Feeling somewhat like Eric Summerer in the now-defunct Dice Tower Podcast’s as he opens up another box of Fluxx (Looney Labs), I thought I’d try something different with the sixth Trapped game that I’ve played. Occasioned by the fact that my regular escape room partner (my son) had already played Trapped: Mission To Mars with his grandpa, I thought I’d see what happens when the series’ USP (Unique Selling Point) - specifically the placement of components on walls and other surfaces of the room in which the game is played - affects game play when it is taken away.
So it was then, that I arrayed the contents of Trapped: Mission To Mars on my kitchen table and realised I needed a bigger kitchen table. Whereas many escape-room-in-a-box games reveal their content over the course of play, Trapped puts almost all of it out from the get go: certainly one good reason for using wall space, side tables, and even a bin. After extending the table, I was ready to launch into the game.
There are seven puzzles in Mars Mission, split between fifteen or so components; and akin to the harder EXIT (Kosmos) series games, identifying which of the puzzle pieces go with which is, in fact, part of the puzzle. The solution sheet for this one felt like it could've been reverse-engineered but was sufficient for purpose, if inelegant. While the system of looking up clues in the hint book is robust and clearly explained in the rulebook, having the components stuck to the walls prevents you from easily matching puzzle pieces by finding similar hint codes. With the components on the table, it dawned on me that I could pair them simply by flipping them over. Resisting such a bare-faced cheat, I started hunting out the numbers I needed to solve each puzzle, for this is a most mathematical entry in the genre. I'll admit a couple needed extra guidance from ground control - likely slack my usual playing partner would have taken up - but for the most part they matched the formula of colour/set/association/logic/deduction of previous entries. Two were notably satisfying to complete.
It took about 45 minutes for me to reach Mars (much quicker than NASA; not bad, eh?) and open the end-game secret envelope. This was a let down, to be honest; yes, Trapped games are aimed at groups of kids and/or family members, but the climax was, to quote the late Douglas Adams, a gnabgib.
The Trapped series, being more mass market oriented than the majority of escape room games I've played, is seldom inventive; Mission to Mars is a typical entry, somewhat more mathy/logical than others, though that is quite appropriate given the space travel theme (watch the excellent film Hidden Numbers to see just how important the maths - sorry, 'math' - is). Having most recently played Flight 927, this was a step back down. Of the six released so far, Flight 927, The Bank Job and The Art Heist are the ones I'd particularly recommend; The Carnival and The Zoo are aimed at kids, while Mission to Mars drifts somewhere in between.
As the one-and-only escape-room-in-a-box game that I have solo'd, my play of Trapped: Mission To Mars highlighted both how important the teamwork aspect is and that a game's USP is there for good reason. Especially with the simpler entries, having a gaggle of kids bouncing around the room looking at different pieces of the puzzles and shouting for their teammates to come help them, is a lot more rewarding than dryly filling out a check list.
(Review by David Fox)