Lockdown Game Review: Scooby Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion

Over the last couple years my partner and I have really embraced co-op gaming experiences, especially growing fond of the escape room puzzle genre. We’ve played over a dozen Unlocks, a couple Exits, and multiple campaigns of Chronicles of Crime. As with any genre of game your mileage will vary, and not all campaigns are created equal. Some are clever, tricky, and satisfying, while others are obtusely infuriating.

Recently we had a crack with our first Coded Chronicles game — Scooby Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion — and came away really enjoying it. Having only played escape room games that use apps, this was almost a breath of fresh air to see how the genre could play out completely analog.

Similar to other types there were rooms with numbers, a deck of cards correlating to those numbers, and puzzles to solve, but this time with a beloved and well-known cast of characters who talk and interact with each other throughout. The entire Mystery Incorporated gang is along for the mystery, and each of the five have their own dialogue book to reference as you play the game. Velma researches, Freddy investigates, Daphne uses, Shaggy eats, and Scooby-Doo smells. Each of the character standees has a single digit on it that is placed in front of 3-digit codes throughout the house to interact with, making up 4-digit codes to look up in their respective dialogue books to get that character’s input on the object in question. An empty dinner plate may have the number 324, so when Scooby (numbered 5) stands in front of it you’ll get the code 5324. Look up that code in Scooby’s book to see what he has to say about that plate and how it smells. It could be a vital clue!

The party is split up throughout the game so you don’t always have access to everyone’s abilities, making you think more critically about who should interact with which items. There were a handful of moments where we felt stumped, but never to the point of frustration or needing hints. The game is well thought out and cleverly assembled. A few times we were told to discard cards we were finished with but somehow hadn’t yet picked up, which usually meant we made a lucky guess or solved a puzzle without needing all the information in the game, but that just added to the fun of it.

Your team’s endgame evaluation is determined by two factors: whether you correctly peg the culprit, and how many of the 20 Scooby Snacks are remaining at the end (you use Scooby Snacks throughout the game if you need hints or make mistakes in certain puzzles). We only needed one single Scooby Snack, and did indeed unmask the correct villain, which was extremely satisfying.

All-up the game took us over two hours to complete, but if you don’t have that amount of time to dedicate it’s got a built-in intermission point where the books instruct you how to pack away the game mid-way through so you can easily set it back up how you left it to complete another time. It’s something I haven’t seen in this kind of game before, and even though we played it all in one sitting I love that the option was included!

If you’re looking for a new kind of escape room game to tease your brain and test your mental mettle, Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion is well worth your time.

Lockdown Game Review: Galilean Moons

The first game of Galilean Moons my partner and I played left a sour taste in both of our mouths. For her it’s not unreasonable to say part of it was that she lost by a significant margin, following a string of losses in other games we’d played during lockdown. But for both of us it also just felt confusing and unbalanced. I managed to obtain a combo of Technology cards early on that made it feel like I was completely uncatchable for the rest of the game, and sure enough I wound up winning 75 to 57. We almost never invaded each others’ spaces, which was okay because it meant there wasn’t a lot of back-and-forth animosity, but then at the game’s end we were both just segregated to two moons apiece; me with Callisto and Europa, and she with Ganymede and Io.

There was no challenging each other for the greatest claim to any moon, and things were very cut and dry. The rounds also seemed to pass with the snap of a finger, and all of a sudden the game was over. My win felt hollow and anti-climactic, and neither of us felt satisfied. There were a few neat mechanics, but overall I was highly disappointed by that first game. I wondered if maybe this was one of those games that’s technically playable with two, but just not worth it unless you’ve got three or four folks together. It was easy for us to stick to our separate moons without bothering the other because there were just the two of us. We both had access to what we needed, and there really wasn’t any need to encroach on the others’ space except to be a dick, which isn’t really the ideal way to trial a new game.

Y’all, it cannot be overstated how glad I am we gave Galilean Moons a second chance.

After simmering on our thoughts for a few days we both felt ready to try again, having properly wrapped our heads around the rules and gameplay. We understood more about the Technology cards and how to combo them from turn to turn to maximise our actions, which points we wanted to shoot for, and why spreading yourself across the board and invading opponents’ bases can be vital for your operations and not just a way to piss off your opponent(s).

