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Review: EXIT: The Game – The Sunken Treasure

Designer: Inka Brand, Markus Brand
Artist: Silvia Christoph, Michaela Kienle, Michael Menzel
Publisher: KOSMOS
Category: Puzzle, Cooperative Play
Players: 1-4
Price: $10.59 Amazon.com

To wrap up my series on EXIT: The Game season 3, The Sunken Treasure is a very kid-friendly entry in the series. It is enjoyable to play, but far simpler than most of the other EXITs.

Review

For the third and final installment of my mini-review series, I will be covering EXIT: The Sunken Treasure. This game of deep-blue adventure has players hunting for the legendary wreck of the Santa Maria and all its riches.

Like The Mysterious Museum, the progression of this game is linear – that is, each puzzle is a self-contained challenge, the completion of which allows players to advance to the next page. The box comes with the usual book, cards, and solution wheel, but also contains some punch-out items and colored gemstones.

With a 2-out-of-5 difficulty rating, it’s no surprise that this we breezed through this game; it was the easiest one I’ve played in the series. The puzzles were still fun and entertaining, but they did not require nearly the same brain-power as Dead Man on the Orient Express. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. I actually think it presents a newbie-friendly introduction to the series.

When we played Orient Express, we had two players who had never played an EXIT game before and frankly, they were a bit overwhelmed. The Sunken Treasure would likely have been a much better choice to ease them into the series. (Hindsight, as always, is 20/20.) If you are playing with kids or folks new to gaming, this one would be a great starting point. I say that for a few reasons:

  1. It has a family-friendly theme and difficulty level, as mentioned above.
  2. It introduces the game system’s core mechanisms (solution wheel, riddle/hint cards, etc.), to give new players a sense of how the series works.
  3. It includes a couple of the classic meta-puzzles, giving new players a sense of its overall “style.”

To be honest, the thing that most impresses me about these games is the fact that they still feel fresh. Considering that each EXIT game has basically the same core system, one might expect that they would start to feel repetitive after a while. Happily, though, each one provides new, engaging content that leaves me wanting to play the next one. To me, this is a sure sign of the thought and care that went into crafting them.

I enjoyed each of these games for different reasons. The Mysterious Museum offered some really memorable puzzles, Dead Man on the Orient Express presented a particularly difficult challenge, and The Sunken Treasure was a laid-back, easygoing experience.

With a total of six under my belt, I am still really enjoying the EXIT games. I can’t wait to see what other adventures the series has in store.

A review copy was provided by KOSMOS.

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Review: EXIT: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express

Designer: Inka Brand, Markus Brand
Artist: Silvia Christoph, Michaela Kienle, Claus Stephan
Publisher: KOSMOS
Category: Puzzle, Cooperative Play
Players: 1-4
Price: $12.43 Amazon.com

Continuing my series of mini-reviews of EXIT: The Game season 3, Dead Man on the Orient Express is quite a bit tougher than many others in the series. Though the theme involves murder, the imagery is not gory or graphic.

Review

EXIT: Dead Man on the Orient Express is a whodunit mystery mixed with an escape room. After a detective goes missing during a murder investigation, it is up to the players to crack the unfinished case.

Right off the bat, we knew this one was going to be tricky, and it did not disappoint.

Unlike The Mysterious Museum, the game book in Dead Man on the Orient Express does not progress page by page; instead, players have access to the whole book all the time. This adds an extra layer of difficulty, as it’s up to them to figure out which clues go with which challenges. (Personally, I prefer this non-linear style, since it adds to the overall puzzly-ness.) In a slight narrative arc, additional locations will also be revealed as time goes on.

Given that the theme is a murder mystery, it shouldn’t be too much of a spoiler to say that players are asked to deduce who did the terrible deed at the end. The book includes a list of possible suspects and their alibis, so players must use what they uncover during the game to figure out who is lying. This added challenge gives the game a nice finale that sets it apart from other EXIT titles. (Even though our group accused the wrong person, we still had a ton of fun weighing the clues against the characters’ testimonies. It made the experience feel, appropriately, like a deduction game.)

