Your name is Samuel and you are 35 years old. Five years ago your wife Jennifer died, leaving you alone with your daughter Lizzy. It took you awhile to accept Jen’s passing. Your only source of optimism has been the idea that nothing worse could happen. You were wrong…
I know what you’re probably thinking: yet another cooperative escape room board game! But before you go and brush this one off, let me tell you that Escape Tales: The Awakening is the most thematic escape room game I have ever played and here’s why: unlike other escape room games, Escape Tales: The Awakening is replayable and not timed or scored which allows players to really focus on immersing themselves in the story.
In the game you act as Samuel, a man who is trying to save his daughter Lizzy by solving puzzles and making hard decisions throughout. You must consider all your choices carefully because the game has many endings and not all of them are pleasant.
Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice ne la miseria; e ciò sa ‘l tuo dottore.
Components and Setup
Location Cards and the Game Board (1)
The Location Cards set the scene for each room in the game, while the Game Board’s primary use is to hold these cards. Each square of a Location/Game Board represents an area or object which players can explore by spending Action Tokens (2). It also provides clues and useful information for solving puzzles or for making decisions during the game.
The Action Tokens (2)
Since Escape Tales: The Awakening isn’t limited by time, the Action Tokens are used to add tension to the game. You must spend an Action Token to explore an area of a Location. Sounds easy enough? Well consider this: you begin the game with 6 Tokens, each Location has 12 possible areas to explore, and Action Tokens are hard to come by. With all that in mind, you can imagine just how tense Escape Tales: The Awakening is right from the start.
Doom Cards (3)
Doom Cards will allow you to continue playing the game if you run out of Action Tokens.
The top part of a Doom Card adds to the story: it offers a juicy bit of information that will spark curiosity and questions about where your adventure is headed. The bottom part of the Card has an effect; often to take more Action Tokens. However, be careful with how frivolously you use the Doom Cards because they may influence your game’s ending.
Moi, je suis méchante : ça veut dire que j’ai besoin de la souffrance des autres pour exister. Une torche. Une torche dans les coeurs. Quand je suis toute seule, je m’éteins.
The Storybook and Game Cards (4)
The Storybook is where you read more about, not surprisingly, the story. Each page is divided into numbered paragraphs (Choose Your Own Adventure-style) which describe events and give instructions to follow. A paragraph might tell you to take or discard Cards, take Action Tokens, read another paragraph in the Storybook, or it might signal the game’s end. The paragraphs are laid out randomly in the Storybook to ensure nothing is spoiled.
The margins of each page indicate the paragraphs found there so you don’t necessarily have to randomly flip through the Storybook.
While the Storybook contains most of the game’s narrative and instructions to progress through the adventure, the Game Cards feature most of what you will be using throughout your gameplay. This includes cards featuring puzzles, items, conditions, and maps of the Location, as well as Exit cards.
Nessun sente da che parte preme la scarpa, se non chi se la calza.
Finally the last component needed to play Escape Tales: The Awakening is a website. The rulebook calls it an “app”, but that is simply because it’s been designed to be accessed even if you’re offline. You must have an internet connection the first time you launch the site, but it will continue to work without a connection afterwards.
The website is primarily used to input solutions to puzzles and then receive instructions on how to proceed (like which paragraphs to read or Game Cards to draw). However, it is also where you gain hints and information about a specific puzzle.
Similar to the Exit series of games, the hints that are given are tiered: the first hint is broad, with each hint getting more detailed until you are finally given the answer. Also like Exit: The Game, each puzzle has a section which tells you the number of cards (and sometimes specific items) required to solve it. Unlike many other escape room games which are timed or scored, Escape Tales: The Awakening doesn’t penalize you for taking hints or for inputting an incorrect answer to a puzzle.
Saving the Game
The box for Escape Tales: The Awakening notes that it will take a group of 1 to 4 players between 3 and 6 hours to get through an entire game. Yes, that is the time for a single game and for your group to reach just one of the game’s many endings. The given time estimate is no joke. Escape Tales: The Awakening has a rich story, difficult decisions, and challenging puzzles, all of which eat up a lot of time and energy. The game requires you to be at your sharpest so it has a wonderful system to save your game. Do yourself a favour and take advantage of this. Your brain will thank you.
Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
Escape Tales: The Awakening has many different endings to the game and story, some of which are grimmer than others. Your group’s ending will depend on the choices made throughout the game: items you kept or discarded, puzzles you solved, areas you explored, and the interactions you had. The timing of these decisions will also influence your ending. Your early choices have the greatest impact on your gameplay (and the ending), while your later ones won’t always be as significant.
Since a game’s ending is so dependent on the choices made by the group, it’s possible to replay Escape Tales: The Awakening and get different endings. It’s even possible to discover new locations, areas, and puzzles because you won’t be able to see all the game’s content in just one play. When I first began playing the game, I went into it armed with this information so I recorded the points at which I had to make decisions. This turned into one heck of a flowchart by the end, but it meant that I was able to play through the game multiple times and reach a different ending each play.
Thanks to my flowchart, I played through the game only 9 times. My first few games I discovered enough new content that it felt worth my time. By my fourth game, I found I was doing much of what I had already done or solved before and I wasn’t encountering anything new. I did, however, make different choices so each game had a new surprising ending, making it all worth it.
It’s harder to burn down a house than you think.
6 Tips to Get the Most Out of Escape Tales
- Break your games up into sessions and don’t be afraid to use the saving system. If you record everything as indicated, you will easily jump right into your next play.
- Don’t burn through Doom Cards by trying to explore every single area. You won’t look at every card, use all the objects, or even solve all the puzzles in just one play of the game.
- Make sure at least one person playing is strong in math, specifically algebra and arithmetic.
- Use the Order of Operations (or BEDMAS) when solving puzzles. Remember sitting through grade 9 math and wondering when it would ever be relevant to your life outside of school? Well here is your answer. This will be the only time.
- Make sure you are solving the correct puzzle on the website. A few of the puzzle symbols are quite similar and it’s easy to click the wrong one (and then get frustrated when your answer isn’t taking).
- Check the “Required Cards” on the website for the puzzle you’re trying to solve. Since there’s no penalty, there is no sense in wasting time trying to solve something for which you aren’t prepared.
First and foremost Escape Tales: The Awakening is a story, one in which a widowed father is trying to save his daughter in a setting where everything is not always as it seems. It is more thematic than both the Exit and Unlock! games; it’s more like a point-and-click video game adventure than a traditional escape room-in-a-box game. The gameplay experience focuses on the adventure, delivering an incredible story piece-by-piece. Put simply (and without spoilers), the story and its characters are mesmerizing.
Escape Tales: The Awakening is a game for a mature audience; the content isn’t necessarily scary or horrific, but it is eerie and the subject matter is heavy and quite intense. The story has a way of leaving you feeling a little unsettled as you progress through each room and reveal more about the characters’ dark, troublesome pasts.
Thankfully the strong storyline doesn’t take away from the complexity of the puzzles, which feel a little different from most other escape room games. In Escape Tales: The Awakening there is still a good variety of puzzles and riddles, but they are much more centred on math and logic. Overall they are also more challenging. The game is a real brain-burner and you won’t want to attempt to complete it in one sitting.
Eh bien, continuons.
Bottom line: if you like challenging escape room games, Escape Tales: The Awakening is certainly one you should check out. The incredibly thematic, gripping story and complex puzzles made it an easy pick as one of my favourite games of 2018.
Thanks to Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), Jean-Paul Sartre (No Exit), Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy), Szymon Stoczek, and Matt Dembek for your riveting written works.