14th Aug2019

‘Unlock! Heroic Adventures’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

unlock-ha-box

Space Cowboys have a bit of history when it comes to the Unlock! series, which first debuted in 2017, but has seen no less than five bundled releases each containing three stories (in the UK and Europe) or as many as three times that in the USA, where each set has been sold individually up until this edition, which carries the subtitle of Heroic Adventures.

And heroic is the right way to describe this set, given that the three stories within mix classic storytelling (Alice in Wonderland) with crime and punishment (Sherlock Holmes) and the more modern concepts of heroism (a pixel art adventure about being dragged into a classic video game.) Each adventure lasts exactly one hour (assuming you only play it once and succeed) but as a completely cooperative experience that uses several augmented reality features, it really takes centre stage at game nights for the the time it lasts.

Heroic Adventures is the first Unlock! game that I’ve played, personally, so I have no basis for comparing it against other games in the series. It’s likely safe to assume that it has built upon the successes of previous outings however, and without spoiling anything, I can say that it uses some of the best augmented reality that I’ve seen in a board or card game to date. One example comes early in one of the adventures, when the player uses their mobile device as a flashlight to explore a card that appears pitch black in reality, but is dimly lit by torchlight when viewed on screen.

It’s these neat tricks and features that provide the early hooks that excite will excite players from all walks of life – whether regular board gamers or not – but it’s the stories in Heroic Adventures that really stand out. Each one, whilst it only lasts an hour, seems to cover considerable ground and all three feature twists, turns and a fair bit of excitement. Most of the puzzles focus on having the players either crack codes or match a sequence of cards together to reach a total number – this may or may not then need to be entered into the application to get some kind of output.

All the while, the clock ticks downwards and no matter how big your team, there never seems to be enough time. Heroic Adventures does a brilliant job of keeping the action tense and exciting right to the end. If you take the tutorial adventure (included in all Unlock! games) which I am happy to spoil a little bit, the players will find themselves locked in a room. Several cards will be drawn to show things around them – a door, a television, a chest of drawers and a few other objects. Each one can be picked up and examined and depending on the kind of card, you’ll do one of several things with it.

For a machine, you might hit the machine button the app and then type the card number in. The game will then present the players with an app based puzzle that represents the machine in question. It might be a dial, a switchboard or something similar. In the tutorial, the first machine you’ll access is a switchboard that needs to be configured with a wire in a certain way. To solve this puzzle you’ll need to have the wire already (so that you know the number of its card) and you’ll need to have spotted the wiring diagram on the side of the chest of drawers.

By combining these things together, the television will be switched on (which happens when the correct card is drawn) and a code will be shown. All that is left now is to use the code on the door, but even in the tutorial, there’s a final twist that I won’t reveal – you’ll need to find it out on your own. What’s brilliant about all this is that not only is there a time limit, but you’ll also be penalised for wrong guesses. This means that larger teams have the problem of more ideas and lots of wasted time debating, whilst smaller teams will debate less but perhaps has less creative brainpower – in either scenario, Heroic Adventures seems to stay balanced.

At a component level, the three decks of cards in this edition of Unlock! are distinctly different. The Holmes scenario is sombre and realistic, whilst Alice in Wonderland is shown as bright and colourful, as you have typically frown to expect from Lewis Carroll’s work. The pixel art adventure is realised gloriously and will seem immediately familiar to any fan of video games from the late 1980′s, whilst for younger fans, the influence of modern takes like Wreck it Ralph also show through quite nicely, I found. These different stories also cater for various age groups as well, with the full spectrum covered from younger players to those mature gamers who are interested in solving murder mysteries.

Heroic Adventures is certainly good enough to have inspired me to think about picking up other games in the series and in particular, I’ll watch for newer versions coming out which I expect will feature even more cool use of AR and similar via the application. As a specific product, judged on its own merit, Heroic Adventures is a relatively brief but intensely exciting and generally brilliant thing to have, and in many ways it’s great that when you’re done, you can just give it to someone else – as I plan to. Sure, you’ll only get about three hours of fun from it, but you’ll enjoy every minute and you can always replay it again in a year or two if you don’t want to hand it on or sell it.

**** 4/5

Heroic Adventures is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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