Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Escape the Room Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor

Escape the Room Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor

Spring 2016 Games
Ages: 10 & Up
Manufacturer: ThinkFun Inc.
Price: $21.99

Strange things are happening at the local astronomer's house. Unexplained noises and smoke suggest something bizarre is going on, and his trusted caretaker is determined to investigate. Bringing along a group of friends, the caretaker enters the manor, only to be locked in a room full of mysterious clues, with limited time to escape safely! This is the story behind "Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor," a party event game from ThinkFun.

Escape the Room games are a type of interactive fiction, originally in digital form but more recently in live action, both through party games such as this one or even through real-life escape rooms. Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor has a steampunk feel: as the game unfolds and the component envelopes are opened one at a time, players study maps and pictures, turn pipes, and build a machine out of gears to operate a telescope-like piece of equipment. The designers encourage total immersion in the game, inviting players to dress in 19th-century garb appropriate to the 1869 setting and suggesting period background music. Our players threw themselves into the experience with gusto, donning improvised costumes even as we played.

The puzzles of the game are just the right level of difficulty for preteens and teens, challenging but not impossible, particularly if any of the players has experience in the similar digital games. The two-hour allotted time is easily enough to solve the mystery, but still sufficient to lend the game a sense of urgency. It doesn't have to be played at a party; this is a wonderful family game, cheaper than an afternoon at the movies and a much better bonding experience. Our players took turns reading the scene cards, and even the younger players were able to offer insights all the way through. Parents can play along; they will enjoy seeing kids working together (those "A-ha!" moments when a challenging puzzle suddenly falls into place are priceless) and can offer nudges (and sometime equal bafflement) as needed. If the game truly stymies all players, then the ThinkFun website provides appropriate hints to keep things moving along.

The game materials are high quality and capable of standing up to numerous runs through it. Though Escape the Room is intended as a one-time party event, the ThinkFun website offers detailed instructions for reassembling the game so it can be passed along to friends or reused at another party (with unique guests, of course; once you solve the puzzles the mystery is over). This was such a positive experience that our family is already looking forward to the next edition!

Emily Crawford   ©2016 Parents' Choice
Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master's in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Look for this product at:
ThinkFun Inc.

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