I’m a big fan of escape rooms having played quite a few in the past. (If you fancy one based in Manchester I can recommend Breakout and have written reviews of their Sabotage and Vacancy rooms). The Unlock! boxed games are essentially at-home escape rooms in a box, so in theory they’re right up my street. Initially though, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how the escape room experience could be recreated using nothing but cards and an app. There are quite a lot of Unlock! game boxes now, and the one we played was Mystery Adventures. This is my spoiler-free review of the game.
What’s in the Unlock! Box?
The Mystery Adventures box contains 3 games of different difficulty levels. Each game has a set of 60-70 cards, and that’s it! The cards are all numbered on the back, and show images relating to the game on the front. There is some interaction required with the Unlock! app, so you also need to download that, but otherwise it is played entirely with those cards. There is also a short 10 card tutorial game included in the box, which helps to demonstrate how the mechanics of the game work.
About the Unlock! App
The Unlock! app is the interactive feature of these games. You need to download it before playing the game, but once you have done this apparently you do not require an internet connection to play. The app acts as the live timer for the game, and is the place where you enter codes and use “machines” in order to unlock the next parts of the game. You choose your game from the menu of all available Unlock! games to reveal the game dashboard for that particular adventure, as shown in the images below.
Playing the Game
The game begins by reading the story/scenario and then turning over the top card to see what is shown in the image. This image shows you the starting scene – usually a room you are in. The numbers shown in the images represent further cards from the pack that can be turned over. In the haunted house example pictured below you start in a lobby, and can see several things in the room marked by numbers. When those card numbers are turned over and more closely inspected, they will reveal new objects in the room that you can interact with.
It’s quite easy to imagine that you really are searching a room in detail. You’ll end up finding hidden objects to use, locks that need 4 digit codes to unlock, and clues to solving puzzles. You are looking for cards that can be combined together to reveal new cards (such as a key and a lock, for example), or clues on how to unlock doors. Codes have to be entered into the app, and if correct the app will tell you which new cards you have “unlocked”. However, if entered incorrectly, a time penalty will be applied to your timer!
Game 1: The House on the Hill
The first and easiest game in the box has a haunted house theme. There is a creepy abandoned house on the hill containing “The Book of the Dead”, which has unleashed a curse causing paranormal activities nearby. The aim of this game is to work your way through the house (via puzzles) to find the book and stop the curse. For this you need to find clues on how this curse can be stopped of course!
This game was a nice one to start with. It was a classic escape room format with fairly straightforward puzzles, and just a few hidden secrets that you really had to look closely to find.
Game 2: The Nautilus’ Traps
In this game you are a diver who is attacked by a sea monster and ends up hiding in a submarine hatch with a limited amount of oxygen left in your tank. The aim is to find your way out of the submarine before your oxygen runs out, which adds an interesting element to the game. Although you only start with 35 minutes on the clock, if you look closely, new oxygen tanks can be found throughout the game, and entering the codes from these tanks into the app adds time onto the clock.
This game was slightly more difficult and in-depth than the first game, with some more unusual puzzles to solve. I also enjoyed the underwater theme, and the sense of peril created by the initial short time on the clock.
Game 3: The Tonipal’s Treasure
This was the most challenging of the three games in the box, but also my favourite due to the pirate-y treasure island theme. In this story you are hunting buried pirate treasure on a Caribbean island, but you start off locked in a prison cell. Once you have escaped the prison you have to explore the island for clues to finding the treasure, whilst eliminating the competition – another treasure hunter.
There was a lot to do in just 60 minutes (I can’t actually remember if some time got added on at some point in this game, but if so, it was still a stretch!) This game had the most diverse range of puzzles, including code cracking, maths puzzles and even a jigsaw at one point, and it was also the only one of the three games which had sound recordings to listen to on the app too. The puzzles cleverly fitted the theme, and although it was a difficult game, it was a lot of fun. It was the only one of the three games where we needed a decent sized table!
Review of Unlock! Mystery Adventures
Me and Craig really enjoyed playing these games. I felt that they recreated the escape room experience better than any other “at-home escape room” I have tried, and they were very neatly and cleverly put together. The themes were fun and varied, and the puzzles all fit their themes well. Across the three games there was a big range of puzzle types too and not much (if any) repetition.
One aspect I liked was that the game indicated when you had finished with certain card numbers and they could officially be discarded from the game – this was very neat and handy for keeping track of all the cards still in use. My least favourite aspect was that trying codes or combinations incorrectly applied a time penalty to the clock. I’d rather not be penalised for trying something out! But I guess this is a necessary evil, because without this consequence you could simply try every combination and solve the puzzles at random.
I would highly recommend Unlock! Mystery Adventures, and we are keen to try out more games from the Unlock! series as we enjoyed them so much. They’re great for something a little bit different to do at home and this box kept us entertained for a couple of evenings. The only downside is that you can’t really replay the games, unless your memory is really bad! But overall I feel like they are worth their price.