Review: Unlock! Secret Adventures – A Noside Story, Tombstone Express, Adventurers of Oz

The Unlock! Series Evolves

unlocksecretadv

Length 60 min (90 min for Adventurers of Oz)

Release Date Summer 2018

Designers: Alice Carroll, Cyril Demaegd
Artist: Arnaud Demaegd, Legruth, Mahulda Jelly
Publisher: Space Cowboys / Asmodee
Category: 
Deduction, Puzzle, Real-Time
Price: $14.99 MSRP (each)

Not long after Escape Rooms boomed in popularity, board game designers began trying to simulate the experience in an at-home, less-expensive tabletop experience. The two most successful series so far have been the EXIT series, which involves destructible components, and Unlock!, which is non-destructible and operates with a companion app (free on the App and Play stores). The Secret Adventures set of adventures—sold in America as three different individual titles—are the 7th, 8th, and 9th iteration of the series, with each set a different difficulty level. Is the series growing stale, or can it continue to impress? Let’s find out! 

Content Guide

There’s nothing graphic or sexual in any of these, but there are explosions, intrigue, wizardry, deaths, and so on. They’re also too difficult for younger children (and some adults). I wouldn’t play these with kids younger than 10. 

Review

I have to admit that I have not played every Unlock! scenario, but I’ve played three of the demo scenarios, Squeek & Sausage, and The Formula. My initial impression of the series was that the series had promise but was hamstrung by its mechanisms. It insists on being entirely cards, not having any destructible components, and forcing riddles to come from two main mechanisms – pairing blue and red numbers, and four-digit codes. I was extremely wrong.

The standout scenario of these three by far is Adventurers of Oz. Even though I’ve never watched the movie (gasp!), I’m vaguely familiar with the story and found myself extremely engaged with the setting. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will tell you two things you discover right away: this scenario includes a large map, and is 90 minutes long instead of 60. Despite this, I never felt like the scenario overstayed its welcome, and the puzzles were incredibly fascinating and fun. Most importantly, the puzzles surprised me with how much they really pushed how creatively you have to think about the cards and the map, without cutting or destroying anything. It helped that I had an incredibly smart partner for this scenario; I would never consider trying to do this one solo within the time limit. And it’s just more fun to bounce ideas off of each other, anyway.  The only complaint I can think of is that at least one puzzle requires you to be familiar with the source material, although the fact needed is very well-known.

The second best scenario—and second most difficult (there seems to be a correlation)—is Tombstone Express. This adventure simulates an investigation into a theft in the Old West, while riding a train, and you need to solve it before the train arrives at the station! A lot of escape rooms fail at explaining just why you only have exactly one hour to solve the puzzles, but this scenario had a wonderful sense of time and urgency. At different intervals, the game would be interrupted by different situations requiring the players to work on, we’ll say, “side quests”. However, one of these side quests is absolutely awful and the worst thing in any of the Unlock! series. Despite this (it’s easily skipped), Tombstone Express has a fun cast of characters, and absolutely brilliant ending that ties everything you’ve been doing together. I still highly recommend the scenario.

The last scenario is A Noside Story, which is a direct sequel to Squeek & Sausage. The setting—stopping a mad scientist—is fine, but it doesn’t seem as evocative as the other two. What’s more, this is rated the easiest of the three, and unfortunately there seems to be a correlation between “interesting” and “difficult”. However, I think these two connected scenarios would be the perfect place to start for a player new to the series, before moving on to more difficult sets. This one is also reasonably doable as a solo player, while I would never attempt that for the other two if I wanted to stay in the time limit.

Overall, this is a really strong set of releases, and I have to say that Adventurers of Oz is the best “escape room in a box” I’ve played—that goes across any of the several series that are now available. I am looking forward to the next sets! 

 

Thank you to Asmodee for providing review copies of Unlock! Secret Adventures.

 

The Bottom Line

The Unlock! series has come a long way, and these are some of the best adventures yet in the series. The Adventurers of Oz is especially impressive.

 

9

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.