Unlock! A Knee Jerk Review
Unlock! The Formula
Designed by Cyril Demaegd
Art by Pierre Santamaria
Unlock! Squeek & Sausage
Designed by Alice Carroll
Art by Legruth
Unlock! The Island of Doctor Goorse
Designed by Thomas Cauët
Art by Florian de Gesincourt
Published by Space Cowboys
Escape rooms are the new black, right? I mean they are popping up everywhere, people’s parents are going to Escape Rooms and telling their friends about it and their families, that’s when you know things have gotten really popular, right? When your parent’s know about them and want to try one? Well, in order to cash in on this current trend, board game designers have been churning out “Escape Rooms in a Box” left and right. They appear in your local Wal Mart and Target, plus in your local game shop, which is where you’ll more than likely find the Unlock! Series of games from Space Cowboys. Released here in the United States as three separate boxes instead of packing them all into one like they did in Europe, these 60 card decks of cards purport to allow you to live these Escape Room experiences at home, around a table. Do they? Let’s find out.
Each Unlock Adventure is indeed a 60 card deck with different numerals on the back of them and items or places of interest on the other side, don’t flip through and look at the deck prior to playing, simply start at the top of the deck and read the first card on there to get the flavor of what is supposed to be happening and follow the instructions. That’s it, that’s the setup, do what the first card tells you and use the app. Now, as you proceed through the game you are going to be finding more things, you’ll be finding more cards and searching those cards for clues. Sometimes the numbers are just clear as day on something, but other times, you have to look a bit harder, or maybe look a little less hard and take a step back. But when you find a number, you’ll find the card in the deck that corresponds to it and you’ll put it out on the table to be examined. Some of the cards are puzzle pieces, and they will have a blue puzzle piece or a red puzzle piece in the upper right corner telling you this, when you find two of these that should go together, or at least you think they do, you combine them by adding the numbers of the cards together and searching for a card that corresponds to that new number in the deck and reveal it. Sometimes you’ll be wrong and you’ll flip over a card incorrectly and you will have to score a penalty on yourself, but most of the time you will just reveal a new card and get rid of the two previous that were put together as a puzzle. Other cards will need a code to be entered, which will require some puzzle solving skills to figure out the correct 4 digit code(all codes are 4 digits thankfully) to input into the app to unlock whatever you are unlocking via the code.
Which brings us to the app, which is a really well done piece of coding I think. The app acts as your timer, as with most escape rooms you are indeed on a timer. It will also act as your tool to enter your codes to unlock things, and also it will be your way of scoring your penalties as well. But along with that bookkeeping the app does for you, it’s also your way to get unstuck as there are clues for each card on the app and there are also hints about hidden objects, which for folks like me with eyesight that is beginning to show signs of age. The app does what it is supposed to do, and it does it really well.
But the game, I just don’t know, for all the little clever bits of puzzle solving that you get to do, there are countless minutes sitting their sifting through the cards looking and trying to figure out just what you missed and why you can’t get to the next section. Maybe that’s what real escape rooms are like, I don’t know, I’ve never had the pleasure of doing one but I have to think that being able to physically move around a room, looking for something and thinking has to be more fun that sitting at a table, pouring over cards trying to find some tiny minute detail that most anyone would miss, unless they are specifically looking for it. Also, while the boxes will suggest that you can play with up to 6 people, have you ever played a game where 4-5 other people are trying to fight over looking at a card? It can get ugly and later in the game a bit chippy, sorry Brad. Now you can say split it up, let certain people look at cards for a minute and then pass it and let everyone then discuss amongst themselves what they see, but when you are supposed to be playing against a time for the best score, that doesn’t seem to really want to work out all that well.
But with that comes my biggest gripe with this series of games, and I know that I am in the minority with this, even within my own group, but they just were not fun and for every little clever puzzle that you solve, there is another twenty minute frustration because no one is able to focus in on one tiny, miniscule little something on a card, it’s aggravating, and it’s not a sense of accomplishment that I felt when finding something, but a feeling of relief as we were one step closer to finishing.
Now, with all that said, we’ll probably end up continuing to play these Unlock! Games as new ones come out(I just may not be the person purchasing them brand new anymore), as they were games that my daughter absolutely loved playing, it allowed her to be on par with the adults I think in a sense, some of the puzzles escaped her, not all, she saved us a time or two, but she certainly helped spot things that a few of us would have never seen. All in all, I think these games fill a certain niche that needed to be filled at the moment, we'll see just how long they hold on.
Up next for us is the Exit games, so stay tuned!