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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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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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.


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.


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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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.


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