Most EXIT games have a particular puzzle that will make players’ jaws drop. All the ones in Dead Man on the Orient Express are clever and enjoyable, but no single puzzle blew my mind the way *those* ones in The Abandoned Cabin, The Pharaoh’s Tomb, or The Mysterious Museum did. (This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience, however; just don’t expect to have any table-flip moments if you play this one.)

While I have not played every single EXIT game to date, of the six I have played, Dead Man on the Orient Express was easily the hardest. The theme comes through very strongly – more so than in other games from the series – enough that players will feel the weight and significance of their decision as they determine which suspect to accuse at the end. As my group was deliberating, I found myself getting really invested, thinking, “we have to guess right, or else the murderer will get away with it!” It’s always a major plus for me when a game draws me into its world, and this one did that quite well.

If you are looking for a tough, immersive escape room challenge, this is a great one to try.

A review copy was provided by KOSMOS.

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Review: EXIT: The Game – The Mysterious Museum

Designer: Inka Brand, Markus Brand, Sandra Dochtermann, Ralph Querfurth
Artist: Silvia Christoph, Michaela Kienle, Michael Menzel
Publisher: KOSMOS
Category: Puzzle, Cooperative Play
Players: 1-4
Price: $12.39 Amazon.com

The EXIT series consists of one-shot escape room games played out on a table. With a good mix of frustration and “eureka” moments, they provide memorable experiences with unexpected twists. Over the next few weeks, I will be covering three of these games.

Review

Escape room games are hit-or-miss for me, but certainly more are hits than misses. The EXIT series, which we have covered before (here, here, and here) has a very distinct style: puzzle-y, sometimes super meta challenges, set in a wide range of classic movie-esque locales, with pieces that players will write on, cut up, or otherwise deface in the name of fun.

I will be covering three of these games in a sort of mini-series of brief reviews, starting with EXIT: The Mysterious Museum. As is the case with any game in this genre, it’s tricky to write an effective review while staying completely, totally, 100% spoiler-free. Of course I will try to keep spoilers to a bare minimum, but consider this your formal warning: if you want absolutely no foreknowledge of this game, stop reading now.

Right off the bat, I was excited for The Mysterious Museum, because in my actual, real-life job, I am a museum curator. (Think “National Treasure” or “Night at the Museum,” except Nicolas Cage isn’t there and the artifacts don’t come to life at night.) In this game, players find themselves trapped in a museum, and must use their wits to navigate its exhibit spaces, find clues, and figure out how to escape.

Compared to some of the other EXIT titles, The Mysterious Museum is quite linear. Rather than giving players access to the entire scenario book at once and just saying, “Ready, go!” this one moves page by page—players may not advance to the next area until they have solved the puzzles in the current area. This makes its overall experience a bit more straightforward. Instead of each person working individually on her own, disjointed puzzle, everyone can put their heads together and collectively focus on the single challenge at hand.

To that end, the puzzles are mostly enjoyable. A few of them frustrated us when we played, but most were memorable and clever. Without giving specifics, The Mysterious Museum features one of the series’ signature meta-puzzles, as well as a couple of others that make interesting use of the physical components. In a very nice touch, the game even offers the players take-home rewards at the end to commemorate their adventure. Unnecessary? Yes. But cool? Totally.

The museum theme doesn’t come through very strongly, but I suspect this won’t matter to most players. Again, given that it is my profession, I probably got more hyped up on the theme than the average player would. (And let me be clear, I enjoyed the game, even if the theme was light).

This is a good entry in the EXIT series. Of the ones I have played, I think my favorite is still The Abandoned Cabin, but The Mysterious Museum is a close contender; it is definitely an awesome way to spend an evening. If you like the EXIT series, you will definitely want to check this one out.

A review copy was provided by KOSMOS.

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Review: Word Slam Family

Designer: Inka & Markus Brand
Artist: N/A
Publisher: KOSMOS
Category: Word Game, Real-Time
Players: 3+
Price: $14.95 Amazon.com

Word Slam Family is a new game from KOSMOS, based on their popular Word Slam. In this party game, two teams of players compete to guess a secret word first, using only one-word clues found in a deck of cards. It is incredibly simple to learn, and thus great for anyone.

