character, but we enjoy using each of our dice as a seed for a vignette that provide a bit more context. Frequently the best or worst things to happen to a character are described by the players at this time.   


Other Resources


In addition to the Fiasco Rule Book we also recommend the Fiasco Companion which provides less graphic versions of the results that wrap-up a scenario and work better for our teen room. If you choose not to get the Fiasco Companion, then you may need to moderate the final results of the game when revealing the final fate of the characters. 

The base book and companion comes with a variety of playsets, which act as setting, scenario hook, and character generator, but there are also several volumes of playsets in print providing even more scenarios in which to make poor choices and expand the playability of the game. Some sets are problematic for use at libraries teen programs, but that’s to be expected because poor choices frequently include drugs, alcohol, violence, and dubious sexual encounters. And the books themselves are written to match. Most of the book is fine, but the language of the Aftermath Table may be something to watch out for.


The playsets included in the core rules are only a glimpse of the diverse stories players can explore using the Fiasco system. Many more settings are available in the three existing Fiasco Playset Anthologies.

There are also hundreds of playsets, created by the community that loves the game, available at In these sets players can be anything from cultists in lovecraftian tales of horror to house cats. These are great, and I recommend you flip through the pages and pages of options to find your favorite IP mockingly presented as a playset.

Why bother with the anthologies when so many playsets are available for free? If you are trying to encourage circulation of gaming materials then the Fiasco Playset Anthologies are excellent source-books to have on-hand for people interested in this particular style of role-playing game. They have also been edited by Bully Pulpit, so someone besides the playset designer has reviewed the content. 

We have played several of the playsets from both the anthologies and from downloads in our personal home groups, with strangers at conventions, and of course here at our library. All of them were interesting, but, while often exciting, the playsets from the website tended to have a higher likelihood of content that wasn't appropriate for our core library teen audience.


Creating Your Own Playset 

Even this vast wealth of source material wasn’t enough; we went one step further and created our own. We needed playsets that are exciting and interesting but unlikely to have teens playing characters engaging in rampant substance abuse or other non-parental approved activities.  Sometimes we edited existing playsets, but occasionally we didn't find any that suited our needs. 

If there is a secret to creating your own playset, and I'm not saying there is, it is deciding what kinds of bad decisions you'd like to facilitate and then stacking suitable tropes into the template. None of this is terribly difficult, but it is significantly easier if you have played through a few sessions with existing sets to get an idea of what helps setup an entertaining story.  But in short, an entertaining story is created by unlikely allies, dynamic or unexpected conflicts, and also making things easily accessible to the audience.  The world you establish in 144 lines of textin a Fiasco Playset don't have to define the whole world, they just need to inspire shenanigans. Fiasco is all about shenanigans.

We have created several playsets at our branch, one set in a library, one as part of an LSTA Eco-literacy grant, and one based on Pokémon, inspired by the wild success of Pokémon Go and the release of Pokémon Sun & Moon. We will release those in upcoming weeks. 

Check out this Fiasco Playset Template, it's an excellent fill-in-the-blank guide to creating your own. We have used it to create all of our playsets.

We will post our play-sets in the future, all of which are teen safe.  

Posted on October 18, 2017 .