Escape Tales: The Awakening

Escape Tales is a story-driven card game, with immersive exploration, no time limits when solving puzzles, and a collection of tough choices. Players take on the role of Sam, whose daughter has been in a coma for over two months and whose doctors still cannot explain how this happened or what caused it. According to them, everything is fine with the girl; she’s healthy and shouldn’t be in this condition. Sam is desperate and looks for answers everywhere he can, which leads to a weird meeting with Mark. He has given Sam a scary-looking book and said that inside this book he will find a ritual called “The Awakening”. But Mark warned Sam that he needs to prepare himself mentally since this ritual will transfer him into another dimension, where he should be able to find his daughter and understand what is the cause of this state. Finally, he’s ready to go into the basement and perform a ritual...

The Good

Streamlined Location IDs and Story Matrix (5)

The process of moving about the board and making decisions together is very easy. When working with others, coming to an agreement about next steps is as easy as making proposals on specific parts of the grid. I’m always about better organization and easier communication, which this accomplishes. In addition to this, the grid provides clear direction and no need for cross-referencing how it factors into what part of the story to read.

Choosing Your Pathways (4)

I like the choose your own adventure or turn-based rpg style experience for some of the cards. Since the game touts its replayability and different endings, it’s necessary to push you into choices. Otherwise, the location IDs and story matrix would have a more difficult implementation. The setting of this game is already intense, and so choosing between tough choices adds to the pressure. I’m glad there isn’t a time limit!

Both Meta-Knowledge and Thematic Puzzles (5)

I have a love-hate relationship with lots of heavy math puzzles because math principles are not in my wheelhouse. For example, I totally forgot order of operations (PEMDAS) and kept retrieving the wrong answer. Super frustrating. One miraculous thing though: this game finally has perspective puzzles I like! There is also no brute forcing; is this good or bad? I have no idea; I don’t tend to brute force anything to begin with but I have had some times of desperation where it was helpful to make some progress. They do a great job of providing unique thematic puzzles versus the typical “Oh! Let’s throw this in there because we don’t have anything like it yet.”

Creepy and Scary Art (5)

The box art sets the stage, so do not take it lightly. The rest of the locations and puzzles you encounter have a similar aesthetic. The non-player characters on your adventure are also detailed, and the facial expressions are on point for evoking apprehension. I do enjoy the tactile experience of the linen finish on all the cards too, so I do gain some comfort away from the fear factor on this.

Emotional and Mental Investment (3)

The story behind this has a lot to do with death, magic, and mental health. It’s somewhat a first person experience so you emotionally and mentally adopt this man’s family and his relationships. If you can roleplay, exercise empathy, and let yourself be swept away in the moment, you’ll enjoy the investment and take your choices very seriously.

The Bad

Forced Movement and Action Limitations (-2)

This game prevents you from leaving the room of your own free will which is understandable due to the magical nature of travel in this story. Yet, a typical real life escape game does not limit the number of actions you may take; you already have limited time to address what is in front of you so why would you thematically need to have limited actions?

Unclear and Ominous “Doom” (-1)

During the game, it feels as though you are required to take Doom in order to accomplish things and move on, but it is not clear what the purpose is. At the end of the game, my partner and I did not run into anything for it that scaled off of how much or how little we used. Dead ends (i.e. unable to leave the room but have no actions left) seem unfair and just a way to catalyze Doom. Nothing else.

Room for Reverse Engineering (-3)

I’ll admit, we always reverse engineered the card count, so maybe that’s why didn’t take as much Doom. We could try and make better connections between the location and the needs for the card symbols by doing this. Multilevel cards in this game use constructs that often do not require more than one or two pieces.

Dexterity Puzzles (-1)

What is it with dexterity puzzles using cards? This is the second time I’ve seen something like it and it’s not really friendly to folks who don’t have fine motor skills like myself. It’s just not interesting.

No Trigger Warnings (-5)

As I mentioned in The Good, the story behind this has a lot to do with death, magic, and mental health. While some of this was good for the purposes of puzzle theme, there are several disturbing triggers that lacked warning. It was especially not great for me because the triggers touch on experiences I’ve had on my own mental health journey, and I actually had to take a moment to stop playing to recover from the images. Conclusively, maximum point deduction here.

The Ugly

Is it Really an App? (0)

The game touts use of an “app” but it’s really just a streamlined interface that is hosted on a website. There is no app to download, or application to install. This is mostly just a way to manage the hint system without adding more paper to the box. It’s not an uncommon way to manage the hints so I’m not removing an points from it. But come on, don’t call it an app!

No Happy Ending (0)

I wanted to know if there was any possible way we could have improved on our game play so at the end of the game my partner and I went through the entire storybook. Much to our surprise, were not satisfied with any of the endings. I have never played any of the other Escape Tales installments so I’m unsure if this is just their “thing” (i.e. there may never be a happy ending in this series). . The game itself claims you can play it several times to get different endings but keep in mind that, while the endings are all indeed different, they are all so unfortunate.

Color Pickiness is Punished (-1)

The puzzles that require color identification and cross-checking is bad for folks like me and my partner who are aware of very subtle tints, shades and hues. Like I have mentioned before with games experiencing this issue, it may just be the reality of printing. However, placing a puzzle whose answer is highly dependent on the identifications of the colors is unfair if they can’t even ensure that the colors match.

Finicky Baggies in the Box (0)

Tiny gripe here that I would like to disclose for those of us who have storage anxiety… the plastic baggies that come with this are finicky. You don’t get that familiar satisfying “it’s closed” response when running along the top. Eventually it will close but not without much effort and mindfulness.

Red Herrings (-3)

I definitely did not want to waste action tokens on dead ends; if we spent action tokens on something that didn’t lead anywhere, we took back the action token to use somewhere else. It seems arbitrary — though it probably isn’t, I’m the puzzle snob here — how they choose something to be a red herring or not. So I took it upon myself to give us more wiggle room and artificial kindness, simply because I was annoyed. Yes, yes, go ahead and judge me. I have no shame!

Difficulty: 3/5 for Expert
Satisfaction Grade: C (74.7%) for Good
Worth Your Money? Maybe.