Unlock! Mystery Adventures is the 2nd trilogy of escape room style board games from Space Cowboys. Note, that in territories other than the UK these may be sold as 3 separate adventures. Utilizing real time puzzles, an app and storytelling, 2 – 6 players (though it can be played solo) will be sent on adventures that include a run-down manor, a sea monster and treasure hunting. However, is the game experience something players will want to escape from? Let’s find out!
Note: The images used throughout the review are ONLY from the tutorial/game box to guarantee that no inadvertent spoilers from the actual adventures are on show.
As with the first Unlock! box a super short tutorial deck is included, note that this is an identical tutorial other than the new, adjusted machine app integration. Made up of a handful of cards this exercise lasts only a few minutes and will allow new players to understand the game system, or get those whom haven’t played in a while back up to speed. In order to not to spoiler anything the next section will be very mechanical in description, though when in-game red/blue objects, green machines, yellow codes and other grey cards are normally much more thematic.
At the start Unlock! Mystery Advenutres players will read the introduction card, which gives some lore-like details about the adventure, instructs players to start the app timer going and flip the card over. This will then show a grey style card, normally giving detail of the world via text or artwork. This will in turn give players a few starting cards to find from the rest of the deck. Each other card in the deck has a number/letter on the back, used to find the required card, making this process swift. Pro tip, if playing with others splitting the deck so people are only only looking through sections of the deck can save valuable seconds!
Aside from the grey cards players will find objects that often work together, as part of a pair of one blue card and one red card: though this is a puzzle, so logic and deduction will have to be used to determine what combines. At this point players add together numbers featured on the cards together and flick through the deck to find the summation figure. If correct then the number will be there and when flipped over the next part of the puzzle will have been revealed. Sometimes when the team makes an incorrect decision the number will be there but to make things interesting when turned over will reveal an penalty. Instead of instantly having the answer revealed a time penalty is awarded, deducted from your time by tapping the app, and players are back to trying to figure out the correct solution.
Aside from objects, players will also come across machine cards. These are handled by the app and require players to know what to do with them, be it matching a pattern or amounts to set. Gain the information from another card, hit the machine button on the app, type in the card number and put in your solution. Machines then spit out a object used to progress. The final card type are codes, or more importantly things that require a 4 digit code. Determine the numbers from cards available and head to the app, entering the 4 digit code into the code section. Get it wrong and you’ll be deducted time-wise so make sure you’re certain!
Each type of card is helpfully denoted by colours and symbols making it easy to instantly determine what type the card is upon flipping it. This helps players from being lost in the swath of cards occasionally available to them. Throughout the game players can get hints to help them along, if a puzzle just seems to hard. Progress enough and you’ll complete the adventure, though you might not have beaten the clock! Fear not, not everyone beats the clock and it helpfully continues to count if you go over.
One type of puzzle involves hidden numbers and personally I struggle to spot these until they are pointed out, so the hints on the app really help out if playing solo, rather than the experience dragging slightly as I just stare at the cards in odd ways to discover numbers. It can somewhat feel like cheating the game but if it alleviates frustration it can be more than worthwhile. Having different styles of puzzles does allow individual players to shine in different areas of the game. Potentially, this could limit the amount of quarterbacking, where one player starts making all of the decisions.
So what are the three Unlock! Mystery Advenures like? In a spoiler free way of course, with any information given written on the introduction card. The House on the Hill mission is less about escaping the house than fixing something within it and draws from a number of generic haunted house concepts, ending up feeling a tad bland thematically. Thankfully, puzzle wise this adventure was highly enjoyable. Each puzzle offered enough challenge to feel beatable but also give players a sense of accomplishment upon competition. We found that this was the quickest of the three included adventures, and the easiest – so it’s best to start with it!
Adventure two is The Nautilus’ Traps, which is heavily nautically themed, with a use of terms that puts some players on the perceived back foot from the very beginning. While I don’t believe an understanding of the terms was required, it was not great to attempt a puzzle where you feel at a disadvantage. Be it due to this perceived additional difficulty or not, we found The Nautilus’ Traps the hardest to solve out of all the adventures included in the first two Unlock! Boxes, using the most hints and doing the worst time wise. There is nothing more frustrating than hitting walls when it comes to solving problems.
The final adventure, Tonipals Treasure, puts players in a pirate themed race for treasure. Items and locations are all reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, something that in my book is a brilliant thing. Despite being classed as the 3 padlock difficulty, compared to the Nautilus’ 2 padlocks, this was the second easiest of the trilogy, with puzzles that flowed from one to another at a good knot. As far as the three included adventures went this was by far the easiest to get others excited about, due to the theme, and the experienced matched expectations.
Two out of the three Unlock! Mystery Adventures struck the perfect balance between offering a challenge but being achievable enough not to result in table flipping frustration, and a barrage of hints being used. The other just felt slightly out of reach, though with the right group I’m sure you could smash through it in the time limit. Ranging from around 50 – 75 minutes the adventures are of great length for getting to the table and maintaining interest throughout. As with other escape room games I’d not recommend playing with too many others, as at times it might result in someone not being able to do anything or see the available cards. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for that escape room fix, and don’t mind the ability to only play through once, I’d recommend this trilogy of adventures over the original Unlock! Box.
[Editor’s Note: Unlock! Mystery Adventures was provided to us by Asmodee UK for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £24.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]