- For ages 14 and up (publishers suggests 16+)
- For 1 to 4 players
- Approximately 360 minutes (6 hours) to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
- Risk vs. Reward
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Rescue your daughter by venturing into a dreamworld
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek mixed!
Hindu spiritual teacher, and a proponent of Vedanta, Sivananda Saraswati, said, “Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret, and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.” But what if the sin of your past is hurting those in your life now and in ways you cannot possibly imagine? Would you do anything to protect your loved ones? How far would you go? In this game, full of dark and moody themes, you will take a journey with one man who will go to strange and terrifying places, all in the name of love and redemption.
Escape Tales: The Awakening, designed by Jakub Caban, Matt Dembek, Bartosz Idzikowski and published by Board & Dice, is comprised of 122 Game cards, 9 Doom cards, 18 Location cards, one Storybook, one game board, and 18 Action tokens. An online application that assists with the puzzles is not included in the game but is necessary to play.
Setting the Mood
To set up and play the game, complete the following steps.
First, place the game board in the middle of the playing area. Make sure everyone playing the game can easily view the board. Go the extra step and ensure that all the players can get up and view the board from different perspectives. Surprisingly essential to view some of the puzzles.
Second, place the Action tokens to one side of the game playing area and in a pile.
Third, without looking at the face of the cards, make sure the Game, Doom, and Location cards are in sequential order with the smallest number at the top. Again, just for emphasis, make sure that none of the players see or can easily see the face of the cards! In truth, the numbering order of the cards doesn’t impact the game, but having them in sequential order makes it a lot easier to find the cards you need.
Fourth, get your smartphone or laptop and access the application. Feel free to turn on some mood music, too, if you like.
That’s it for game setup—time to solve one hell of a dark mystery. Read the cover of the Storybook to begin and receive your first instructions.
Diving Into the Mystery
Escape Tales: The Awakening is one part narrative and one part puzzle. Players use the Storybook to move the story forward and navigate its contents using the same means as your standard “pick-a-path” books. That is to say, each section of the story has a number. Players are directed to read the contents under that numbered sections and follow its instructions.
But as I said, Escape Tales is more than just a story. Included in the game are several cards used to set up puzzles. This is done by finding Location cards and placing them in the proper position on the game board with the help of a Map card.
This creates a “room” for the players to explore when completed. And explore they must as there is a lot of detail in the Location cards. Strange items and interesting runes are strewn about, and as the players go further into the story, things keep getting weirder.
Players explore the rooms by placing their Action tokens on the game board and determining what section of the rule book they need to read by using the Map card and the grid coordinates on the game board. This tells the players exactly what they are looking at and what they might have found by exploring that particular location area.
Through the game, players will find Puzzle and Item cards. This is where the game takes a radical turn and challenges the players as the Puzzle cards provide just enough information to let you know there is a mystery to be solved but little else. Some of the puzzles have multiple cards, but players need not find them all to solve the puzzle. Although, doing so will undoubtedly make it easier. The application can be used to assist the players by giving them hints. However, only so many hints are provided until the application feels sorry for you and gives you the answer.
When you correctly solve a puzzle, the Storybook is again used, and the players are given additional information and possibly an Item card. Items have no understood value until called for in the Storybook, but like all the cards in the game, players should take a stern look at them. Some of the items hold clues to solving future puzzles or can be used to help make choices.
Of course, the game isn’t going to be easy, and to make things all the more exciting, the number of actions the players have is limited. Instead of timing the gameplay, the Action tokens limit interaction with the game. Only so many Action tokens are available and, when used, are gone. Players can gain additional Action tokens and are given a limited number at the start of every new location. However, if players ever run out, they are forced to take a Doom card.
Doom cards are a mixed bag. If used, they afford the players wiggle room by providing additional Action tokens, and a means to get out of trouble. However, the downside is that Doom cards will change how the game ends. Victory is never assured, of course, but using Doom cards will make it very difficult for the players to arrive at a “good ending.”
Saving and Ending the Game
In due course, players will want to take a break. Some of these puzzles are hard and frustrating, but all of them are solvable. Breaks will be enjoyed, especially playing with younger players. The game was designed to be “paused and saved” at any time, allowing players to pack up the game in its current state and continue with minimal effort. This was a brilliant design decision as it makes a game that would take six hours (360 minutes) to complete – if you are lucky and push it – into smaller one-hour blocks of time. Made the game and each puzzle very accessible and satisfying.
The game comes with a log entry that allows players to record their progress. It makes it very easy to capture the game’s current state and return to it as time allows. We suggest you add a quart-sized ziplock bag which can then be used to hold your Action tokens and cards. This ensures that everything you need is ready to go and easy to set up.
The game can end several different ways, and the decision made by the players will alter which of the endings the players get. This makes the game highly replayable, in theory. There are a lot of virtual doors not taken and puzzles not solved. While we played, we were given cards to mysteries that we never once started. This is an excellent aspect of the game as it offers players lots of options and paths to explore without being direct about which course of action to take. This feels cruddy for players like me who are born completionists. And yet, another brilliant design stroke! When you exit a location, you cannot go back. Knowing this and having unsolved puzzles in our hands when presented the exit door made it difficult to continue the story at times due to a driving need to solve every puzzle presented.
Which, again, you do not have to do. But then again, maybe you might want to… It is totally up to you and your decisions count in this game.
The Child Geeks had mixed thoughts on the game, finding it fascinating and downright frustrating. According to one Child Geek, “The puzzles are hard and most of the time confusing. I had to ask my Dad many questions, which didn’t make it feel like I was playing the game. I liked the artwork and the story, though.” Another Child Geek said, “The puzzles are challenging, and I liked working with the other players a lot. It did feel like an escape room, but I could play it at the kitchen table.” We found more than anything else that the Child Geeks fully understood the game’s rules, but it was the puzzles that confused them. Ultimately, because this is a puzzle game, the very aspect that made the game so appealing made it a tepid relationship without the youngest players at best.
