Last week (right at Halloween), we came out with our Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative Games! We put Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse in there as an Honorable Mention because we haven’t gotten through it. Well, today, we’re going to take a full look at this Escape Room game. Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse is a cooperative escape room type game for 1-4 players (more could play, but 4 seemed liked a good limit). It takes 2-3 hours to play all the way through (we took 3 hours). You can stop at about 3 or 4 points in the game (so as to resume later) but we played all the way through in one night.
So, we should have waited a week before we came out with our Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative Games list! (I guess we didn’t have a choice: it was Halloween!) This game was AMAZING! I was worried (from some reviews I’ve read) that this game wasn’t going to be very good: Tom Vasel gave it a lukewarm review, and Eric Summerer gave it a slightly better review. Historically, I tend to agree with them, but they weren’t right on this. This game was fun, thematic, cool, interactive, and one of the best Escape Rooms board games I’ve ever played!!! This might have made the #1 spot on last week’s list!
So, let’s start with the Dollhouse! This is one of the coolest components I’ve ever seen in a boardgame. It takes a little bit to get set-up (see above), but once it’s set-up, it just screams theme. Don’t look toooo long at the above dollhouse. Partly because it’ll give away some puzzles, and partly because it’s creepy!!
The set-up is fairly straight-forward (see instruction from above): I want to say it took us about 20 minutes to set-up.
Opening the box, you can see all sorts of stuff.
The heart of the game is a code wheel, which we have seen in a lot of EXIT Escape room games.
Even more clever, they put a “lock” on the wheel, so you can’t accidentally see too much as you are rotating the dials.
The rulebook is good and we got going quickly (after building the dollhouse).
The rulebook also doubles as the storybook: as you are solving “rooms”, you get more of the story. This is NOT just flavor text!!! Well, some of it is, but there are also hints to puzzles buried in the story as well. You HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE STORY, or you might miss some important clues! I loved the story in Aeon’s End: The Outcasts (and was kind of reminded of that here, only in terms of presentation), but that story didn’t have anything Aeon’s End needed to really play the game. Not so here! You absolutely need to pay attention … and that’s why this game sings. In this case, it talks creepily as dolls …
The story .. without giving away too much: you are stuck in a dollhouse and have to get out! The story is interesting and creepy. As you read from the storybook, you speak in creepy voices. Or at least we did. I suspect you will too! We went through the entire game in one night: it took 3 hours to play through the entire story! We never wanted to stop … this story was interesting and immersive!
One of the reasons The Cursed Dollhouse worked so well: it encouraged cooperation on many levels (pun intended). For one, every “room” of the dollhouse you are in has 3-4 puzzles people can work on concurrently. People tend to gravitate towards some puzzles, and sometimes two or three people are working on one puzzle while another person worked (independently) on a different puzzle. During the entire game, we probably formed all 4 combinations of people working together! Sometimes, you’d run out of ideas and throw it to another group, sometimes you’d stubbornly sit on the puzzle until you solved it, sometimes you’d ask for help.
My friend Junkerman tends to dislike Escape Room games because “the single puzzle” gets sized by one subgroup and the other subgroups have nothing to do. That didn’t happen to us in The Cursed Dollhouse! 90% of the time, everyone was working on SOMETHING, either by themselves or with another person(s). Having 3-4 puzzles per room really helped foster the cooperation.
I am sure this would work fine as a solo game, but my group experience makes me think that this would be SO MUCH MORE enjoyable with a group (as different ideas flow much more easily between people).
One of Tom’s complaints from his review was that “no more than 2 people could look at the Dollhouse at a time”. This is fair, to a certain extent. All the action is at the Dollhouse, and everyone wants to crowd around. I mentioned this to my group before we started our play, but we simply worked around it: it was never a problem for us. This is probably because we knew it MIGHT be a problem, so we simply worked together (cooperated) to fix it! In the end, we did two things to mitigate this problem:
- We moved around a lot. We would frequently swap chairs with people, partly so some of us could examine the Dollhouse, partly so we could move around in groups and solve puzzles.
- We used our phones to take pictures. Most people (at least in my group) have a smartphone, and we’d occasionally take a picture of the room we were in, so we could ZOOOM in it with our phones/camera apps. This allowed us to “look” at the Dollhouse (and ZOOM which was important a few times) without having to crowd.
Forewarned is forearmed: As long as you know that crowding in front of the Dollhouse MIGHT be an issue, you can work together to alleviate said issue. So, just be aware it might be a problem!
Puzzles and Solutions
Like all Escape Rooms (both board games and real Escape Rooms), there are puzzles to solve. You will need pen and paper (see above). Now, we got every problem in the game without any hints! (I think we brute forced one). BUT part of this was because the Hint System is on a web site instead of cards/booklets in the game!!! I actually think this separation actually encouraged us to work harder at the puzzles. The EXIT games have a great hint system in cards, but these hint cards are sitting next to you … so easy to pick up if you are having a problem … “Come, pick up the hint, don’t get stuck …” (said in a creepy doll voice). So, we worked diligently on all the puzzles, and solved them all! But, be aware, these puzzles are NOT SIMPLE : This is a fairly hard Escape Room game! As much as I enjoyed it, I would definitely only recommend playing this after you have played a number of other Escape Room games.
Oh ya, the hint web site only worked on Android and not IOS for us. It was probably because my IOS phone is so old, but it was weird that the web site was so tricky it only worked on Android. Caveat Emptor.
Once you have played through the game, you have seen everything. You are done with it (unless you want to wait a few years and replay it after you have forgotten everything). So, you may want to pass it on to some friends. Now, the game CAN be reset, but it is a little bit of a pain. The web site (the same place where the hint system is) gives you directions how to do put everything back together. It wasn’t HARD to reset it: it took us about 15-20 minutes to put it back together. To be fair, once you’ve played the pristine originally version, the “hey-we-reset-the-game” version isn’t quite as nice: we used tape in a lot of places to hold things together, where the original game used some sticky stuff that worked a much better.
You can reset the game, it doesn’t take too long, but it won’t be quite as nice as the very first play. It’ll be good enough.
By the time we were done, we loved this Escape Room. The highest praise was echoed by a number of players: “This game feels more like a real Escape Room more than any other Escape Room board game I have played!” High praise Indeed! This was a great experience.
To be clear, the puzzles in the game were hard. I think part of the reason we enjoyed the game so much was we solved every puzzle without hints! There was a sense of satisfaction in knowing our group was able to overcome these harder puzzles. That may be why enjoyed the game so much! A sense of satisfaction! This also means we can only recommend it to seasoned players of Escape Room games.
The Cursed Dollhouse was unfortunately the most expensive Escape Room in a box we’ve played as well: we bought it on Amazon for like $45. So, after resetting it (after playing through), you may consider passing it onto a friend to get more value from it.
For player count, I definitely recommend it with more people! Solo would probably work okay, but the puzzles are hard, so the more brains the better! With a higher player count, it’s a little cramped to see the entire dollhouse with 4 people, but you can use your phone and take a few pictures, thus alleviating some of the cramping.
If you like the idea of The Cursed Dollhouse, and you want a creepy Escape Room game, and you feel like you can handle more complex puzzles, this is the one to get!!! This is one of the best experiences we’ve had with an Escape Room game. We loved the story, we loved the immersion, we loved the dollhouse, we loved the way the puzzles were presented, we loved how we could all work together concurrently on different puzzles, we loved that the puzzles challenged us: 9/10