RATING: 4 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: +6:26
ThinkFun is back with another impossibly small box that – once opened in the comfort of your own home – magically expands into a multi-room immersive story-driven Escape Game adventure!
The year is 1913 and we’re the lucky winner of a free stay at Foxcrest Retreat. At the retreat, the famed Dr. Gravely has improved upon the latest in spa treatments and relaxation reserved for those of high social standing. Guests receive the best of new health care technologies in spa-like scenery that is well known for improving one’s vitality. Needless to say, we were elated when we received a letter of invitation from the director, Dr. Gravely himself, announcing our victory.
During the long, all-expense-paid train ride to the retreat, we meet others within your party who will also receive the same complimentary spa package. We discover that each of you has no immediate family. Attending Foxcrest Retreat as a guest of Dr. Gravely is a lucky break for all of us. But beware, the retreat is not quite what it seems…
Like any good mystery story, the Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat starts off innocent enough, but clouds quickly darken when we realize things are not as they may first appear. There’s clearly something nefarious going on at the once famed Foxcrest Retreat, and it’s up to us to solve that mystery or fall victim to it ourselves.
What follows is a series of plot twists and surprises worthy of a motion picture, literally unfolding right there your living room floor. As with their original game, Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, each “room” you unlock – comprised of sealed, themed envelopes – rewards you with more and more story documents – some that drive the game further and others that really just enhance the level of immersion and create a true sense of urgency for us as central characters in the narrative.
ThinkFun did a fantastic job of putting together a quality-looking product that is very visually appealing – but different for us this time is our basis for comparison. When we played Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, it was the first home game we have seen. Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat is our sixth, and I can say without question that the overall quality of the physical product is much more polished and professional inside the ThinkFun packaging when compared to that of their competitor.
The content in the box – all the pages, envelopes, puzzle pieces, etc, are thick and solid. They don’t feel like cheap pieces of paper. Glossy graphics make things truly pop.
As with their first game, the only issue we found quickly was the “rooms” – sealed envelopes that are taped shut, can tear easily when opening them. This time, we were prepared in advance to solve this, starting our game with a trusty pair of scissors already handy to keep all envelopes looking neat and well maintained even after our first play.
Much like Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat is at it’s core a classic-style escape room full of combination locks – but instead of padlocks themselves, everything is solved through a solution wheel. The outside white ring corresponds to the room you’re attempting to unlock. The subsequent red, yellow, green and blue wheels are the four respective dials on your virtual padlock. If the symbol of the room displays correctly two times in the center of the solution wheel, you have unlocked that door and are free to open the envelope.
Like a real game, each “room” lead us to more story discoveries, as well as more puzzles. Some puzzles could be solved as soon as we entered the “room;” others required us to backtrack to previous “rooms” to connect them to something we’d seen before.
Being more familiar with the home game genre this time around, we were even more prepared and attentive to be on the lookout for the occasional bits of discovery involved along the way, making our gameplay flow even more smoothly.
Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat added a unique layer of a few more physical puzzles, and while I was thrilled to see it, I didn’t personally get enjoyment out of participating in their actual execution. Without spoilers, if you think of those classic magic tricks where you pass an object through a solid ring, or remove a knot without untying the rope, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The problem is, I personally know nothing about magic, hit a brick wall and literally could not proceed beyond them without hints – the only hints I needed to use in the duration of the game, mind you, as everything else was entirely intuitive. This type of “you either know how to do it or you don’t” puzzle is never something I’m a fan of an escape game – however I want to be clear and give credit where credit is due – once I elected to utilize ThinkFun’s entirely user friendly online hint system, I had no problem proceeding to the next step. It easily gave me a nudge to solve something I would have never been able to achieve with my own skillset without directly giving me the next code to move me along.
I was exceptionally excited to crack open the next ThinkFun Escape The Room box. Now six home games in, I knew from experience that ThinkFun provides the superior quality product- and in the big picture, Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat really did not disappoint. At the end of the day, I think the only reason I prefer Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor really does come down to that “magic trick” puzzle I referenced above. That speed bump did take away some momentum in my experience at Dr. Gravely’s Retreat, but the truth is once past that step I was right back to on a steady roll, having a blast.
Even with the “magic trick” hiccup, this is a great game — and if you are someone familiar with that style of illusion puzzle, you’ll probably even prefer this game to its original.
In both ThinkFun Escape The Room games, the experience is structured in layers, where you can essentially take as long as you’d like depending on the difficulty level your team is up for. ThinkFun recommends 3-5 players take a 2 hour total time limit (90 minutes for the main game and 30 minutes for the bonus puzzle) and 1.5 hours total time limit for 6-8 players (60 minutes for the main game and 30 minutes for the bonus puzzle.) I again elected to play “like a real escape room,” giving myself 60 minutes to complete everything, all in. The difference this time is I choose to play solo to see how this experience holds up without a group of teammates. I successfully completed the game, including bonus puzzle 6:26 over the sixty minutes I set on the clock (meaning technically by ThinkFun’s instructions, I would have actually had 23:34 left.)
On the subject of time limits, it should be noted that this game does not include a timer – so be sure to have a clock or iPhone handy to track your game play.
Though the box advertises up to eight players, we all felt that any more than four would likely be too many chefs in the kitchen. I was more than comfortable as a party of one, but a casual player will likely get more enjoyment in a small group.
If you’re only going to try one escape room home game, ThinkFun is the brand to go with. Their product is consistently good, heavily story driven and literally everything we at Escape Authority look for in a physical game room, all right there in the comfort of your living room. Montu and I definitely cannot wait for their third outing into what has no doubt already become a solid niche of the ThinkFun gaming brand!
Location: At Home Game
Number of Games: 2 (available, each sold separately)
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 8 people
Group Type: Private / You will not be paired with strangers
Cost: $21.99 (Amazon.com)
We thank ThinkFun Games for inviting us to review this game. Although a complimentary copy was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.