Unlock! Squeek and Sausage game review:

My first experience of being purposely locked in a puzzle was at my friend’s bachelor party. Escape Rooms had finally hit the shores of Australia and I was keen to find out what all the fuss was about.

We all gathered in the waiting area and did a final count. Unfortunately, it turned out there were too many for one room, so we split into two groups and entered our respective rooms. An hour later we were forced to leave having failed to successfully navigate through the task. Despite our unsuccessful attempt, I must admit that early into the experience I was less than impressed with the nature of the game. I was really looking for more interesting deduction than simply trying to work out various number combinations.

It should also be said that our group was comprised entirely of people who didn’t know each other, whilst everyone in the other group were long time friends. The crazy randomness of drawing names out of a hat can result in that. It may not have helped that we were all massive introverted nerds who struggled to start a conversation.

I know what you are thinking, it isn't fair to form an opinion based on what was a confluence of unfortunate events. I agree. However, I retained my apprehension because the problems in the Escape Room didn't require following the story, but simply used the story to hide numbers for combinations. The difference was between something being story driven and the other being a story slapped over the top of a maths puzzle. I wanted more of a former than the latter.

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This was a tough experience to set aside when faced with board games based on Escape Rooms. As a result, I never jumped at the chance because I didn’t want to spend an hour working out number combinations. It just didn’t appeal. So picking up Space Cowboys Unlock! Escape Adventure Squeek and Sausage I was weighed down with much apprehension. However, in the spirit of open mindedness, I took the plunge and set aside a night to go hunting through pictures of rooms looking for numbers.

Designed by Alice Carroll and Cyril Demaegd, Unlock! plays 1—6 people in about 45-75 minutes. Unlock! requires an app, but it is very easy to play through. The app guides you so effectively that reading the rules isn’t even necessary. It has a 10-minute practice session using separate cards that teach you thoroughly and sets you up well for the game proper. You can use the timer that gives you a 60-minute time frame. As you enter codes the app will either advance you through the game or offer time penalties for incorrect combinations.

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The game is a series of cards that you retrieve from a central deck. This needs to be a carefully coordinated effort as searching the deck for more cards can cost you time, and in this game time is not a luxury.

To determine which cards you need you will be required to examine pictures to discover, wait for it, number combinations. I know. This is exactly what I was afraid of, a card version of my initial experience hunting for numbers layered with a weakly held together story. Here’s the thing. It really wasn’t the same thing at all. Yes, I had to find number combinations and entering them opened up more rooms, but the numbers were all linked to the images rather well and actually added to what was a fun and engaging story.

Unlock! Squeek and Sausage is crazy and out there, but it works perfectly with the fun cartoony animation on the cards. I felt like I was in some Looney Tunes adventure trying to stop the crazy Professor Noside from destroying the Earth. The puzzles only backed this up and solving them just made sense in this world. Some might argue that part of the excitement of solving these puzzles is the pressure caused by a clicking clock. But that is not a novel innovation and many games rely on creating tension and excitement using this mechanism.

The pressure of time was genuinely a great addition to the game and made the experience worthwhile. The greatest achievement for me was that Space Cowboys, and more importantly Alice Carroll and Cyril Demaegd, had managed to overcome my apprehensions and exceed my expectations in a genre I had many concerns about trying.

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While I will remain tight lipped about the actual adventure, the thing that amazed me about this game was how interesting a set of picture cards could be. Very little reading was required and yet a whole world was well communicated through the pictures and room designs. This should not be so surprising considering the publishers. Space Cowboys are known for publishing games with great mechanics and stunning visuals. Just try and find a game in their library that doesn’t exemplify this claim, Splendor, T.I.M.E. Stories, Via Nebula, Elysium, and Black Fleet are all as beautiful to look at as they are fun to play.

The excitement for me was how Unlock! Squeek and Sausage overcame my apprehensions by creating a better Escape Room experience in a box than I had in real life. This is not to say that this game will be for everyone. Some people do not like real time strategy games or puzzle games, but I am beginning to see why these games are becoming so popular.

If you are looking to get on board with this genre of gaming then I can highly recommend the Unlock! series of games by Space Cowboys. Of course, I couldn’t finish without answering the one question I am sure you are waiting to hear answered. Sadly the answer is no, we didn’t win the game in time. However, we did spend a little extra time and solved it in the end. No win, just a fun time.