EXIT The Game: The Sinister Mansion

Designer: Inka Brand, Markus Brand and Ralph Querforth

Artist: Inka Brand, Markus Brand, Martin Hoffmann, Silvia Cristoph and more

Publisher: KOSMOS

The ghostly clock…. or is it? (Photo credits: Eric Martin@BGG)

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU WANT TO PLAY THE GAME.

There are plenty of reviews of this game out there that are spoiler free. This is not it. I am going to directly discuss about the game and the puzzles. You have been warned!!

This is the 9th game in the series we have played, almost all exclusively with 2 players. After having played several back to back “2-star” rated EXIT games which are easier, we move back up the difficulty level to 3-stars with this version of Sinister Mansion (edit: I just realized this is actually a 4-star game!). We have previously gotten our 7 year old involved in the game and for some reason, she started having nightmares about the sinister plots and the idea of getting trapped. So we opted not to include her in this one. Besides, the puzzles were likely to be even more challenging.

The narrative for Sinister Mansion is as close as you will get to the real escape room story – you are trapped in a mansion because some crazy person decided you should play a game. So, your goal is to escape and survive. Plain vanilla but certainly fits the theme of the EXIT games. To be fair, you can only go with so many variations on this theme that most of them end up being a tad repetitive. Still, the meat of these games are the quality of the puzzles. So how does Sinister Mansion stack up with the rest of the crew?

I’d say overall, Sinister Mansion falls in the above average rating among the EXITs and part of this rating comes from the puzzles that were clearly more challenging and filled with a few more “aha!” moments than the previous 2-star iterations. This rating also reflects the tendencies of a veteran gamer seeking novelty in the EXIT games, which is increasingly more difficult as we become more experienced and are able to anticipate the puzzles. That said, despite our exposure to the games in the series, we still find ourselves tickled and delighted by some of the coll puzzles and that is largely true for each and every game we have played. The creativity and talent of the designers in coming up with something new knows no bounds. This why I continue to purchase and play the EXIT games even though I anticipate that will slowly decline in the near future. For us, the 3 star rated EXIT games is very well-balanced in terms of providing us with a good solid challenge just at the edge of frustration without crossing over. For Sinister Mansion, we used only one clue card to help us decide if we have the proper amount of clues to solve the puzzle. This aspect of the game remains a sore point for me: at higher rated difficulty levels, you are expected to figure out if you have adequate clue cards to solve the puzzle and that can be frustrating if you don’t even know the shape of the puzzle. Be that as it may, we still enjoyed Sinister Mansion and most of the puzzles were fair and you had a shot at solving.

A few notable puzzles:

“Y-shaped”: Let’s start with the ones we didn’t like as much. It was immediately apparent to us that in this puzzle, we had to draw a straight line between the different objects depicted on the clue card. These items were all scattered in the booklet and on the poster. They weren’t hard to find and were cleverly labeled with alpha, beta and gamma to denote the order of the 3 digit combination. We drew a line across the elements and didn’t quite know what to do with it. It wasn’t until we read the first clue card that we knew we had to measure the distance using the final page of the booklet which had an ambiguous looking ruler at the edge. I suppose if we looked hard enough ,we could have spotted the markings, but there was no indication in the clue cards that we were supposed to measure the distance. I had thought it would intersect on the page or pages when stacked or folded. Probably my least favorite puzzle.

“Hexagon”: Also not a favorite puzzle for me. The instructions are too vague. There are several red and blue lines on 3 cards and players are asked to “90 degrees toward or away from you” depending on color. They don’t tell you to fold and the instructions wasn’t clear that you are expected to fold. I mean what does: 90 degrees toward or away from you mean and certainly it didn’t meant folding to us. It threw both of us off quite a bit and is likely the longest puzzle we took to solve. After the folding, the digits become apparent.

“L-shaped”: This is a spatial logic puzzle where we had to guess the relative locations for several landmarks based on a handful of statements.. A next to B, but not in C, etc. The key part here is figuring out the boundaries of the spatial map. As in, how the landmarks are arranged relative to each other. This wasn’t provided in the clue cards, but must be found on the poster in the room. There is a photo of 6 dream islands that are arranged like pips on a dice. This was the connection we had to make, but it took us a while to get there. We eventually mapped out the locations of the landmarks, converted them into their corresponding colors and finally traced the shape of the digits based on the sequence of the colors on the island. This last part where you had to trace the shape of the digits is a pretty common mechanism in all EXIT games.

“Star’: The magnet puzzle was also one that wasn’t too hard. Again, thinking outside the page is now standard practice and that includes looking on the flip side of the page to find clues. In this case, I did not fold the page, but rather lifted it up so that I could see the numbers on the Ouiji board on the flip side. While the puzzle may sound random, I realized the magnet on the wooden grain table is likely to symbolize that they are below the table and hence, correspond to the movement of the arrow head on the Ouiji board. That logic must be made so that the puzzle has a stronger narrative.

“Moon”: The projector puzzle is cute. You are expected to riffle through the answer deck to find the digits appearing in sequence as you would in a cartoon or animation. Again, the narrative for the puzzle is really strong and ties into the mechanism for the puzzle. It is cute and also gimmicky. But I love it.

“Triangle”: The puzzle involving the decoder disc wasn’t hard. It was immediately apparent to me from the clue cards that we had to hunt around the box, booklet or any item in the box with that triangular symbol and then cut it out. We quickly found it on the wheel and made short work of it. The numbers at the bottom were revealed after the cut and it was apparent what we had to do. Easy peasy.

“Square”: This puzzle was the best of the lot in my opinion. There are a series of cards with quotes on them to reveal the intent of the puzzle. There are also dotted lines on the 4 cards that hints at cutting them half way through. The clever part of the puzzle is that the cuts are meant as slots such that when all the cards are slotted in a square, the quotes become disjointed and only parts of the words will resemble the actual message: “only the blue angle will help you now”. This will immediately clue you into the booklet where there is a page with numbers and colors. Placing the square box on the page will reveal the 3 digit combination on the edges of the page. Unfortunately, there are also 3 digits inside the box itself, but that is a red herring. One of the quotes clearly mention that the digits are on the “four corners” of the box, so there is a direct clue to guide you in the process. This is a brilliant puzzle! Loved how clever it is.

“Cross”: As the final puzzle, this is also a good one. Players must erect several cards and pieces on the game box such that a 3 digit combination will be revealed when viewed from the peep hole. We got the idea early on when we say markings on the box indicating where and how to assemble the pieces. We even got the combination code, but it was incorrect. Our mistake was to remove the insert when assembling the pieces and that caused a shift in the filters that gave us the wrong numbers. We didn’t think to leave the insert in there until much later. It was clever though.

As mentioned before, we enjoyed the Sinister Mansion. The puzzles are reasonably clever without being frustrating with one exception. I think this is a good intermediate game for players with at least a few EXIT games under their belt. Not so sure it will be a good one for newbies as there are other excellent 2-star entries. I continue to be amazed at the ingenuity of the designers.

Final word: Good

Updated rankings:

1. Kidnapped in Fortune City

2. Dead Man in Orient Express

3. Abandoned Cabin

4. The Sinister Mansion

5. The Haunted Roller Coaster

6. The Mysterious Museum

7. The Pharaoh’s Tomb

8. The Polar Express

9. The Stormy Flight

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