Review

At a glance, Word Slam doesn’t look like much. I would wager that most hobbyists would be quick to dismiss it for no other reason than, “I don’t like word games.” Word Slam Family is a smaller, standalone expansion of sorts, and like its big brother, it also doesn’t look like much.

Boy, are looks deceiving.

Word Slam Family is a high-energy, team-based game, in the same vein as Taboo/CatchPhrase. The “get your teammates to guess a word” thing has been done to death, but the fantastic design duo of Inka and Markus Brand have given it a fresh look.

Word Slam Family is playable by itself or in conjunction with the original Word Slam, which we have reviewed in the past. To begin, players divide into two teams—for logistical reasons, teams should sit on opposite sides of the table. The two halves of the game box are placed in the middle to form a divider. This is important, because players will want to make sure the opposing team does not accidentally see their clue cards.

The game comes with seven categories of answer cards, including:

  • Animals/Plants/Creatures
  • Travel/Outdoors/History
  • Food/Drink
  • Web/Social Media
  • Emotions/Miscellaneous
  • Science/Technology/Religion
  • Movies/Music/Literature

Below are some example words:

To set up the game, players make a deck of these answer cards, the size of which depends upon the number of players and the desired game length. Players can customize the categories to their liking, or just shuffle all the cards together for a lexical free-for-all. One answer card should be set aside, for use in the final turn.

At the start of every round, one player from each team is designated as the storyteller (basically, the clue-giver). Together, these two players draw and secretly look at a card from the answer deck. Answer cards always have six words on them, and the number on the back of the next card in the pile (now, the card on top) determines which of the six words they will use for that round. For example:

Since the back of the next card bears a “3,” the secret word will be “Dwarf.” (This is also why an answer card is set aside at the beginning; the number on its back determines what word will be used in the last round, once the deck has been exhausted.)

Each team has over a hundred word cards distributed into decks of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions/miscellaneous. The storytellers will use these words as clues in a attempt to get their team to guess the answer before the other team.

When both storytellers are ready, they begin quickly rifling through their decks to find related words. To give a clue, the storyteller simply sets a card on the table behind the game box divider for her teammates to see; there is no limit to the number of word cards that can be used. To illustrate how this might look, here are some clues that might be used for the word “Dwarf:”

As the storytellers frantically look for useful words, their teammates can throw out guesses. When a player guesses the answer correctly, the round ends, and his team receives one point. When all cards in the answer deck have been used, the game ends, and the team with the most points wins.

As a side note, an interesting nuance to this game is that both teams can hear what the other is saying. If one team is shouting out,

“Airplane? Space Shuttle? Helicopter?”

…that, in and of itself, might be a useful clue. Players won’t know what cards their opponents are looking at, but they may be able to infer themes merely from listening to their guesses.


Word Slam Family is a nice miniaturization of the original. While it lacks the tactile “chrome” of the base game’s number die and card racks, its small footprint means it travels well and takes up little shelf space. It’s just a tradeoff.

Happily, Word Slam Family maintains all the frenzied fun of its big brother. What makes the original so great is its competitive, real-time pressure, which is directly at odds with the desire to give thoughtful, helpful clues. The same is true for this smaller version. Word Slam Family will incite all the same laughter as the original, and its lower price point makes it a good choice for folks who want to “try before they buy” the full game.

Though I have played the original Word Slam before, I don’t own it, and therefore, I have not been able to combine the two sets together. (Hopefully, I can get the base game soon, so I can try it out!) That said, though, they should integrate seamlessly, since they both use the same core game system.

I have had great success with both versions of Word Slam. Gamers and non-gamers alike have had a blast playing them. If I had to recommend one or the other, I would probably start with the original game, simply because the included card racks make gameplay a bit easier. However, Family‘s portability is nice, so either way, you can’t go wrong.

Don’t be fooled by the look of the box—this is a fantastic party game. I highly recommend it.

A review copy was provided by KOSMOS.

