With Escape Room in a Box: Flashback, your team of 2 to 9 players has 90 minutes to find clues, solve puzzles and crack codes in order to escape the mad scientist werewolf, Doc Gnaw. Solve 22 puzzles and unlock 4 real combination locks to construct a powerful amulet that holds the key to your freedom!
Nostalgic Art Direction (+3)
Two of my favorite colors reside in the family of blues and purples, and this game has both! That palette is very nostalgic of the mid-1980s and later, so y’all better get out your rad leg warmers to play this game — or at least find the custom super rad soundtrack on the game’s website. Some of the puzzle items in this game go the extra mile to simulate that a child wrote these letters. Considering this is a “flashback” theme, all of the above makes complete sense to me.
Crafts, Components and Keepsakes (+5)
Us puzzle gurus have been there by now: crossing out things, cutting out things, folding, etc. It’s refreshing to find a game that gives you more experiences with crafting solutions, and even more so gives you puzzle components that can be put on display as keepsakes. There’s nothing more satisfying than having cute game pieces on a shelf somewhere and remembering the experience and even the story behind that game. The publisher did find it appropriate enough to mention in the rulebook that there is in fact… an amulet you can make.
Sustainable Design (+5)
Even before you start the game it lets you know that it’s possible to reset and repack it, and that the pages are also on their site. There is a bit of destroying material in this game but it’s nothing you cannot replace. I haven’t seen escape room games of this quality level go through the trouble of letting you reset it for future use, so you know right away the all-woman team who designed the game wanted you to share the love. I can tell you right now that I’m very excited to reset this and hand it off to the next puzzle enthusiast.
Unfamiliar Puzzle Constructs Done Right (+5)
I’m happy with how they’re up front with what you could possibly need, and honestly it makes you excited. Like, why would you need a freezer? You do eventually figure out why but if you’ve never used a freezer in a puzzle you’re already looking at items in the game as you open them and wondering if you’re supposed to stick them in the freezer… But trust me, they’re merciful enough to provide strong directions so don’t worry about reading something wrong. I’m still so amazed that the interactive experience of these puzzles doesn’t depend on an app.
Fill-In-The-Blanks is Engaging (+5)
Normally when an escape room game tries to make an attempt at a story, it falls flat and almost equivalent to the sad attempts at explaining wooden cubes in an economic eurogame. However, this game uses fill-in-the-blank processes to continue to develop the story so you have an incentive to follow along. When you’re working together, once the blanks are filled you can read the page and feel proud that you helped complete the narrative. You get your taste of the would-be writer or storyteller without much effort, which is lovely.
One of the puzzles had a misprint and it took quite a bit of time to throw in the towel. I ended up needing to make an assumption and then ignore the misprint in order to move on. This doesn’t seem to be the only instance of this specific misprint as I’ve seen the same complaint from other folks who have played this. Fairly disappointing for a major manufacturer.
Ten Spaces You May Never Need (-1)
Why would you give folks room for error when you could just modify the words you are using in your meta puzzle? In particular for anyone who has a large vocabulary, you may even be able to provide answers that fit but are not exactly the right answers. In any case, you’re wasting time.
Interdependent Puzzles (-1)
For some puzzles it doesn’t matter if you have seen all of the pieces, and for others it does. I spent quite a bit of time trying to make sense of one puzzle that I only later realized was a waste of time and needed other bits first. It especially is unfair when you’re exposed to the inconsistency when you’re down to the wire on time. Mind you, my partner and I completed in 78 minutes so I wasn’t too worried but I can imagine that it would be a game changer if you’re in the last 5 of your 90 minute allotment.
Familiar Puzzle Constructs Gone Wrong (-3)
Being able to mind’s eye a solution, or possibly try and get it on paper is not uncommon. However, trying to get someone to a specific answer when that mind’s eye answer has several possibilities is unfair. The only way that we were able to mitigate this was to have at least two people looking at the puzzle. I’m generally open to challenging myself to go it alone when a puzzle game has a minimum player count but I can imagine being permanently stuck on that example. There are also puzzles that look similar but on different scales so you can waste time attempting a solution on one when it should be for the other. Some of these puzzles take concepts that have been done before yet are formatted in convoluted ways. Without revealing any solutions to you, I will note they could have accomplished the same thing by utilizing the thinness of the paper.
No Hints Needed and Not “hidden” (0)
They do have a hint system by providing bonus puzzles to solve, but I never used them. There were also specific puzzles referring to ways to find hidden clues but I ended up finding those way ahead of time because I’m uncontrollably curious. So it’s quite a bit of wasted space.
Cheap Locks (-3)
When the box arrived, it had jostled enough during the shipping process such that the lock for one of the boxes was already unlocked. I had to choose to exhibit some amount of self control, then eventually verify based on the answer that the code was correct and would have opened the lock. I tried my best before the game started to try and close it… but it didn’t work.
Outside Knowledge Advantage (0)
As the introduction mentions, there are werewolves and if you do have some amount of werewolf lore knowledge, you can save yourself a bit of time and even brute force some of the answers. I’m not so competitive about these games to the point of wanting to brute force something so thankfully I did just stay patient.
P… X? (-1)
Puzzles are identified by a “P” followed by a number. When meta puzzles show up, they refer back to previous puzzles by this identifier and it really does take away from the immersion. I can see the possible manufacturing reasons and/or space reasons in the printing for the game but they could have given this a little more love than it did to accomplish the same thing.