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Exit: The Game - The Polar Station (Spoiler Free) Review

Quick Look: Exit: The Polar Station

Designer: Inka Brand, Markus Brand

Artist: Silvia Christoph, Michael Menzel
Publisher: KOSMOS
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 1-4
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 45-90 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

From the publisher: 
An alarm sounded in the eternal ice, so the polar station has been evacuated and foreclosed, but a small group of researchers has remained behind by mistake—and they have only one hour to find the code that will crack the lock program.


A few years ago, I had a friend ask me about the new escape room place in town and I was more than willing to share. It was by far the best one that I had experienced--it was innovative and different, using mechanisms that I hadn't seen employed in an escape room. I was so impressed with the theme and creativity of the puzzles that it didn't matter that we didn't escape in the one hour allotment--it was the best escape room experience I had ever had. When pressed for details, I wanted to be careful not to spoil the puzzles, but still tell them why it was so good.

"I don't want to spoil anything, well, this doesn't really spoil it, but maybe a little. I'll just say that there are lasers."

I immediately regretted it--not because it spoiled how to solve a puzzle, or provided any real advantage for my friend, but because the excitement that I saw come across their face at the revelation of this new (to us) mechanism was the same that I had on mine when I was experiencing it.

I may have not spoiled the puzzles, but I felt that I had spoiled their experience.

No spoilers.
So to remedy this, my wife (who is much more the escape room aficionado) and I came up with a way to rank and describe escape rooms (we do a lot of them) without ruining the puzzles or experience. We look for three things:

A natural narrative progression--Why did we come to this mansion/island/museum/polar station? Who left the clues and for what purpose? Do we need to do something to "save the day" or are we simply trying to escape? Puzzles are fun, but if we wanted to just do puzzles, we would just do a sudoku, play Dr. Mario, and a crossword puzzle at home and call it a night. Tell us a story that continues to unfold as we progress through the room.

Puzzles that are the right kind of challenging--Challenging is a subjective measure, but does the challenge of the puzzles rely on them being good puzzles, or because they require a jump in logic that most reasonable persons would not naturally make? I get that the answer is clear when you tear the Oasis poster in fourths, lay them on top of one another rotating each 90 degrees prior to placement, and then shine a black light on them to reveal the Latin word for cheese biscuits--but what made you think that anyone would try that?

A theme that is integrated in the narrative and and puzzles--If the narrative is about a doctor that has the antidote to a zombie virus, it makes sense that the room would have a scientific/medical theme and corresponding items. It makes sense that these items (e.g. vials, microscopes, x-rays, etc.) would be used to solve puzzles. It wouldn't make sense for a balloons to drop out of a trap door that needed to be popped to retrieve element symbols that, when overlaid on the periodic table of elements, spell out the password required to unlock the computer. While that may be a good puzzle, the element of balloons wouldn't fit with the narrative.

So when I had the opportunity to review Exit: The Polar Station, I knew that I had a formula that could work for a written review and it is within the above-mentioned framework that I look at Exit: The Polar Station. Though some details may be a little vague--and you may have more questions than answers by the time you reach the end--it is okay because these games are as much or more about the experience as they are the game. So, if you find yourself curious about The Polar Station after this review, pick it up (or one of the several Exit titles) and try it out.

The difficulty of an Exit title is notated by the number of circles on the bottom of the box lid. The Polar Station is a 3 of 5.

So, with a review framework established, how does The Polar Station rank?

A natural narrative progression: A+
With each puzzle solved, there is more detail revealed. And what I really liked is that the story isn't completely laid out at any point--it keeps the players guessing as to what is happening and why there is a need to escape as soon as possible. The story continues to evolve even after the point of escaping. The Polar Station is one of the best thematic escape games I have played, if not the best.

The narrative starts immediately and progresses throughout the game.

Puzzles that are the right kind of challenging: A
One thing that I notice when playing the board game equivalent of escape rooms with new people is their aversion to the provided help cards. Yes, it's nice to say that you did it without using any help, but we would much rather use a help card when I get stuck rather than sit for an additional 15-20 minutes trying to solve a puzzle that we didn't have all the necessary clues for. The good thing about the Exit series is that the first help card for any puzzle is a list of the items necessary to solve the puzzle. This has saved our group countless minutes of frustration by letting us know that we weren't ready to solve a particular clue. That being said, the puzzles in The Polar Station were challenging and we used two clue cards during play (which is less than our average). Had we not had to use any we probably would have thought it too easy.