Game 2 lasted at least twice as long as Game 1, and the scores were much higher and closer. My partner won with a narrow margin of 6 points; 112 to 118. Since most of the points aren’t counted in Galilean Moons until the end of the game, neither of us was completely sure what the outcome would be. I suspected she was going to take it since she had amassed more gems than I had (they can be the most valuable points in the game), but thanks to my high-scoring Technology Cards and greater number of invaded bases, I was able to close the gap substantially and nearly overtake her. The slower pace (around 75 minutes compared to Game 1’s 30-40 minutes) made it feel more thrilling and interesting, and at the end we both had units spread across every moon. Both of us secured some solid base combos throughout and collected Technology cards that complemented our personal strategies nicely. Neither of us felt like we were being demolished by the other, and the overall experience was night and day to that of Game 1.

Contrary to how my victory in Game 1 was disappointing and underwhelming, my loss in Game 2 of Galilean Moons felt like nothing of the sort. It felt like the game we hoped for the first time around, full of clever moves and thought-out tactics. I’m now excited to be able to recommend and teach it to folks when Cakes n Ladders opens back up, instead of relegating it to the never-play-or-think-about-again pile.

In a nutshell, Galilean Moons is the perfect example of why you should always give a new game a second chance at a first impression.

Cakes n Ladders Sixth Birthday (Rescheduled)

It seems Covid just doesn’t like our birthday events but don’t worry we won’t let it get us down. We’re working to reschedule our birthday party event for a weekend that we’re back at Alert Level One.

You all have continued to support us for the last six years, and we couldn’t be more grateful. Thanks to you we have been allowed to continue bringing the joy of gaming to Auckland for anyone who wants to play. This new lockdown meant we can’t hold our sixth birthday party this weekend, so this we’re rescheduling.

We’ll let you know when the event will occur and if we’re still licensed, with our TableTop Day cocktails “Wood for Sheep” and “Azul Lagoon” returning for more action, as well as other secret surprises to come!

To RSVP or mark your calendar, go check out our birthday event over on Facebook. Otherwise just rock on up on that weekend and join us once again for birthday board game fun times. See you then!

Alert Level 3 Update (The return)

It was a short lockdown last time. Hopefully it’ll be just a little bit longer this time.

At level 3 Cakes n Ladders can sell takeaway food/drinks and board games as long as it is contactless. Unfortunately our in store board game library is out of bounds until level 2 or lower. here is a list of the games we currently have for sale. We can either courier them out to you or you can pick them up in store on Wednesday 03/03/21 between noon and 3pm. If you’re in the mood while you’re there you can also get a takeaway coffee/tea/hot chocolate.

We’ll also be delaying our Total Party Kill event which was scheduled to run on Tuesday 02/03/21 See this post here.

We can also order games in (for pickup or delivery) though most suppliers use the Auckland ports/warehouses so they will be observing level 3 protocols which makes things safe but adds delays.

Take care everyone and we’ll get through this, just like we did last time.

Alert level 3 announcement
What alert level 3 means for Cakes n Ladders

Alert Level 3 Update (Part 2)

Now we know what lockdown part two looks like we can plan how to get through it safely and with our sanity intact

At level 3 Cakes n Ladders can sell takeaway food/drinks and board games as long as it is contactless. Unfortunately our in store board game library is out of bounds until level 2 or lower. Here is a list of the games we currently have for sale. We can either courier them out to you or you can pick them up in store on Sunday 16/08/20 between 11am and 5pm. If you’re in the mood while you’re there you can also get a takeaway coffee/tea/hot chocolate.

We can also order games in (for pickup or delivery) though most suppliers use the Auckland ports/warehouses so they will be observing level 3 protocols which makes things safe but adds delays.

Take care everyone and we’ll get through this, just like we did last time.

Alert level 3 announcement
What alert level 3 means for Cakes n Ladders

Alert Level 2 Update

26 MAY 2020 UPDATE
Due to the loosened restrictions surrounding Alert Level 2, we have updated our own rules a bit. Outdated information will remain with a strike through it, and new information will follow the struck out info in italics.


It’s official! As of 11:59 PM on Wednesday 13 May, New Zealand is moving from Alert Level 3 down to Alert Level 2! We’ve done a great job so far, but now’s when we really have to focus. I’m sure we’ll all breath a sigh of relief as life begins returning to normal, but we can’t yet let down our guards completely. Having said that, let us be clear:
Cakes n Ladders will be re-opening for in-store business from Thursday 14 May at 4:00 PM.