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Reviews Tabletop

Review: Word Slam

Designers: Inka and Markus Brand
Publisher: KOSMOS
Category: Party Game, Word Game
Player Count: 4+ (4-8 ideal)
Price: $29.95
Codenames, a huge award-winner in 2015—and honestly one of the best board games I’ve ever played—showed us that the word-based party game genre still has a lot of life left in it. Word Slam is very much in the same genre, although it might bear a closer resemblance in style to 2014’s Concept. Designers Markus and Inka Brand have shown they have a variety of game design skills, having won awards for both children’s games, advanced strategy games, and even destructible escape-rooms-in-boxes. Are word games also in their repertoire? Let’s find out!

 

Content Guide

There’s no art in the game—just a bunch of very basic words used to convey other words. There are no dirty or inappropriate words used. It’s an excellent game for teaching communication and language, but beyond that, there’s nothing to praise or complain about either way.

Review

Word Slam is simple enough that I can quickly explain it, and so I shall. Two teams are trying to guess the same secret word. The two team captains (who know the secret word) simultaneously grab cards with basic words and put them on their respective card racks, trying to describe the word to their teammates. While each team can only see their cards, they can hear the other team’s guesses and play off of those. Whoever guesses the word gets a point, and you play until X amount of points have been awarded, X amount of cards have been drawn, or until you get bored, rotating through team captains for each card. 
Although the success of Codenames means other word games draw immediate comparison, Word Slam plays very differently. Every player is involved the entire time, and it’s a real-time race full of frantic guessing and card-moving. It also leads to considerably more laughter due to the constraints on the team captains, forcing them to use simple phrases like “WHITE WATER FOR CHILD” (milk) or “METAL BUILDING NAME” (Eiffel Tower). It’s actually a closer cousin to Concept, which had a huge mat of symbols that a player would place cubes on to convey a word. However, the symbols were too abstract and players usually translated them to a word using the provided key anyway, so Word Slam removes that pointless step and creates a more excitingly competitive game.    
I have to say that I’m surprised at how well the competitive aspect of Word Slam works. It sounds like you’re just playing simultaneously and ignoring the other team, which at least means you’re playing faster than watching each other take turns like in Taboo or, well, Codenames. However, the simple fact that you can listen to the other team is huge. We had many rounds where a card was “stolen” because the other team’s guesses gave important clues. For example, “EAT WHITE SMALL” was enough to get “rice” because the other time shouted “Japan”. So it leads to an interesting metagame. Do you guess everything that comes to mind? Or do you stay quiet until you feel confident, so you don’t give clues away to the other team? Likewise, as the team captain, do you pay attention to what the other team is saying, and then give clues complementary to what they’re saying, instead of identical? 
There is definitely some skill to Word Slam, and I can further attest to that by the fact that our team was absolutely crushed in our first two back-to-back games. However, the game is so funny that we weren’t too put out by our ridiculous losses. One aspect of the skill is physically being able to maneuver the cards, which is really annoying. The team captain can only communicate by putting the cards on the rack, although he can take them off, rearrange them, and so on. But there are over 100 cards for each captain, in four stacks. Fumbling through the stacks is very difficult. We eventually took to just spreading all the cards out so they could be all seen at a glance, but this is somewhat information overload, and our table wasn’t really large enough. In a hurry, it turns into a huge messy pile, which probably would have been the inevitable result if we had stuck with stacks, too. I wish there was a better system for sorting and placing the cards, although it’s still far better than the cubes-on-hieroglyphics in Concept. While discussing components, I should also mention that the box is way too big, and portability is always a huge boon for party games. I don’t find it particularly overpriced ($29.95 MSRP), however.
Despite the physical clumsiness of Word Slam, the game is immensely fun. One player likened it to the book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by XKCD’s Randall Munroe, in which he tries to explain advanced concepts using only the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language. It’s an extremely satisfying challenge when you pull it off, and somehow, we always did. The rules include a timer that players can agree to start when they’ve decided neither team will get it, and every time we set it going, someone dug deep and figured it out! It’s a real testament to a party game when it can generate grit, laughs, and language skills! This is an excellent party game, and it even managed to convert a few “hardcore” gamers who are generally not party game people.
 
Thank you to Thames and Kosmos for providing a review copy of Word Slam.