Before the Coronavirus pandemic, escape rooms were a big leisure activity – something to go out and do with your friends or with work colleagues for a team building exercise, something to get the brain matter working in a fun way. What could be better than being locked into a small room with a few friends and colleagues and given an hour or so to try and break out using clues scattered through the room?
Covid put escape rooms on hold for the moment, but you can still play at home with your family and have your our “escape room” at the kitchen or dining table. There are a few escape room type games around that you can sink your teeth into. As we love logic puzzles in our house, we picked up Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat from ThinkFun.
Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat is the second game in ThinkFun’s escape room puzzle range (the first is Stargazer’s Manor).
The basic premise of the game is the same as the real-life escape room puzzle rooms in that you have to uncover and solve a series of clues to escape the room. With ThinkFun’s version, you don’t have to actually lock anyone into a room, and you can play it in the comfortable surroundings of your own home, but without any loss of enjoyment.
Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat is a game for 3-8 players, aged 13 and above with a recommended gameplay of 90-120 minutes (this will depend on the path you take to complete the puzzle). In the box there is:
- Instruction Manual
- Scene Card: Arrival
- 4 Sealed Envelopes (The Desk, The Safe, The Alcove, The Laboratory Door)
- Secret Items (hidden within the sealed envelopes)
- Solution Wheel
Note: Whilst the game states that it is for 3 players plus, we played it with 2 players and it works just as well.
Before you play, if you want to make it a bit more of an event, you can send a creepy invitation to your fellow players from the ThinkFun website, there is even a option to select mood music (although this doesn’t seem to work in the UK unless you have a Spotify subscription) and there are even suggestions of items of clothing and accessories to wear.
When it is time to play, there is very minimal setup to this game, but you will need a large playing area to lay out all the clues as and when you receive them. Just place the four sealed envelopes in the middle of the table (no one is to open any), set any mood music and you are ready to begin. You will need pen and paper to help you solve any clues, a timer and if you require some hints, access to the internet. Set a timer for 2 hours and you now have 2 hours to solve all the clues and escape from Dr. Gravely’s Retreat. Can you do it?
The year is 1913 and you are the lucky winner of a free stay at Foxcrest Retreat, where the famed Dr. Gravely has improved upon the latest in spa treatments and relaxation for those of high social standing. You take a long all-expense-paid train ride to the retreat. Upon your arrival, however, you and your fellow guests may find the “health retreat” is not what it seems…
Work with your guests to discover the dark secret of Dr. Gravely’s retreat by finding clues and solving puzzles. But be careful… in the story, the doors have shut and locked behind you. Will you and your guests discover the secret and escape the room before time runs out?
The Host starts by setting the scene and reading the first scene card, all the players are then instructed to “examine the desk” to start. To open The Desk envelope, you have to first work out how to open the desk with any clues you have available.
As this is a logic puzzle, I won’t explain any of the envelopes, their contents or how to solve them. This would just spoil all the fun. Some of the clues are easier than others, some are quite baffling. But there is always a way to solve them, none of them are impossible. Whilst you start with The Desk Envelope you cannot open it until you solve the first clue, and you can’t open subsequent envelopes until you solve following clues. When opening envelopes, you will need to keep the contents readily available as you might need to refer to them later in the game to solve other clues. To be certain that you have solved a clue correctly so that you can move on to the next there is a handy solution wheel to check your answers, this isn’t a simple list of answers but a wheel where you have to input symbols you gleam from solving clues to see if the four you think are correct work.
The puzzles are all very varied, with mystery pieces in some envelopes, envelopes within envelopes and you and your guests will have to get that brain working to solve them, and some are very interesting, and at times baffling.
If you can escape the room before the timer goes off, you win. If the timers sounds, you lose and just might end up being guests of Dr. Gravely for the rest of your life.
Overall, this is a fantastic and fun puzzle game where logical thinking and observational skills are a must. For up to 2 hours (we finished it with 15 minutes to spare and it doesn’t seem like you play it that long) you are immersed in a world of strange happenings, weird clues and lots of head banging, frustrating fun.
Whilst it is a game for 3 plus players, we played as a 2 and it worked brilliantly. It states that up to 8 can play but we think that might just be too many and 2-4 is probably about right to get the best out of the game and keep everybody involved.
The hints and clues can be quite vague with others being a bit more detailed. Some are just about thinking through what you have read, some will require the use of pen and paper to work out the answers and others require a more hands-on approach.
For 2 hours we had a lot of fun deciphering the clues, although on a few occasions we did have to resort to the online hint system that gives you up to 3 hints per clue and then the solution to that clue if you are really stuck.
We loved it, the puzzles were challenging and the story that is being played out is quite good. If you are looking for a fun night in that is a bit more interesting and challenging than a standard board game, then we can highly recommend ThinkFun’s Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat.
It is a one time use game, but you can reassemble all the envelopes for other players to enjoy it (there is even a handy reassembly guide on ThinkFun’s website).
Whilst at the minute you can’t go out for a night locked in a room, you can now stay indoors and enjoy the same escaping feeling. It is definitely a good investment for an evenings after dinner entertainment for you and few family members (or visitors when we are allowed).