What is this game about?
Escape room games have been all the rage recently, and it's not hard to see why. There is something thrilling about being "trapped" and using your wits to escape. The Exit series offers you a number of small-box escape room adventures, each for about $15. I tried three of them for this review: The Pharaoh's Tomb, The Abandoned Cabin, and The Secret Lab. In each game, I found myself trapped in a different location. I had to solve several puzzles and open their related locks in order to emerge victorious.
In each box, you will find a short instruction manual with a story scenario, a decoder wheel, a book of clues, and several piles of cards. Riddle cards provide you with further puzzle clues that allow you to make progress. Answer cards confirm whether you have solved a puzzle correctly and give you next steps. Help cards give you a bit of a boost when you are feeling stuck. To maintain a sense of tension in the game, there is a score card on the back of the instruction manual where you record how long it took you to "escape" and how many help cards you needed to do it.
I should note here that each Exit game is meant to be played only once. As you solve puzzles, you will draw on, tear apart, and otherwise destroy game materials. Maybe you are the sort of person who would rather make photocopies than write on a card, but really, destruction is part of the adventure.
I was impressed by how well everything ended up working together. The answer card deck had some clever ways to tell me whether I was right or not without accidentally revealing too much information, and when I did need a hint, the cards scaled nicely. (I only wanted a gentle push, so I would have been really mad if I had overturned a hint card that gave too much away too quickly.)
How does it play solo?
Although I have not played an Exit game with others, I suspect that they do not scale well. Each box has only one book of clues, one decoder wheel, and one set of cards. That means that if there are a lot of people working on the puzzles, there will always be someone with nothing to do but wait around for others to finish looking at something. I think I could definitely enjoy a game like this with my boyfriend, and could see Exit working for 2–3 people who don't mind sitting close together. But Exit is probably best for very low player counts.
Overall, I found the three Exit games I played to be a fun and absorbing experience. Solving puzzles makes you feel smart, and you get a real sense of progress as the pile of riddle cards shrinks and you realize you are getting close to the end. Some of the puzzles in the Exit games were a little too "clever" for my tastes, but for the most part I had a great time with them. There is no feeling of satisfaction quite like the one you get when you solve a good puzzle—and appreciate the additional level of intelligence it took to design the puzzle in the first place.
There were a few puzzles that annoyed me because I thought it was unclear what I should do next. In one puzzle that involved drawing on game materials, I am 100% sure I did the right thing, but an alignment issue forced me to flip over a hint card. But for the most part, the puzzles are both fun and fair, and I associate the Exit games with pleasure rather than with frustration.
At $15 per experience (I paid a bit less for a 3-pack), I am not unhappy with the time I put into the Exit games or the joy I have gotten out of them. I'd say that it's no different from paying to go to a movie or buying a book of sudoku puzzles. Actually—and I say this as a puzzle lover—the Exit games feel much more like puzzle activities than like tabletop games. A lot of solo gaming has a puzzle-like feel to it, but the Exit games took that feeling a step further for me. If someone said, "Hey, want to go play a board game?" it would not occur to me to suggest Exit.
As fun as the Exit games have been, I don't feel compelled to rush out and buy the next set. Maybe the mood will strike again down the line, but the games are just similar enough that they start to run together if you play a lot of them in quick succession. (My three plays were only days apart.)
Do I recommend it?
If you like puzzles and don't mind games that are both short and disposable, then I recommend Exit. Each scenario I played was good fun and a great way to while away 60–90 minutes on a quiet evening.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 — I love it!
4 — I really like it.
3 — I like it.
2 — It's okay.
1 — Meh.