Unlock! Exotic Adventures – 4th Box, Still Awesome

Unlock! Exotic Adventures is the 4th trilogy of escape room style board games from Space Cowboys. These are sold as a set of three within the UK, however in other territories such as the United States the three adventures are sold separately. Combining card play with an always counting down app, 1 – 6 players will be battling nightmarish creatures, monkeys and more. However, is the game experience a nightmare, a tale or a jurassic adventure? Let’s find out!

Note: The images used throughout the review only feature the starting lore card of an adventure or the game box. This allows the review to be spoiler free, but painfully does not show off the rather stunning card or in app art.

As with the other Unlock! boxes a short tutorial deck is included. This is the 2.0 tutorial – present since the second box of the Unlock series. For those returning to the series it’ll be but a brief reminder that can be skipped, whilst new players should attempt it first. Despite being only a small number of cards the tutorial gets players up to speed with how the game systems work, and how the different types of cards interact with each other.

At the start of an adventure players get to read an introduction card before the timer starts. This card often gives lore and meaning to the situation players find themselves in. Flipping the card over the adventure begins and the timer must be started on the app. From here on players are left at the mercy of the cards, following any instructions or clues. Locations will have numbers on them to find in the deck, unlocking new items or locations. To speed this up, and not allow one player all the knowledge of the numbers or letters that could come up, splitting the deck between players is advised.

Using what you have in front of you, cards come in different forms. Red and Blue cards combine in pairs, think like a plug and a socket (a random example). Be sure to combine these logically though as there are dead ends, where the combined numbers don’t exist, that’ll cost you time or even penalty cards! Penalties are triggered by hitting a button on the app, which makes a less than pleasant buzzer noise – compounding the negative of the situation.

Green cards are machines, which are brought up in the app by typing in their number. These machine puzzles often involve players reading or deciphering clues from other cards, then tapping away in the app. These are a great usage of technology within the board game and are often unique puzzle elements. Yellow code cards are also solved via app input, requiring a 4 digit code. However, unlike machines which all look visually different in the app, code puzzles simply leave players to input the four figures that solve the puzzle. Again, the clues are often found spread around other cards.

So with limited details taken only from the starting lore card, or mechanically what occurred, what are these adventures like? The easiest adventure, deemed by Z-Man, is Night of the Boogeymen. With a child struggling to sleep, nightmares bring some interesting real world limitations for players that make this adventure stand out from the rest. As expected from a 1 padlock rated adventure the puzzles were on the simple side but this allowed the game to flow without too many lulls in the card turning fun. This isn’t to say one or two aren’t there to trip players up but it is the best adventure of the box for maintained progression, rather than short bursts of success.

Included in the box for the first adventure is a square piece of paper. Without explaining what it is used for, the paper sheet is not consumed or destroyed as part of a play through. Nevertheless, the mystery of what is it used for will be slightly lessened if you were to pass the game on after playing. This is a far from a significant thing, with one player correctly guessing what it was used for before we had even started the adventure – just something to be aware of.

Once again my Wife and I struggled with the second adventure in the box more than the third, despite the difficulty rating going the other way. This time around players are whisked off to the world of the One Thousand and One Nights tale – where Scheherazade is looking for a final tale to tell. The majority of puzzles provided a great sense of progression, until one puzzle truly stumped us – with us unable to determine the combination need for a machine. We thought we had tried every combination until finally “re-trying” one that we found to work.

This however highlights the double penalty issue of machines where not only is time wasted but penalties are also awarded, therefore our completion time was… not too good. What made this hitting a brick wall more irritating was that the built in hint system, on the app, simple returned “nothing to report” for the card. Overall, the annoyance the adventure caused was more on us than the game. Still, even after getting past the machine, how we were supposed to obtain the exact combination baffles me.

Expedition Challenger is the third included adventure, which jolts players back to a time with dinosaurs. Equipped with only a survival guide, that readily lists multiple long extinct species among other things, the adventure gets going instantly. This adventure is the most app orientated Unlock! experience I’ve had to date. The balance between card interplay and tapping things on the app leans at least 60% towards the app not the physical components. This isn’t to say that their aren’t component based puzzles, however it is often clues from the components out on the table that drive in app actions.

There is one type of puzzle that I can simply never get and that is hidden numbers. Some cards, along with visible obvious cards to draw from the deck, come with hidden numbers. This would drive me insane if playing solo, though thankfully there is a tip within the app that can reveal hidden numbers. This final adventure was for once not littered with them. Alas, in the other two adventures these tiny hidden numbers seem to have gotten even smaller than before – only compounding my annoyance with them.

The art style the adventures differ, though the style of each appropriately fits the theming. Night of the Boogeymen has a more cartoon style, matching the story of the child’s nightmares perfectly. The other two adventures have more of a realistic style – matching the “serious” settings better. As art can be subjective it may mean little but the latter two, Scheherazade’s Last Tale & Expedition Challenger, have artwork which is more evocative with flair and details that the cartoon style cannot capture – the cards just have that extra wow factor to them. This was more present in Scheherazade’s Last Tale given the amount the app is used in the third adventure, nevertheless the art was enjoyed in both.

Yet again, Space Cowboys has put together a peculiar mixture of adventures – each with their own unique challenges and aspects that make them stand out. Aside from the slightly used piece of paper, which wouldn’t hinder the gameplay, the three decks are entirely replayable. However, this is more that it can be passed onto friends or family than replayed by the same players. While the hidden numbers still haunt me, the box includes three great stories to follow. Lasting pretty much around the hour mark, they come with a mixture of simple and brain burning puzzles. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed and as there is not a specific order to play the Unlock! games the Exotic Adventures box is a great starting point for new players too!

[Editor’s Note: Unlock! Exotic Adventures was provided to us by Asmodee UK for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £26.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]