Reviewed by Herb Levy
ESCAPE THE ROOM: MYSTERY AT STARGAZER’S MANOR (ThinkFun, 3 to 8 players, ages 10 and up, 90-120 minutes; $21.99)
Suppose you found yourself trapped in a room with no apparent way out, armed only with your intellect? This is the situation that has become something of a phenomenon in the “real world” as these sorts of situations have evolved from digital adventures to real-life events in venues around the world. Now, these “happenings” have been transformed into a game format where players find themselves in puzzling predicaments and must meet various challenges to escape!
In Escape the Room: Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor, credited to Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Bleau, players find themselves in the year 1869, faced with a mysterious set of circumstances. Without giving any spoilers, it is safe to reveal that the unexplained disappearance of a prominent and well respected astronomer and the odd noises and smells from his home (the “Stargazer’s Manor”) have sparked concern from you and your friends and you are determined to get to the bottom of just what is going on.
When you open the box, you will find an instruction card. (The card encourages you to invite your friends to accompany you on this adventure – the game handles up to 8 – with suggestions for adding ambiance including appropriate music and costumed attire – all of which are purely optional). There is a “scene card” (which introduces you and your party to the situation and sets the mood), five sealed envelopes (representing the various key locations you will encounter) and a “solution wheel” (to see if your reasonable solutions are, in fact, correct so that you will be able to continue your journey). A timer is not provided but is required (with 3 players, the timer is set to 90 minutes, with more players, 120 minutes) as you need to not only solve the puzzles presented but solve them in a timely fashion in order to be successful. Paper and pencils as additional aids are suggested (again, that is something you must provide).
Escape the Room is not your typical strategy game. In fact, to call it a “game” is a bit misleading. This experience falls heavily on the puzzle side of the scale. Critical thinking is the key weapon in defeating encountered obstacles and bringing events to a successful conclusion. So, you need to know your group. Having the right people along for this ride is the unspoken but essential component.
Production quality of the game is quite high, from the atmospheric artwork to the cute and clever solution wheel and more which adds to the excitement as the situations reveal themselves. Online hints are available if you need a little assistance in finding the correct solution to a particularly puzzling puzzle.
Sometimes, a game relies on “costumes” or “music” as additions to cover up something lacking in the actual game itself. This is not the case here as any use of costumes or music is purely according to taste – and may be ignored safely. The negative side to Escape is that, once experienced, the game is not playable again. (But for those who wish to reassemble the game so as to be able to pass it along, ThinkFun has generously provided “reassembly instructions” on their site at http://www.thinkfun.com.) However, another Escape game (Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat) is already planned so another challenge will await.
With the right group of gamers who find using their brain cells to puzzle out conundrums intriguing, Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor can be an excellent evening’s entertainment experience from which you will not want to escape. – – – – – – – Herb Levy
Summer 2016 GA Report Articles
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