The Cardboard Hoard: Review of EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin (No Spoilers)
Note: There are no spoilers in this review, beyond an overview of the components inside the box that you are given at the start of the game. That said, if you are looking for a pure, unspoiled experience, you may not want to read this review.
EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin is one in a series of EXIT games, published by Kosmos, that simulates the “escape room” experience. There are currently three titles available in the series, the other two being EXIT: The Game - The Pharaoh's Tomb and EXIT: The Game - The Secret Lab. All three were designed by Inka and Markus Brand and were collectively nominated for the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres.
The box that EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin comes in is 5" x 7" x 2", which may seem small to simulate an escape room, but is filled with a good amount of stuff, including a decoder disk, 86 cards, 3 “strange” items, a book, as well as the rulebook. The 86 cards are broken into riddle cards, help cards, and answer cards. Each riddle has three help cards, the first giving a small hint, the second a larger hint, and the third giving the solution to that particular riddle. So there is no fear of getting stuck and being unable to complete the game. However, each hint used will be docked against your final score -- which is graded on a ten star scale.
The game has no rules or board. Your goal is to use the resources you are given (at the start this is the book, the decoder, and a riddle card) to solve a series of riddles and “unlock” the cabin. Its nebulous ruleset and cooperative gameplay is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, but the challenges here are sequential, and contain lateral thinking, logic, and deduction puzzles, instead of one narrative “whodunnit” story arc. The compelling aspect of the game, theme and escape room simulation aside, is the challenge of solving the riddles as quickly as possible, without using the hints. The riddles were very well done, and provided a worthwhile and satisfying challenge, and I felt a sense of accomplishment after finishing the game.
The components and artwork in the game do help to sell the theme, but it is still the weakest aspect of the game, as there is no physical room from which you need to escape. No matter how good the flavor text and images, this experience will be your group working on a series of puzzles at your dining room table, and not a frantic escape from an unfamiliar place that you are physically locked in. Where escape rooms feature a lot of places to explore and lots of three-dimensional objects to interact with, this tabletop replication is a much flatter experience, with everything you need to explore sealed in a small box, and made entirely of cardboard. Of course, for some people -- particularly anyone claustrophobic -- this will be a selling point and not a detriment.
All the games in the EXIT series can only be played once, due to the nature of the riddles, but they also cannot be passed along to others, as the box notes "This game can be played only once, because you markup, fold, and tear the game materials." While it is possible to play without destroying anything, it is certainly not made easy by the game. While this can be frustrating, the low price point of the game keeps it from being too detrimental.
Pros: At $15, it’s much cheaper and more convenient than going to an escape room. It simulates the puzzle aspect of escape rooms very well. The puzzle difficulty ramped up nicely, and the puzzles had a lot of variety. The theme was well done, considering the inherent limitations of a small box simulation of an escape room. Plays very well solo.
Cons: The game is destroyed after one use, and hence cannot be replayed or shared, passed along, traded away or sold. There is not enough going on at any one time to make this game rewarding to play at higher player counts, despite the game saying it can be played with up to six players. This game will not be enjoyed by anyone that doesn’t like solving lateral thinking, logic, and deduction puzzles.
The EXIT: The Game series is an innovative step in board game design that blurs the definition of board game and puzzle solving, at the expense of being completely disposable. I found the experience of playing The Abandoned Cabin very enjoyable, and “exiting the game” left me with a sense of accomplishment. I would recommend the EXIT series to anyone that enjoys riddles and wouldn’t mind the one-off nature of these games.