Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse

Review

With the huge success of real-life Escape Rooms all around the world, more and more puzzle manufacturers have been trying to recreate the experience with their solve-at-home kits. ThinkFun‘s latest offering, Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse, is possibly the closest you can get to the real thing, so far.

The setup of “The Cursed Dollhouse” is quick and simple. Within a few minutes you get to build a cardboard model of a dollhouse, turn on the recommended soundtrack of creepy music, and light up a few candles to get into the right mood. Once you do this, you can start reading the story of the house and unravel its mysteries.

You begin the adventure in the living room, where you have to solve several puzzles, involving a broken bookshelf, a dusty carpet, and a spiderweb on the wall. Then, you make your way through the rest of the house: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, until you get to the attic. Each of the rooms you visit contains multiple objects, including hidden ones, which you need to use in order to solve its three challenges. Once you solve a challenge, you get a cryptic symbol which you must enter in the “solution wheel”. Get the three symbols correctly and proceed to the next room.

As you progress, you will encounter various puzzles, including many mechanical ones. You will have to cut, fold, entangle, and do all kinds of fun activities. The puzzles are logical and satisfying to solve. There were one or two which my group found a bit confusing, but fortunately, ThinkFun has created a website, where players can get small hints without spoiling the entire puzzles. In the end, all participants were very happy with the time we spent playing together.

While the price of “The Cursed Dollhouse” is a bit steep, the game provides a lengthy and immersive experience which justifies the cost. It also can be replayed by another group of people using the provided printable forms from the official website.

  • 1-4 players, 13 years and up
  • over 30 puzzles to solve within 2.5 hours
  • realistic small-scale Escape Room experience
  • puzzles are re-printable from the official website

GET ESCAPE THE ROOM HERE

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Minecraft: Magnetic Travel Puzzle

Review

Minecraft: Magnetic Travel Puzzle (M:MTP for short) is a travel game by ThinkFun in which the goal is to arrange 3 types of objects, each coming in 3 different colors, in a 3 by 3 grid, such that certain conditions are satisfied.

As you progress through the 40 included challenges, the types of conditions you encounter become gradually more complex. While in the beginning you may be given all the colors of the objects with one clue and all the types of the objects with another, later on you need to analyze 5 or 6 clues at once, which makes the game more challenging and fun. That being said, at the hardest levels, M:MTP is still relatively easy, so experienced puzzlers will probably breeze through it within an hour or two.

At its core, M:MTP is identical to ThinkFun’s previously released Clue Master. Both games are presented in the form of magnetic notebooks, so they are easy to pick up and travel around with. The illustrations of the Minecraft edition are all based on the popular video game, so its fans may be particularly appreciative.

If you are looking for a casual puzzle to pass an hour or two on a road trip, then M:MTP would be a great choice. I only wish there were more challenges included, especially more difficult ones.

  • 1 player, 8 years and up
  • 40 challenges with increasing difficulties
  • easy to transport and play on the go
  • cool Minecraft based art
  • most puzzles can be solved with a few simple techniques

GET M:MTP HERE

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Cat Crimes

Review

Cat Crimes is a logic game by ThinkFun inspired by classic deduction puzzles. It consists of 40 challenges split into four difficulty groups.

Each challenge presents the player with a cat crime which they must solve. One of six items on a carpet has been ruined, and several clues written on a card point towards the cat which is responsible. The player must analyze each of the clues, as well as the models of the cats and the carpet (included in the box), and find the perpetrator. Even though the puzzles can be completed just as easily with pen and paper only, the inclusion of cardboard models makes the solving process much more fun. The beautiful artwork of the set and the sturdy cardboard additionally improve the experience.

The included puzzles are best suited for students in primary and middle schools, but older people can enjoy them as well. Overall, Cat Crimes is a wonderful twist on a traditional type of puzzle, and I highly recommend it.

