Puzzles: they’re everywhere. I don’t mean like trying to work out why your son can’t close a closet door. Those puzzles you don’t have to pay for. I mean actual puzzles, of the jigsaw variety. Walk into a Barnes and Nobel, the bookstore, and they have shelves of them. Even my grocery store has some, albeit for a younger audience. Now most of my game reviews are video games, because, what can you say about a puzzle? “Oh, I put the 1000 pieces on the board and turned them all heads up and then did the edges…” Ok, not really exciting or fun for a reader. You know what is fun? An escape room. Alas, 2020 has made those a bit off-putting. So when I saw a puzzle claiming to be an escape room, I was intrigued. Especially considering who released it.
Ravensburger first came to my attention around 2005 when Doctor Who came back to our screens. I remember that so clearly because this company released some Doctor Who puzzles. Upon buying them, I could not help but notice that the quality of the pieces were exceptional. The pieces were solid and they fit wonderfully. I’ve come to accept that a Ravensburger puzzle means quality. And this particular one had such a cool image on it… So the question is: what makes a jigsaw puzzle an escape room game? And that’s why I’m taking a Thursday away from video games…
The setup was a little bothersome to me. The instructions offer little but tell you right away that the image on the box is not the image you’ll be building. You then read the story of 2 or 3 paragraphs. The thing that annoyed me was that in the story, a door opens up leading you into an observatory. Now, you may be wondering: aren’t you a fan of Sci-fi? Why would such a fantastical thing bother you? Myst, is why. I don’t want the solution to be something so outré that I can’t solve it. If a door could open magically, did that mean this puzzle was going to have some magical solution? And the box only gives you a few hints: a candle becomes a lit candle? Piece A fits with piece B? Was I supposed to light a candle? What was it all about?
The main complaint
This game, for it is a game, would have benefitted from actual instructions. Maybe the problem was that my wife and I grabbed a midlevel difficulty puzzle. Perhaps had we started with another lower level it would have told us what we needed to do. The thing is, I love puzzle games, so I don’t mind thinking through a problem and my wife is very analytical so between the two of us, we should have been able to pull this off! But when you don’t know how many items you’re looking for, well, that’s a let down! The game could have offered one thing: there are 6 puzzles to solve. That would have been enough – not to win, because I didn’t pick up on all 6, but to know what to at least try for.
The puzzle was unlike any I had ever done namely in that the pieces did not lend themselves to building the border first. I’ve never done a puzzle where we worked from the inside out. The worst part with trying the outside was not knowing what the image should have looked like and, to my surprise, some of the edge pieces fit so well with one another that when we learned they were not correct, we were frustrated! What happened to the Ravensburger quality? (It was there, believe me! I just didn’t know it at the time!) After about 2 weeks, the puzzle was assembled. Now what?
Mild spoiler (I won’t reveal the answers or what the puzzle looks like)
When you complete the puzzle, the game begins. Without any instructions, we had to figure out what to do next. There were glyphs all over and a number of cryptic diagrams and etchings, but that didn’t help us know what to do. We started working on the in-game puzzles we could see and resolved about 3 of them but… to what avail? 759 pieces and not a single hint as to how many puzzles we’d need to solve. There was one that was a simple letter to number game; you know 1=a, 2=b sort of thing. We found a word, grabbed the numbers and had a 5 digit number. And? We used charts and found other numbers. And? So at long last, after ages gathering numbers that went somewhere, my son opened the envelope and announced that he was none the wiser. There were 6 numbers listed but that told him nothing. After reviewing it, all became clear! The escape room was finished and it was awesome. What was it, you ask?
Once I had the numbers, I began to unravel what we had to do and it made sense but there was no way I would have known it without playing one of these previously. And I have to say that one number I think they had wrong because, try as we might, we kept being one digit short. Still, I enjoyed the revelation: we had to use those numbers to find corresponding edge pieces, remove them to assemble a different, 6-piece puzzle to figure out the ending. Suddenly it became clear why some of the earlier pieces fit so well with others: they had to to make their smaller in-game puzzle at the end. And with the solution, even though we hadn’t solved it ourselves, I felt the swell of pride in understanding. I would happily do another. And I credit Ravensburger again for the quality that I had long ago found in their puzzles!
Over the years, I’ve seen some damned fine innovative video games, and even played some great board and card games, but until now, I’ve never had a puzzle that was both a mystery and a game! For its $20 retail price, it was a fun way to spend a winter evening. And now I know what to expect in a Ravensburger Escape Room puzzle, I will be on the lookout for more puzzles from them. Would you look at that… there’s one about a vampire that I’d like to sink my teeth into… ML