A new day, a new Escape Room game on your table. The Heist Vol 1. is another entry in to the wild world of solving puzzles, featuring the unique angle of uncovering evidence to track and catch an art thief.
How It Plays
Despite having an atypical theme for an escape room – tracking down evidence versus actually being “trapped” in a room/mansion/lab/prison cell with limited time to escape – The Heist has a familiar setup if you’ve played escape room board games before.
You start with a pile of components – photos, news clippings, notes, maps – and after a brief introduction are sent out to find the answers you need by putting together the components and information.
In this game, you’re going to need to access the internet, primarily to access the game’s dashboard. Once you log in, you’re greeted with a video introduction and then prompted with some questions you need to solve. Once you get those answers, you’ll move on to the next phase, and so on, until you reach the end of the story (in this case, gathering enough evidence to capture the thief).
What makes this game more unique is that you’re allowed to use the internet – not just to use the digital components that are part of the game, but to google information to help you come up with the answers you need.
Also unique is the game does not have a time limit – you are free to pursue the end game at your leisure, with no countdown clock to worry about.
Making the Case
I don’t think I’ve had strong negative feelings toward any Escape Room or escape room board game I’ve ever played. Whether some of the puzzles are more interesting than others, or some takes on the genre are more finicky with the mechanics, brain-chopping my way through puzzles using smarts and creativity is a pastime I simply enjoy. And, since these experiences are typically one-time consumables, I get more enjoyment out of playing new entires than trying to replay the best ones over again. That just wouldn’t make sense.
So as a baseline, I certainly enjoyed Chasing Hahn as I would enjoy any escape room game. It’s an easy verdict to make that if you like these sorts of experiences, you’ll get something out of this particular one. It’s not broken or unplayable, the puzzles are solve-able, and you’ll put your brain to work to reach the end.
That being said, there were a few issues with this particular game that undercut some of the experience for me.
It should go without saying that I will avoid spoilers as much as I can. Talking about the experience will certainly give away the nature of some of the puzzles, but nothing that would remotely help you find the solutions. I’ll drop spoiler warnings for anything that gets into more details – but again, even there I won’t be solving any puzzles for you, or even giving away clues.
A large reason for my issues with this game, I think, were due to expectations. The marketing blurb on the publisher’s website suggested something a little more unique. With no time limit and the use of the internet at your disposal, this suggested a broader, more investigative game that could take hours of playtime. I imagined digging up tidbits of factual information on actual websites mixed with uncovering secret websites built for the game on a dark corner of the internet. Exciting!
When I received the game and opened the package, I found a number of components – your standard, starting Escape Room tabletop fare. A few notes, a few photos, some numbers – stuff I didn’t know what to do with but would soon find out.
What I didn’t find was any kind of instruction booklet or introduction to the gameplay, which I thought was odd. I’ve played dozens of escape room games and have a clear concept of how they work, but I imagine someone new to the genre might have trouble knowing where to get started.
What you get instead is a code that you enter at a website for the game, which activates your dashboard so you can get started. There you get a video introduction to the story – but again, not quite the gameplay. You have a lot of tools at your disposal but no clear indication of what you should be using, when certain buttons can or should be activated – no sense of how things progress at all.
Now, I know escape rooms are about discovery. Not immediately knowing the purpose of a component is a part of the game. Putting things together or uncovering new information, that’s the challenge – but you still need to understand the framework for how it all comes together. You shouldn’t have to worry about using the tools to play the game, just the information and components needed to solve the puzzles.
It’s particularly rough oversight here, because the marketing copy says you can use the internet, but there’s no indication of just how much you can or should be using it. Are pieces of the puzzle out there for you to gather, or should you only use the websites and information directly provided by the game? I tend not to take the rules from marketing copy, but if I hadn’t read that line I would have assumed everything was contained within the game’s components and online dashboard.
I spent a lot of time looking up information on the internet about some of the elements in the game, which did in fact have real-world counterparts. Knowing the Internet was allowed, I assumed some research was needed. Turns out, we wasted a ton of time on this pointless rabbit hole – all the clues were available to us via resources provided by the game, both physical copies and some fictional websites we were directed to. Yet with that being said, there was indeed a single puzzle that required us to look up some information on google that we would otherwise have no way of knowing. (I double checked the games hint system to be sure that we weren’t missing something in game, and they specifically directed you to google the answer based on clues that were provided).
If there were guidelines or instructions about the gameplay – how much one might expect to stay within the game system vs. going to the internet at large – I would not have felt tricked or like I wasted my time. A simple “for the most part, the game provides the information you need to solve the puzzles – but you may need to search for a tidbit here and there” would have set my expectations and made for a better experience. Now you know.
The other major expectation that was blown was that of game length. I mentioned above that I assumed a longer play time, given that the game isn’t timed in any way and there’s no scoring system based on how fast you complete everything. To me that implied a more involved scenario, one that I might want to put away for another day after spending some time with it. I never saw anything that suggested 1-2 hrs of gameplay, but honestly we completed everything in under 90 minutes – and that with the distractions that wasted a lot of our time.
If you’re reading this review, you now know these two things. Minimal but allowable googling, and playable in an hour or two. Those expectations set, you can have a good time with this escape room.
The mixed media – requiring a laptop (or a phone, but I’d recommend something you can easily type, navigate, and share a screen) – may not appeal to some, but it’s well used here. Videos help immerse you in the story, fake websites combined with the physical components broaden the scope of your investigation, and there are even some cool technology-oriented puzzles that make you feel sleuthy.
I have a few minor complaints about a couple of the puzzles, which felt more tedious than they needed to be.
Minor spoilers – there were a couple puzzles that required repeatedly typing in information and seeing the result before you could gain all the information needed to solve the puzzle. This felt a little bit too much like homework. I don’t enjoy when the busywork of the puzzle draws out the length of the game more than the mental effort of solving the puzzle. That being said, I was frustrated by some of my earlier complaints, and probably would not have been so bothered by these sections without those earlier hitches.
There is one more thing worth mentioning in the area of re-usability. These sorts of escape room games typically fall into 2 categories. There’s the EXIT style where components are ripped up, written on, cut, folded, and generally rendered un-reusable after a single play. Then there’s the UNLOCK style where puzzles can be solved without messing up the actual components, making it possible to share the game with friends and family or even sell your copy since it’s fully re-playable.
This particular escape room game, however, falls into the crack between these two categories. The components aren’t used up and the game is fully replayable. However, you need a product code to unlock the digital dashboard required to play the game. This is a one-time-use code (like a digital game download) tied to a user account, which means you can’t really pass the game on when you’re done. I guess you could share it with friends or family you trust, but to sell it off to a stranger you’d have to pass along your username and password, which you presumably will need for future installments of the series. It’s not egregious, but it’s also not the cheapest escape room game, and it’s a bit disappointing that it is only locked down digitally. Now I have this back of components that has no particular use.
So it goes. Moving on.
Overall I enjoyed The Heist: Chasing Hahn and would recommend it to any escape room fans out there. Just make sure you go in with the right expectations. It’s not a package I’ll be raving about to my friends, but the thematic immersion will make you feel like a detective digging up CSI evidence, and the mixture of digital and real-world components is a unique twist to the formula.
I do look forward to the day when someone creates a lengthier, more in-depth investigative game like this that can be played over multiple sessions, but if your expectations are right going in, you’ll have fun. I look forward to future installations of The Heist.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Games Games Games for providing a review copy of The Heist Vol. 1: Chasing Hahn.