Full disclosure: ClueQuest gave my team a free play to review this game.
This was a reasonable distraction during an otherwise unused (total of) three hours for us. Ultimately I don’t think this sort of game was quite suited to our team; we enjoy the dramatic elements of real-life escape rooms which would have been difficult to reproduce on paper and screen, and it lacked the sense of tension of tabletop games that allow you to fail (and replay) such as, say, Forbidden Island. The puzzles were adequate but struggled to hold our attention on their own. The price (£12) is a little high given that you can get a much more polished single-use play-at-home game-in-a-box for a just slightly higher price, though these games are to help offset the rent of ClueQuest’s physical space during lockdown, so it doesn’t feel like it would be money wasted.
Front & Briefing
I don’t currently have the means to meet with my teammates physically, so we played this over a video call, screen-sharing the website that contains the timer and a few other bits and pieces. We had a go at sharing the physical tabletop over webcam since only two of us had a printer, but realistically I think every remote player needs to have a copy of the material (and in fairness, ClueQuest’s FAQs say as much).
ClueQuest’s blog post on how to play remotely has a few more tips which are worth paying attention to; in particular cutting and folding everything before beginning the game. I would add that the cutting-out needs to be very precise. We managed to ignore these tips in our haste, and did the cutting out as we played, to avoid any spoilers with the puzzles, but it was time consuming enough that it broke our flow.
Both the printers we had struggled somewhat to print the black-and-white 30MB 20-page PDF, so you might need to allocate a bit of time beforehand for printer debugging. Alternatively you can have the material posted to you, but I wouldn’t say the extra £13 for the pre-printed pack is worth this.
I’ve only played two play-at-home escape games before; both from the Exit: The Game series from Cluedini, so I had a sense of what sort of theming and mood could be achieved from a paper product, and we weren’t expecting very much ambience.
ClueQuest’s physical games haven’t generally been very strong on theming (with Origenes being a notable exception) and this was also the case here. The art style in the printouts is quite varied which made the game seem a little thrown-together.
I was curious about ClueQuest’s play-at-home games because they featured an online aspect, which I imagined could be used to increase immersion, and screen sharing worked quite well for it, so it was a shame it wasn’t really used for anything more than entering answers, and not generally in very creative ways either.
It felt like the game was a little short on puzzles, though I’ve never actually counted the number of puzzles in a physical room before, so I shan’t put any numbers here; it may just have felt that way because we lost flow due to taking time cutting them out before being able to solve them.
The puzzles didn’t entirely benefit from being physical puzzles either; a lot of the time one of us had solved it on-screen from the PDF before I’d finished cutting out my copy, and it felt like they had reached the limits of what is possible without any props other than paper and scissors.
One puzzle was only solvable by one of us due to my print-out not being good enough quality; I feel there would have ways to construct that particular puzzle better suited to the medium, too. Other puzzles could have been quite cool if integrated into a physical room and perhaps split into a search part, and I would have loved to have seen a professionally-created physical version of the final puzzle; as it was, it was fiddly, and the answer input on the website was picky enough that we thought we’d found an alternative solution they hadn’t coded for (and we think we actually did for another puzzle).
Once you’ve entered your purchase code you’re given a lobby area with a download link to the PDF, and a button to start the game.
The timer for the game counts up rather than down, which I can understand the reasoning for but did take some of the enjoyable time pressure off. More frustratingly, I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that the timer pauses between chapters to give you a chance to cut out the next set of puzzles, but for us it didn’t (in fact, I accidentally re-loaded the page a week later while writing this review, and it’s still there, counting up!)
I would have liked to have seen more multimedia on the site; in particular to replace the couple of pages of text in the PDF which felt like it should have a GM or video reading out.
The user interface could do with some work too; in one instance we entered a whole set of answers, then realised that each textbox had a separate submit button, and clicking that cleared the other textboxes! Fortunately we’d also written them down beforehand so we didn’t have to re-solve any puzzles.
There was a hint button for each puzzle or set of puzzles, though we didn’t use it.
There was a sense of story progression if you’d been following along with the loose story-line of the game, but other than that the final couple of puzzles didn’t feel materially different to the other ones in the game.
The game left us with a congratulatory message, and left us to discuss amongst ourselves. This seemed adequate for a play-at-home game, though perhaps a few more stats (and actually stopping the timer!) might have been appreciated.