This year’s (2017) Kenner Spiel des Jahres winner is Exit: The Game, but does it live up to the hype? The short answer is an overwhelming “Yes!” Winning the Kenner Spiel des Jahres is a big deal, and the competition is always stiff, but the top pick has rarely let me down and this year is no different.
Exit: The Game is darn near perfect. It does what it was intended to do quite well, which is to provide an experience not unlike that of an escape room. Solving the logic puzzles and answering the riddles is both challenging and rewarding. The pace of the game and how new elements are introduced is clever and feels right.
I’m not sure I want to classify Exit: The Game as a board game, but more of a boxed experience. Exit: The Game is a highly thematic logic puzzle and you need to know this going in. As a game/experience, it is fully cooperative and you won’t be competing for points. Instead, much like with an escape room, you either all get out/survive together or you don’t. No matter how you classify Exit: The Game, you are bound to find it enjoyable.
The Premise (for Exit: The Abandoned Cabin)
You (and your friends if you are playing with a group) are traveling when your vehicle breaks down in the middle of the night. With no cell phone service, you venture down the lonely road in hopes of finding some assistance. As it begins to rain, you find a cabin that looks abandoned. Thankfully, the door is open and you enter, if for no other reason than to get out of the rain. Because it was so late, and possibly due to the melody of the rain, you fall asleep. When you wake up the following morning, you are surprised to find the door locked with a combination lock. All of the windows have thick iron bars on them, which in the dark of night you failed to notice. Most other things in the cabin appear to have combination locks on them as well, but in the center of the table, almost on display, is a book and a strange disk.
Gameplay begins as soon as you open the book. This is true in both real-life terms and in the imagined game world. I’ll try not to spoil what is found in the book, as discovering things is a huge part of the game, but I will say that it is very thematic. There is a story woven into every element and what you get is both slightly creepy, but also very crafty.
If you’ve been to an escape room (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend going to one as they are super fun) then you’ll be familiar with the narrative puzzle solving aspect found within Exit: The Game. But, don’t fret if you haven’t done something like an escape room. Exit: The Game does a wonderful job of walking you through everything while providing an interesting theme/setting.
I’ll try not to spoil anything, but inside Exit: The Game you’ll find all kinds of riddles and logic puzzles. Most of the time, you’ll need to solve one puzzle in order to get a needed piece or clue to solve another puzzle. In this way, everything builds on itself and thematically advances you through the game.
The decoder disk and corresponding answer cards work in a pretty slick way, ensuring random guessing won’t get you very far. Essentially, there is a double check system that is fairly clever. Wrong answers can be frustrating, but if you really get stuck the game offers hint cards for each particular puzzle. The hint cards have three different levels for each puzzle, with the first hint not really giving anything away, but notifying you about the different items needed to solve it. So, for instance, if you are having trouble with Riddle Card X, you can check Hint Card X1 to see if you have all of the necessary elements required to complete that particular puzzle. It is possible that the reason Riddle X is giving you so much trouble is that you need Item Z to solve it, but currently you only have Item X, and Item Y. This means you’ll have to solve a different riddle first, in order to be rewarded with Item Z.
The execution and progression of Exit: The Game is very well done, dare I say beautifully done. You will need all your wits about you to succeed and I’m really glad that I was challenged. Solving each puzzle felt good and as we got closer to solving the final one, the excitement and anticipation grew. By the mid-point, we were ravenous in our desire to continue and complete the next riddle.
When I tell people about Exit: The Game, one of the first questions that always comes up relates to how replayable the game is. The short answer is: Exit: The Game is not meant to be replayed. The game is made to provide a singular experience. Once you’ve solved one of the riddles, that’s it, the riddle has been solved. Unless your memory is really, really awful, you can’t very well play the game again without knowing the answers/how to solve the puzzles. On top of this, you’ll likely want to cut some of the cards or at the very least bend them.
If you are careful and start with a plan of not damaging the game, maybe for the purpose of re-gifting, it is possible to play Exit: The Game without destroying any of the components. You’ll have to carefully package everything back in the box, nice and neat and in order, but it is possible.
Stand Alone Expansions
While replaying a single copy of Exit: The Game isn’t recommended, there are quite a few versions to pick from, each providing a different experience/theme, as well as difficulty rating. Currently, there are six different Exit games to choose from. And just like going to various escape rooms provide enjoyment each time, each different game of Exit is also enjoyable. Just because you’ve played one version of Exit: The Game doesn’t mean you’ll have an easier time with the puzzles/riddles from another version. Each version is completely self-contained; you do not need to play one version before playing any other version.
I really enjoyed Exit: The Abandoned Cabin, which is the version I played for the purposes of this review. The game does a wonderful job of sucking you into the narrative. It is both challenging and rewarding. It can be enjoyed as a solo game or with your normal gaming group. It took us (me and my wife) a little over an hour and a half to complete the game. For the two of us, the cost of the game is less than the both of us going out to the movies, but it took about the same amount of time. Even though Exit: The Game provides a one-time experience, much like going to the movies or out to eat, I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth and look forward to playing a different version soon.
Exit: The Game gets top marks in my book. Few board games have provided a truly engrossing experience like I found in Exit: The Game and it is no wonder why it won the game of the year award.