EXIT: THE GATE BETWEEN WORLDS review

You find an ancient map that leads you to a mysterious circular gate hidden inside a cave. The gate has cryptic markings and large metal rings that can be rotated. Can you figure out how to activate it? And where do you suppose it will take you once you do? Get ready to exit our planet, our galaxy, and even our reality.

The Brands had me at “mysterious circular gate.”

Every season brings more and more escape room and puzzle type games to our hobby. Some of the best ‘power hour’ gaming we have had has been exploring the different puzzles and worlds that are created in these releases. In fact, some of the best immersion we have had in gaming has been with these types of games, as we take on the roles of detectives or explorers searching for the clue that will get us to the next puzzle.

That opening sentence comes straight from the back of the box of KOSMOS’ new entry in the award winning EXIT series: The Gate Between Worlds, again designed by the team of Inka & Marks Brand with Ralph Querfurth also listed as co-creator.

For those unfamiliar with the EXIT series, here’s the down and dirty. Players work cooperatively to solve a series of puzzles, usually all tied to one thematic story. In this case, players are explorers who find a map that leads to something straight out of Stargate — a warp drive that promises to take you to different worlds.

Does this particular entry really take you to places outside of your galaxy and even “your reality”? Let’s find out.

PRESENTATION:

By now, most of you should be acquainted with the familiar hand-held sized box that KOSMOS uses for many of its Exit and card game series, and The Gate comes in just such a box. An intriguing Stargate painting is on the cover, and everything else about the production of this game rises to spoiler-dom, so let’s just say that the components that may or may not be in the box may or may not be just perfect for solving the puzzles, which may or may not be contained in the game.

Clear enough? All kidding aside, you’ll find the usual assortment of doo dads and paper wizardry in The Gate as you would typically find in a KOSMOS Exit game. Solid production value.

No spoilers, these are straight from the back of the box!

On a side note, KOSMOS ranks their Exit games from one dot to five, with more dots meaning harder puzzles, and The Gate Between Worlds ranks right in the middle according to the back of the box.

GAMEPLAY:

How does one describe an Exit game’s insides but maintain a #spoilerfree review? Just state the obvious: you and your friends find a mysterious object (three guesses as to what it is just based on the name of the game), and that object does something that forces all of you to find your way back. There’s a series of puzzles within, all loosely coupled by the theme, but all answers and clues are run through the familiar decoder wheel that the Exit series uses. That wheel allows you to punch in your answer to the puzzle you face, and if you are right, out spits a number which is compared against the known information to see if there is a match.

Yes, we used a few. Sue us!

I won’t say much more, except take the advice of the game to heart: don’t throw anything away. That’s not a spoiler, that’s just stand operating procedure and advice from KOSMOS for every title like this I have played before.

BUT IS IT ANY FUN:

In a word, yes!

But you probably came for more than just one word. I don’t have the vast experience with these escape-room type games as Bradly & Carlos from the Krewe, who spend hours at every convention searching for and playing these games, or Eric Buscemi of the Cardboard Hoard who is also a big aficionado. But I’ve played a half dozen different types, and a handful of the Exit games, and The Gate Between The Worlds was one of the best experiences we’ve had in this genre.

The puzzles ranged from pretty obvious to fairly difficult, and we had to use three clues to help us along the way. I liked the variability in the puzzles. I played with my son, Matt, and his girlfriend, Allison, and each of us looked at the puzzles in unique ways. It would have been boring if there were just one type of puzzle to figure out in each stage of the game, but instead, the designers mixed and matched media and brain-burning examples so that we each felt like we were contributing to solving the mystery. (Or at least, the kids pretended to need my help.)

The overarching storyline was a mixed bag. It was a hit for me as I liked the theme, and the artwork in the <redacted> in the box helped drive the narrative for me. Without giving too much away, players are working toward something, and that something felt connected in my mind. I can’t say the same for the two playing with me. For my playing partners, they seemed much more involved in figuring out the puzzles then what was going on overall.

Our play time was a little longer than advertised. We downloaded the free KOSMOS app, which includes a timer and a scoring system, and we went over by about twenty minutes, but did well in the scoring. I also liked the fact that the app came with some mysterious background effects that slightly changed as the time ran along, and added to the tension and intrigue as we puzzled out the contents.

How was the ranking of the puzzles on the back of the box, you ask? I think the Brands hit the nail on the head. This was a nice Goldilocks affair, not too hard, not too easy. Putting it in the middle between novice and expert seems fair.

I think after playing a bunch of these type of games that I have come to the conclusion that you have to like solving puzzles to like these games. What I’m always on the lookout for are games in this category that would appeal to any gamer, even those that don’t get excited by escape-room style games. The Gate Between Worlds is oh so close to filling that tiny niche, but in my mind comes up just a bit short.

I was happy to introduce this to Matt and Allison (especially since Allison likes puzzle type games, and Matt has played the Exit and Unlock series with me before). But, I am not sure the weight of the game and the theme would appeal to casual players who are not into puzzle solving. I might look toward an Exit game lower on the scale, or maybe look to one of the choose-your-adventure-puzzle books that are all the rage now.

Still, if you like puzzle games, getting this game into your hands is a no-brainer. Exit: The Gate Between Worlds is well done, enjoyable in its theme and execution, and a worthy entry into the series. I heartily recommend it.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

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