Players step into the shoes of hot-shot news reporters who have been summoned to solve a maze of clues and puzzles in order to earn an exclusive interview with a mad-man! Only the winning team will land the story, so brush up on your favorite board games if you hope to win.Black Toad Games website
Disclaimer: We received this game free of cost to beta-test and provide feedback. Certain elements may be changed as Black Toad Games continue to update and refine the game before official release.
This is going to be somewhat different from our normal reviews, as this game isn't actually an escape room, but styled similarly so you can host/play it at home. We played it self-hosted; that is, we didn't set up an entire room and we didn't have a host giving us clues. We simply timed ourselves playing the game and relied on the encrypted clue sheet that was provided (more on that later). We should also note that access to some kind of QR code reader and an internet connection are essential.
We had a team of three and did not finish within the allocated 90 minutes - in fact, we took an extra 45 minutes for various reasons we'll elaborate on below.
The game came in a large envelope filled with a number of other smaller envelopes. Each of these had a lock pasted on, with a QR code for a digital version we could actually unlock. It also came with a letter from Black Toad Games, an encrypted clue sheet, and a number of printed clues to get us started. You can watch our unboxing video if you want to see all the contents!
The story itself begins with a letter from one Mr. Boddy. He has set a challenge for you, the investigative journalists, and has a big scoop if you can find the number to call him within 90 minutes.
The theming of the puzzles are based around popular board games, and that held strong through the whole game. It was very well done!
Luckily, pyko is excellent at making correlations, and we had our first envelopes open very quickly. This was where things started to get confusing. In our version, not all the locks printed on the envelope displayed the size of the code required to open them (mainly the safe-style locks). To know for certain, you need to snap the QR code, then go to the site and view the digital version of the lock. This got us stuck on one puzzle where we'd linked it to a different lock, because there was a second 'locked' envelope in the same larger envelope as the puzzle. (It's envelope-ception!) We tried all kinds of combinations for the lock we assumed it was linked to and essentially overthought everything. The clue sheet didn't help either, as it told us what we already knew!
That said, it was also on us for not checking the combinations required for every single lock. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when you're too lazy to snap a ton of QR codes. Don't be lazy.
The other puzzle that stumped us for waaaay too long was due to the fact that the board game it referred to was a regionalised version. Let's just same that here in Australia, we hadn't heard those names before. Again, the encrypted hint wasn't any help, because how could it know that we'd already made all the connections but didn't have the knowledge of that particular region of the game? We did Google that information in the end, once we thought we might have a possible link. I believe the designers are making some changes to the hint system, however.
There was also one puzzle we got before the related clue because we can read basic Chinese. That was amusing.
It was also fun to piece the narrative and backstory together through the various clues, and it all came together at the end of the game. lexi in particular enjoyed it (stories being her thing and all). It felt very much like those video games where you get the story via snippets of information left throughout the world. The puzzles all came together as well, and it was quite satisfying to work out the last one.
That said, when it came to the ending, we went way too convoluted on solutions for the final puzzle because:
a) We can't... um, work with numbers in a certain simple way
b) When we realise this, we then can't enter a number correctly
So yes, we went way over time. That said, it was an incredibly fun night, and all of us enjoyed this immensely. The puzzles are well thought out, if regionalised sometimes and requiring some assumed knowledge. If you love the social puzzling experience that escape rooms provide but find it hard to get out, this is a game we'd certainly recommend!
An encrypted clue sheet. It's not great for the very reason most pre-written clue sheets are - although we worked out how to decrypt it early on, the clues weren't the ones we needed when we got stuck. We've spoken to Holly, the main designer, has said that they are looking at ways to implement additional hints, and the method she told us about was pretty smart and in-theme!
That said, one of the selling points for this is also as a hosted game, and we can imagine hints would work a lot better with an actual person giving clues. Holly told us, "In the live hosted game we use a token system for hints. This allows teams to be rewarded for uncommon knowledge (no need to use a hint token) while still allowing other teams a chance to move past such road blocks by taking a hint. This works because a live host is able to adjust for the type of hint required."
Medium. We wouldn't recommend this as a stand-alone for beginners, but it would be a lot of fun for more experienced players. And with a host, we can confidently recommend this to any skill level.
Better brush up on your board game knowledge! (This isn't a spoiler, we swear - it's actually in the blurb on the site.)
Also, having a decent grasp on the English language would help with some aspects.
What we liked
An ah-hah moment I had when discovering the link between one of the games and one of the clues to get a lock code!
How the narrative and puzzles all came together for the final puzzle! Also the major facepalm when we realised we had the right method and answer from the beginning, but simple mistakes tripped us up... wait, should that be something I liked?
If you want some self-hosted puzzled fun, this is worth picking up. Especially as it's replayable in that you can host it for your friends later! It's coming soon and you can purchase it at https://www.blacktoadgames.com/
An interesting play-at-home take on the escape room format, with an excellent variety of puzzles and compelling narrative - though there is some assumed knowledge of board games.
- A good variety of puzzles, solved in different ways
- Compelling narrative thread that you piece together as you play
- Great theming around board games - some of the connections were really smart!
- The ending
- Some assumed knowledge about board games
- Some board game puzzles are based on region-specific versions
- Certain puzzles can be a more trial and error due to the nature of certain board games
- Hint system isn't great for a stand-alone game (though this can't be helped due to the nature of the game!)
You will like this if...
- You love board games
- You want to have a team puzzling experience in your own home (can anyone say 'parents with young kids'?)
- You enjoy puzzles that require you to make a connection between multiple clues to get the answer
You might not like this if...
- You don't have access to a QR code reader
- You don't care for, or have no knowledge of, board games (duh!)
- You like your puzzling experiences more personalised when it comes to getting help
- You prefer physical locks
Two to five players. We always have a minimum of two because it's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off (and you'll want to with this game), but more than five (when not hosted) and things will probably get messy.