Escape Tales: The Awakening Review

The Escape Tales series from Board&Dice are games in the ‘escape room in a box’ style. Follow the story, solve puzzles and make decisions to see how what happens in your adventure. There have been plenty of games in this style in the last few years, most notably Kosmos’ Exit games, but the Escape Tales ramp things up to 11 and try to deliver something more akin to a big box game. Let’s look at The Awakening to see if they succeed.

I suppose the first thing I should tell you is that The Awakening is an app-driven game, as the use of technology in games can be pretty divisive. I like the way that Board & Dice and Lockme (the developers) have done it in these games. Instead of an app you need to download from an app store, the game is driven by a mobile-friendly website, masquerading as an app. The reason this is so good is because it means you can use it on anything with a web browser – be that your phone, laptop, or whatever technology you prefer.

Staying spoiler-free

The difficulty when reviewing games like this, is that I can’t really show you much of the game, or tell you too much about the story, as I’ll be spoiling it for you. So I’ll do my best not to reveal anything you couldn’t find out from the box or the website. The backstory for The Awakening puts you in the role of Sam, a man whose daughter is trapped in a coma and deteriorating. You meet a stranger who gives you a book containing a ritual called ‘The Awakening’, but gives you fair warning that your sanity will be tested. That’s where your adventure begins.

Gameplay in The Awakening revolves around cards. Cards for locations, cards for maps, and cards for the objects and puzzles you’ll find while exploring those locations. Each puzzle has a symbol associated with it, and a look at the app tells you how many cards with a matching symbol are necessary to solve it. If you get stuck, there are multiple hints available, before it finally concedes to your apparent stupidity and just tells you the answer. Sometimes you’ll have choices to make which will dramatically affect the direction your story takes and the puzzles you’ll face, and that’s where the replayability comes from – being able to play again and make different choices.

Riddle me this

The puzzles in The Awakening are pretty good, and you’ll need to use a good mix of logic, wordplay, mathematics and lateral thinking needed to solve them. There’s a bit of a disconnect in quite a few of them, because you’ll enter the code in the app, but when you find the location in the book to see what happens, it might say something like “You say the answer and the thing happens”. That’s just because in the story you might not be physically moving or rearranging things, and I guess you need to suspend some disbelief to play.

box contents
A look at the components from some of the official promo materials

I’m still torn on whether I think it’s clever, or frustrating that some of the locations you choose to explore have no puzzle associated. Exploring a location means you spend an action token to do it, and when you run out of action tokens you need to draw a card from the Doom pile. That’s not as bad as it might sound, and it’s by design, but the first couple of times you do it, you feel like you’ve failed somehow. It’s actually a pretty clever mechanism, as it’s impossible to complete the game without drawing Doom cards, and it helps drive the narrative that your character is getting deeper and deeper into this situation he’s put himself in.

Final thoughts

There’s not much more I can say about the game without ruining the story, and the twists and turns it takes. The puzzles feel a little shoe-horned in at times, but that’s the nature of games of this ilk. The Exit games do the same thing. The way the story progresses is really good, and when other aspects of Sam’s life come back to haunt him during the game, you’re left with some really difficult choices to make. I found myself drawn into the story far more than I expected to, and I felt myself invested in Sam’s and his daughter’s outcome.

The puzzles are, in the vast majority of cases, good. There were a few which felt very difficult to solve, and even when I used the app to get the answer eventually, I was still none-the-wiser as to why that was the answer. A quick trip to the BGG forums for the game cleared things up for me, but given the number of people struggling on the same things, it might just be a design flaw rather than my broken brain. I think that’s the biggest flaw in The Awakening, the fact that the app will give you the answer if you get really stuck, but it doesn’t explain why. I’d like to see that in future games.

If you like these escape room style games, I think you’ll really enjoy The Awakening. It does things I haven’t seen in other games of this type, and the branching paths, choices, and the ability to replay it really help to justify its £25 price tag. When you consider you’re getting somewhere between three to six hours of game for that, it’s good value. Nothing is destroyed during the game, so you can let a friend play it, or sell it on afterwards. You can also save your game at any point, which is essential in a game this long.

If you like escape rooms and puzzles, and especially if you like the Exit or Unlock games, I’ve no hesitation in recommending Escape Tales: The Awakening.

A review copy of the game was kindly provided to me by Board&Dice. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

the awakening box art

Escape Tales: The Awakening (2018)

Designers: Jakub Caban, Matt Dembek, Bartosz Idzikowski
Publisher: Board&Dice
Art: Jakub Fajtanowski, Magdalena Klepacz, Paweł Niziołek
Players: 1-4
Playing time: 180-300 minutes

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