The Parent Geeks warmed up considerably more to the game, finding the story fascinating, the pacing to be easy to follow, and the puzzles a challenge to solve. Sometimes a bit too challenging, too, but always worth their time. According to one Parent Geek, “I liked the game a lot. A nice mix of traditional tabletop gameplay with just the right amount of technology to help you along.” Another Parent Geek said, “It is just like an escape room but without all the stage props or the pressure of finishing up the puzzle before your hour is up. I always felt challenged but never stressed. A real gem of a game, in my opinion.” The Parent Geeks also went on to say that the puzzle hints provided by the companion app were a “must,” but they were all concerned about how the game would play without the benefit of access to the internet. As one Parent Geek put it, “Board, card, and dice games are great because you can play them offline, off the grid, and off on a small table without worrying about cords. I think the game is great, but without the internet, you are screwed.” Something to consider, I suppose.
The Gamer Geeks very much enjoyed the game but, of course, had a few notes on areas of improvement. According to one Gamer Geek, “A challenging series of puzzles and a story that you can get into, full of mystery and “what the fuck moments.” The game feels a bit long at times, but you can always pause it if needed. A great game for those of us who have interruptions from younger families.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I was delighted with the complexity of the puzzles, the need to work together, and the storyline, which in this case, was crazy dark. My only negative comment is that the artwork is pretty small, and the details can be difficult to see with older eyes. More than once, I wanted a magnifying glass and better lighting.” That said, and regardless of any corrective eyewear or light levels, all the Gamer Geeks agreed that Escape Tales was well worth their time and attention.
I love escape rooms. And by love, I mean borderline obsessed. It all started many Gen Con ago and a trip to True Dungeon, my first experience in an interactive puzzle with a narrative to boot. You went in as a group, cooperatively solved puzzles, and all worked to win. It was my first real taste of a truly cooperative game, as well. And, boy, did I suck at it. Puzzles were intuitive but not in the slightest bit easy. You had a time limit, but that only made things feel tenser, not more difficult. The actual complexity came from working with a group of people you might not know very well. Everyone brought their ego, goals, and a mixed level of eagerness to work with others into the dungeon. It was a disaster, but I kept going every year, and I kept getting better and better at it.
Which has absolutely nothing and everything to do with escape rooms and – consequentially – this game review. When you work on a cooperative puzzle, there is an element of time that is finite in most cases. There is no such thing here, but in what I consider yet another brilliant design decision, the time has been replaced by action. You can take all day to ponder over a puzzle, but you only have a few chances to solve it. Each time you poke at a puzzle to either find more information or in an attempt to solve it, you lose an Action token. Lose enough, and you put yourself in the hurt bag. In this way, players are given all the time they need to be indecisive, ponder, squabble, and eventually merge on an agreed-upon action, which makes the results of said action, good or bad, all the more exciting.
Storywise, the game has it. It reads a bit loose at times, which is to be expected when you read anything designed to be a pick-a-path. However, the narrative is always there, and the theme is rich. It can feel a bit jarring at times to be reading a fascinating passage only to stop and go off and solve a puzzle. I would consider this the game’s most significant challenge, which is simply keeping the players energized. It is a game of mountains and valleys, where sometimes you feel like you are slogging through a puzzle, and other times you are perched high on a sense of self-confidence and pride. And then down again and then back up. It’s an exciting rollercoaster of an emotional ride at times.
And on that point, you might want to consider only playing this game with Child Geeks who either enjoy a good scary story or are emotionally mature enough to tackle some darker themes. The Awakening is dark from the start and gets even darker the more you play it. This is a story of regret and loss, which many can see as depressing. While there is nothing explicit, it is sinister at times and can be uncomfortable for a very few. I won’t give away anything here as the story unfolds for the player in different ways. Just know going in that this is no fairytale with sunshine and rainbows.
You might first believe this game can be played once, and then you are done. I suggest otherwise. This is certainly not a game you could play again right after finishing it. The story and puzzles would be too fresh in your memory to make such an attempt worth your while. However, puzzles and their clues are randomly dispersed in the game, and there are multiple paths players could take. This means that players solved a puzzle in their first game that put them on a different path than another puzzle would. As such, this game does have replay value, but to a point. Eventually, you’ll see every corner of the game, but that will take multiple gameplays.
I should also state that this is not a “legacy game.” That is to say; you are not permanently changing game components and rules for future sessions. You can stop the game and pick it up where you left off, but the game rules are only changed within that gameplay session no matter how many times you start and stop again. Reset the game, and you reset the rules and all components.
Lastly, I want to address the game length. I think six hours is exceptionally generous when estimating how long the game will take you. Some of these puzzles in this game are downright difficult, and there is nothing in the game that pushes players to be hasty with their choices. Therefore, I would consider this more than six days to complete the game, spending approximately one to two hours per session. This sounds like an awful lot, admittedly, but it feels very natural to pause the game after you solve a puzzle and move to another room in the game. This is by no means a deal killer, but be aware that you don’t play this game from start to finish unless you have a good day to spend on it.
Do try this game with your family and friends when time allows. Especially if you have enjoyed escape rooms in the past. You can always pause it between sessions, and you are never forced to push yourself any faster than what you feel genuinely comfortable with. But, of course, without moving forward, you’ll never reach the end, and the journey to your destination is anything but easy. But it is so worth the trip. So take this journey to a dark and twisted world through a very creative and entertaining puzzle that will make you think and feel. Possibly make you hungry, too. And gassy.
Well, probably not gassy.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.