  • 1 player, 8 years and up
  • 40 challenges, 4 difficulty levels
  • a fun variation of a classic deduction puzzle
  • beautiful models of cats and carpet

GET CAT CRIMES HERE

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Manifold: The Origami Mind Bender

Review

In an age of video games and noisy high-tech toys, Brainwright’s Manifold is a very rare find. I got truly delighted by the idea of folding little papers into origami, trying to achieve some easy to understand task. The goal is simple – you start with an 8×8 paper which has 16 black, 16 white, and 32 empty squares printed on its front. You must make several folds so that the paper ends up as a 4×4 piece with all black squares on one side and all white squares on the other.

For just about $10 I was able to get a set of 100 puzzles, many of them quite challenging, which translates into several hours of gameplay. The difficulty of the puzzles gradually increases, which makes Manifold appropriate for all ages. Despite my highly positive impressions, I have to point out several (minor) flaws. First, the glossy paper, despite its high quality, may not be the best choice for making origami. Second, there is too much space left at the edges of the papers, which may get in the way when one needs to make many folds in one puzzle. Finally, since the creases cannot be removed from the paper, most likely you won’t solve the puzzles more than once.

If you want to try some sample puzzles from the set before buying it, you can print them from this PAGE.

  • 1 player, 10 years and up
  • 100 challenges, 4 difficulty levels
  • origami-based puzzles
  • many hours of gameplay
  • the glossy paper makes it hard to fold
  • puzzles are likely to be discarded after being solved

GET MANIFOLD HERE

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Gravity Maze

Review

Gravity Maze is one of the most famous and accoladed products by ThinkFun. The premise of this unique puzzle/game is to create a 3D structure of blocks and tunnels which allows a small marble to travel the distance between two designated endpoints; one at the top of the structure, and one at the bottom.

Gravity Maze comes in a large box and includes a plastic 5×5 grid, 11 colorful blocks of varying sizes, 3 marbles, and 60 challenge cards. The blocks are composed of small cubes and contain short tunnels passing through them. They can be placed on the grid either horizontally or vertically, and can also fit each other, similarly to LEGO blocks. This allows the solver to design an extended system of tunnels, essentially creating a labyrinth for the marbles to travel through. The challenge cards are split into 5 groups by difficulty, ranging from simple beginner puzzles (involving just a few blocks) to expert puzzles (involving up to ten blocks). Solving each of the puzzles requires careful analysis of the given pieces and all the possible ways in which they can be combined. When the structure is completed, the solver must drop a marble into one of the pieces and watch it find its way to the destination. Testing whether the constructed solution works is arguably the best part of the puzzle and it is what makes Gravity Maze so much fun.

Even though the recommended age for Gravity Maze is 8 years and up, many of my academic friends enjoyed playing with it. I am sure that middle and high schoolers will like it even more.

  • 1 player, 8 years and up
  • 60 challenges with varying difficulty
  • unique and fun concept
  • finding the solution is very satisfying
  • the challenge cards are a bit flimsy

GET GRAVITY MAZE HERE

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Houdini: Master of Escape

Review

Houdini: Master of Escape by ThinkFun is a disentanglement puzzle consisting of 40 challenges, mostly difficult ones. Considering the low price, this is a brain-teaser of great value. For each of the 40 challenges included, there is a diagram on which it is explained how to attach Houdini to his trap cage using various ropes, locks, and rings. After you do this, your task is to help the great magician “escape” via some clever manipulation of the provided objects. Houdini: Master of Escape in its core is a collection of classic, mostly well-known puzzles. The fresh presentation however makes it feel very original, and also much more fun to solve.

The puzzle comes with Houdini, his cage, two ropes, a lock, a barrel, a ring, and a travel bag for easy transportation. It is a wonderful toy of great value, especially considering its low price of about $10-20.

  • 1 player, 8 years and up
  • 40 challenges with increasing difficulty
  • disentanglement puzzle
  • comes with a travel bag

GET HOUDINI HERE

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