Escape Team by Fabian Hemmert.
I received a free mission pack voucher from the publisher.
Elevator pitch: Escape Team is an app-powered escape room puzzle game where you print out all the materials at home.
What’s in the box? There’s no box! The game is an iOS or an Android app with a timer, keypad and background music. You have to print out the rest of the materials yourself and provide pens and scissors. Everything prints out in one-sided black-and-white sheets, so getting things printed out is as easy as possible.
What do you do in the game? Escape Team is a typical escape room game. There’s some background story that doesn’t matter much (after a couple of scenarios, we just skipped the intro audio without even listening to it), then you are faced with a series of puzzles. The puzzles all produce a five-digit code, which you must enter in the app.
The order of the puzzles is fixed, so you must first solve phase 1, then phase 2, and so on. The app provides clues if you take enough time with the puzzle. If you run out of time, you can continue solving the puzzles. The timer runs still and shows you how much extra time you need to finish the mission.
Lucky or skilful? There’s no luck involved here. It’s pure problem-solving. The only element of luck is how well your puzzle-solving skills align with what the puzzle-creators think.
Abstract or thematic? There was some theme to these escape rooms, but since we didn’t care to listen to the audio and the theme didn’t show up in the actual puzzles, these were abstract logic puzzles for us. I don’t think you can get immersed very deep in the theme here, even if you try harder than we did.
Solitaire or interactive? As usual: some people like a more solitary approach to solving the puzzles, some like to work together.
Players: 2–4. Nothing prevents you from you playing alone. With more players, you can print out multiple sets of materials so people can more easily work on the same puzzles. Four is still a reasonable maximum player amount; there just isn’t that much work in these puzzles. With a larger group, get two sets and make it a competition between two teams.
Who can play? There’s no age recommendation. I think these are on the level of typical escape room games, so I’d say children from 12 years on can probably participate, but of course, your mileage may vary a lot. You need to understand English (or German), as some puzzles are text-based.
The difficulty level of the missions is 1-5 stars. The missions we played were rated from one to three. The hardest one was actually the first mission after the tutorial; it was the only one we failed to solve in time. It had the tightest time limit, just 15 minutes, and we went two minutes over the time. The fifth mission, with a three-star rating, was actually the easiest for us.
Since the clues seem pretty good, experienced puzzle solvers should have no problems getting through the missions in time. Less experienced players will probably find these quite challenging.
What’s to like? The price! The app is free, and each mission costs two dollars. If you have access to a printer, the barrier to entry is very low. The puzzles were clever. The app is smooth and does a nice effect when you enter the code: we liked the way the numbers blink (it also has the side effect of showing you which number was wrong, which makes it more fun to figure out where you went wrong). The app also supports user-created missions: you can create your own missions and share them in public or use them in private.
What’s not to like? Compared to the boxed experiences, a bunch of black-and-white A4 sheets feels bland and, of course, limits what you can do. The app is also a very simple keypad and a timer, so there are no fancy tricks like in the Unlock! games. There’s hardly any story, this is among the most abstract escape game experiences I’ve had.
My verdict: I’ve been reluctant to try out new games recently, but I did make an exception here. I wanted to see how an escape room experience could work done this way. It does – I think this is a fine approach. It’s also very ecological: it’s much more environmentally friendly to provide a PDF for printing at home than to transport boxes full of air across the globe.
Of course, an Unlock! or Exit game provides a more exciting experience, but we had a lovely evening playing through the five-mission pack we got from the game authors. Would I pay $7 for the remaining four missions? Yeah, I probably will.
I also think giving players the tools to create their own missions is a clever idea, and if you’re looking to create your own escape puzzle game for whatever purpose (school, work, birthday parties, you name it) and you want to have a nice app to go with it, using the Escape Team app is an excellent idea.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Escape Team gets Suggest.