Educational ToysPeople are paying money to be locked in a room and attempt to escape in less than an hour. Though this may sound like the intro to a cheesy horror flick, Escape the Room experiences are popping up in cities across America, and growing in popularity every day.

Thanks to ThinkFun, the excitement of the Escape the Room experience is coming right to a tabletop near you. The one-time play experience features a series of envelopes players must work together to open. Each envelope contains pieces, cards, and clues to bring players one step closer to escaping the room and achieving a team victory.

Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor transports players back to 1869 and challenges them to figure out what happened to the recluse astronomer after the tragic death of his wife three years earlier. Players must read through Scene Cards, which are uncovered one-by-one as the story unfolds. Each card gives players information on what’s happening at the manor and guides them toward their next challenge. Every time a challenge is complete, players can check their answers on the solution wheel, and then open the next envelop to advance in the game.

Challenges include various types of logic puzzles, none of which include clear, straight-forward instructions. Players must figure out what they need to do using the clues from (and on) the envelopes, hints in the scene cards, and some good old-fashioned brainpower. The challenges range in difficulty and even require some creative thinking. Adults will easily have just as much fun as kids playing this game, thanks to some truly puzzling challenges. I played with a group of people in their late 20s and early 30s, and we escaped the room with just 15 minutes to spare, and we needed to use the online hints twice to help solve the puzzles.

2016 Toy ReviewsHowever, that’s not to say kids won’t be able to complete the puzzles on their own. The game is designed for players ages 10 and up. The best thing about kids? They can sometimes think way outside the box in ways adults can’t. But in addition to some challenging puzzle play, the game involves lots of reading and a strong attention span (taking about 90-120 minutes to play), so while grade-schoolers may have a tough time engaging with Escape the Room on their own, it’s definitely a great pick for family game night.

The game does rely a bit on the honor system. Players must be trusted not to open envelopes before they’ve solved each puzzle, and they also must promise not to cheat by using trial-and-error while spinning the solution wheel. Cheating takes all of the fun out of the game, so play by the rules and escape the room with your moral compass in tact.

Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is designed for three to eight players—which is my only qualm about the game. We played with eight people, and it was far too many, especially with one or two dominating personalities in the mix (myself included). The game is more ideal for three to four people, especially due to the length it takes to play and the small pieces, which make it hard for multiple people to see what’s going on and get involved.

To really set the mood, ThinkFun offers some great hosting materials, including invitations and curated Spotify and Pandora playlists to really make players feel like they are traveling back in time. A few YouTube videos also give players some fast and easy insight to the characters in the game. ThinkFun’s website also features repacking instructions, so the game can be played again with different people.

ThinkFun’s Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is a one-of-a-kind experience. Players will love the cooperative design, the thoughtful and exciting puzzles, and the creative storyline. Despite being a one-and-done game, it’s well worth the $22 investment. We’re already counting down the days until The Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat.