Talking to ThinkFun about “Escape the Room” at Gen Con 2016

By Nika Howard on

About Nika Howard

What do you get when you have a pinch of bishie sparkles, a dash of sass, and a whole lot of Dungeons and Dragons? The monster known as Nika. Jaela on Drunks and Dragons and Editor for board and tabletop games.


As you approach the mysterious house on the outskirts of town, the sky seems to get darker and more foreboding. With every step closer to the front door, your heart beats and your legs feel heavier and heavier until you have to force yourself up the steps. As the door creaks open, you peer inside, scanning the room before stepping into the foyer. Fully inside the house, you and your friends start looking around when you hear the worst sound-the door slams shut and the lock turns. You are now trapped inside the Stargazer’s Manor and have to Escape the Room.


During Gen Con this year, Brad Brockway and I were able to talk with Kacey Templin from ThinkFun about their Escape the Room game Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, and learned some information about their newest escape game: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat. Kacey explained to us that ThinkFun’s “Escape the Room” is an escape room in a box. Everything you need to play comes with the game, and you don’t have destroy anything in the room or location. This means that you can repackage it all for later play as a host. Stargazer’s Manor takes place in the Victorian Era and has elements of a steampunk throughout its theme. The players used to work for Stargazer in his manor until tragedy strikes, and Stargazer goes crazy and throws everyone out of the house. Some time later it is realized that no one has seen Stargazer, but that things are starting to happen in his house. Lights and sounds have been noticed coming from the house, so the players decide to go in and check out what is going on in the manor. Once inside, the players are then trapped in the manor and have an hour and a half to escape. The game provides a series of envelopes, puzzles, and a solution wheel to escape. The first card given sets up the initial experience and then there are a few hints are given to begin the game.


The second version of the game is “Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat”, following the mystery of Dr. Gravely where all is not as it seems. As the lucky recipient of a trip to Dr. Gravely’s retreat, you are  expecting to live in the lap of luxury, experiencing high class spa and relaxation treatments. Upon your arrival though, you are quick to discover that there is a dark mystery surrounding the area, leaving you with an hour and half to try and escape the truth of what is happening at the retreat.

The game is meant to be set up in an individual’s home, or preferred location, where the envelopes and hints can be placed around the room. As each envelope is completed, there will be a link to the next clue, until eventually all clues are finished. The guests participants are then given the time , to attempt going through the hints and in connection with the solution wheel, solve the mystery of the house. Stargazer Manor is family friendly starting at ages 10+ and for groups of 3-8. Due to the darker nature of the game, Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat is still family friendly, but starts at ages 13 and up, and still good for groups of 3-8.  It is suggested that if the game is being played by just adults, that 5 players is best way to balance the experience without taking away from the complexity of the clues.

ThinkFun has also provided on their website a list of items that can be used to enhance the experience of the players including additional hints, music playlists, and costume recommendations. Both of the “Escape the Room” games are available to play without a host or game-master, leaving everyone with the capability to play, or they can be played with a host. While the secrets are all revealed during the first time the game is played, playing with other groups and using a host, does increase the play-ability of the game.

Brad and I also had the opportunity to run through a little section of the mini-escape the room setup that ThinkFun hosted at GenCon. Inside our draped off booth, we were greeted with an image of a staircase, broken and falling into itself in places, with several glyphs on the individual stairs. We took our solution wheel, examined the stairs and worked to try and figure out the riddle presented to us. After a few mishaps, we finally figured the solution and found our resolution. The puzzle was complex without being overly difficult and provided enough of a challenge that once it was resolved, a sense of accomplishment was felt. Just being able to complete a small part of the puzzle, made me want to try out more.

Overall, I loved the idea of having an escape room that you can set up in your own home/location of choice and play with friends and family. While the games lose some of their mystery after the first play through, the price for the game is very reasonable compared to going to an actual escape room or doing something similar like a murder mystery games. The idea and theme of both games have been fully flushed out by the creators and the options provided by ThinkFun on their website (music, costumes, etc.), help to provide an overall fun and immersive experience. Both games are available for purchase at Target or on Amazon

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