The Riven Scale

Part game, part puzzle, and part social experience, escape room games evoke the feeling of a full-scale escape room in a compact way. We’ve played almost all of them. Yet rather than doing traditional reviews, we’ve rated them according to several metrics, such as creativity and difficulty, and then compiled those ratings into an overall Riven Score.

The Riven Scale – named in honor of the PC puzzle adventure – helps you to evaluate the games based on how they compare to other titles within the genre. Essentially, it’s a grade, and the higher the Riven Score, the better. You can check out all of the scored titles below, along with those still in the works!

We’ve also noted which of these games are great entry points into the genre and whether or not they require any special considerations (some, for example, force players to separate).

Riven Score GameCategories
92
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Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment

Publisher: Mattel
Players: 2-8
Time: 30-90
Replayable: With Purchase
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
This was the first escape room box I played, and it remains a favorite. The production quality is top-notch and the similarities to an actual escape room experience are astounding. Many of the puzzles to solve involve physical components, including actual combination locks, which means the game is uniquely tactile and progressing through feels like an accomplishment. The puzzles themselves are often on the simpler side, but the game is encouraged for parties and gatherings (there are even host resources available), which feels like the perfect environment for this particular title.


72
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Exit: The Game - The Pharaoh's Tomb

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
Players: 1-4
Time: 45-90
Replayable: No
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
You might be stuck in a cavern in The Valley of the Kings, but at least you’re not bored! This game was quite a bit of fun. It’s not best for beginning puzzlers (like we were when we tried it) and it relies more than many other Exit series titles on understanding common puzzle strategies as well as common Exit mechanics. That said, it provided several gratifying Aha!’s and more than a little frustration - but, unlike some other titles, it was good frustration, the kind that means you need to look and think HARDER. There was a decent variety of puzzles and a few great Indiana Jones easter eggs to keep you on your toes.


72
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Exit: The Game - The Polar Station

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
Players: 1-4
Time: 45-90
Replayable: No
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
Pro-tip: Play this game during a blizzard.

Polar Station is basically that episode of The X-Files where Mulder and Scully had to investigate an Alaskan research station, but instead of being a cool FBI agent with a gun and a healthy disrespect for authority, you’re a researcher trapped in a lab and hoping to escape on the last helicopter out of Dodge. The puzzles here are clever and tricky but fair for the most part. A noticeable number of them involve perspective and this definitely isn’t one you’re going to like if you want to keep everything in the box happy and intact. That said, though, the puzzles ranged in difficulty from simple to complex, but they never felt unsolvable. A solid little game for a snowy afternoon.


68
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Unlock! The Tonipal's Treasure
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Players: 1-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
The Tonipal's Treasure is a fun one, save one tricky audio puzzle that might make sense to some, but left me confused. It takes place on a tropical island, and players are told that they must find the pirate's treasure (lol, booty) in order to escape. So, generic conceit aside, how were the puzzles? This is supposed to be a more challenging game than other Unlocks, and it definitely was. The puzzles were varied in type, but there was an emphasis on spatial puzzles - ones that had players manipulating cards and moving objects in their minds in a way that hadn't been seen in other Unlock titles to that point. Still, there was a lot of variety in the spatial puzzles presented. Most importantly, though, the final puzzle did not disappoint. This one truly felt like a treasure hunt. It's not the most accessible for new players, but it's a solid game with plenty of Aha! moments.
68
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Exit: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
Players: 1-4
Time: 45-90
Replayable: No
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
(Confession - Ryan and I raced to complete this game so these observations are based on my feelings at my most competitive. Ok.)

Abandoned Cabin was delightful. It’s a classic horror movie trope: you find an abandoned cabin in the woods and use it for shelter on a stormy night, only to wake up and realize that not all is as it seemed in the darkness. The puzzles here were varied, but admittedly a bit on the simple side. There were, however, at least two ways to solve several puzzles which was a nice change from the standard Exit formula.


