Full disclosure: A review copy of EXIT: The Secret Lab was provided by KOSMOS.
So this goes into the same vein as my The Rise of Queensdale review (conveniently published also right now); I can’t talk too much about setup or gameplay without giving away spoilers, which I would hate to do, so I’m going a bit light in those two areas / strategy. I can’t tell you what to do; this is a puzzle game! That seems right, to me. If there are things missing from this review that you’d like to see, please comment and lemme know! I’m always workshopping this formula.
In EXIT: The Secret Lab, you’ve just signed up for some experiment you saw in a newspaper ad because you needed $20 for some unknown reason that’s never truly explained by the game. What’s my motivation? Unknown. Anyways, you then notice that there’s nobody else except for y’all in the room and you see a vial labelled “THIS KNOCKS OUT THE MAN” and before you can be like “oh no” you wake up and the room is locked with only some crude notes detailing that Something Bad Will Happen To You if you can’t escape before your captors return, which sounds not-great. Will you be able to uh … exit the secret lab?
Really, for this one, you should just take the Answer Cards:
Set them in a place. Set out the Hint Cards for each Symbol:
Now set out the Riddle cards, as well:
These are pretty much true for every EXIT game you play. Each one also has a different decoder disk:
So that’s fun. You’ll find a notebook and a rulebook, but you can leave everything else in the box. You may want to grab a notepad, some pens, and a pair of scissors (also, again, true of every EXIT game). Once you’re ready to start, go for it!
Not really a ton to talk about, here. You should flip through the notebook and look for any visible Riddle Cards (which you may draw from the deck immediately, as well as check to see if you have any puzzles that can be solved.
As you solve Puzzles, you’ll enter the codes they give you into the Decoder Disk, which will indicate an Answer Card. Flip that card and follow any instructions. If you’re correct, you’ll unlock the next puzzle! If not, well, you can try again.
If you need any help, you can reveal a Hint Card. That will cost you a star every so often, but you don’t have to count it if the Hint Card gave you no new information, which is generous of the game.
Keep pushing on the puzzles! You’ll know when you’ve won. Then record your time and see how many stars you earned! I think we got 6 on this one.
Player Count Differences
I thankfully got to play this at two and three because one of our players had a meeting at 2PM on a work day for some reason, so they had to step out. I think there was usually more than one thing for any individual to be doing, so I felt like both players were routinely engaged. At three, I think we had two people working on some puzzles and one person working on others, which was fine. I’m not sure that four to six would have been that sustainable, or if it would have been like playing Codenames at 6+ (in that there’s a lot of unneeded extra noise). Your mileage may vary, but I’d probably keep this one to 2 – 3 players, tops.
- This is a puzzle game; figure it out. No spoilers!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The puzzles feel like they ramp up and then back down in difficulty. I felt like the most challenging ones were in the middle, but that might have just been stress. Really unclear.
- I’ve done a few escape rooms and these are on par with those, in terms of type / scope / challenge. I’d expect to see challenges of this scope in various escape rooms, and I think that playing these EXIT games have made me a better participant in escape rooms (and vice-versa). Definitely a solid afternoon activity if you don’t want to drive all the way out to an escape room (and it’s much, much cheaper).
- I really like the Answer Card / Decoder Disk system. I think it does a nice job of preventing / disincentivizing guessing. I’d love to see like, mild hints on the Answer cards that are just “nope” to try and push you in the right direction, but that would require a lot more answer cards and some pretty impressive anticipation of player needs, in my opinion. I feel like at that point, the Answer Deck should just be an app, though. I’d be into that.
- A nice bit of stress and tension. We always play with an open stopwatch so we can see the time tick-tick-ticking away. Adds a good amount of stress to it. Plus, I was playing this before a 2:30 meeting (we started at 12:45) and we finished it with 30 seconds left before my meeting, so that was also particularly stressful. I’d recommend it.
- My friend who I do these with always is upset that we have to physically cut things out of the game. If you’re playing with someone who’s going to not be pleased that you have to occasionally cut things with scissors, they may not enjoy this set of games. Forewarned is forearmed. We played one of these (not this one, no spoilers) where you had to cut a card in half with the scissors. It was a very emotional time for everyone, as I’m the kind of person who visibly winces if I see someone writing in a book.
- Whew this one was challenging. The time pressure didn’t help, but, I definitely would recommend ramping up to this one with others if this is only, say, your third EXIT game. If you’re looking for a solid challenge, some of these are pretty tough. Though occasionally I’d say that the solutions were a bit obtuse? They required taking a bit of a step back, which I guess is fair for escape room-style games. Just pretty difficult, which might be good for some and not-so-good for others.
- The Breaking Bad references are a bit dated. I think that’s just a consequence of choosing to make pop culture references. I was amused by them, but, yeah, they’re a bit dated, at this point.
- I have a general frustration with the ‘first’ Hint Cards being unhelpful beyond providing some of the items you need, rather than help with the puzzle itself. I get why they’re there, but if you just need a hint for a “we can’t quite grok what we’re supposed to do for this puzzle” being told to collect all the pieces you already have isn’t terribly helpful, especially if you’re positive you already have all the pieces you need. If you don’t have all the pieces you need, then, well, yeah, it’s more useful (and that was the case, once). It’d be nice to have them more organized like “SETUP” “PUZZLE” “SOLUTION” since you’re really not sure if you need “HINT 1” or “HINT 2” relative to the specific problem you had.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Honestly, it’s really difficult to rate these without having a larger corpus from which to draw from. I can’t ever really play this again, so what’s the point in me saying “I’d never turn this one down”; does that mean I’d definitely play it again, or just that I’d play anything in the series again? Unclear. I think the easiest way to give it a rating is to put it in a category of games that all have the same rating and ask myself if I’d prefer it to those games in a purely stack-ranking sense. Doing that, it becomes a bit easier to find a score for these, but I reserve the right to adjust my scoring if it becomes evident later on that I scored this one impractically due to others coming out. (And I did, after playing the others; bumped it down .5!)
The core thing to take away from this is that I really enjoyed it, though. The puzzles are interesting (if occasionally a bit tough for me), the interactions between players are fun, and the game never overstays its welcome. I think we had been a bit too cocky from other EXIT games we’ve played in the past, so we might have underestimated this one a smidge (to our detriment), but it was definitely an enjoyable experience (and for $15 it’s cheaper than the movie I went to go see last night, so, it’s got that going for it). If you’re looking for an escape-room experience but you’re not terribly interested in leaving your house or being locked in somewhere, I’d definitely recommend checking out the EXIT Games!