Another thing that I find incredible about the Exit series is that they don't go back to the same well very often. We were looking for things that were used in previous versions that we had played, and while some of the same elements were used, they were done so in a fresh and unique way. Playing previous versions may help you to think further outside of the box, but its not necessarily an advantage.  

A theme that is integrated in the narrative and and puzzle: A-
All of the puzzles, sans one, made sense with the theme. For the one that didn't, it was still a good puzzle, I just didn't see how it tied into the narrative (and that may just be me not making the connection). 

Overall score: A
As stated above, I have done several escape rooms and played many escape room titles and I think that the Exit series keeps getting better. The Polar Station was fun from beginning to end--providing enough thematic elements and challenging puzzles to provide a solid hour of entertainment. I wholeheartedly recommend The Polar Station and the other titles in the Exit series over any other escape room games in the market. If you are a fan of escape rooms or have escape room fans in your group this is worth getting. If you have felt burned by other escape room titles that were either too easy, or too "eye-spyish" in nature, try an Exit title. They are by far my favorite in the genre. 


Game Play:
Set up and game play is very simple. You unwrap the cards and separate the three decks--help, riddle, and answer--being careful to not reveal any of the cards. You may also want to have pens/pencils, scissors, scratch paper, etc. available for the players. You read the manual that sets up the story and follow the instructions on when to open the story and begin.

Help, Riddle, and Answer Cards.
As you progress through the story and think that you have solved a puzzle, you will enter the code into the coded wheel which will reveal a number for a answer card. You then look at that card to see if you are potentially correct (as indicated by a number of items that you could possibly be trying to unlock) and then reveal the corresponding answer card for that item. If you are correct, the newly revealed card will provide progression to the narrative and next step instructions. If you are incorrect, the card will have a red X and you'll need to try another combination in the wheel.
Players line up the numbers of each will under the shape found on the item they are trying to unlock to reveal a number that corresponds to an answer card.
The dual authentication of answers decreases the likelihood that a card will be revealed by mistake.
If you get stuck on a puzzle, there are three help cards for each puzzle that progressively provide greater assistance in solving the puzzle.

Once you solve the final puzzle and escape, the last answer card celebrates your achievement and provides a conclusion to the story...or does it?
It has been my experience that the Exit series of escape games rely more on the puzzles than art, and this is the case with The Polar Station. Not that there is anything wrong with the art, but it is often an afterthought as you go through the puzzles.

This booklet contains clues, parts of puzzles, and narrative elements.
The Good:
As stated above, there are three things I look for in an escape room or escape room game--narrative progression, challenging (yet logical) puzzles, and theme that intertwines them both. The Polar Station scores very well in all three. The story was really captivating and is probably my favorite within the genre. The puzzles were challenging without requiring an unlikely jump in logic (and if you get stuck, the help cards are great). Finally, for the most part, the theme was consistent throughout the narrative and the puzzles. The locked items and clues were generally things you would expect to see used in a story about the Arctic.

The Bad:
Like many escape room games, The Polar Station is a "one-and-done" game, but such is the nature of escape rooms in general. My one negative with this title is that you can't pass it on to a friend when you are done as you may need to tear or cut things, write on items, fold or bend, tear apart the box, etc. It feels wasteful throwing so much away when you are done and I wish there was a way to easily replace some of the manipulated items so that others could enjoy it.

Final Thoughts:
The Exit series is the standard for escape room games and The Polar Station is no exception. The puzzles are challenging, the narrative engaging, and at under $20 (sometimes under $10 on Amazon) they provide an evening of family entertainment for much less than their physical escape room counterparts.

I went into the review with high expectations for The Polar Station, and I was not disappointed. If you are a fan of escape rooms or escape room games, I don't think you will be either. 

Players Who Like: Escape rooms, and escape room games such as Exit, Unlock!, MacGyver, etc.

Check out Exit: The Polar Station on:
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/231223/visitor-blackwood-grove  https://resonym.com/game/visitor/  https://www.facebook.com/resonym/  https://twitter.com/resonym  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_nFagYZztjNyish6Cq21g

About the Author:
Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. You can follow what Nick is playing on Twitter at @ndshipley
Exit: The Game - The Polar Station (Spoiler Free) Review Exit: The Game - The Polar Station (Spoiler Free) Review Reviewed by Nicholas Shipley on December 11, 2018 Rating: 5

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