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Another “escape the room” board game

Some family members and I recently tried playing another “escape the room” board game, this time from different creators. ‘Twas called “Escape The Room: Mystery at The Stargazers Manor”.

I’m not sure if it was better or worse than the pharaoh’s tomb we played earlier.

Pros: The puzzles were a little less arbitrary and fit into the story a bit more naturally. The final puzzle made you search through all the material you had used throughout the game, which was a nice finale. Also, this one allows you repack all the material so that someone else could play through it again. (Whereas players destroy the gaming material in the pharaoh’s tomb game during the process of playing, so no one can replay with the same set.)

Cons: Like the pharaoh’s tomb game, the game mainly depended on finding the right symbols in the right order and using a sliding decoder disc to check your code. If your code is correct, you advance to the next puzzle (or set of puzzles). I wish they’d come up with something a little more creative, though I’m not sure what. Symbols just get boring very quickly, and seem so arbitrary. However, the main “con” of this game was that it was just too easy. It might be great for 10-13 year olds, but it feels way too childish for 30 year olds. The puzzles here are just way too easy, and the game is over too quickly.

Therein lies the challenge of designing a good puzzle. If it’s too easy, it’s not interesting, but making it more challenging by making more confusing or enigmatic doesn’t make it more enjoyable.

What makes a good puzzle?

I suppose a good puzzle has three (or four) attributes:

  1. Problem to solve is easy to understand.
  2. Problem is challenging to solve.
  3. Solution is simple.
  4. For story-based games like these “escape the room” games, I’d also add this: Problem relates well to the game’s overall story.

Of course whether or not those conditions are met by a certain puzzle is subjective. What’s simple to someone may be confusing to someone else. But everyone is different and special in their own way, so that’s OK.

Anyway, I think the pharaoh’s tomb game design had problems with attribute 1. They tried to make puzzles more difficult by simply making the instructions more enigmatic. This stargazer’s manor game, on the other hand, had problems with attribute 2, at least for adult players. The challenges were too easy for adults.

Both games had trouble with attribute 4. The puzzles are just sort of shoe-horned into the story and the setting. Perhaps most players are more interested in the puzzles than the surrounding story or scenario… but then why not just go print out some puzzles from the web for free? If you’re going to buy an “escape the room” board game, isn’t for the “escape” scenario? So I wish these games had spent more effort writing compelling scenarios, rather than just taking it a bit for granted. Both scenarios were just forgettable and dumb.

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S P Hannifin

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