Base price: $50.
Play time: A few hours, spread over 24 days, if you’re patient.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 1, though it took about two weeks.
Full disclosure: A review copy of EXIT: The Mystery of the Ice Cave was provided by KOSMOS.
If there’s one series that’s really been pushing the envelope of innovation, it’s been the EXIT series. There’s an absolutely preposterous number of EXIT games, at this point, and they show no sign of slowing down. Just keep plugging away, and I respect that. The Brands are unstoppable, and they’re even expanding their scope! I’ve seen some teasers for EXIT Kids, there are the EXIT puzzles, and now we’ve got an advent calendar. I’ve been hyped for this one, so let’s dive right in without any more theater.
In EXIT: The Mystery of the Ice Cave, players will spend the days before Christmas solving mysteries! There’s been a skiing accident and you now find yourself stuck in a mountainous hideaway. What can you do? Well, solve everything! Get your decoder ready, change out of your ski boots, and puzzle out some riddles! Will you be able to escape before Christmas?
Not a ton! This time, there are booklets for everything. So, open the flap, set out the booklets, and set up the decoder:
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
So, this is an all-new EXIT animal. Like the previous EXIT games, you’re going to be solving puzzles, but now you’ll have even more puzzles and a bit more time to do them!
To start things off, each day, you’ll tear out the date and read the prompt, then open the corresponding door! Inside might be a Riddle Card and / or some “strange items” to try and help you solve today’s puzzle. Once you think you have a three-digit answer, you enter it into the decoder. That will generate a set of symbols and a set of three direction arrows. Starting from your current room, move in those three directions; you should end up on a new door. The three symbols on the decoder should match the three symbols on the door you’ve encountered. If they don’t (or if you aren’t directed to a door), your solution is incorrect. If they do match, write the next day’s number on the snowball on the front.
The next day, come back and do it again! See if you can solve the mystery before Christmas!
Player Count Differences
The EXIT games are always an interesting one, since I’m mostly speculating. You can only play the game once, after all, so I tend to play with my housemate, at two players. Here, it works really well; we take turns reading and solving on opposite days (or for opposite puzzles). This is great for me, since I hate reading out loud. I get a break! And then I just consult on the puzzles when it’s not my solve day. I think, to some degree, the game would go faster if you were playing by yourself, since you wouldn’t be reading out loud quite as much and you can move through the puzzles on your own. This, of course, assumes that you can solve the puzzles on your own, which is not my forte, but best of luck to y’all. With more players, you do run close to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem, but if you’re really good at sharing, it probably works out just fine. I’d still probably recommend this at two, though; it was really fun to do this with another person.
- Once you’re done with a day, tear the hint page out! That’s something we forgot to do, and it led to us flipping through a lot of pages for no useful reason. I mean, you’re not exactly playing for time with this one, since you have 24 days to do it all, but there’s still not reason to waste time if you don’t feel like it. That said, if you’re a no-hints person, you may just as well ignore the hint book entirely. Up to you.
- Also, generally, I recommend not throwing anything away until you’re done, unless you have to cut it up or tear it or something. I think that’s generally true for EXIT games? I made the same note for Nightfall Manor, earlier. I think I attempted to place things back in their alcoves and ended up losing a few things, and that ended up mattering a bit more than I expected. We made it work, but, you know, don’t throw anything away until you’re done.
- You will never need to prematurely open an alcove before you’re directed to do so, so don’t worry about that. The alcoves are only opened upon completion of a puzzle; nothing should have you punch into one before that, so don’t worry. If any puzzles seem like they’d require that, don’t do that.
- If you’re stuck, use a hint! Not that there’s a time limit; you really do have until Christmas. I think it can sometimes be helpful just to help you reestablish where you’re coming from and whether or not you even have the right supplies for everything. They don’t count against you if you already knew all the information in the hint, so, really, nothing to lose, as far as I figure it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I think the idea is, frankly, genius. It’s such a good idea, though. A giant EXIT game that capitalizes on the kinda-growing advent calendar trend? I’d normally be a bit skeptical but it’s a really good idea. I think EXIT has earned a fair bit of goodwill since they’ve managed to already slam dunk some IP integrations, they did great on the puzzle games, and now they’re making EXIT Kids games and advent calendars. I’m impressed by the expansion of the brand, but I also think setting up twenty-four puzzles in a big EXIT game that runs for almost a month is super fun.
- I really like how it’s executed, as well! Having players get the code and check it against the direction and symbols of the next day’s door is a really good idea. It’s a really smart way to both conserve on printing unnecessary Answer Cards and let players check their answers. It’s obfuscated enough that players can’t exactly guess the next door while still being a pretty straightforward and simple way to check things. I appreciate that. The Decoder is a bit janky (just because the strips are a little thin), but it’s otherwise a nice robust system.
