Well, folks, we’re back in lockdown. Luckily, the perfect cure for the stress, malaise, and tedium is close at hand, and it comes in the form of an Exit game! Exit games are a series of escape room board games created by Thames and Kosmos, that bring you all the fun of solving an escape room, without having to do pesky things like ‘leaving the house’. We’ve talked about Exit before in our quick overview of a few escape room board games, but since we’re in lockdown and haven’t got anything better to do, it’s time for an in-depth review. Here’s everything you need to know about Exit!
Players: The box says 1-4. It’s possible to play with more people if you want to—the limiting factor is space, since everyone will be trying to crowd around to look at the clues. We’ve found 3-4 players to be the perfect number, since it’s enough people to provide different perspectives on puzzles and keep the momentum going, but not too many, so everyone still gets a chance to have a crack at all the puzzles.
Length: 1-2 hours. The game challenges you to set your own timer and see how long it takes you to complete all the riddles. The quicker you are, the more stars you get to award yourself at the end for your final score. If you’re like me and the idea of adding any more stress to your life right now makes you want to crawl into a hole, you can also opt to forego the stopwatch for a more relaxed puzzle-solving experience.
Age: 12+, according to the box, although if you’ve got younger kids who enjoy escape rooms or puzzle-solving, they’d probably be fine to join in too. None of the themes are age-inappropriate at all (although the hardest game in the series so far, The Catacombs of Horror, is a tad spookier than the rest). The easier games are more linear than the harder ones, and there’s a very robust hints system in place.
Replay value: Nonexistent. During the course of the game you’ll be asked to write on, fold, cut, tear, or otherwise destroy the game components. This adds a sort of bittersweet, authentically escape-room-ish glee to the experience. If you’re very careful, and photocopy or recreate some of the components, then you might be able to complete a game without rendering it unusable, and pass it on to someone who hasn’t played it yet. Ultimately, though, the games are designed to be one use only. Luckily, they’re affordable (Thames and Kosmos’s UK website lists them for £13.50), and there are currently 17 Exit games in the series, so you’re not likely to run out any time soon.
What’s in the box?
A rulebook, explaining how to set up and play the game.
A game book. This sets up the scenario, and contains illustrated pages of puzzle components and clues. Some games also include a fold-out poster, which serves the same purpose.
Riddle cards. As the name suggests, these are where you’ll find the majority of the riddles you’ll need to solve throughout the game. As you make your way through the game, you’ll be told to turn over more and more riddle cards, revealing new information and puzzles to solve.
Answer cards. These will tell you whether you’re right—or wrong!—and what to do next.
Help cards. Each puzzle in the game has its own set of three help cards. The ‘First Hint’ tells you which riddle cards and puzzle components you will need to have found in order to solve the puzzle. The ‘Second Hint’ card provides a hint as to how to use those components, and if you’re really stumped, the ‘Solution’ card will explain the rest.
Strange Items. As the name suggests, these are mysterious ‘items’, usually punch-out shapes made of card, but sometimes other bits and pieces too. Solving puzzles will let you ‘find’ these items (a.k.a. take them out of the box), and they can then come in handy for later riddles.
Decoder disk. This is the niftiest thing in the box, and something that helps Exit games stand out from other escape room board games. Turn the wheels on the disk to line up the solution you’ve found, and the window in the center of the disk will tell you which answer card to look at. The disk is part of a two-tier system for checking your answers, which prevents you from just guessing: if you might be right, the answer card will ask you to confirm where in the game materials you found the riddle you’re trying to solve, as an added layer of verification. And the tactile nature of using the disk makes checking your answers feel a lot more interactive (and satisfying when you get it right!).
Overall, in terms of game components, Exit isn’t all that complicated, but it is comprehensive. The small box is packed with things to discover, and anything could be a clue.
Exit games are collaborative: like in a real escape room, you and your fellow players are working together to solve all the riddles and complete the experience. Read through all the game materials, turn over the cards, and work together to come up with the answers and progress through the game. So how do they compare to a real escape room in terms of gameplay experience?
The main difference is in the absence of a games master. You’re controlling the experience yourselves, setting up the cards and materials and getting hints from the cards. The hints system can be a pitfall for escape room board games, since there’s always the risk that the hints will either be too vague or too detailed, giving away more than you needed to know. Exit’s tiered hints system is well-designed to avoid this problem. A lot of the time just looking at the first hint, which tells you which puzzle components you should be using, is enough to get you back on track, and it’s very rare that you’ll be left scratching your head even after having looked at the second hint. And if you’re still stuck, the solution card not only gives you the answer, but also explains how to work it out, so you’re not left with the frustrating sense of having missed or skipped anything.
Theming and design
Each Exit game has its own theme and setting, around which the puzzles are based. Unlike Thames and Kosmos’s new series Adventure Games, Exit isn’t story-based, so while there’s a bit of narrative flavour, there’s no real ‘plot’ beyond the basic arc of solving all the puzzles. In terms of flavour, though, you’re spoilt for choice. There’s a whole host of themes, from familiar escape room classics (e.g. The Pharaoh’s Tomb) to zanier settings (The Haunted Roller Coaster). A couple of the games (Dead Man on the Orient Express and Theft on the Mississippi) have a detective story element added that requires you to solve not just the puzzles, but an overarching mystery. All the elements are creatively designed, and the artwork that accompanies the puzzles helps to add to the immersion.
The most important element of any escape room board game is (surprise) the puzzles. This is where Exit really shines. Not every puzzle is amazing, but the majority of them are fresh and inventive, and in every box there’s usually at least one riddle that will blow your mind, provided you have minds like ours that are capable of being blown by creative puzzle design. As escape room board games go, Exit tends to consistently nail the ‘Aha!’ moment that’s so crucial to the escape room experience. The incorporation of ‘strange items’, and the requirement to cut, fold, etc. the game materials, adds some tactile puzzle-solving to the mix, and these puzzles tend to be the most hit or miss: getting it right can involve a bit of trial and error, and your mileage may vary on how frustrating you find having to fold little bits of card in just the right way. Overall, though, the puzzles in Exit games stand out, and any fan of escape rooms is likely to find them a great challenge.
If your plans to visit an escape room have been thwarted by lockdown, never fear! Exit games are just the beginning. There’s a whole world of stay-at-home alternatives to escape rooms, from online puzzles to books. If you’re feeling extra creative, you can even do it yourself! And while you’re gathered around the table, check out all our board game posts for recs and reviews.
LockHouse Escape Games is currently closed. We’ll be keeping up our series of LockHouse Lockdown blog posts—stay tuned for all things escape rooms, board games, tabletop RPGs, media recs, and more. Plus keep an eye on our social media for everything from updates to brainteasers! We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so stay in touch!