Over the past couple of years, we have seen a resurgence in Escape the Room games. The experience trend, which some claim to have originated in Germany, allows users to put themselves in the shoes of someone who has been trapped in a room. It is then up to the players, yes, you guessed it, to escape in as short a time as possible.
These games recently made the transition to a board game version, something championed by two different types of escape the room game. These are the Unlock style decksploration game (an exploration game, through a deck of cards), and the Exit The Game style decksploration with props. This review is a review of the latter, and in particular, the game Exit The Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb.
This is a bit of a difficult review to do, as usually, I write a detailed summary of the game. This time, however, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll be more focused on how it is to play. Please excuse any vagueness, but if you ever come to play the game you’ll thank me.
THE PREMISE OF EXIT THE GAME: THE PHARAOH’S TOMB
The base story of The Pharaoh’s Tomb is very simple. You, and your group, play the roles of tourists who have gone on holiday to Egypt. During your trip you decide that you should visit the Valley of the Kings, and why not? It’s a beautiful place to go (apparently, although I have never been), so you decide to take a guided tour. Whilst you are touring the tomb of a Pharoah, long since past, you enter a mysterious burial chamber. The door shuts behind you. On the floor, you find a notebook and a mysterious disk. The rest is up to you.
Exit The Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb is a decksploration game based on the notion that you have to escape from the tomb or be forever lost within its walls. You start with a deck of cards split into riddle, answer, and clue cards. These all have letters and numbers on the backs, with the clues having iconography instead. The idea is you discover riddles, using the notebook as a guide at times, which allows you to find answers. These will lead to more riddles, which lead to more answers, and so on.
The game adds variety to the typical Unlock style decksploration game by including the “mysterious disk” which is a device used to help solve each riddle. There is also the notebook, which is filled with puzzles and referred to on occasion. These include everything from number puzzles, to picture puzzles, to codes and origami.
Each puzzle in the game also has clue cards linked to it, which can be used should the need arise. There are two clues and a solution for most puzzles, which can get you out of trouble when you hit desperation. This is instead of the app based approach that some escape the room style games use.
There is no timer, however, it is recommended that it should only take an hour. During that time, all players work together to solve the puzzles.
QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF EXIT THE GAME: THE PHARAOH’S TOMB
For a game that only costs £12.99, the components are more or less as expected. The box is fairly high quality, with nice artwork in keeping with the game. The cards themselves are a fairly low gsm, which makes them a bit thick. The booklet does feel cheap, as do some of the other cardboard components.
Of all of the components, the mysterious disk is probably the best made, having several concentric and rotating disks upon it.
The artwork upon the cards, and within the book, feels in keeping with the theme; however, the art quality on some of the puzzles does vary a significant amount. Some feel high quality, and other puzzles, most notably the one on Page 6 (I can’t go into much more due to being at risk of giving away spoilers) feels like it has been made using clipart.
WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING EXIT THE GAME: THE PHARAOH’S TOMB?
For the first twenty minutes, Exit The Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb is a thrilling exploration of puzzle and answer. Instantly, upon inspecting the booklet, the first clue jumps out and instantly you are hooked. From that you solve the first riddle, to find the next clue. As you work out what needs to be done with each puzzle, there is an immediate adrenaline rush that leads you from riddle to answer to riddle to answer. Some of the cards contain additional artwork, which helps spur the game along, and for a while, it is incredibly thrilling.
Then the game begins to break down. If it has just remained as a decksploration game, then Exit The Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb would be a highly successful game. The mysterious disk becomes a way to verify answers, and that is really neat, but the rest of it isn’t really needed.
Soon enough puzzles become frustrating, and not in a fun way. They either require leaps of logic, forcing new elements to be assumed to be correct rather than guiding in any particular way. This can delay the game more than needed.
If you come across a delay when playing an escape game you want it to be because the puzzle is genuinely tricky, yet sometimes with Exit The Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb it can feel like you have been deliberately tricked. This provides an odd sensation that the game itself is cheating you as the player, and made the group I played with feel resentment towards the game.
This provided an odd mantra similar to the old “fool me once” saying. It made us think “fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice and I’m just going to use the hints by default as this isn’t fun anymore”.
The names of the puzzles are all named after different Egyptian kings, which is a very nice touch, however, as mentioned before, the art varies a lot. In certain places, it is some of the best art I have seen in a game, with stunning attention to detail and wonderful hieroglyphics. This leads to a couple of really fun, visual puzzles.
On the flip side, it also contains some of the least inspired art I have seen in a game, with some of the puzzles resembling clipart.
I suppose, when considering Exit The Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb, we have to look at whether it was challenging and whether it was fun. For the first question, yes it was challenging. Sometimes, it was a little bit too challenging but not because it was particularly difficult. Instead it felt a bit dishonest and, now knowing what to expect, I am sure I will play the next one differently.
Was it fun? Well, let’s come back to that in the verdict.
For now, let’s discuss one final point. Exit The Game: The Pharaoh’s Tomb can only ever be played once. Due to the nature of the game, and escape the room board games in general, there has been a natural inclination for people to either sell them afterward or hand them over to friends to play. The Exit series does its best to stop this from happening, encouraging you to deface the game as you go along. This could put a lot of players off.
VERDICT FOR EXIT THE GAME: THE PHARAOH’S TOMB
Let me come back to that final question – was it fun? Well, that’s a tricky one. I think you have to be a certain type of person to enjoy it. If you like having difficult puzzles that really make you think abstractly, as well as logically, then you may enjoy it. That being said, I believe the pacing is off and the game assumes too much. It can feel gutting when you realise that if you had a piece of paper and a hundred years you wouldn’t consider the solution for a puzzle simply because it doesn’t make sense.
So, was it fun? I played with a group of four, and three said they never want to play another Exit game again. One writes a board game blog, so he’s kind of stuck trying another one I guess.
Now I know what to expect, I have purchased Exit The Game: The Abandoned Cabin; however, I figure I will be playing that alone. I’m intrigued if knowing what to expect will reduce the bitterness for feeling cheated out of a couple of puzzles.
If you’ve ever played an Exit game, similar decksploration game, or if you have done a real life Escape the Room experience then I would be interested in hearing your thoughts below.
SIMILAR ARTICLE: Escape the Room: Card Games vs Real Life Experiences