Exit vs. Unlock – A Competitive Review

An Escape Room is a fun way to spend an evening where you and a couple of friends are locked in a room. Wait, it sounds weird when I say it like that. The point is to escape from that room, usually in an hour or less, by discovering useful items and solving puzzles, both leading to more items and more puzzles, until you finally unlock the Exit and escape. (Unlock the Exit. See what I did there?) Anyway, it’s a great way to spend an evening with friends, and you do it indoors without getting too sweaty.

Doing things indoor and without getting sweaty brings us to the next step in Escape Room evolution: Why would you even leave your living room? You could have a box full of puzzles to solve at home and avoid all that messy outside business. And that’s were Escape Rooms Inna Box come in, a new kind of cooperative game that lets you have the excitement of an Escape Room around your living room table. You could argue if they are boardgames or not, but we’re not going to nitpick that point right now: They’re produced by the same publishers, made by the same designers and enjoyed by many of the same people as more traditional boardgames. People like us, so we’ll review them when we feel like it.

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Great Western Trail

Great Western Trail

Alexander Pfister’s Great Western Trail is a game about making old cowboys sad. When it starts the prairie is still wide open with only a few neutral buildings around. You drive small herds of mangy cattle to Kansas City. And if that cattle goes all the way to Santa Fe on the train then you can say it’s seen the wide world. The more the game progresses, the more buildings will clutter the prairie, the bigger and more expensive the herds get, and the further the cattle will be shipped. What makes the old cowboy sad will be the same thing that makes players happy, because every one of those developments is under the players’ control in their pursuit of victory points.

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Mysterium

Many years ago, in Warwick Manor, there occurred a murder most foul. The crime had been carefully planned and so well executed that the police have ruled it an accident. But ever since Warwick Manor has not been the same. Haunted, they say. And in that haunting the new owner of Warwick Manor sees a chance to have the murder solved still, and the ghost thus laid to rest. He has invited the most famous psychics in the world to contact the ghost and discover what happened. A great plan in theory, if only the ghost wasn’t too traumatized by his death to clearly remember what happened, and if he hadn’t been a member of the Dixit fan club in life.

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Tempel des Schreckens

A mysterious temple in the jungle, untold treasures inside. But it is pretty darn dark inside here, impossible to see anything. We’ll just feel around for the doors and hope we find some treasure. But the sound is weird. I could swear there are more footsteps in here than we brought people in…

That’s the somewhat peculiar premise of Tempel des Schreckens (translated: Temple of Terror), a German version of Yusuke Sato’s social deduction game Don’t Mess with Cthulhu / Timebomb. (There appear to be some minor rules changes, so I’m not going to call it the same game.) A group of adventurers has found a temple in the middle of the jungle and enter it in search for treasure. Inside, unnoticed by all of them, they are joined by a number of temple guardians who want to lure the expedition into the temple’s fire traps. And because everyone is only looking at their smartphone nowadays, no one knows which group any of the others belong to. Guys, we’ve been walking through the jungle together for weeks, but I can’t tell you apart from the women guarding this temple.

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The Grizzled

The Grizzled

Boardgames don’t really have an equivalent to literature. We gamers don’t usually consider the categories of literary fiction versus genre fiction, we think about light games and heavy games instead, or about different game mechanics. But by most criteria, the vast majority of games are more like genre fiction: advancing linearly, focused on a big payoff at the end, and made to entertain, not to invite reflection on their subject.

What you might call literary games are not entirely unheard of, though. One fine example is The Grizzled by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, a cooperative game set in World War One. The setting in itself is not what sets The Grizzled apart, though. Plenty of games are set in the two big wars. But in this one you don’t move tanks across a map, you don’t heroically storm beaches, and you don’t go home to live happily ever after, even if you win.

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Kingdomino

Kingdomino

Bruno Cathala is one of those game designers who aren’t married to one genre or one game mechanic they keep coming back to. Games with his name on the box include Shadows over Camelot, Cyclades, 7 Wonders: Duel and many more. The only thing they really have in common is that they are great games. That list is now joined by Kingdomino, a kingdom building game using Dominoes-like tiles. It’s a light family game and has nothing in common with any of Bruno’s other games, mechanically speaking. It is nominated for the Spiel des Jahres 2017, usually a good indicator for a great game.

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The Bird Told Me To Do It

The Bird Told Me To Do It

When birds start telling you to do things and it’s not your pet parrot demanding crackers, that’s an indicator you might want to meet with your friendly neighborhood mental health specialist soon. Have your health insurance ready, then, because you’re about to take a whole bunch of orders from avian high command.

The Bird Told Me To Do It is a card laying game by Carl Chudyk (Glory to Rome, Innovation,…) that works on a somewhat smaller scale than his other games. You’re not going to build an empire, you won’t control a civilization from the stone age until they discover nuclear power. All you want to do is to have your birds be the most numerous on the tree. It sounds so simple, right?

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Kennerspiel des Jahres 2017

Kennerspiel des Jahres 2017

As we mentioned yesterday, it’s Spiel des Jahres season. We all know what that means, of course. The three Spiel des Jahres awards are still among the most prestigious in the world, and winning them is still a big deal. We already presented the nominees and jury’s recommendation for the Spiel des Jahres award yesterday, today we’ll have a look at the Kennerspiel. Without any further ado, here we go.

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Spiel des Jahres 2017

Spiel des Jahres 2017

Is it really that time of the year again already? I could swear we just had an Essen fair, and suddenly the jury is announcing Spiel des Jahres nominees. Time does fly when you’re having more new boardgame releases than anyone could ever play. But here it is, and so we’re going to do what I guess most of you want: tell you about the nominees!

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Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

I’ve been a long-time sufferer from collectible card games, buying way too many booster packs to find that one card I really wanted. I’m out of that now, but I’ve been reluctant to get into Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games because of it. They are much nicer than CCGs, of course. There are no booster packs that always have the same worthless cards. But their business model is still to keep you buying cards to remain competitive every time a new expansion comes out. But that’s not a concern with Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It’s a cooperative game, so no one has to buy cards just to be able to compete. You just buy an expansion when you want more story to experience.

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