- The theme is cute and family-friendly enough for everyone to enjoy, which is fun. It would be a bit incongruous to have a deep horror theme for a holiday-adjacent game (though I assume some exist), anyways. It’s definitely one of the least horror-esque themes of the EXIT games that I’ve played, which I think works nicely for an advent calendar.
- The adaptation of the hint system is pretty smart. Here, you just fold up the sheet however much you want for a hint, which is nice. Once you’ve solved that puzzle, you can tear the hint out! Plus, the hints are organized by date, so it’s very easy to find what you need.
- I appreciate how the puzzles really do make use of everything. The Brands have truly become essentially zero-waste. Without spoiling anything, I was very impressed by how much they put everything to use over the course of twenty-four days.
- I’m impressed by the scope and scale of the puzzles that they can cram into a tiny alcove! The variety, too. There are many very good puzzles in this one! I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who isn’t delighted by several of them. I’m particularly impressed since they have limited space (to some degree) to work with; the Brands really came up with some clever puzzles.
- The storyline is a nice touch! Gives a player something to read every day, which may be a great way to involve someone who’s not as here for the puzzles. There might be younger players who can’t get into the puzzles or folks who would rather have a chocolate advent calendar than a riddle one. I can respect that. If they still want to be included, have them read the daily prompts! There’s a good bit of story there and that will keep them engaged.
- I appreciate that it’s not really a “2021-specific” thing; you can very much get this whenever as a gift for a friend who likes puzzles, mysteries, and escape rooms. I don’t think this was available in the States quite as easily in 2021 (I had a few friends import it), but now it seems to be widely available. And don’t worry, holiday gift-inclined folks. This both can just be a “whenever” gift and it does not need to be a 2021-specific advent calendar. I think the next EXIT advent calendar is a bit more explicitly Santa and Christmas-themed, though.
- It’s a longer EXIT game, and it likely will be around for a while, and it has a particularly large box, so it can be kind of a mess and a space hog while you’re playing it. I usually try to put everything back in its alcove between days, but for some days, that’s definitely more of a challenge than others. Thankfully, we have some table space that’s essentially always game space, these days, but there’s not always a good place to put everything. Just be prepared for that.
- I don’t know how any of y’all have the patience to actually ration this over 24 days; the puzzle temptation was too strong for us. I have yet to talk to someone who actually did this one day at a time for 24 days. To me, that speaks a bit more to how fun the puzzles themselves are than anything else, but you may end up tearing through this one.
- I mean, with 24 puzzles, there are going to be a few misses out of the bunch, but one in particular just felt like … busywork? There’s definitely one puzzle that’s mostly just “remember this?”, which is kind of annoying. I also still remain frustrated by the perspective puzzles that are in the occasional EXIT games, but, that’s probably just my personal vendetta against the Brands.
- Lighting is a bit of a challenge: you often need to be able to see into the alcoves, but it can be hard to. We ended up using a flashlight a lot. They’re pretty small alcoves that often have pretty useful information in them, but they are fairly small. Sometimes it can be hard to get the right lighting in there to see all the relevant information. We ended up using our phone flashlight to try and sort things out, but then we had glare from the packaging, and it was just sometimes difficult to make out what they wanted us to see.
Overall: 9.25 / 10
Overall, I really loved EXIT: The Mystery of the Ice Cave! I’ve been excited about trying out an EXIT advent calendar since they were first announced, and this certainly did not disappoint! There are several translations required from the core EXIT games, granted, but if you’re already used to things like the EXIT puzzles, you should be able to roll with the punches. Personally, I think this is an incredible thing to make; it really appeals to folks who are interested in puzzles and gives them a nice, steady drip of puzzles for an entire month, essentially. I probably wouldn’t recommend trying this out with four people, since there’s only one puzzle per day; you might run the risk of some folks having nothing to do and feeling like they wasted their time. That said, if you have younger players or players who aren’t as enthusiastic about puzzles, they may find engaging with the story content of the game to be sufficiently fun enough to capture their interest? Might be a nice way to focus the family on an activity together during the holidays. That said, I appreciate that this advent calendar is really an “anytime” advent calendar. I mean, we certainly didn’t hold ourselves to doing one puzzle a day for twenty-four days, and I know plenty of other folks who didn’t, either. For me, at least, part of it was trying to get a review done ahead of the holiday purchase season, but also, we genuinely enjoyed most of the puzzles. Not all of them, but, hey, the hit rate was pretty good, as usual. If you’re looking for a great gift, trying to come up with a challenging daily activity for two people, or you’re just as big of an EXIT fan as I am, I’d definitely encourage you to check out EXIT: The Mystery of the Ice Cave! I had an awesome time with it.
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