"I'm a writer living in the Perth Hills with my relentlessly fun seeking children.
Published February 15th 2017
Escape the Room, Corset Optional
Escape Room Board Games In Victorian and Edwardian England, locked room mystery stories started a love affair with whodunits and authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe and G K Chesterton. They sent our brains buzzing, solving seemingly impossible puzzles of crimes committed behind a locked door. A century later, everyone and his dog started recreating these murder mystery style games in the form of dinner parties and weekend events, but it was the advent of the Internet and the online gaming movement, that really brought these Escape Room puzzles into their own. It wasn't long before the first real life versions started popping up in every city, which in turn started a spin-off in board game versions that could be played with friends at home. This new hybrid escape game promises a fun gaming experience to challenge your noggin in the comfort of your own living room, but how do they shape up against the virtual and online options? We test drove Thinkfun's 'Escape the Room' game Escape from Stargazer's Manor
Dinner Party Drama Escape from Stargazer's Manor is the first Escape Room game from Thinkfun. This company has been around since the 80's and specialises in challenging and educational puzzle games for both kids and adults. They have won numerous awards, but Stargazer's was their first attempt at an Escape Room puzzle. They are definitely marketing this game to adults as a dinner party experience, with an emphasis on the role-playing, I think for a good reason that I will get back to later.
Stop Right There
Setting the Stage
The website offers a very comprehensive pack on planning your Escape Room evening. There is a downloadable party invitation for your guests, a precis of the story and intriguingly, a list of costume and accessory suggestions to set the mood. I was interested to know, just how many perspective guests might actually be harbouring a top hat and monocle in the wardrobe. I certainly didn't have a hoop skirt and the likelihood of me growing some mutton chops in a week was a bit limited too, but all that aside, they did provide a very useful playlist of all the Chopin and harpsichord music I would need to set the right atmosphere.
Break out your Sunday Bonnet Girls (pic Thinkfun site)
Gameplay The game is suggested for ages 10 plus and for 3 or more players. You have a time limit of 2.5 hours to solve the mystery of Stargazer's Manor and get out of the house before imminent doom occurs. It starts with the disappearance of the towns Astronomer who vanishes in the year 1869, after the sudden death of his wife. You have been asked to investigate the strange happenings at the mansion with your team. The door closes behind you and the clock is ticking.
What's in the Box
Steampunk Puzzler The look of the game is very pleasing, it has a nice steampunk feel and although mostly card and paper construction, it is well made and stylish. The action leads you in a linear fashion through a series of envelopes that relate either to a room, or an object in that room. Each envelope may contain portions of a puzzle, hints for further envelopes and a short narrative that guides you towards logical conclusions. The puzzles in the earlier stages are based on spatial awareness and patterns, with tangrams and maze fragments. They encourage you to enter a number of symbols into a solution wheel that can be lined up to verify your answer. If you succeed you can go on to the next envelope.
The Solution Wheel (pic Thinkfun site)
The Final Solution The gameplay does not have changeable outcomes, it's a race in which the only options are get thrown out, explode or fail. Lovers of anagrams and assembling cardboard machines will be happy, but there is a lack of mathematical coding and logic problems, which could have made it more challenging. Our group of four finished in an hour, well above the 2.5 hour limit.
Therein lies the rub. If you're going to go the whole hog on scene setting and atmosphere, the game should last longer than it takes you to put on your bonnet and corset. This is why I think so much is made on the website of all the preparation and staging. It's just padding for a game that should be more satisfying. It's also a one play gig. Once you have played it, you know all the solutions and you can't ever really play it again. It's the game equivalent of the movie "The Sixth Sense".
Puzzling it Out (pic Thinkfun site)
One Off Escapade Even with the handy online guide to reassembly, it's a very short overall play time. In a little over an hour of mildly challenging puzzles, you're done, never to venture to Stargazer's Manor again. Which leaves you looking through the wrong end of the telescope wondering why the experience looked so small.
Even with the $30 price tag, it's never going to come close to the feeling you get in a real Escape Room and it doesn't even have the longevity of an online game either. It needs to become a whole lot more flexible if it's going to survive and upping the difficulty bar is going to help a whole lot too. Fun if you have never done any escape rooms before but a bit tame for the experienced locked room fan.