There will be a few temporary changes in place for the duration of Alert Level 2, as outlined below. The first three points are in accordance with the government’s recommendations for the hospitality industry, with some additional information after.

1. SEATED. Patrons must be seated. Board games are generally played while sitting anyway, but this means that when you come in you will be seated immediately, instead of browsing the game shelves, ordering food and drink, or grabbing a Meeple table token. In fact to avoid unnecessary contact, we will not be using the Meeple tokens during Alert Level 2, instead taking a name from your group to write down.

You can get up to use the loo, of course (don’t forget to wash your hands after!), but that’s pretty much it.

2. SEPARATED. Players must be separated. We will be moving our tables around slightly to allow for social distancing, ensuring that different groups remain at least 1m apart, and reducing our seating to make sure people aren’t sitting too close. The people you game with can only be people you already know, which means for duration of Alert Level 2 we will not be hosting Feature Fridays or casual meet-ups.

Groups who come in may be no larger than 10 people, and we’re capping our maximum occupancy at around 30 people (normally 45-50). As of Friday 29 May at noon, groups of more than 10 will be allowed. Maximum occupancy will generally remain at 30ish people, but if you’d like to book out the cafe for a group event we may be able to allow more than 30 people, so long as they’re all people who know and are familiar with each other already. Please message or email us for details if you’re interested in this.

It is also recommended that gaming sessions don’t go over two hours. Once you hit two hours of game time we’re not going to kick you out or rush you to finish your game, but when that game has finished we recommend that you head out. We know it’s not ideal, and we’re not fans of putting time limits in place, but it’s for the best right now. You can always come back to play more later!

3. SERVED. We will come to your table to take food and drink orders and receive payment to minimise shared surface contact. Additionally, we will ask what game you’d like to play and get it for you. When you’re finished with a game we will take it so it can be properly sanitised before it goes to another table, and we can get you a new game at that time. Groups should not have more than one game at their table at a time. Customers are once again able to browse games themselves. At government guidance, books are not required to have be disinfected before returning them to the library, so we’re going to treat our games library in much the same way. We also will no longer have a restriction on the number of games a group has at their table, but please be mindful to grab only games you intend to play.

If you don’t know what game you’d like to play, as always we are happy to recommend something based on your preferences. If there’s a silver lining to being shut for 6 weeks, it’s that we’ve had some time to learn plenty of new games we weren’t so familiar with before! Also remember that if you’re not sure what game you’d like to play, you can use our Games List to search based on difficulty, number of players, and more!

4. SANITISED. COVID-19 can persist on surfaces if not properly cleaned, and with any number of people playing a game and touching all the pieces, this is probably the most pressing concern for us. This is why we strongly encourage you to wash your hands, wash them thoroughly, and wash them with soap, for a minimum of twenty seconds before and after playing a game. As mentioned before we will also be sanitising the games before they are allowed to go to a new table. As mentioned above we will no longer be sanitising games after being played.

We’ll also be working to keep our tabletops, bench tops, and door handles all clean and disinfected regularly throughout each day.

5. CONTACT TRACING. With our renewed freedom, it is entirely possible that more cases of COVID-19 can begin to spread. If this happens, contact tracing will be essential to pinpointing where those cases originated. As such, if you come to Cakes n Ladders during Alert Level 2, we ask that you check in using Facebook or Instagram so there is a record of when you were here. If you do not use these services, we will have a notebook to take down your name, as well as the date and time you were here. Ideally you should try to keep your own record of where you go and who you are with!

We are working on setting up Cakes n Ladders with the government’s NZ COVID Tracer app, but it’s not quite ready yet. We’ll let you know when it’s sorted.

6. STAYING HOME. We know it can be tempting to brush off a small sniffle or seemingly harmless cough when you feel perfectly fine otherwise, but if you show any signs of sickness, no matter how small, we ask that you stay home and rest up. We’ll still be here, and will gladly welcome you back when you’re back to 100%.

Thanks for sticking with us through this rough time! We count ourselves incredibly blessed to have your support even when times are tight and tough for everyone, and are so pumped to get back to business.

If you need a refresher on further details surrounding Alert Level 2, not specific to Cakes n Ladders, be sure to check out the official NZ Government update.