Please note that this review features no photographs, as there’s nothing to photograph that wouldn’t give something away.
Two Great Tastes Now Together
I don’t remember when I did my first escape room. I grew up doing all sorts of puzzles, so the idea of being locked away in a room that you cannot leave until you solve your way out, Saw movies aside, is pretty appealing. I’m competitive and work best under pressure, so the time limit imposed by escape rooms makes them all the more appealing.
I more or less remember the first time I read The Lord of the Rings. It was the summer of 2001, the year I would enter eighth grade. LotR mania had swept up the small middle school I attended, and I was desperate to finish the trilogy before The Fellowship of the Ring came into theaters. I liked the books. I would end up absolutely enamored with the movies.
I definitely remember the first and thus far only time I played Exit: The Lord of the Rings. Given that it was a little over a week ago, I’d be concerned if I didn’t. It’s one of the newest offerings in KOSMOS’s massively successful series of at-home escape room experiences.
Each little box contains a series of puzzles to navigate. Clues are hidden throughout the provided materials, and it’s up to you to figure them out. You will take notes, you will cut and bend cards, you will crack codes, you will ruin the resale value. If you get stuck, there are three hint cards per puzzle, allowing uncertain players to get an encouraging nudge, a firm push, or a violent shove in the right direction.
I’ve done close to ten Exit games at this point. My mom and I do one every time I visit, and my partner enjoys them. A single game usually takes us somewhere between an hour and ninety minutes. Different sets range from one to five dots, indicating the difficulty. The puzzles can be pretty clever at any level. I still regularly get stumped. You’d think at that play count that I’d be able to sail through all of them on autopilot, but that’s not the case. I think that’s a testimony to the designers’ ingenuity.
Well. It’s not always a testament to ingenuity, nor to the series’ strengths. Every Exit game I’ve done has featured at least one puzzle that made me roll my eyes. There’s always at least one that either uses something apart from the story—my “favorite” example required use of the publisher’s UK fax number—or requires a mid-puzzle leap in logic so extreme that even I can’t muster up the self-resentment necessary to feel responsible for not getting it without a hint card.
As I discussed in my review of Fort Knox Box, that kind of “puzzle” doesn’t do it for me. The harder an Exit gets, the more of those appear. At three dots, Exit: LotR is mostly intuitive. In fact it’s the most pleasant Exit game I’ve played. Several of my favorite individual Exit puzzles I’ve ever seen are in this box. One of my least favorite is too, but even that one didn’t take too long. The whole thing lasted around 45-50 minutes. That’s pretty quick.
The main reason my girlfriend and I were able to blaze through it is the uncharacteristic linearity. Since you are following a set story, themed around a secret hobbit advance team Gandalf sends to prepare the way for Frodo et al., the puzzles present themselves one at a time. Most Exit games involve roaming through the pages and cards, trying to figure out what goes together. Not in Exit: LotR. Each puzzle presents itself and is resolved before moving on.
That makes Exit: The Lord of the Rings an ideal entry point for people curious to try the series. It’s a little more user-friendly. Regular Exiters will know whether they like the sound of it from their own preferences. Part of the fun of the series is having a conspiracy theory board’s worth of cards laid out on the table and suddenly having a breakthrough about how two or three of them go together. Lord of the Rings does not offer that part of the experience.
By the same token, feeling lost can be one of the series’ main issues. That is not a problem here. You will most assuredly make it there and back again.