Updated: Oct 24
Designed by Rebecca Bleau and Nicholas Cravotta, MacGyver: The Escape Room Game, from Pressman, is a recent entry into the not-so-nattily titled ERiaB (escape-room-in-a-box) genre. It has five individual missions guided by a website (internet access is essential to play). Rather than being themed on the recent MacGyver (2016) reboot, the cover boasts the original 1985 'Mac' RDA - Richard Dean Anderson himself. Indeed, the first Mission is based on the Pilot episode for the TV series, which - unknowing of this beforehand - we had watched to get into the theme: this was a nice touch and made the game feel more than an IP cash-in.
The box contains a single sheet instruction leaflet with the essential web address on it (www.MacGyverGame.com), one Utility Bag envelope to hold items between missions (reusing items is another nice touch), and the five Mission envelopes themselves. The player count on the box is 1-4, however several of the 30+ puzzles are physical and can only be worked on by one person at a time, so expect a little time waiting for 'my try' if playing in a group. I suspect those at the minimum recommended age of 12+ would struggle on their own but, content-wise, the game is safe and my eight-year-old son played through with us enthusiastically, though the actual solving of the puzzles was mostly down to me and, occasionally, my 1980s-RDA-loving wife.
The MacGyver theme comes across very well: my wife recognised items and situations that had appeared in some episodes and the game keeps Mac's ethos of ingenuity over force at the fore. The graphic design is clear and other than one incorrect word on the website causing a problem*, it was the puzzles that stumped us more than the game's presentation, which is just as it should be.
Gameplay is simple: load up the website; select your Mission; follow the instructions, only unsticking stickers or opening envelopes when told to do so. The website crashed once on my iPad but it worked flawlessly on my laptop. The box warns that the game can only be played once: copying components rather than destroying them proved mostly successful, although the substitutes were obviously not as pliable as the real thing and, if playing on one of the two timed settings, pausing is essential. The glue used on the envelopes is easily resealable, but the stickers are brutal and tear; one puzzle requires scissors.
For some perspective, having played most of the Kosmos Exit games, Asmodee's Unlock! games, dV Giochi's Deckscapes 1-3, and the two ThinkFun Escape Room Games (Stargazer and Gravely: both by the same designers as this one), I would put MacGyver: The Escape Room Game's average difficulty at mid-weight, though the individual puzzles do fluctuate wildly with some being much easier while others needed use of the HINT button. Occasionally, even when we had figured out what we were supposed to do, we couldn't work out how to do it and that did not always feel like our own failing. Missions 2-5 each had at least one puzzle which resolved unsatisfactorily (as a number of ERiaBs do, to be fair) but most felt justified when the solution was reached (even if we were required to do math!). There were three occasions where we had to use all the hints on a puzzle to progress before frustration got the worse of us.
We had a mixed time playing MacGyver: The Escape Room Game. While there are a lot of puzzles in the box and the majority are satisfying, the variation in difficulty is substantial and our team was dead-ended just a little too often. The theme drew my wife in, but the nature of the game and the fact that some of the puzzles could only be tacked by one person at a time only saw her attention drift. So, if you like the genre and the theme and are prepared for the occasional loose plot line, fire up the Tangerine Dream and get some big hair action.
(Review by David Fox)
*It said ARROW where we're fairly sure it meant to say BOMB