This review of Exit: The Secret Lab has been certified Spoiler free!
The Exit is locked! Oh no! How will you escape this mysterious lab!? Hopefully someone left a key somewhere you’ll be able to find it. Or a selection of puzzles and riddles you could work through to obtain the combination for a safe or padlock or some similar numerical locking device. Yes. That would be convenient. Don’t all kidnappers arrange such set ups?
This is going to be something of a challenging review. On the one hand, I have fully experienced Exit: The Lab. But on the other that means I’ve played it precisely once, and can’t ever play it again. Because Exit: The Lab is a one use box with a single evenings entertainment in it. You can’t even pass it on (well played, Kosmos, well played) since you can’t get through the case without writing on and tearing up components.
I’m certainly tearing up… *sniff*
Does that bother you? I can understand if it does. Even in the age of “Legacy” games a lot of us feel uncomfortable with intentionally damaging our games. And forking out for a game you will literally play once and then throw away triggers some uncomfortable feelings. But for this you ought to put things in context, and that context is Escape Rooms.
Escape Rooms are all the rage now, with numerous games springing up in strange locations across London and America. These experience games see you and a few friends locked into a room or two of puzzles for an hour with you hoping to solve those puzzles and escape before you get kicked out. They aren’t cheap either, with a single trip costing £20+ per person in London. Comparatively, Exit’s cardboard version is an absolute bargain at £13 for probably well over an hours entertainment and you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home.
Unless your friend buys it and invites you over. But hey! That’s probably a win too.
Let’s get physical
But surely, you’re thinking, surely a small cardboard box, as good value as it is, can’t replace the physical experience of being in an actual Escape Room? To an extent you’d be right, but don’t call me Shirley. Modern escape rooms are filled with flashing lights, boxes to open, furniture to crawl around and search, but so much of this is just window dressing. It’s undeniably fun but if, like me, it’s the puzzles that really get you excited then, my friend, you are in for a treat.
Inside Exit you get a few decks of cards, some thin cardboard punch outs, a mysterious spinny disc thing™, and little booklet full of indecipherable puzzles. It’s an exciting moment, filled with possibility and mystery. You find some introductory text setting the scene, a letter from the previous occupant of the room who figured out how to escape and hid the path to that escape route…. Behind a mountain of puzzles! What a dick. Still, it wouldn’t be much of a game if he hadn’t. And this booklet’s kinky centre fold is none other than the view of the lab you’re in!
Now you just need to find your way out. The key to this is the patented spinny disc thing™ that is plastered with little flasks and symbols. Each of the game’s 10 core puzzles (corresponding to one of the symbols on the outermost ring) has a solution that can be expressed in terms of three of the coloured flasks. You line up your predicted solution with the corresponding symbol by turning the different layers of the disc and the central window will reveal a number. Like so
You then go searching through the blue answer deck for that numbered card and if it’s wrong you’ll get a big fat cross and you’ll all groan and stare back at your working out and wonder, what went wrong? What went wrong with your life!? What’s the point of carrying on anymore!!?? But that’s just an Exit-stential crisis and don’t worry, we all have those from time to time.
If you’re on the right track though you’ll get an intriguing card with a series of images on them, taken from the central location. This is a kind of second tier test to keep you from accidentally stumbling on the correct answer cards.
Find the corresponding object in the room with your puzzle’s symbol on it and move on to the card as indicated, finally giving you the success you hoped for! This will inevitably reward you with a few more riddle cards from the red deck, giving you more pieces of the puzzles and the parts you need to put the booklet in context. Or it’ll be an X and another tragic disappointment. It’s certainly builds up some entertaining tension. Oooo is the answer right!? It’s a picture card!! Which is our picture!!? Right! Get that card…! God damnit.
X marks the – no, wait, it doesn’t
Don’t worry if you see quite a few of these on your journey. Should things get too frustrating, the game has spent a lot of effort on a clue system. Each core puzzle has a trio of green clue cards associated with them, offering up steadily more generous clues culminating in the actual answer. Of particular value, the 1st clue will always tell you what components you need to solve a particular puzzle.
This is especially useful as, like with many real life escape rooms, it’s not always obvious which pieces go together to solve which puzzle. This is made particularly hard by the booklet, which contains 8 pages that could potentially be connected to any given puzzle. But then figuring that out, what goes where, is all part of the challenge. And while I’ll admit to being caught out at one or two points, there are enough distinguishing features for you to figure that out without clues.
…though it might only become ‘obvious’ with hindsight.
Exit: The Lab is certainly a challenging game. But that’s what you generally want from a puzzle game! It makes you feel good when you do figure it out! And wow, some of these puzzles are clever. Completely opaque when looked at in one way, but perfectly logical when looked at in another. Fans of escape rooms and puzzles will be in their element here. There might be a bit of a steep learning curve for puzzle newbies though.
The game worked perfectly with 3 players. Each of us had our moments in the sun, figuring out something that had the others stumped. Each of us feeling like we contributed. Sadly I don’t know how well it works with other player counts, beyond my experience of escape rooms in general. Alone I imagine this would be quite challenging, as having others to bounce ideas off of was extremely valuable. Plus a shared experience is just more fun, you know? Likewise I know that with lots of players, it’s easy for people to feel left out and like they are not contributing, especially with different puzzle solving skill levels present around the table. The central book is going to be an issue here as multiple people can’t look at it at once. But be aware that I am extrapolating here.
Overall I was totally impressed by Exit: The Lab! It was a fantastic experience! Honestly, a must buy for fans of escape rooms and puzzles! I will be eagerly looking out for the other titles in this line soon…
Rating: Get Out! …And Buy It!