The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on MacGyver - The Escape Room Game (No Spoilers)
Note: There are no spoilers in this review, beyond an overview of the components from the first scenario, “Underground Lab,” that you are given at the start of the scenario. That said, if you are looking for a pure, unspoiled experience, you may not want to read further.
Growing up, I had friends that idolized The Ultimate Warrior, Superman, and Bo Jackson. For me, though, it was MacGyver. I would come home from school, do my homework, and watch MacGyver reruns on USA Network. Every single day.
Richard Dean Anderson’s Angus MacGyver proved that being smart was cool, using practically applied science and math to solve problems instead of violence -- a message that I needed to hear in grade school. Over the years, I’ve seen every episode of the show. I still own the entire series on DVD, even though I no longer own a DVD player.
So of course, when I saw a tweet that showed a MacGyver-themed escape room game was available at Target, I was shocked I hadn’t heard about it earlier. Then I was determined to immediately get my hands on it, despite a few reservations I had -- such as the fact it is made by Pressman, and that it did not have an entry listed for it on BoardGameGeek. Did the game live up to my nostalgic memories of its namesake intellectual property?
MacGyver: The Escape Room Game comes with five hour-long escape room scenarios in the box, with each scenario in its own sealed square envelope. There is also a card that gives some flavor text and instructions on how to play the game, and leads players to the game’s companion website, macgyvergame.com. The website functions as the game’s timer, and is where you enter solutions to the puzzles. It also has a button to get hints. The game will not function without the website, so the game is not playable without an Internet connection.
When you open the envelope for the first scenario, it reveals a booklet, four more sealed envelopes, and a mirror. I was especially happy to see the mirror, because having physical items to manipulate really helped sell the MacGyver theme. The components, other than the mirror, were all paper, cardboard, with some stickers keeping sections of paper folded, with instructions not to unseal them until you solve certain puzzles.
There was a lot more variety in the components than the Unlock! series, which is entirely card based. There were also no pieces that needed to be cut, torn, or otherwise ruined, unlike the Exit: The Game series. In fact, other than the seals of the stickers, which I had to break while playing, the first scenario was completely in tact and could be passed along to another person to play in the future.
Like other escape room in a box experiences, the goal of MacGyver: The Escape Room Game is to solve a series of puzzles over a set period of time. The app has three settings -- Easy, which is not timed; Medium, which has a 75 minute timer; and Hard, which is 45 minutes. The Underground Lab scenario has six puzzles, each of which must be completed, and correctly entered into the website, to progress to the next. Incorrect answers give a time penalty. The puzzles, unlike some other escape room games, were completely linear, with only one to complete at a time. There are four other scenarios in the box -- Airplane, Factory, Missile Silo, and Grand Finale -- and they have to be played in order. Some of the later scenarios reuse items, like the first scenario’s mirror.
This game, at least going by its first scenario, is not difficult. I finished the entire scenario in about 30 minutes without any hints, whereas Exit and Unlock games usually take me over an hour and require me to use a hint or two when I get stuck. While this could be seen as a negative, I think it is a huge positive. I love the idea that I still have four more scenarios to play in this set, and that I don’t need to set 90 minutes aside to play each of them.
MacGyver: The Escape Room Game kills it as far as theme goes. The tactile items, such as the mirror, really sell the idea that you are MacGyver, using nothing but your brain and the random objects you have on hand to problem solve.
The linear nature of the puzzles give the game a smooth narrative flow -- and the best part is that the Underground Lab scenario borrows its story elements directly from the pilot episode of the MacGyver television show. I look forward to seeing if I can figure out which episodes the other scenarios use as inspiration.
My only concern is the game requiring a website to play. The game is unplayable if the Internet is down, or you are somewhere without an Internet connection -- a minor inconvenience. But beyond that, if the publisher stops supporting the game, it will be completely unplayable from that point forward. But that is only a theoretical complaint, as I am sure Pressman plans to support their new release, especially considering they paid to license the intellectual property.
With this being a Target exclusive, I think it is great that non-gamers may pick it up due to familiarity with the theme -- potentially never having played an escape room game -- and not finding it to be a frustrating, overly difficult struggle. It can be a great gateway into this segment of the hobby, and anyone that did not find these puzzles challenging enough can be easily directed to the more challenging Exit and Unlock titles. While I also like those more challenging games, I also liked the more straightforward, narrative experience of the Underground Lab, with fewer, less challenging puzzles. It’s great for weeknight gaming after a long day of work. Of course, I have only played the first scenario in this box, they may get more challenging. I will try to update this post after playing through all five scenarios.
After playing through all five scenarios, it should be noted that the puzzles do get harder in the fourth and fifth scenarios, to the point I needed multiple hints to get through the fifth scenario, despite not needing any in the first four scenarios.
Also, one puzzle in the fourth scenario required it be cut up with scissors, so unless that component is printed out on a double-sided printer and proxied, it is not able to be passed along to someone else to play. However, Every other puzzle in the game I was able to reset to its original state after playing through the set.