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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Sunday, 24 November 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Escape Tales: Low Memory


Game: Escape Tales: Low Memory

Publisher: Board&Dice

Designer: Jakub Caban, Bartosz Idzikowski

Year: 2019


Escape Tales: Low Memory is the second game in the Escape Tales series from Board&Dice. Escape Tales: The Awakening is one of the best escape room experiences we've ever had, and if we had played it during 2018 it would certainly have hit Fi's Top Ten of the Year. The escape tales games are large, narrative driven escape room experiences and The Awakening was a bit of a surprise for us because of how we got invested in the story - finding it to be really emotional - even though Fi in particular doesn't typically get invested in narrative in games.

Escape Tales: Low Memory is a standalone experience with no links to The Awakening, besides a couple of Easter eggs hidden in the artwork and story. You don't need to have played the first game to try out this one and there will be no spoilers for either game in this review.



Gameplay

Escape Tales: Low Memory is an escape room game in 3 chapters. Each chapter explores a day in the life on one particular person. Though naturally it isn't just your typical day and these stories are intertwined, though exactly how many may not always be clear. Each character has their own booklet, which contains paragraphs numbered in a somewhat random order. The game will begin by giving you some instructions, typically giving you a map, along with a card that translates areas of the map into references for these paragraphs. You will also be given a number of action tokens, with which to explore the map.
Action tokens can be placed onto the map in order to let you read the associated paragraph. Along with some story, you may be rewarded with puzzle cards, access to new rooms or other rewards, and  perhaps the occasional punishment. The most common punishment is wasting those precious action tokens, you typically can only use a few of them before you start drawing stress cards. Stress cards give you action tokens back so you can continue exploring, but use too many and you'll start to pay the price.

Of course it wouldn't be an escape room game without puzzles. Puzzles in Escape Tales: Low Memory typically consist of sets of one or more cards and may also include hints hidden around the map cards and other sources. Each card has a reference code. You will have to log into the Escape Tales website, press the link matching that code and then are met with a screen that lets you type in the answer. Should you be struggling you can ask for hints such as what components are needed to solve the puzzle or direct hints on what you need to do, up to and including the answer. When the correct answer is put in the game will guide you to the associated paragraph in the character's book. The game ends this way, with the final puzzle solution determining what happens to our heroes.


Amy’s Final Thoughts 

What makes a good escape room? It's an interesting question. Certainly in a real life one you typically want good puzzles, with any semblance of theme often being pasted on for the feel of things. You are in a room, get out. That's all you need. In the board game world things are a little different. We have come to expect a strong narrative tying the puzzles together and it's here that Escape Tales: Low Memory has tried something fascinating. The 3 characters you play happily split the game into three ~2 hour chunks. Each character has their own different feel as you play, they each have their own motivations and I have to respect that. Along the way you will make some major decisions which will change what your final story ending can potentially be. Here I had some issues as the decisions weren't really informed, we simply did what felt right at the time, only to discover during the 3rd chapter what those decisions actually entailed. This resulted in us getting a less than stellar ending and unfortunately after ~6 hours of gaming a bad ending felt bad.

The story isn't everything though, and while I may be a little bitter about my bad choices at the end, the journey was enjoyable. The puzzles were varied and fun. Typically not too challenging, but we certainly each got our chance to shine at them. You could often explore a few parts of a room and end up with 2-3 puzzles ready to be done at once which is always helpful if you aren't playing solo. The website did a decent job of making clear what kind of answer was expected without giving too much away. Our most clicked button was certainly the 'how many cards do you need' button. I detest it when an escape room gives you half a puzzle and then doesn't give you the other half for another 20 minutes. Having that reassurance that we didn't have everything we needed stopped us from going crazy imagining answers to unsolvable riddles.

As much as I have attacked the story and it's conclusion. The story they intended to tell is actually fascinating. It touches on interesting ethical dilemmas both on a personal and corporate level. There's a lot of nuance there, but I fear that 3 separate games wasn't the best way to experience the story. Much like a good movie I am sure that I would spot a lot more if I went back and experienced the game again, but by it's very nature an escape room cannot be replayed. At least not by the same person. Escape Tales: The Awakening is completely reset-able back to it's starting state if you want to pass it on to a friend.


Ultimately this is a box of fantastic puzzles, held together by an interesting, though awkwardly told, story. If you haven't played Escape Tales: The Awakening then I'd strongly recommend picking that one up first. Low Memory is a sequel that's still enjoyable, but doesn't quite live up to the original game's quality.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I had huge expectations coming into Escape Tales: Low Memory. The first game in the series really drew me into the narrative and I was so invested and pleased that we got a positive outcome. Unfortunately Low Memory did not manage to replicate this feat. I honestly couldn't follow what the story was about. Since the game is split into three chapters, each chapter tells some aspects of the intertwined story from three different perspectives. There's certainly a dystopian future going on, and it's somewhat reminiscent of a storyline from the TV show Black Mirror. I could kind of see the links between each character's story, but I ultimately could not figure out what the final puzzle of the game needed me to do!

While the overall game experience was made fun by all of the puzzles, which really were fantastic, the ending frustrated me to a point that really left a bad taste in my mouth. Not only did I not understand what the game wanted from me, but even reading the concluding paragraphs and alternative endings in the book didn't make it any clearer. Speculating on what I think we needed to do, I don't think we even followed the right path through the story to have a hope of achieving a good ending. There are 'choose your own adventure' style decision points in the game, that with the benefit of hindsight were not arbitrary, but they certainly felt it when we made them and that really made it impossible for us to 'win' the overall game.

I have to wonder whether the designers got a bit too caught up in a story that they wanted to tell and then over complicated it with too many layers and intricacies. It's a real shame because I still love the Escape Tales system. The puzzles are plentiful and interesting, with loads of different ways to use just simple information on cards. The hint system, through the app, is easy to use and doesn't penalise you with a timer or point penalties like some other escape rooms. I also really like the exploratory nature of the maps and Low Memory really builds on this in new and interesting ways.

If you want to try Escape Tales, then I'd personally recommend Escape Tales: The Awakening for the best experience. It's a single long experience - perhaps 4 hours at the table, but you can split it up and save the game if you want to experience a clearer narrative, satisfying choices and all the same puzzly fun.

You Might Like...
  • Escape Tales: Low Memory can be played in three bite-size pieces.
  • The game is packed full of puzzles of varying difficulty and suiting the way different people's minds work.
  • Getting clues to puzzles doesn't penalise you in the game - making it far more friendly and enjoyable.
You Might Not Like...
  • We didn't feel like we had a chance to get the 'winning' ending.
  • The story was not as compelling to us as in Escape Tales: The Awakening.

The Verdict
6.5/10 Escape Tales: Low Memory had a lot to live up to for us, but it didn't quite measure up to our experience with Escape Tales: The Awakening. However, Low Memory is a far more approachable game, with more linear puzzles and being split into three possible gaming sessions. For us, the narrative was too confusing and abstract, but the puzzles themselves are the real strong point in this box. Mechanically, Low Memory really builds on its predecessor, but the story and emotion didn't quite hang together as well.


Escape Tales: Low Memory was a review copy kindly provided to us by Board&Dice.

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