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.

Hidden Gems: Fog of Love

Fog of Love Alternate Covers

Game: Fog of Love
Players: 2
Try it if you like: Consenticle, Dungeons & Dragons

In Fog of Love there are no winners, and there are no losers. It’s a cooperative game for two players, but there is no traditional end-game objective besides wrapping up the relationship you form throughout the game. In this game the goal is to tell a compelling story of a made-up relationship between your and your partner’s characters.

Billed on the box as a ‘Romantic Comedy as a Board Game,’ it really can be boiled down to that at its most simplistic. Both players create a character, give them a name, come up with as much or as little backstory as they like, and play out various sweet, serious, and dramatic scenes that could occur over the course of their relationship. Scenes can be funny, like asking your partner what’s the most embarrassing thing they’ve ever done in front of a group of people; or they can be awkward, like when you go for a photoshoot together and both want to be the big spoon while posing. You’ll need to make mature decisions, like whether or not you should open a joint bank account; and confront difficult situations, like why you were texting or hanging out with your ex.

Based on your chosen occupation (Baker, Politician, Internet Seller, and dozens more) and the features which first drew your partner to you (Bedroom Eyes, Stoner, Wheelchair, Hairy, and heaps of others), you’ll begin the game with a few personality indicators. These will note whether you’re more outgoing or shy, more adventurous or withdrawn, more organised or reckless, and other such personality types.

Every action you take, every decision you make, basically every scene that plays out will affect your personality, your affection level to your partner, or both. Whether your relationship is smooth sailing or crashing over rocky shores, the game continues until the final scene has been played in the chapter. There can be several outcomes to the game ranging from the couple staying together in a mutually happy and respectful partnership to having a messy, dramatic break-up, to the relationship persisting even though only one of you is happy in it.

There are 4 separate stories to play out in the base set (our copy includes the expansion, kicking that up to 7), but there is so much more replayability than just those 4 playthroughs. Featuring a plethora of scenes, occupations, physical features, and personality traits, you could play through the same story time after time with new characters and come away each play through with vastly different experiences and relationships.

I’ve seen a bunch of takes on Fog of Love during my internet searching, and your mileage may definitely vary. Some folks reckon it’s a game that should only be played by couples in a committed relationship, while others insist they hated playing with their real-life partner because they had to act so differently, according to their characters’ wants and not their own.

Personally, I see Fog of Love as an excellent primer for more in-depth tabletop gaming such as Dungeons & Dragons. Think of it as D&D-lite, but with dating. Dinner & Drinks, if you will.

Just like with D&D, you’re working your way through a story and making your own decisions. The scene cards will often give you prompts, then leave the nitty gritty of the story to your imagination. When you create a character, what’s their name? Are they a simple Reggie, or a sophisticated Reginald P. Shoemaker III? They work as a Teacher, but what do they teach? Maths or science? Primary school or university? Sign language or swimming? The game sets it up, but you as the player have the opportunity to give it as much depth as you want.

I’m a casual D&D player with no experience DMing, partly due to my lack of confidence in improvising story as I go along. Playing Fog of Love immediately struck me as an incredible tool to work on those improvisational skills. I fumbled my way through the tutorial with my wife, and admittedly I wasn’t super happy with some of my own character explanations, but those stumbles and hiccups helped me learn how I can approach a situation better in the future.

Similarly, if you’ve been interested in trying D&D but haven’t made the leap into actually trying it out (like with our monthly TableTop Tuesdays, for example), Fog of Love offers a great environment for just you and a friend to try some lighter role-playing without the pressure of being in a large group where you may feel more self-conscious.

Regardless of whether your interests extend into tabletop RPGs, this game is certainly worth playing at least twice (I say twice because the tutorial is an excellent primer for the full game, but once you’ve played through it you should absolutely go one more round with a longer story once you’re familiar with the mechanics) just for the entertainment factor. Even when my character made decisions I wasn’t entirely happy with, my wife and I still shared some good laughs due to the situations we found ourselves in.

Whether you play through a story with your partner at the end of a busy day to relax or bust it out at a games day with friends for others to watch the love story unfold as your audience, Fog of Love will certainly give you some memorable stories to recount.

More Than Just Board Games

Looking back at our social media posts you might be forgiven for thinking we’re simply a board game store.

Thankfully the folks over at Top Reviews did their research, and we made their list for the top 30 cafés in Auckland! Gotta say, we’re pretty pleased with that.

We’ve got coffee and tea, cookies and brownie, scones, smoothies, soup, and more. Have a nosy at our full menu online, and come on in to experience our cozy little corner of the city for yourself.

We’re in the top five!