Something you really don’t want to happen on a Friday night is a power-cut. Having the lights go out halfway through dinner, then having to entertain a 13-year old who’s moaning about not being able to use his Xbox for is rather painful.
This is what happened to us one evening last month. A cut earlier in the day had meant I’d been unable to connect to my work’s network and get anything done all morning; and then shortly after my stepson had arrived for the weekend and we’d sat down to eat, the power went out for a further three hours. A website informed us there had been an issue with the cabling somewhere and the engineers were diverting electricity between several areas in to get it fixed.
We decided to get out the physical games after scrambling around the house in the dark to find torches and lighting candles. It kicked off with the stepkid’s first experience of Exploding Kittens, which he was annoyed at for losing but asked to play again the following night; then Pete wanted use Ethan’s Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set so he could be Dungeon Master (DM) until the stepkid and I overruled him (I dread to think how that would have panned out). Instead, we turned to an Exit The Game escape-room-in-a-box.
Pete and I had bought this for Ethan as a Christmas present back in 2019. He seemed to have enjoyed the couple of escape rooms he’d completed with us by then and so we thought it might be a gift that would appeal to him. It had however remained untouched for over a year, after the siren call of his Xbox and Overwatch with friends had lured away his interest. Luckily it was still sitting on a shelf in our bookcase with the other games and was just what we needed to pass the time.
All escape rooms seem to come with a loose story and Exit The Game is no exception. The Mysterious Museum takes place on the last day of your vacation in Italy, when a strange man hands you a free ticket to the Florence Natural History Museum. Nobody else is around when you enter the building and the doors slam shut behind you, and the only other exit is blocked by a turnstile with an odd symbol. You must work out how to solve the riddle of the museum and escape otherwise you’ll be added to its permanent collection…
Let me give an example of how the game works without giving away spoilers. On the first page of the booklet contained within the box is a welcome note with from the institution along with a note asking you to look at your first Riddle Card. Turning this over reveals a ticket with a handwritten message scrawled on it. You’ll need to manipulate this – drawing on, folding or cutting it as necessary – and use it with the picture shown on the second page of the book to obtain a three-digit code.
The decoder disc deciphers this to give you a number that relates to a specific Answer Card. Flipping this over will reveal an ‘X’ if your code above is incorrect, or a series of symbols if you’re heading in the right direction. Comparing these pictures to the images shown in the book will then lead you to a further Answer Card, which will give instructions on how to proceed if you’ve picked the right one. It’s a little hard to explain but it makes more sense after you’ve completed your first few puzzles.
We found it slightly difficult to get started because we weren’t entirely sure what to do. This always seems to be the case with any kind of new puzzle game whether physical or digital; it was the same when we tried to interpret the clues in the Space Observatory jigsaw last year or solve the first challenges in Quern – Undying Thoughts recently. It gets easier once you’ve wrapped your head around what the game expects of its players and how to approach the puzzles, and this was the same for The Mysterious Museum.
Thankfully Hint Cards are included in the box so there’s no need to turn to a walkthrough if you get stuck. A set of three are provided for each puzzle: the first tells you what you need to be able to solve the riddle, the second gives somewhat more concrete assistance while the third explains the solution. We found we needed to use one of them for the initial couple of challenges but once we’d got on the same wavelength as the game, the Hints were put to one side and it felt as though it became easier.
There was a nice mix of mechanics used throughout the series of puzzles with a few involving additional objects besides Riddle Cards. One had us making a thaumatrope, where you spin a piece of card on with separate images on both sides to make them blur into one; while another required us to look at an item in the dark to find the glowing symbols. Perhaps the game knew we’d experienced power-cuts on that day and was showing us some sympathy.
Ethan wasn’t there to experience that challenge though. The lights came back on around 45-minutes into the game and he immediately excused himself from the dining table so he could get back to his bedroom and Overwatch. Pete and I decided to make a cup of tea now we could turn the kettle on and get back to the museum. It took us around 90 minutes to complete in total – so only longer than a real-life escape room – and it turned out to be a fun way to spend the evening.
But The Mysterious Museum isn’t the first ‘box’ experience we’ve played and I have to say that some of the others are a little better in terms of story and quality. Take Post Mortem Los Angeles: Death in La-La Land for instance, which I preferred because I’m drawn to the narrative side of gaming. There’s also the fact that, while we were able to re-bag the evidence for the latter and pass it on to another family-member, Exit The Game boxes are one-time-use games due to the need to draw on and tear Riddle Cards.
But considering they’re so much cheaper than the Post Mortem Los Angeles games and others, and you don’t need to pay shipping fees as they’re readily available from Amazon (not an affiliate link), it’s hard to find much to complain about. There are currently 16 versions of Exit The Game available with varying levels of difficulty from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’ so you’re bound to find one which suits you. We may try another one soon or even give the Unlock! series suggested by Luke from Hundstrasse a go.
We do need to find an escape-room-in-a-box for our GameBlast21 stream at the end of this month. If you have any recommendations, please do let me know.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.