68
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Escape The Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely's Retreat

Publisher: ThinkFun
Players: 3-8
Time: 60-90
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
One of the fun aspects of this series is that so many of the puzzles are physical - you have the components in front of you and you have to physically manipulate them until your solution appears. That’s one of the factors that makes them so great for a family audience. I still wouldn’t suggest Gravely for a group of hardcore gamers. The puzzles are relatively simple to figure out, though they may be time-consuming to solve.


60
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Exit: The Game - The Secret Lab

Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
Players: 1-6
Time: 45-120
Replayable: No
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
This was the first Exit series game that we played, but it was a decent entry point. The puzzles are science themed - hence the title - and as such there were a lot of codes to put together, be they numerical, alphabetical, or both. The one real flaw with this particular title is that it just is not memorable. The puzzles, while themed, were fairly dull. There were few Aha! Moments and lots of chugging through solutions.


56
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Unlock! Squeek & Sausage
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Players: 1-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
I'm not afraid of clowns (or mad scientists dressed as one), but I'm not particularly interested in them either, and this theme just really did not appeal to me. That said, the game itself was on the easier side, but this is also one of the first Unlock titles to experiment with the interesting sense of progression seen in later games. In S&S, you move through a series of rooms, solving cartoonish puzzles and befriending a mouse. The puzzles themselves were varied, with an emphasis on item combination/creation. Additionally, the cards you pull when you make a wrong move sometimes held free little hints to put you back on track. This is a decent intro level Unlock game that could be a fun one to play with older kids (or fans of Pinky and the Brain).
56
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Escape The Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor

Publisher: ThinkFun
Players: 3-8
Time: 60-90
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
These ThinkFun games are designed with a family audience in mind, and that’s definitely something to note when playing Stargazer’s Manor. The puzzles are relatively simple and having several (or more - this claims to accommodate up to 8) adults vying to solve them can lead to some frustration. There’s more of an emphasis here on the work of puzzle solving rather than the Aha moment, so there’re several occasions where the group has determined the key to the puzzle, but one person has to painstakingly enter all of the inputs and record all of the outputs. With a younger audience, that could be tiresome, but the puzzles themselves might provide more excitement than they do for adults, so it’s possible this ratio would shift.


56
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Exit: The Game - The Forbidden Castle
Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
Players: 1-4
Time: 45-90
Replayable: No
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
Like all of the Exit games, Forbidden Castle is very tactile - you're always tearing up pages and folding paper - but this title leaned into the idea of bending and breaking the game more than most. A fair amount of the puzzles involve physical manipulation of the components, and it's not always obvious how they should be twisted and turned. That's part of the fun of an escape room game, of course, but the puzzles here left us constantly wondering if we were missing something. Did we need another clue to solve them? Or would they become clear if we just worked harder? Overall, without any guidance, we ended up wasting a lot of time trying to solve puzzles without the correct information. That said, the puzzles themselves were clever and the mechanical aspects were fun. It just wasn't enough to make up for the frustration
52
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Unlock! The House on the Hill

Publisher: Space Cowboys
Players: 1-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
This proposes to be one of the easier Unlock games, and that’s definitely true. However, it’s also one of the best constructed. It provides players with a variety of puzzles, several opportunities for Aha! moments, and no real traps. As with all the Unlock, the hidden numbers that you have to find on some cards can take a bit of looking, but the hidden number hint system is explained better here than in previous iterations. This is a commendable entry point to the genre.


52
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Exit: The Game - The Forgotten Island
Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
Players: 1-4
Time: 45-90
Replayable: No
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
Seemingly every escape room line has a tropical island game, and this is Exit's entry. It's a bit more verbal than most other escape room games, and it features more than one puzzle that relies on reading. There's little else that sets this title apart from the other games in Exit's oeuvre, though, and it feels all around...a bit average. The puzzles varied in difficulty, but none were so creative or tricky to provide a satisfying Aha! upon solving.
48
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Unlock! The Formula

Publisher: Space Cowboys
Players: 1-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
The catch with the Unlock games is that they’re all played with just one deck of cards - everything you need to solve the puzzles and escape the room is located in that single deck. The Formula drops you into a hidden room deep in the sewers (not really sure why - try not to think too hard about it) and gives you a mix of brain teasers and logic problems to figure out. The puzzles are all fairly standard - not too easy, not too difficult - but there is one that I call foul on. It’s a visual puzzle, and the clue you need to locate is... well, let’s just say challenging. The rest of the puzzles flow together, though, with one moving into the next. There were enough moving parts to keep two people busy, but more than that and you might end up having to double or triple up to make sure all hands are occupied.


