I had two EXIT games sitting in my basement and I didn’t even know it. Once you have a large enough board game collection I think they just sort of appear on the shelves when you look for them, long-forgotten mementos of those times when you needed to spend fifteen bucks to save ten on shipping. I find puzzle games curious, as I have next to no knowledge of how one goes about making a puzzle, but I find I enjoy the lesser-known puzzle games most.
I’m probably done with the EXIT series unless I hear that Inka and Markus Brand have shaken up their formula significantly. EXIT is the fast food of the board game hobby. You largely know what you’re going to get in the box: a couple of booklets, a stack of cards, a solution dial, and one or two unique bits of cardboard or plastic. You know the puzzles will almost all be well-constructed but straightforward. You know you’re going to have a fine time before feeling a small pang of guilt as what was before a box of possibility is now literal garbage to be cleaned up and thrown out.
I played the final two EXIT games I had sitting on my shelves (…I think) last week: The Forgotten Island and The House of Riddles. I can’t remember a single thing about the former. Hold on—I now recall at one point I had to find a thinner pen to use in a bit of dexterity. I’d apologize for the spoilers but I don’t remember if that’s actually a spoiler or not. I remember agreeing with Amber at the end that it was a solid set of puzzles but it’s otherwise dissolved, in my mind, into merely a thing I did once.
Is that a feature, or a bug? Is it wasted time if I spent a couple of hours having fun with my wife, even if the nature of that fun was completely forgettable? I think of people who incessantly record everything for posterity. You know, those who can’t go to a concert without filming the entire thing, or enjoy a sunset without gathering everyone in for a portrait. On one hand, they’re hedging against their own mental weaknesses, ensuring that moments they know hold some significance will be recallable in the future. On the other hand, they sour the moment in their act of preservation. I tend to think that the experiences I have, even if forgotten, color me in mostly imperceptible ways. The knicks and scars and wrinkles of a life well lived still exist even if the cause of any one of them is lost.
I can’t wait until I forget about The House of Riddles, the only EXIT game I’ve actively disliked. That’s partly because it’s not made for me; it’s very clear from the start that the difficulty level of these puzzles is shaped more towards a younger demographic. But it’s also because one of the puzzles (vague spoiler warning) requires the use of an object that some people literally won’t have. It’s common enough of an object, but I only have like 2, total, that meet the specific parameters, and even then you’ve got to manipulate it in a particular way that I found quite annoying.
(REAL SPOILER WARNING)
Here’s the deets: you’ve got to have a clear, round drinking glass. Like I said, I have 2, but all of my other drinking glasses are different shapes (rounded squares or curved or textured in some way). I suppose a wine glass might have worked, but even with my very plain pint glass filled with water, the solution only presented itself by holding the clue card at specific distances from the glass. The key is that the water in the glass acts as a lens when you look through it, mirroring the image. Clever, but really finicky, because you’re compelled to hold the card close to the glass to make it legible, which negates the mirroring effect. It drove me nuts even after I had looked up the solution.
Anyways, the rest of the puzzles were dirt easy, and we blasted through the thing, even with a long pause to figure out the spoiled puzzle above, in about 40 minutes. I did have a revelation about halfway through when I realized the line between a riddle and bad instructions is really thin. I’ve read some terribly written rulebooks recently that would have worked marvelously alongside these puzzles. How one creates good puzzles again eludes me, but now I know the way to make too-simple puzzles is by writing basic instructions with a thesaurus.
EXIT: The Forgotten Island: 6.5/10
EXIT: The House of Riddles: 3/10