We have played quite a few games from the EXIT series of KOSMOS by now. I love puzzles and deduction, but in one thing the EXIT games almost always got criticism: The story behind them was usually pretty thin. That should be different now with the Adventure Games by the two authors Matthew Dunstan and Phil Walker-Harding. Same box size as EXIT, similar design, but content related with a completely different focus. The first two adventures Monochrome Inc. and The Dungeon have now been released and we would like to tell you how we experienced them.
An app is on your side
You don’t really have to prepare much and why this is so has to do with one of the big advantages of the series in our opinion: There is an app. Yes, we hear it again immediately, the critics who don’t want to have electronics at the game table. But for adventure games the app has several useful functions. For one thing, you are explained step by step in pictures and sound how to setup the game and how it is played. The rules booklet undoubtedly does the same, but we liked this simple and fast way to get into the game very much. A big advantage is that everyone at the table can follow the explanation and not just one person has to learn and explain the rules or read them out loud.
Reading aloud is a good keyword: At their heart, adventure games are a kind of adventure book paired with a few board game elements. There are laid out cards of a place with numbers and symbols, which you can explore with your game characters. Each of these places is assigned a section in the enclosed adventure book. So theoretically, you’ll flip back and forth in the book a lot and read the corresponding sections. With places this is not so bad yet. However, you can also find items that are numbered and then picked from the deck. These items can be used together by combining the numbers on the cards. And this is where scrolling through the adventure book gets tricky. You shouldn’t look at anything you’re not looking for, but the search itself simply means that your eye gets stuck on one or the other combination and you’re already spoiled by what else can be combined.
Fortunately, the app also offers you a way around this. You can have any section of the adventure book read to you. You can simply enter the sections you are looking for. The narrator will even read the passage in a very atmospheric way without you having to search for a long time or stumbling over something you would rather not have read. You’ll even have a history that allows you to listen to sections again, or you can skip them if you’re just passing through to another section.
Although KOSMOS markets the adventure games more as point-and-click adventures, we experienced the games more as a kind of interactive audio book. In doing so, we felt deeply involved in the story. But our experiences with the first two parts were quite different, so we would like to go into each title separately.
The Monochrome Inc.
We started with The Monochrome Inc. and the task was to break into a company building and collect evidences there. An exciting topic was having to break in and not being locked up somewhere. And as it turned out in the course of the game, the age information on the box was quite justified because of the topic. It is a very growing up topic with contents that are rather unsuitable for children and not so easily digestible.
Each player is a member of your small squad and contributes to the success of the mission. As a hacker, burglar or other specialist on the team, it makes more sense to investigate something specific in some places than for another. We also want to avoid raising the alarm. Since we don’t want to attract attention, we had to think carefully about what we were doing and there were the odd unpleasant surprise or two during the exploration.
When players are played and other unpleasant surprises
One surprise was even so unpleasant that it overshadowed the whole adventure as an experience for Jan. He was extremely annoyed that at one point the game decided for him what happened when he examined an object in the room. He himself would never have decided to act in this way in the situation and therefore he was very annoyed by the extremely negative consequences. So when exploring the places, it does not always happen what one would expect. Most of the time it is rather positive, because something happens that really gets you ahead. In this case, however, it was a rather counterproductive action that we didn’t see coming.
Of course it was not the end of the world, we still finished the adventure successfully. But it’s something that sticks in your mind. Even in movies you get upset when the protagonist does something really stupid. That’s illogical and a very bad style. That’s why there is a reduction in the B-note for The Monochrom Inc., because you just don’t do that. Especially in a game where the decision in which direction you go, what you do and how the story progresses is the main focus, this is very disappointing and leaves players frustrated.
All in all, however, The Monochrome Inc. tells a thrilling story, which is peppered with not too difficult puzzles and also has a pinch of humour. Unfortunately, there is always a little drop of bitterness and it will stay in our minds, too. Nevertheless, it naturally didn’t stop us from playing the second part, too.
At The Dungeon we had our big daughter with us. She is 12 and had seen that we had spent the previous day intensively with The Monochrome Inc. So she wanted to join us and since the age of the girl was right for the adventure The Dungeon, we did not say no. So the three of us woke up in a cell and had to look around first. We parents had already experienced this situation more than once in a playful way and knew exactly what to do. But also our daughter was immediately gripped by the exploration fever.
New is that the characters have life points. How many each one receives depends on the number of players. With fewer players, more points per character allows you to make as many missteps as in the maximum line-up. We liked that quite a lot, because you can get into a lot of trouble if you keep making wrong decisions and fail to make the right ones. Strangely enough, it was always only me who was affected.
Not lost in The Dungeon thanks to help system
In the process of the game we also had to fall back on the excellent help system from time to time. That had not been necessary with The Monochrom Inc. Either the level of difficulty is set a little higher here or the red thread was simply not so obvious for us in some places.
Okay, opinions about the quality of the help system are divided among us, but I would like to briefly explain how it works and why I personally like it. If you get stuck, you can get help in the app by using the map or the location number. You won’t be offered a direct solution at first, but the app will give you hints on what you need to do with the corresponding card.
If you don’t have any of the required cards, check what you need for this and so on. At some point you will come to the point where you can start to move forward in the game. This is a clever system in that it’s difficult to offer help for such an open game concept that will really help the players. With other escape games you are often enough not have getting a clue where to go, even with the help.
Once you have understood the principle of adventure games, it is really very helpful, because there is actually the right help for every single situation. Thanks to the app there’s no need to attach a comprehensive booklet and the navigation between the individual entries is very easy.
Overall we had a nice gaming experience in The Dungeon. The timing of the chapters was better here than at The Monochrome Inc. Our daughter enjoyed it as well and the fact that she was there until the very end makes the game special. With the story they tried hard to think a little bit away from the stereotypes and included twists. Except for the times when we shined with cluelessness, The Dungeon was a successful experience for us.
New adventures await
Overall, both games leave a very positive impression on us. It’s good not to be under time pressure for once and to be able to concentrate fully on the story. We actually missed that sometimes during the EXITS. What didn’t work out so well are some rules that just seem unnecessary to us. For example, according to the instructions you can only exchange items at The Monochrome Inc. if you are on the same floor. However, this is only a question of time, and since time doesn’t matter, you can do it without the unnecessary back and forth movements. In 99.9% of all cases, there is nothing to prevent you from exchanging items. It seems to me that these rules are more aimed at getting players to interact with each other than really regulating anything. Fortunately, this rule has been left out in The Dungeon.
The use of the elevator in The Monochrome Inc. is another example where a simple process is expressed in a complicated way. However, these are rather trivialities for me, which I can simply ignore without them changing my gaming experience.
The Adventure Games series complements the existing program at KOSMOS very well and we will definitely play the next announced box The Volcano Island as well. For a rainy and dirty autumn or winter evening this is exactly the right thing.