44
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Deckscape: Test Time
Publisher: dV Giochi
Players: 1-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
The central conceit of Deckscape games, at least the first generation of them, is that you have access to four decks of puzzle cards. You need to progress through each deck sequentially, starting from the top and working your way down. Sometimes, you'll need an item that you find in one deck to move through another, but some of the decks largely stand alone. There's a built-in division of labor here that can work really well for groups of two-three players.

Overall, the puzzles in this game range from simple - moderate, but there are a few trick questions thrown in. Deckscape games like to encourage players to think outside the box (figuratively), and this can be equal parts clever and frustrating. Given that the rules of the game only allow players one attempt at answering each puzzle, it can feel like a letdown when the answers are so simple that they're not a puzzle at all. And that, I think, is the biggest criticism of the game - it plays more like a series of brainteasers than like an integrated escape room.
44
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Unlock! The Island of Doctor Goorse

Publisher: Space Cowboys
Players: 2-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
Escape a weird island. We know by now that theme really doesn’t matter in these games - you can set them anywhere - but I will say that probably more than any other Unlock game, Dr. Goorse contains puzzles that are thematically at odds with the setting. There’s no real reason to be solving mythology puzzles or exploring Mayan ruins, and yet...

That said, the puzzles in this are largely clever and engaging, though there were sometimes complications introduced by the game that made a fun puzzle into a slog. Of course, there were also a few moments where the solutions cascaded one onto another, changing the pace up and letting the player feel some power over the puzzle system.

The ending, however, ruins it. There’s this de facto puzzle contract, a trust system, that puzzlers and puzzles engage in. Essentially, puzzles have rules. And they can break their own rules, sure, but not so much that they become a different beast. The final puzzle in Goorse breaks the internal rule structure established by all of the previous puzzles and it does so without any valid reason. It’s like the last act of a musical being done in spoken word. Not cool, puzzle. Not cool.


44
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Deckscape: The Fate of London
Publisher: dV Giochi
Players: 1-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
Like other Deckscape games (see: Test Time), Fate Of London features four distinct decks of puzzles that often play off of each other and can be a nice means of separating player responsibilities.

Still, The Fate of London was one of the most contrived Escape Room Games I've played, which is almost impressive. A few of the puzzles were clever, but the rest were either so simple (i.e. "let's write '3' when we really mean 'E'!) or so obscure ("stare at this wall and we won't tell you why") that we found ourselves racing through parts of the deck, only to be pulled up short until we used a hint. The in-game story for an escape room is by necessity convoluted, but this one made even less sense than usual, and the clues felt more like a list of clever ideas than a cohesive narrative. This one might be good if you want a little box of puzzles, but as a coherent game, it's not great.
36
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Unlock! The Nautilus' Traps

Publisher: Space Cowboys
Players: 1-6
Time: 60
Replayable: Yes
Puzzle Fun:     
Difficulty:        
Originality:      
Immersion:     
Components:
This was straight up awful. You’re trapped in a submarine that’s being eaten by a giant squid monster, which is all great, and you have to escape, which is to be expected, but you have to do so in the most stressful and obtuse way possible. The catch to this Unlock game is that you’re constantly running out of oxygen - which means that you spend most of the game watching the timer, not immersing yourself in puzzles. Add to that a set of genuinely frustrating puzzles - including a music one that I still don’t know how we solved - and you wind up with an experience that takes fun out of escaping.


Escape Rooms Still To Be Scored