It will intrigue you, it will puzzle you, it will move you. There’s a good chance of goosebumps, of fist pumps, of “Oh, course!”s and “I should have known”’s. The Awakening is far from your usual ‘Escape Room’ style games, for one thing, you are trapped not in a room or a building, your path to escape is not barred by doors or locks, no instead you are trapped inside the mind of a comatose girl. Your daughter in fact. The Awakening differs from other games of this genre as it’s not simply about solving first one puzzle and then another to fanfare when the door final swings open. It’s about telling a story. Of being part of that story. The plight of Sam and his daughter, Lizzy, isn’t a bolted-on theme, rather it is the driving force in this game. You won’t be just escaping a manufactured, puzzling room, you’ll be rescuing your daughter.
Publisher: Board & Dice
Artist: Magdalena Klepacz
Player Count: 1 – 4
Runtime: 20 – 180 minutes
Players are collectively Sam, a widower whose only child and last link to his late wife now lies in a strange and unexplained coma. Everything the doctors and specialist have tried has been for nought so now, out of choices Sam, makes one for himself and delves into the arcane. It is here that the game, well, at least the tutorial begins. Not every game can teach the rules as you play as well as it is executed here, there’s lots of reading, or scene setting and flavour with rules interspersed but all done so unobtrusively and for an experienced gamer it all kind of just makes sense.
Trust me, just download the app to your mobile, set the different types of cards out on the table and put the tokens all in easy reach, take a sip of your drink and in a sombre voice start reading…
In short, you have several action tokens, these you’ll use to cover spots on the reference card after you’ve collectively decided which part of the room you are going to investigate. By ‘investigate’ I mean to turn to the corresponding page/section in the storybook and read the text there. The story text is concise without being austere, it’s emotive without being overly flowery and perhaps most importantly it is focused. Everything you do; be it solving puzzles and riddles on the app, placing these abstract blue tokens on the cards, you are reminded at each and every turn why you are doing this.
Throughout the game, you’ll be asked to fish for cards from the deck, these cards come and go, some will be items, some will be enlargements of things in the room so you can see/read more easily, some will be ‘things’ that you’ll meet, many of them form part of the puzzles you’ll have to solve. And, oh the glorious, boggling, brain burning puzzles you’ll have to solve. That’s why you’re reading this review, The Awakening is still “an escape room game” after all.
These puzzles come in all manner, shape and size, many, if not all, will have proper names (which clearly, I don’t know). Once you’ve collected a card bearing one of the puzzle icons you’ll unlock your phone and have a little look. The app will tell you which cards you need to attempt the puzzle, and once you have them you can begin. There are riddles, code breaking, (the dreaded) algebra, labyrinths, rotational space visual puzzles…and they are just the ones I can “name” from the demo copy. This is where the cooperative element comes in, where this game shines at involving all the players, of creating an engaging social interaction. More people around the table means more grey matter, more ways of thinking and ultimately more fun.
Naturally, with puzzles comes some frustration, there will be things you are good at and enjoy, and then there will be areas that you are less good at, things that are a struggle-not the good type of self-rewarding struggle. From the few I’ve solved I can see them slowly ramping up in difficulty and complexity and I have little doubt that further down the line, deeper in the story they will become more difficult still.
These puzzles create wonderful moments of inner and outer conflict, as for some you’ll end up fetching a piece of paper and a pen to start scribbling stuff down, you’ll attribute values and reasonings before finally punching in the answer! It’s no good. You’ll look at one another, someone will say “Did you forget to carry the one?” and awkwardly laugh. Finally, you’ll submit and ask the app for a hint. Yes, these are puzzles, and yes this is a game, but more than that The Awakening is a story first and last. It wants you to progress, it wants you to move forward to explore, engage and ultimately finish the story.
Some people won’t take a hint (but isn’t that true of life too), they’ll need to work it out themselves and that’s cool, but it may be tiresome for those around the table that just don’t have any interest in solving an algebraic puzzle (not that I have anything against algebra). So, I’d say it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page before the game starts.
Important to note about this game/story is that it will change with replaying it. It has a choose-your-own-adventure storybook with it, and you’ll get little choices along the way, there will be big choices too all of which come together to shape your experience. Depending on what you explore and in which order, it will change your story, I have no idea how all these mini-narrative strings come together in the end but I want to, no, I need to find out, there are nine rooms in total, and in each game, you’ll only ever see seven of them, there will always be cards left in the deck that you don’t get to see. Like a good book or movie, I feel The Awakening will call me back to replay, to re-explore and re-experience it.
There were lots of mini-wins for us in this game, we won when I noticed this one detail that helped with the order of the numbers. We won again when we connected ‘this’ and ‘that’ to open another puzzle. I felt the win slowly rise as we got closer and closer to solving the labyrinth. We won too as the story progressed, leading our version of Sam down a specific path. The Awakening blurs the lines between game, puzzle, and story, giving me just enough of everything to keep me at the table.