Unlock! Heroic Adventures is a collection of three escape room style board games, released in 2018 by publisher Space Cowboys. Designed by Cyril Demaegd and Dave Neale, featuring artwork from Arnaud Demaegd, Laurent Bazart and Mahulda Jelly, the three adventures offer one time playthrough stories. 1 – 6 players will use the free to download app, a deck of cards and their wits for around an hour at a time, to solve problems and escape. However, will players want to escape the experience? Let’s find out!
The Heroic Adventures collection features three completely separate adventures for players to enjoy: Insert Coin, Sherlock Holmes and In Pursuit of the White Rabbit. In that order they range from what Space Cowboys refers to as a 1 padlock difficulty through to a 3 padlock experience. Therefore, while the themes of the more difficult adventures may appeal to you more, it is advisable to work your way through them from easiest to hardest.
Each adventure utilizes the free to download Unlock! app. The app is a mandatory element to the experience, working perfectly well via a mobile or tablet. Choosing the adventure, players take the associated deck of cards from the box and select it on the app. As well as having the timer, just like in an escape room, the app also plays thematic, and often tension building, music. Throughout players will have to interact with both the deck and the app to progress through the adventure.
Coming with numbered or lettered backs, what is in the deck is initially a mystery. Flipping over the starting card the adventure and the timer begin. Each card comes with artwork, sometimes showing a whole location, which may instruct players to find other cards in the deck, or they could be items. Items are split into two types, red and blue. When correctly paired together these combine numerically to give the number of a card still in the deck, often seeing those used discarded. An example could be water (10) and a kettle (25) combining to give a card (35) of boiling water or steam.
Other cards will be locks or machines, which both use the app. Locks require a 4 digit code, which when correctly input into the app reveals the next card. Machines are unique puzzles, which can require codes, sequences and more, which are found on the other cards players have. Working their way through the deck players can trigger penalties for pursuing red herrings, as well as getting to see how the story unfolds. Upon completion players are awarded a star rating, which is based on elements such as time spent and hints used, Though, being a cooperative story based experience getting to the end is effectively winning for all involved.
The simplest adventure is Insert Coin. As the name suggests it is themed around an old videogame arcade. Whilst this is technically not themed beyond this, there is plenty of video gaming goodness to be spotted. Some are blatant and others are small easter eggs, with the likes of Donkey Kong, Solid Snake, Tetris, Mario Kart, Space Invaders and more all in there somewhere. As an easier escape room this is ideal for getting back into the Unlock! series for those whom haven’t played in a while, or one to introduce new players to.
While there are a few tricky puzzles to crack, mostly the hurdles are passed and the game smoothly unfolds at a fast pace. One aspect of the experience truly stands out and that is how the app is used in ways to bring the levels to life. Without giving too much away, one machine in the experience is used to see things on the cards that aren’t there, bringing a spot of augmented reality into the retro arcade world.
In the second adventure players will be aiding none other than Sherlock Holmes. Players will have to put on their investigator hats for this one, with clues needing to be looked up via a directory machine. Thankfully, players are not doubly punished for looking up keywords in the directory. Only time is wasted by guessing incorrectly, which feels fairer compared to other adventures where trial and error is punished with both time wasted and a penalty. The adventure is therefore more about trying things, as you help Sherlock, rather than pulling some magical deduction out of the air – like the master detective himself would.
This adventure comes with more than just a deck of cards. Unfolded at the offset a booklet-like sheet depicts the crime scene, as well as having spaces to place important cards – such as for suspects. By not being on a card the crime scene artwork is larger, helping the details not be lost and helping setting the scene more than usual. Unfortunately, most of the unfolded booklet is wasted as it is hard to place cards flat on it, due to the folds of the paper. This makes it mostly unnecessary past being used for the start of the adventure.
The hardest adventure is In Pursuit of the White Rabbit, an Alice in Wonderland themed experience. Meeting many of the famous characters along the way through the adventure, players will be trying to get Alice back to Kansas. Unlike the Wizard of Oz escape room, in the Unlock! Secret Adventures box, prior knowledge of the theme and setting isn’t needed as much. The artwork and the story certainly fits well with the characters it utilizes, though even with prior knowledge decisions only have nods to the characters, rather than the right choices only being clear via knowledge picked up outside of the experience.
Unlike the other two adventures in the Unlock! Heroic Adventures box, the timer for In Pursuit of the White Rabbit starts at 90 minutes, so make sure your mobile/tablet has enough juice. Though the experience only lasted us around 65 minutes, there were a few elements that could trip players up causing that time to easily inflate. Be it the minor dexterity element or a sporty themed puzzle, let’s just hope the Queen of Hearts doesn’t say off with your head!
There are now many of these Unlock! collections on the market. Each offers a unique selection of escape room style adventures and Unlock! Heroic Adventures is no different. The biggest grip players will have is that they are one time play experiences, though they can comfortably entertain 2 – 4 adults for 3 – 4 hours. The adventures are in no way destroyed either, so they can be played again by different groups of people. While this collection doesn’t take the top spot of Unlock! from Secret Adventures, it comes with three amazingly themed experiences. Notably, the Insert Coin adventure is one of the best non-IP adventures to date, coming with a completely new way that the app interacts with the cards. Thanks to the one time play nature of the collection it may not stay on my gaming shelf. Yet, it is still something gamers, especially at times like these, should give a go!
(Editor’s Note: Unlock! Heroic Adventures was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, some of which are running dropoff services, find your local store here.)