Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror

Game: Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror

Publisher: Kosmos

Designer:  Inka Brand, Markus Brand, Ralph Querfurth

Year: 2019


We've been following the EXIT game series from the start. We've played seven games so far and have another two waiting to be played on our shelves. The latest installment, Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror has pushed its way to the front of the queue. It's more than twice the size of the previous EXIT games, and can be played as a 2-part adventure or one long "feature-length" episode, and so it certainly grabbed our attention.

As far as escape room games go, Unlock went by the wayside for us, leaving Deckscape as our easy option, EXIT as our hard option and Escape Room: The Game as the exotic cousin that we only get to play when I bring new versions home from my trips to North America. We love the additional tactile components in Escape Room: The Game, but also the simplicity and portability of Deckscape, so with a new bigger format, where do we stand on the new entry into the EXIT series.


Gameplay

Exit: The Game - The Catacombs of Horror largely follows the usual EXIT gameplay. You will be given a disc with 3 rotating sections. Completing puzzles typically, though not always, will result in you having a 3-digit code which can then be input on the disc by aligning the 3 digits with the symbol of the puzzle you are solving. Doing this will cause a gap in the disc to reveal a number. You look at that numbered card in the deck and it will either tell you you were wrong, or ask you which item you are trying to interact with. Select an item and it will tell you a second card to draw, which in turn will either tell you you were wrong, or reveal that you succeeded and tell you which items/new puzzle cards you have found to continue the game with.


The EXIT series is not a reusable experience and some components will need to be cut up/folded/drawn on in order to play the game. They also have a rather unusual understanding of what can be considered a game component. I won't spoil how, but keep an open mind while playing! The Catacombs of Horror is a larger experience than most EXIT games, being approximately twice as long to complete (around the 2 hour mark). However it also comes with a break half way through should you want to treat it more like the typical experience.

Along the way you will be solving many different puzzles, and often receiving things you need for later puzzles earlier than you need them. Naturally you may get stuck at some point, but fortunately the Exit series has a tiered clue system. Each puzzle in the game has 3 clues, the 1st typically tells you simply which cards/items you need to combine to complete the puzzle, the second giving you an instruction and clues on  how the puzzle is performed and the final clue giving you a full walkthrough. At the end of the game you will be judged based on the time you took and the number of clues you had to use to get there.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

With the advantage of being willing to damage their components, the EXIT series is able to create far more complex puzzles than some of their competitors. Things like folding booklets to reveal secret codes or shading in areas according to a puzzle solution to reveal secret messages are all well utilized in the series, and The Catacombs of Horror is no exception. However, with a larger game comes the opportunity for more components and more experimentation. The Catacombs of Horror really tries to do something different which all culminates in a final puzzle. Which unfortunately didn't quite work as well as we might have liked. The included components should have done a good job in theory, but the reality was you had to make a compromise in being able to complete the puzzle and being able to see the clues.

While the final puzzle may have been a bit clunky in practice, the feeling of collecting parts of it all throughout the game and it all coming together to one final moment was done really well. On top of that most of the other puzzles were extremely well thought out, though we did occasionally bump into the wall of not knowing what to do next. Fortunately that is what the clue cards are for, if you are feeling stuck then don't be afraid to look at the first clue for a puzzle to work out if you don't have the materials you need yet! The puzzles are certainly tuned for different thinkers, with this iteration containing the most tactile puzzles of any Exit game yet!

Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror is a great example of what the Exit series is capable of. Fiendishly difficult at times and requiring some real outside the box thinking to complete. For me there were a few times when it felt like solving puzzles was more to do with understanding the designer's mindset than understanding the clues given to you. One thing to be aware of is that the Exit games consider working out how to do the puzzle to be half the puzzle in itself, and often the harder part. The increased length is a welcome change, though with the whole experience taking us just over 2 hours I hardly think it was necessary. What it does present is a great opportunity for players to grab a bite to eat or take quick breaks between halves which makes it great for a more casual gaming night.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

The Exit Games never cease to amaze me with the variety they can bring to the table in puzzle form. Like many veteran tabletop escape room players, we think we know the tricks - scouring the box for clues, lifting up inserts and more, but this game had a lot of new surprises with information hidden in new and unusual places. The game flowed really well with an obvious sequence and culminated in a very large puzzle, that you were obviously collecting pieces for throughout the game, which reminded me most of Dead Man on the Orient Express.

As a game in two parts, we were offered a break after 45-50 minutes, which made us think it would be a fast experience and not great value for money, but with end game scoring starting at 120 minutes and extending to over 200 minutes, the second half lasted much longer. Whilst there's nothing you'd necessarily need to remember from the first half in the second, I'm glad we played it in one sitting to keep the story of the game flowing.

Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror really pushes the previous boundaries of Exit games, bringing in new components beyond the typical paper booklet and de-coder dial. Whilst this is a great to see, a lot of these elements feel clumsy and fiddly when compared to some of the more intriguing puzzles that are still done with paper and cardboard. The large end game puzzle in particular fell flat for us due to a number of 'technical difficulties' and a general feeling that the clues were just too heavily veiled for us to figure out!

Ultimately, this EXIT game had some of the best puzzles I've found in escape room games, but also some of the most frustrating. If I'm honest, I think it was a little bit too difficult for us, but I'd highly recommend it if, like some people we know, you've been finding escape room games a little too easy. I think non-gamers who like to play the more challenging escape rooms in real life will also identify with much more of the game content as it seems more like the real life experience.


You Might Like...
  • This new format for EXIT games brings in new and different components, providing a fresh experience.
  • With 14 puzzles in the game, some of which have multiple tricky parts to figure out, there's plenty of content here.
  • If you want a challenging experience, then this is it for tabletop escape room games!
You Might Not Like...
  • The Catacombs of Horror is difficult and has the power to make you feel pretty stupid!
  • A couple of the more tactile puzzles gave some 'technical difficulties'.

The Verdict
7.5/10 It's great to see the EXIT series trying something new that might appeal to gamers who prefer more variety in the puzzle elements of the game, or whose brains work differently. There are some brilliantly clever puzzles and others that seemed to miss the mark for us, either being to obtuse or just not quite functioning well. Bear in mind that The Catacombs of Horror is no doubt the hardest escape room game we've played, so it's one we'd recommend to players who have been searching for an extra challenge. But, if you are keen for a challenge, the this is a great 2.5 hours of fun!


Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror was a review copy kindly provided to us by Kosmos Games.

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