Deckscape: Heist in Venice

Deckscape: Heist in Venice is the third title in a series of cooperative games inspired by real escape rooms. In Heist in Venice you are professional thieves — now retired — but a mysterious mission forces you to reunite. The mission: sneak into the oldest casino in the world and steal a 1 billion euro chip! Each of you has specific skills and abilities, and if you stick to the plan everything will be… fine?

The Good

Memorable Puzzle Constructs (6)

My favorite puzzles were ones that required grids, deduction, observation, geometry, and hidden jigsaw-like solutions. Just the fact that I can call them out specifically is a testament to how memorable the puzzles were. Normally when I’m writing these reviews up I just recall the holistic feel of the puzzles but Deckscape’s puzzle constructs hone in on skills I like… and thankfully possess.

Great Tutorial (8)

Most escape-at-home games have a tutorial that is boring and clunky. This boring factor seems to correlate with how much destruction there can be. Deckscape, on the other hand, is immersive and it sticks to your brain easily, partly because of how snarky it is when you do something wrong. Trust me — in the future, you won’t make the same mistake again. Both the environment and mechanics in this game are restrictive in terms of movement or progress so it’s important to actually pay attention to the tutorial.

Variable Player Skill Sets (7)

This game has roles! Escape games that I’ve played , both at home and out in the world, force you into a third-person perspective or some investigatory third party rather than part of the story.
Since Deckscape provides you with roles, you can enjoy that secret information exchange that you don’t get in solo. For the multiplayers and co-op sleuths out there, I can’t imagine there being much of a difference on who picks what as long as you all agree to operate a certain way. The designer included meta-knowledge in the characters’ abilities and it is a seamless way to give you more information without pulling away from the story.
Full Disclosure: I did end up playing this solo because I’m not good at playing with others at home. The special roles have asymmetrical skills and even if you’re solo you’ll need to use all these characters anyway; if you’re not great at managing several character sheets then you may need to just bite the bullet and invite people over.

The Bad

Context-driven Interpretations (-4)

I don’t believe that stenciled fonts can be interpreted differently and still be fair. It’s near impossible to see something for what it is and then the game expects you to look at it differently through inference; you need context. Part of the difficulty of designing these games is exactly how much information to give before it feels more like a walkthrough than a challenge, but in this case it was neither.

Blurring the Fake vs Real Knowledge (-4)

The thematic items you can collect are entertaining but the execution of puzzle solutions seems a little bit of a stretch. The game integrates some sort of fake science that is hard to distinguish from real meta-knowledge. I tend to try several different approaches when solving a puzzle, and often talk myself out of solutions. When you start blurring lines on how your brain can process certain things, it become slightly unfair.

Excessive Restrictions on Deck Progress (-5)

As I mentioned earlier, this game does have frustrating restrictions. Specifically, the excessive use of the STOP sign and sections that have prerequisites you are not aware of until later. It isn’t that the prerequisites are not on theme, but the pacing going through the deck is inconsistent.

The Ugly

Uncomfortable Art Style (0)

The characters — both roles you play and the NPCs — have creepy eye art. I always feel like they’re watching me and the pressure is slightly on; mostly to get to a card in the deck where they aren’t staring at you. Just a quick heads up: there is so much spatial and 3D awareness in this game, it gets tiring after a while.

Cheesy Puzzles (-1)

It’s unavoidable: there are some cheesy puzzles but luckily not too many. When you review the solution you do notice you “could” have gotten somewhere but just didn’t because a sliver of something wasn’t in sight.

Mind’s Eye (-0.5)

I am really not good at mind’s eyeing so I lost a bit of time literally drawing things. This may be one of the beauties of playing puzzle games with those who have different skills from you.

Difficulty: 2/5 for Advanced
Satisfaction Grade: C (75.3%) for Good
Worth Your Money? Yes.