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UNLOCK!

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

UNLOCK! (Asmodee, 1 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, 45-75 minutes; $14.99 each)

 

Since its first appearance back in 2008 and more from 2010, the Escape Room has become a real cult favorite with, nowadays, hundreds rooms all around the world. It was just a matter of time before Escape Rooms would ind their way into the boardgames world. It was 2016 when the first chapters of the Exit and Escape the Room series were published. In 2017, two other series appeared: Deckspace, from dV Giochi and Unlock!, from Space Cowboys. I have tried most of this games and the one I really prefer is Unlock!

For the few still not aware of what an escape room is, here a quick description. You are involved in something strange/unusual, a situation you have to solve in a fixed amount time. Often, you are closed in a room and you have one hour to find the way out using clues and objects inside the room. Escape rooms are usually fully cooperative and the ability to work together under pressure and to solve puzzles is the key to victory.

Unlock!, designed by a host of creators including Cyril Demaegd and Alice Carroll, tries to reproduce this feeling and mechanisms in a card game with a support app. The app offers hints, keeps the time and is used to open locks, solve puzzles and something more. Time is the central engine: you have a fixed amount of time to find the solution so you have to think quickly. Every Unlock! box has three different adventures (3 different decks) and a tutorial deck (few cards) used to explain the rules.

Usually you start with a card describing the situation and you have to find the right adventure on the app and start. The other cards are in a face-down deck. The app usually has sounds and music enhancing the game experience. 

Usually there are numbers and letters on the cards and you have to go through the deck, finding these numbers/letters and revealing new cards. So, for example, you can have a room with a picture of a door and an “8” on it; you have to find the card number 8 and reveal it and you will have the description of the door. Some numbers are hidden in the cards and you have to look very carefully to find them. Cards can have different colors and different uses and meanings. Gray cards usually describe objects and rooms you can’t directly interact with. Blue cards can be combined with red cards so a blue door with an 8 can be combined with a red key numbered 56 to get the 64 (8 + 56) card. Combining a red and blue card can be dangerous if it is not the right combination (usually making you lose time). So the red 56 key could be the wrong one and the 64 card might simply tell you to press the skull button on the app and lose 3 minutes!

Green cards are devices you have to interact with. In the 9 published adventures of these three games, there are many different devices you have to interact with using the app and this is a part I really like. Sometimes you have to find clues in other cards to solve the devices, sometimes you have to use your skills on the app: so many possibilities and so many still to explore!

Finally, there are yellow cards, the “locks”. You have to solve yellow cards by inserting in the app a four digit number. How to find the right number is something designers are exploring in many ways. It could be a formula, a real number or something else.

The app can be also used to get some help from the game by keying in the card’s number.  So, asking a clue for the “8” door card could tell you “usually door needs keys: but be careful to find the right one”-

In the end, your final score, will tell you also how many times you have asked for helps, how many times you have inserted wrong numbers on locks and something more.

Every series has his own peculiarity: what make Unlock! really great is the interaction with the app that really enhances the possibilities and potentialities of the game.  The first one, Unlock! Escape Adventures will offer The Formula, a classic Escape Room from a laboratory. You have just 60 minutes to find the formula and get out. Squeek & Sausage will make you fight the Professor Noisode and in The Island of Doctor Goorse, you will have a really nice surprise right from the beginning and the cards are also used in a special way. These three adventures allow players to start to explore the possibilities of this game system and the app. The different style of the adventures, including the different graphics, will offer unique experiences every time. 

In theory, Unlock! can be played by as many people as you like but it is best suited for no more than 4-5 players where everyone can offer a real contribution to the adventure and be involved since you have to see and look all the cards to get clues and solve the game!

I have played all of these 9 adventures with 5 players: me, 3 kids (10, 11 and 14) and another adult and we enjoyed them all. We have had to replay two adventures since we were not able to solve them on our first try. Of course, Unlock! is a one-shot game and that could make some unhappy but every box will offer something close to 3 hours of play for 5-6 people so, for me, it is a really good deal. More chapters have since been released and and I’m eagerly looking forward to matching wits with them. – – -Andrea “Liga” Ligabue


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